A Madness with Gold: Chapter Three

I went too far in that game… I should have played carefully… what if the customers now see that I’m a dealer that’s tough to play against?

Mordred clutched at his knees, rocking himself on his heels anxiously. The point of being a dealer was to make money for the casino against the customers who come in to gamble. And to some degree, at least a few would have known that dealers who could control a game exist somewhere, dealers who don’t let the luck fall into the gamblers’ hands, though fewer less than that would only know how to spot one.

But he never tried to underestimate his customers, whoever they were, whether he’d met them anywhere, before or never. He always watched whether a gambler had the talent to control the game apart from him, the dealer, or whether he was the sort who would flop at any game he played. But that took practice, and he still never came to one certain conclusion of any gambler he dealt cards for.

And now any skilled gambler amongst the watching crowd during his game with Garda might have seen that he had the aptitude to play against them, on a high level at that. Now they could avoid him knowing that he was a good player. That was not what he wanted to have happen.

And then there were the Bianchi. They were the problem.

The door to the locker room opened and he tumbled out of the low shelf of the locker he’d been perched in.

“Ah, you were here,” said Albert, peering into the darkness of the room.

Mordred hurriedly rolled onto his hands and knees. “What’s the matter?”

“The staff said you disappeared after the game with Ms. Garda, so I was worried about whether you were alright… but I see that if you had to hide yourself in here, you were probably sulking.”

“I am.” Mordred sat on his heels and dropped his head. “I’m about to go on a three day self-hiatus on my dealing skills and pretend that I’m actually a flop of a gambler who just won by luck. I shouldn’t have gambled.”

“Really, Mr. Mordred, people will just forget about your skill after today. It’s just something like a victory of the hotel. BEsides, all our other dealers on this staff are personally taught by you; they have skills similar to your level.”

“Tricking the cards is not easy. Controlling my shuffles and one of hers is not easy either, straight from a fresh deck.”

Albert’s eyes widened, then he chuckled. “You tricked three shuffles? That means you got one lucky?”

“First win was chance. I was letting her attempt to win her third and see if I might even win just once.” Saying that, Mordred looked up with relief. Then his face fell. “But I don’t want to pretend to be slightly awful at dealing just to make it seem like I’m at least an average dealer.”

“Come out of the locker room, Mr. Mordred. The furnishing group are about to finish up decorating the ballroom, so perhaps you might want to go over and personally thank them before they leave. It’s almost time.”

Mordred jumped to his feet awkwardly. “R-right. Okay.”

He staggered out of the locker, and the lights immediately blinded him. Since the locker had been dark, but he was used to being blinded by lights upon leaving the shadowed comfort of the locker room; the last time he took to it for comfort was last Sunday and it was because he’d handed over an essay to his literature professor, and as his writing took on a gut-wrenching anxiety, sitting in the dark stuffed with unused chairs, stools, and packages of spare uniforms for all staff on Hotel Mariposa comforted him.

Still it did leave him a bit hot and warm, since the room was small and had no conditioning, so he loosened up the vest and ran his hands through his hair to air them just a bit and to quicken the cooling. The cool hallways were just enough to whiff off the thin sheet of sweat by the time he reached the ballroom.

The decorating team were just about to leave, and Mordred thanked them profusely for their work. The Amy Heller co. was a company they always relied on for receptions like weddings and parties, so it was more a friendly procedure that happened every couple of months or so when the ballroom was scheduled for an event – which was usually often. It might as well be a partnership between them and Hotel Mariposa, who often drove their clients and customers to companies who were also patrons to the hotel.

Mordred toured the ballroom at Amy Heller and her team’s insistence, and so they did, with Albert right behind him, as his eyes explored the new decorations set up around. On rare days that the ballroom was not scheduled, it would be furnished simply as an extra lounge room apart from the lobby, where Mordred would spend weekdays after school spread out on a couch with a laptop.

“As usual, you did a good work making it unrecognizable in another way completely different from the last,” Mordred muttered.

Ms. Heller chuckled. She was a forty year old woman with greying hair with wrinkles on the corners of her eyes, the well-earned lines of proud smiles over the years since she formed her company. “Of course it’s a good job! We made sure of it!”

After making a full circle and another round of thanks and Ms. Heller saying that she would show up the next day with their clients to see the setting for a final round of approval, the event planners left.

Mordred pulled back the sleeve of his shirt. It was almost eight o’clock by now. “Is dinner ready at home?” he turned to Albert.

“Yes, sir. If you’d like to know what’s for dinner, it is a cauliflower and cheese gratin and a cheesecake slice for dessert.”

“Gratin?” Mordred whirled around to Albert. Excited, for a usually calm boy.

“Yes, gratin. What time do you plan to go to bed today? Usual time, sir?”

“Eleven. I’m going to the cafe to pick up herbal tea.”

“Then I will prepare a bath to be ready by ten-thirty and then go to bed by then.” With that, Albert left.

Mordred made his way to the cafe, just a short trip towards the lobby then crossing over to the entrance to the far right of the front desk where the hotel cafe sat, a quiet corner that would be open in the day for any ravaged man with insatiable appetite when the buffet meals were closed.

Here, he ordered a chamomile tea in a paper cup before sitting himself down in a lonely corner of the cafe next to a window looking out at the hotel’s courtyard pool. Since the pool was open twenty-four hours, Mordred could see a few people still hanging about it. The hotel preferred most of their places open at usual hours, so long as the guests did not bother anyone. The outdoor pools, the casino, the bar, all three the only places that had no closing hour save holidays.

In this corner, he stretched himself flat against the table and thought back over his status.

He wasn’t just any dealer of the casino; he was the heir to the hotel – no, the heir to 150 different companies, including the spreading branches, that were companies under the third richest man in the world, William Abasscia-Reid – otherwise, his father.

Being the son to a billionaire was nerve-wracking, which he was glad his father noticed of him as a child. But sometimes, Mordred felt like it was his fault some people ever got surprised during the rare moments his father pushed him into appearing in public, or he overheard his father boasting of this apparently ghost of a son that no one heard he had before. He’d seen most kids proudly talk of their fathers; Mordred was equally proud of his father, but if he tried to join in the conversation of boasting about awesome fathers, he was either ignored or not believed.

Sitting in the corner of the cafe as he did now, he simply looked like a lonely employee of the hotel, apparently slouching off his job. In truth, the matter was that he was an employee allowed to slouch off his job whenever he liked because most of his job took place besides the casino. In the absence of William Abasscia-Reid, Mordred was in charge of making official decisions of for this particular hotel, working with the other staff members, and practically needed to run from floor to floor to deal with whatever problems the staff ran into.

The job was tiring, but it was what he’d asked for anyway.

To inherit his father’s work. To inherit the position of billionaire and to carry on the Abasscia-Reid tradition of adding an extra twenty percent to their old family fortune.

Mordred then remembered the letter that Albert had given to him earlier that day when he walked in.

The quality of the paper gave off the feeling that it came from an expensive stationary, personalized with a bundle of inked flowers in the corner of the paper. The flowers were in the shape of scarlet auriculas, the flat petals of its blooms spread out as a plate. Mordred couldn’t help smiling at it before he began to read the letter; his mother’s favorite flower, which she had attempted several times to plant with much difficulty. The handwriting was the same as the one on the letter that dictated it to his father, a flowing script that might have come from a fountain pen.

The message was short, though:


Dear Mr. Reid,
We would like to inform you that your transaction has been passed. Please come down to the subway to receive the package you’ve ordered before midnight. If you do not receive it, you will be immediately disqualified. Sincerely, John Doe.


Mordred frowned. All the frequent ‘urgent’ fuss over a package. Speaking of, had his father actually order something without him knowing? And why should he pick it up in te subway? Had William forgotten to tell him about it? Then again, if that was it, then it wasn’t strange. William, as the owner of exactly a hundred and fifty companies and their numerous tiny branches, had a workload and he usually had several things filling his bowl.

And he also decided that the signer definitely wasn’t called John Doe.

He glanced at his watch. Nine o’ clock. At this time, Maria must have gone to bed, and Albert was probably eating dinner; both would need to get up early to start work. On the other hand, as automated every day, Mordred would also need to be back before ten o’clock, and at least asleep before eleven as he would need to wake up at six the next morning.

“Well, it won’t hurt to go anyway, would it?” He grabbed his jacket and slipped the letter back into an inner pocket before rushing out of the lobby.



The Crimson Circus: A Poem


Welcome, welcome, to our circus!
The Crimson Circus, we call it!
Let the trumpets sing to you!
Come, sit, sit close to the stage.
As for the ones in the back,
lean forward at the risk of backache

I, the clown called Karl
Shall lead you along the way
because our Ringmaster is-
I almost forgot, that is also me!

Let us ready our picnic baskets
Tomatoes, bananas, sandwiches, a watermelon
all projectiles ready to boo off
anyone who is uninteresting
Oh, I hope that that watermelon does not hit anyone
even we need doctors if someone gets hurt

Now let me introduce
The valiant circus troop of ours
Who will brave a storm of shame and vegetables!

The glorious Fire Dancer, Meisa
she will please your eyes
enchant you with the beauty of fire
and ease you into the show!
Applause for her!

The red Tamer, Leios
he will show you the slyness of his weasel
the knife-dodging speed of his seal
a dragon may even dance for you!
Beware of the dragon’s foul breath, though!

The poor Magician, Yura
She will make your kerchiefs disappear,
She may steal your watches
Your pets may reappear in her hat!
Please do spare me my jokes, little magician!

The laughable Mime, Phantom!
Silent as his name,
He may trip over his umbrella again
He definitely will make things go bump
Hooray for the silent one!

The magnificent Acrobats, Lorna and Maria!
Feast your eyes on the ladies of dare
They will juggle twenty glass bottles all at once
They will dance along the tightrope
They are spiders who will amaze you!

And finally, the foolproof Clown – that is I, Karl!
Do not underestimate my skinniness
For we thin lizard clowns are still clowns
I will even attempt my companions’ tricks
I may end up in the dragon’s maw, too.

Sit tight, sit back,
Lights! Shine on our crimson stage!
We do not need anyone who sleeps
in the middle of our performances!
Everyone, welcome to our Crimson Circus!


Reposted off an old blog that has long been out of action. I just liked the poem so I had to post it here again.




Journal #003: Novella Written!

I made it. I finished the first draft of my novella!

The story is called the Lazy Man’s Trap – working title, but I’m tempted to keep it and maybe I will – and it’s a mystery story! I think I did fluff it up too much with jargon, though.

Right, perhaps I should explain now that the whole time I was working on Madness, I’ve also been busy with this novella, and I wanted it done. Two books. I always thought that I could work on two, because that was how I functioned back three years ago, writing three projects at a time and finding it rather easy. Recently, I’ve found myself working on one for a period of time, then switching projects for another period of time, then doubling back again. It’s funny, because I also realized that lately, I’ve been struggling by working on multiple projects.

Not to worry, I’m still going to post chapters of Madness here, this is an update on my novella – technically, it also belongs right here.

A Madness with Gold: Chapter Two

“A-alright,” Mordred said slowly as he stepped up to the poker table, at which the young woman plopped herself into. “What sort of game do you want to play?”

“Five-card draw,” the young woman sang. “We play it three times and the winner takes the money.”

“And why specifically me?”

“Because you’re in charge of the casino, right? Or that’s what I heard. I’ll tell you right now, by the way, I’ve got a lot of luck with five-card draws, so I’ve got a higher chance of winning against you. And of course, the universal rule of ‘No Cheating’ applies to this.”

“It’s not like I’d dare to cheat,” Mordred narrowed his eyes. Amidst a watching crowd, now that they know his identity as the son of the man who ran this hotel, he had new consequences: turn it down and his reputation as a billionaire’s heir would go with; accept, then risk having that same reputation go down anyway. Now that he thought about it, if he cheated and got caught doing so, he’d lose it, too.

“We’re going to bet on all the money I won today,” the young woman pointed at the mountain of tokens in the middle of the table. “Oh, I forgot to introduce myself, right? You can call me Garda.”

“‘Garda,’” Mordred repeated; a weird name for a girl?

“Just ‘Garda,’” Garda said firmly. “I’ll just call you Mordred, okay?”

“Mor’s fine, too, since it’s what people call me all the time,” said Mordred.

Garda looked at him strangely, then said in the same firm voice, “Mordred. That’s your real given name, and I shall call you exactly that.”

Mordred reluctantly let that pass. “Alright. So the bet is on the money?”

“If I win, you’ll have to triple the amount right there. There’s about five-hundred thousand on the table there.”

“I see,” said Mordred. “So you’re asking for triple that, if I heard rightly.”

“‘Course you did. If I have to be more specific, you’re handing over a million and five-hundred thousand dollars.”

“And if I win?”

“You can take back the money I’ve got here, and I’ll work at this hotel for the next ten years. I heard you lost two dealers here recently, so I’ll take that.”

Mordred needed to let that sink in for a bit before he answered. “Are you serious? You could have gotten it with an interview.”

“An interview is impossible, and I’m not the sort who would wait her turn and then sit aside to see if she’ll get the job,” Garda laughed. “I wanted this to be a chance game by the world, to see whether I will get the job, or if I will become rich in one night.”

There was a murmur around the casino, and it was getting louder.

Mordred nodded, then said, “In that case, then I’ll accept the game. Can we settle with a new deck of cards, though?”


Mordred turned and searched for Luke out of the crowd, but Luke had been quicker than he imagined: out of nowhere, an unopened package of cards appeared on the table in front of Mordred.

“I recommend not playing, once again,” said Luke steadily. “Regardless your status, it would do you well not to gamble. You’re walking into a scam lazily placed for naive people.”

Mordred fumbled with his fingers. “I’m playing.” Garda chuckled across the table from him, and he felt that perhaps he was an idiot. Even worse if he lost. Also that he was being watched by the regulars of his casino against this strange and supposed-to-be-drunk-but-apparently-not-so woman. “Luke, if you meet Albert outside, tell him that if I lose, we’re losing money.”

Luke paused. His face seemed to have no emotion, but Mordred noted the slightest traces of a combination of reluctance and amusement. Finally, he said, “Alright. I will go back to work then,” With that, Luke left just as quickly as he appeared, leaving Mordred a moment to marvel briefly at his tact.

Mordred snapped the tape on the package and shook out the fresh deck, which carried the usual pungent cardboard of new cards. He looked up at Garda, who stared at the tokens eagerly. “Who’s dealing first?”

“You can do it,” said Mordred, pushing the cards over. “In case you think I won’t play it honestly.”

“This hotel is your home, and you have many employees as your disposal,” said Garda, shuffling the cards; her fingers moved so swiftly that Mordred began to feel anxious; that was the sign of someone who had played cards for a long time. “You could have them stand behind me and listen to you.”

“They all belong to my father, not me,” Mordred replied. “I only take advantage of them when I have my father’s permission – not that I would want to in a gambling game. No one here is under my control. They won’t come close to you and I won’t order them to help. They’re not paid for it either.”

“But your father might side with you, since you’re his only son.”

“Father will not.” Mordred put both hands against the table, leaning against it as he watched her hands. “He isn’t a normal father, after all. He’s the sort of person who would disown me if I lose this game.”

“I’m dealing the cards now,” Garda said, then placed five cards from the deck in front of Mordred. Taking five away, she looked at her hand, then smiled.

They placed their cards onto the table, spread out. Garda’s hand was an eight of spades and diamonds. Mordred’s was a jumble of cards with no order.

“Two of a kind. Win!” Garda laughed, collecting the cards. “Next one, I’ll win again. Care to ask for a handicap from me?”

“No,” Mordred shook his head.

“Your turn. You should shuffle, so no one thinks that I’m cheating, too,” said Garda, handing back the deck.

Mordred took it, split and shuffled the cards, and repeated it again. He wasn’t as fast as Garda and at one point almost dropped a few, but he could at least handle shuffling. He placed the cards down in between them and took out five cards.

“Four of a kind,” Mordred put down his cards.

“A straight flush,” Garda laughed, and skipped on her feet at the table. “See? I’m actually winning!”

Mordred said nothing, putting back the cards and pushing it to her side.

“That guy who gave us the cards earlier,” said Garda with a chuckle. “He was right about this being something like trickery. He was right when he said you were walking into a trap to play a game with me.”

“T-t-that was only two games,” Mordred muttered hesitantly, starting down at the table, at the cards.

“If you knew that, aren’t you just walking into a trap?” Garda chuckled, and she noticed his eyes following her hands as she began to shuffle the deck in her turn.

“Because I’m going to play, whether I want to or not. And I want to play.”

She drew five cards, and then Mordred took another five draw. “Your style is the stubborn player?”

Mordred put down his cards immediately, face up. “Four of a kind.”

The abruptness of his movements startled her, made her pause for longer than a second to register that the cards he put down were values higher than hers. She frowned. “Aw, I lost this round. Your cards aren’t rigged, are they?”

Mordred could hear whispers of people nearby, sense them gathering in a larger cluster than he thought they were before – actually, could they have been called over by friends who were watching them right now?

“If you want to know if they’re rigged, you can go outside and buy a fresher, cheap deck of cards that are yet to be unopened,” he said flatly as he gathered the cards. “Do you want to do that now?”

“Nope, too lazy.”

“Then we’ll settle for cards that are suspected to be rigged,” said Mordred, and began to shuffle the cards. “Although I’d like to assure you that our cards aren’t rigged – but there’s no proof except the smell and the fact that the box was just taped.”

“You’re right,” Garda chuckled. “Well, all I need is just one more win. You need two, but you’ve just got a low chance for it. I will win the next one.”

“No. I will.” He put the stack of cards down as he spoke, and Garda stared at him; he sounded so certain that it might as well have been a joke. From someone who had been so polite and quiet earlier, was it that Mordred had actually been shifting in personality since a moment ago? Garda felt as though something had changed about his expression.
He’s looking at me straight in the eyes! she realized.

“Cut the cards however many times you wish. Then you take your hand first,” said Mordred with a smile. He stood back, his eyes never leaving hers.

Garda cut the cards four times, restacked them, then a second time, three times. She drew her hand.

It was a good one. Two kings, two tens, one Ace of spades.

Mordred took his turn. “I said I would win.” He placed his cards down. 4 cards from the four suits, all nines.

Garda clutched the table. “Guess Lady Luck also loves you.” She smiled, but it wasn’t friendly, much less warm now.

The murmurs were getting excited; who was going to win, who will win? Who would be the shame? The star dealer of Hotel Mariposa? Or the gambler who had been winning the many games the past two hours? They waited with bated breath.

“I will leave the decisive shuffling to you,” Mordred put his cards down on the deck and passed it to Garda.

She jumped to her feet, light an inflexible ruler that bounced back to its original shape and picked up the cards. “Well, isn’t this fun? I guess it’ll also give me something to think about: will I win and be able to continue my streak in this casino, or will you win and bring me so much shame I’ll have to leave this place?” Her hands shuffled it quickly they seemed to fly through her fingers and when she finished, she placed them a little loudly against the table. “For a dealer, you really enjoy gambling, do you not?” She drew her cards. “Hah! A high flush.” She spread out a full suit of diamonds. [The author is getting increasingly embarrassed by her lack of gambling knowledge]

“I think it’s not that I like gambling,” said Mordred slowly. “The thrill with gambling is the thought that you might end up on the streets just because of one loss. No offense to some people here, but games and sports just don’t give me that sort of fun, never while I was growing up. But then it does get boring anyway if the thrill is all you ever come for, and no one shares the same thing. So I decided, I’d like to find someone with the same feeling. Someone who also loves gambling, someone who’s good at it, someone who can defeat me and make me lose all I have in one go!”

He spun the cards in his hand and the cards flapped onto the flat glass table, laid out straight in a row. Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten.

“Royal straight flush,” he smiled. “I win.”

A Madness with Gold: Chapter One


The giant creature in front of him resembled a frog: crouching back legs, stumpy front ones, the silvery skin in a color of greenish-yellow. Only it was probably several times mangled into a more hideous form with bulbous warts that seem more like blisters. One would be overwhelmed with disgust at first sight.

It was what Mordred felt, towards the demon that sat – or stood, but the back legs made her look as though she was sitting – in the middle of the alleyway leading towards the hotel.

“Greed… that is my title,” the demon chuckled in a low woman’s voice. It sent a chill through the air. “The one that people say is the most repulsive of all Sins. You, Mordred Reid, seem to fit my title quite well.”

And just a couple of hours ago, he’d been standing at the reception desk of Hotel Mariposa, musing over an important question…

+ + +

If a dice were thrown, what are the odds that I get the number five repeatedly? Mordred wondered, running a dice over his fingers. He tossed it with a sharp flick of his wrist; it bounced across the small table he sat at from his armchair, spun a bit before landing on the four. He turned it back onto the number five, picked it up, then tossed it again, this time loosely. The number five rolled up.

“But a loose toss would be considered partly cheating since I’m basically pretending to throw it,” he muttered to himself.

“We were supposed to be doing our homework,” complained Annika Thatcher across him, throwing down her pen in frustration, causing Mordred to flinch as he realized that he was sitting at a table with his friends. “We’re going nowhere.”

“Sorry,” Mordred muttered, snatching the dice up and putting it back into his jacket.

“This happens every time, though,” Annika scoffed. “Last week, you were trying to figure out how fast you can put back a Rubix cube, which you didn’t manage to do, but you still spent three hours doing it. Trent, say something!”

“Hi,” Trent Kearn replied, looking up from his textbook, which, now that Mordred, and then Annika as well, noticed, was not what he was reading, but the stapled notes he slipped between the pages.

“You’re not studying either!” Annika pulled away his textbook and frowned at his notes, which turned out not to be a written script.

“Hey, give that back! I need to memorize the words for the stage play on Sunday!” Trent snatched it back.

“You guys!” Annika sat back in her chair with a huff. “So I was the only one doing schoolwork, huh?”

“Sorry,” Mordred and Trent muttered at the same time. Trent returned to staring at his script. Mordred stared down at his textbooks. He looked up to Alexis again.

“Okay, so what did you want my help with?” he frowned, and Annika leaned forward back towards their books.


“I’ve got an essay to turn in tomorrow,” she muttered, spreading her notes out. “I’m basing it on why I plan to be a lawyer next year when I enter university, so I’ve got to make it convincing.”

“So a life story?” Mordred frowned. “You already researched on the work? You know it’ll be expensive.”

“Which is why I’m going to get a scholarship, and I need you to help me out with the essay I have to pass into the university,” said Annika. “This one will work for both. You’re good at writing, right?”

“I – I guess?” Mordred muttered uncertainly.

“Says the guy who won three essay competitions in a row in middle school on magic spells when he used to be in the Academy’s cram school.” Trent looked up from his script.

“I haven’t won any essay trophies in high school, so I don’t know what that part ammounts to these days!” Mordred huffed. “Anyway, you can just write it how you feel works, Annika. The basic pattern is just introductory paragraph, story-telling paragraphs, and then the conclusion.”

“Yeah, you told me that before, but how do I make it work?” Annika frowned at him. “You look at the drafts I made and tell me which ones suit it.”

“You finished how many?”

“I wrote five. If I have to write another one, then I’ll be done for.”

Mordred dragged her notes over to him, skimmed his eyes over it, then put them down. “Your voice is too robotic and long as usual. Grapple the reader with the first paragraphs; read a novel while you’re at it. You can jump straight into the reason you wanted to become a lawyer. From there, you keep the whole thing short.”

Alexis fumbled with her pen. “That’s it?”

“For now. You write your sixth draft with that, then I’ll-” Mordred looked up as a wiry middle-aged man with graying hair approached their table. He wore a stiff black suit with a striped blue and white tie, and bowed his head to them. “Hello, Albert. What’s up?”

“Mr. Mordred, I brought you a letter,” the man called Albert searched his jacket pockets until he pulled out a cream-colored envelope, with a printed address on the front, as well as his father’s name. “However, there is the urgent stamp on the front. Shall I forward it to him, or do you wish to open it today?”

“I’ll open it,” Mordred flipped the letter to the back, saw said urgent stamp on the back.
he wondered.

He slipped it into his jeans pockets. “When did it come?”

“This morning, sir.”

“I can make up for time later, then. By the way, how is the wedding setup happening? Any trouble?”

“None, except the client calling up today to tell us to change the menu options; his daughter’s fiance didn’t like eggs apparently, so anything with egg had to be changed to something else. But – trouble is somewhere else, Mordred. The casino, if you will.”

“What’s wrong there?”

“Seiden called up earlier saying that a drunk woman’s going berserk at the poker table.

Since thirty minutes ago, and security can’t get close to her to throw her out. I was about to head there.”

“I’ll deal with it, you continue the work with the planners,” Mordred turned to his friends. “Annika, send the draft through email and I’ll check on it more.”

“Thanks, Mor,” said Annika, relieved.

Mordred turned and rushed off through the hotel.

The heir of the billionaire, William Abasscia-Reid, the third richest man in the world, that was what Mordred was known as. It was understandable that his father’s employees kept some distance away from him as he walked rushed through the hotel. He sometimes wondered if they imagined him to be a pompous prat – it was a stereotype of kids his age through their eyes, apparently, and he’d been greeted by people who thought him that way several times and gave him sarcasm when the only exchange between them was a greeting.

Mordred stepped into a wide hallway that took him straight towards a large wooden double-door that he pushed into the noisy openness of the casino.

Hotel Mariposa’s casino. A noisy place where rumors are that millions are gambled here every day, and that strange people were usually the ones that betted highest. On equal rank in fame as the casinos in Las Vegas or Monte Carlo, the employees hired to watch over the gambling that took part here had to be strong-minded or physically able.

From the front, the slot machines greeted him as he entered, and then abruptly changed to a mix of roulette tables, billiards table, the poker tables, leading towards the bar at the back of the place. Nowhere was the casino empty in its 24/7 timeslot; it was only on holidays that the place would shut down.

Mordred made his way to the poker tables, all of which were occupied; then again, it was a rare occasion that he would ever see on unoccupied, especially in this casino. The gamblers that played here were always a wicked sort, the ones desperate for something, be it money, fun, or a high.

But desperate people were the chaotic sort. There had been instances of such incidents where some damage has been caused somewhere there, and it was a fight to get them to take responsibility for it. Not to mention, big name people who came here to kill time; they were usually accompanied by personal bodyguards and the type to cause trouble if displeased with some service.

So he was surprised when he saw that one of these tables has just one woman sitting at it, her legs swinging underneath her chair. Her face was of simple structures: straight, sharp, nose, cheeks, eyes. Her hair was dark brown and curly, with flecks of gold in the lighting of the casino. The yellow dress she wore was short, its straps wrapped around her shoulders so the tattoo on her left arm of a gun and a frog stood out on her skin. She wore no jewelry, much less makeup. There were people nearby who stared at her, as though mesmerized by her studying of a deck of cards on the table; even passerbys glanced at her with curiously on their way around the casino.

“Mr. Mordred? You’re here?” a voice emerged from the crowd, and Mordred jumped and spun around to see Luke Seiden standing by him as though he had been here the whole time.

“D-don’t scare me like that!” Mordred gasped.

Luke chuckled. “Apologies. I rang up Mr. Griffin earlier, so I had not expected you to come here personally.”

“Albert told me what’s going on. That person there hogging a whole table to herself, she’s asking me to show up?”

“That’s right. She’s spent the past thirty minutes there without moving, only telling us to get you to come. What she wants is to play a game with you, a bet included.”

“A bet?”

“A game of cards.” Here, Luke glanced at him with an unreadable expression. “As you’re my employer, I’d like you to sensibly refuse, but… you wouldn’t do that, would you?”

Luke had one particular trait that annoyed people around him: his lack of expression and response to the world, or even if he wore one, you still couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But to Mordred, Luke was Employee of the Year ever since they hired him three years ago that sometimes he wondered if Luke actually had a life outside of work; he was in charge of the gym and had two jobs outside of the hotel as coach for two volleyball clubs.

Mordred started to speak, but instead felt his chest pierce with shock when the young woman jumped to her feet with a bright smile and yelled loudly, “The person I wanted to bet with!” She pointed excitedly towards him.

He winced, as those nearby her or who had been watching her, turned towards him with surprise.

The girl was ignorant of her surroundings, as she went on breathlessly, “Mordred Reid, play a game of cards with me, with a bet on who wins!”

“W-why?” Mordred yelped, but she had rushed up to him.

“It’ll be short! We both draw three cards and whoever has the bigger hand wins!” She didn’t seem to have heard him as she tugged him towards the table. “Three rounds, by the way! Today’s a good day, so I’m definitely going to win against you!”

Mordred found himself dragged over to the table. “B-but I don’t think I can play! I mean-”

“Play!” the young woman whipped around to him with a snap, and Mordred flinched. If strange people playing in the casino was troublesome, a woman was worse.

The Castle of Gears: Chapter 006

Isaiah opened his eyes and saw a handful of orange lights over his head. Recognizing it as the lamps from the room he shared with Ethaon, he looked around himself.

A dull pain rattled his head, and he hissed in pain.

“Stay still, you hit your head there,” a sharp voice ordered, and Isaiah noticed that Lindon was sitting in a chair beside him. His tone made it clear that the order was not to be disobeyed. Holding a thick book entitled The Medical Journal for FirstAid, he was the only person with him in the room.

Isaiah tensed. “What happened? Where is Master?”

“You mean, Ethaon?” Lindon frowned. “He said he had to go somewhere after he made sure your injury was alright. You were lucky, the accordion only barely hit you full in the head.”

“Accordion?” Isaiah repeated.

“A ninnyhammer thought to hang the accordion up on a chandelier to test gravity the same way Newton did, but with a heavier weight, and did not expect you to come out at that time. That ninny, by the way, is Ethaon himself.”

“Oh,” Isaiah frowned, then grimaced. “I’m not surprised, somehow.”

“When you get used to his antics, you stop finding them surprising, more bizarre, and rather troublesome. I agree.” Lindon closed the book. “You might have gotten a concussion…or so he said, but I’m no doctor. And it looks unsafe to call for help or go to the city at this time.”

Isaiah threw a glance out the window; the rain was still coming down. As he took the moment of silence to study the rain, he began to have an uneasy feeling that it was actually heavier right now.

Lindon frowned. “Right after he checked your injury, he hurried out. I don’t know where he went, but the castle is big.”

Isaiah could see that the lights of the airship was out. He’d thought that Ethaon might have been there if he were to study something – an accident wouldn’t stop him, even if he probably felt remorse if he caused it – but there seemed to be no one in there.

And it was still raining. How long will it be until the Enforcers came up?

“May I ask you something?” Lindon’s question interrupted him, and Isaiah felt a little surprise by the tone of the voice; it was puzzled and hesitant. Maybe Lindon was not the sort to ask questions but search for answers quietly? “Are you…hired by Ethaon as his assistant or his friend? He called you his friend when he told me that he would bring you, but…a friend would not call him ‘Master’.”

Isaiah thought for a moment before answering. “About half a year ago, I was a thief. I was justified in stealing from the rich if it meant I could bring food to my younger siblings.” He noted Lindon narrowing his eyes, then chuckled. “My wages as Master’s assistant and a bounty hunter are enough for me, so I don’t need to do that anymore.”

“So you do work for him? And as a bounty hunter, you say? Why?” Lindon leaned forward with a sparking interest in his eyes. Suddenly, he didn’t seem the stern person he usually was, but a young man curious about something. It obliged Isaiah to continue.

“A few debts, I guess. Mainly, saving my sisters before they were sold to noble houses. I grew up in an orphanage in the middle of a drabby poor town; women who couldn’t care for children would abandon them on the doorstep.”

“Oh. So this was why you stole from others,” Lindon muttered.

“Slowly, day by day, the orphanage started to run out of money, become unable to afford enough food for all the children. There were seven at first, but then, last year, I counted fifty-four. The nurses began to abandon the ill kids because we couldn’t afford medicine. Terrible things back, then, you know. The orphanage began to consider selling the children to survive. The boys would be servants, the girls would be courtesans…” His eyes went to the window, to see the rain coming down harder still. “Master didn’t allow it to happen. I’m still thankful for him.”

Lindon chuckled. “Even if he dropped an accordion on your head?”

Isaiah grimaced. “Aye, that one, not so, but I found out after a long time that one must ignore what he does to be able to live peacefully.” A thought struck him and he sat up abruptly. “Master couldn’t have gone out in the rain, could he?” he gasped.

“Take it easy!” Lindon looked out the window now. “He shouldn’t be outside. Even he would know such a rain makes our grounds dangerous, especially with his troublesome sense of direction.”

“But if he had an idea about the forest, he might just go there.” Isaiah got to his feet, just as Amelia rushed in.

“Lindon, Mr. Ethaon just returned from outside!” she gasped.

Lindon whirled to Isaiah, then cursed. “Is he alright?”

“Endured a slight mudslide, he said,” Amelia gasped. “I will go run the bath, but he demanded to have Isaiah down right now.”

Isaiah slipped past Amelia immediately and found his way back to the foyer, where he saw Ethaon in a raincoat, covered head to toe with mud and drenched through.

“Master, what are you doing?” Isaiah demanded, and stopped approaching when he saw Ethaon’s expression; it was grim and harsh, with reluctance.

Ethaon became slightly relieved when he saw Isaiah. “So you woke up already? Sorry about that. I wanted to test what would fall apart in the accordion if I dropped it from that high.”

“I know your random experiments,” Isaiah huffed. “But why are you out in the rain at this time?”

“This,” Ethaon shed the raincoat and removed a package from his coat, which he wore underneath. The package was wrapped in several layers of brown paper, and Isaiah took it. “Listen carefully, you have to do this.” He muttered something and finished just as Lindon and Amelia came down the stairs to join them.

“Why should I do that?” Isaiah gasped indignantly.

“What’s going on?” Lindon asked, obviously annoyed to have been left out.

“Isaiah, this is important,” Ethaon waved dismissively at Lindon. “Please.”

Isaiah relented in the end; what he’d heard indeed troubled him, but Ethaon did not seem pleased with himself either. “Fine, alright.”


The Castle of Gears: Chapter 005

When we left him later, stuffed full with hot chocolate and cookies that Wilden gave us, we were in a good mood. After cutting away from the topic of murder earlier, Isaiah and Wilden had gone off on a discussion of what it was like being a friend of Grandfather and Uncle Marcel, both of whom were, no doubt, famous in Moorwalk.

“But you weren’t listening to us, were you?” he asked as we walked away from the clock tower. The rain had finally stopped, but the yard had shallow puddles of water quite large that I was nearly compelled to jump in them. “The whole time you were studying the clocks. What exactly are you looking for around them?”

“It’s a secret,” I chuckled.

“A secret? Must it be that way?” Isaiah glanced at me disapprovingly.

“Looking for fingerprints that might have been left behind,” I muttered.

His disapproval only grew. “That is…disgusting.”

“Is it not?” I simply smirked. “But we are working on a case that I no doubt may not receive a reward out of except permanent friendship from an otherwise tough-to-please friend.”

“Are you talking about Mr. Lindon?”

I frowned. “Well, he is an important person to me, as a brotherly figure. I grew up around him often before Grandfather died.”

“I’m sorry, but I fear him.” Isaiah dropped his head, observing his nails. “He rather appears controlling, was my first impression, so I’ve been trying to avoid him. Do you think he could have…killed…”

“Lindon a killer?” I scoffed sarcastically. “Sure, of course he’s got enough motive. And emotion to do so. But I do admit that Lindon is a bit strict and uptight. You might call him a douche, an arse, at a first impression. He wasn’t like this back when I was a kid when Grandfather was alive, you know. Hot-headed and foolish, maybe, but he was freer.”

Isaiah looked up and raised his eyebrows. “I find that hard to believe.”

“You would since you don’t know what he was like. Part of that change might have been because he got married too early. It was a social meeting where Lindon was looking for someone to get a loan from for a business project, a shipping company. The person who accepted it was Emily’s father, under the condition that they get married. A business wedding, then.”

“Is it…alright for you to just tell me about it without Mr. Lindon’s permission?”

“Of course it is. It’s a lesson, Isaiah: do not accept such a proposition if anyone ever tells you, even if it’s to take care of your siblings. A decision based on supporting your desires no matter the consequences sometimes doesn’t work out, in the same manner as what has happened today. Once Emily’s family hears of this story, Lindon will get into trouble. Especially for bringing his mistress over while his current wife was still alive.”

“That’s true…but do I really need that lesson?”

“You’re quite hot-headed yourself. How else would you end up with a string of robberies at your age? You’re even a few years younger than me, an age that someone like you should be in school.”

Isaiah made a sound that was a cross between a gasp of shock and a grunt of annoyance. Then again, his entire childhood had been spent robbing houses to provide for his family; frankly, no one was going to accept a boy with such criminal talent anywhere.

“Uncle Marcel is no different either, though,” I added thoughtfully. “He might be a wrinkled old man at this time, but he is still quite energetic. You just don’t see it.”


“You know, the reason he doesn’t want to know who the killer is is the same as mine.” When Isaiah looked at me, puzzled, I continued, “The people who live here, who are our suspects, are people who we care for: the servants, Wilden included. On the other hand, Lindon only cares to clear Amanda’s name. Dr. Jennings on the other hand, even if he is lying, is only an outsider. If I have to find out the killer, this means that someone we trust will be gone. Lindon will do the same like Uncle Marcel did with Aunt Kamillia: he’ll do his damnest to side with the woman he loves.”

“So where do we go from here?” he asked finally, as we reached the front porch of the mansion.

“Do me a favor and start preparing a lunch with the cook,” I replied.

“You’re going to investigate alone? Do you need my help?”

“No need. I’ll be fine. I’ll call you if I need anything.” I dug my hands into my pockets and pulled out the Spider Clock.

Seeing it, there seemed to be a look of understanding on Isaiah’s face. “Alright! I’ll go and help with the cooking.  Yesterday’s dinner was delicious, and now that I think about it, thanks to the incident, we haven’t eaten breakfast yet, have we? Except for the snacks that Mr. Wilden gave us, which were great, but let’s have something filling for today!”

I watched as he eagerly went in the direction of the kitchen and marveled at how he somehow got used to the mansion’s interior while I was still get lost in corridors that didn’t lead to my usual guest room. And I have lived here frequently for a break out of the city.

When he was gone, I went up to the second floor. What I was going to do right now would be seen as absolute rudeness to the Lorrens, especially since it’s one of the things I remember being scolded for in my childhood: snooping around the house. Back then, I used to dig through people’s closets and then run around the mansion in an expensive coat – mostly one of Lindon’s – until someone caught and spanked me.

Still, the older they get, the more secretive my acquaintances seemingly get that the fight to stop looking through their rooms while they weren’t looking got harder. I doubt that Lindon would be happy if he found me in his room despite asking me to find out how Emily died.

There were many empty rooms in the house, except for the wing where the servants sleep when they weren’t here for work, like today. Guest rooms were plenty, but they would only be cleaned if there were guests present.

I passed through the many corridors I found myself on, starting from the row of guest rooms that included mine and Isaiah’s, then came to the servants’ wing, which was empty and quiet, cleaned rather well despite that all except the cook had gone to visit their homes.

Somehow or other, I came to a part of the house that was rarely approached. I’d been led here when I found the floor, thick with dust because no one was supposed to come here, decorated with footprints. They led to a particular room with massive wooden double doors with a carving of birds and roses, which were swung wide open, as were the windows, possible to air it out.

The furniture that used to be in the master bedroom here were all gone, except for the bed, unlike last summer when I came, and were replaced with newer sofas, a walnut dresser, and an elaborately carved room divider behind which was a stand with a pile of clothes.

The bed wasn’t the last of what remained of the previous room; the portrait of Mrs. Marcel Lorren, or Aunt Kamelia to me when she was alive, was one of two around the mansion, with this one showing her in a standing posture with a tea cup. The painting was done at a distance, so her full silhouette was seen in a blood-red dress. Her expression was indistinguishable, but she looked as proud as she always did. It was free of the cobwebs I had seen collecting on it from last year. The silver frame it was fitted in, which I brushed lightly with my fingers now, were polished.

Someone had either been cleaning this room out, and it was probably Lindon. Now that I think about it, Lindon moves the most around the house. Was he planning to move his things here? It would make sense since this was the bedroom of the owner of the castle, and it used to belong to Marcel – when Aunt Kamelia was still alive, that is. Uncle didn’t like coming here alone when she went with the stars.

I clicked open my pocket watch and light shone up as dots, like constellations. The constellations took on the shape of squares and a rough blueprint of the Castle appeared, with one dot standing out, which was my location.  How I got here from my intention to reach Lindon’s current bedroom, I do not know, but then again, I never quite know why I always end up far away from my intended location.

For a moment, I felt a bit of resentment; if it was Lindon who killed Emily, then his motive was obvious. But that’s if she was actually really killed. But if she was killed, then this case would stink of some meticulous planning. For Lindon, who hid nothing when he lost his mood, a premeditated murder was impossible. If he killed her, it would be an accident, and remain an accident. And he definitely would not lie through it…

Or would he? Presently, he was planning to divorce Emily in order to marry Amelia, right? So is that not enough motive to lie? And in front of me, a frequent consultant to the Moorwalk Enforcers.

And then if I considered Amelia’s motives, were she the killer, she could share the same thoughts as Lindon, but Lindon could have told her of my reputation in Moorwalk. Was she the sort who would dare risk my revealing her as culprit as we never met before?

How irritating. Will this be the first time I start doubting my grandfather’s friend’s family?

In this manner?

Trash had been heaped in a corner, and I approached it out of curiosity. I wonder if I could ask Lindon later if I could take all this and bring it back to the airship. But what interested me more was the accordion sticking out of the mess, which I pulled out now.

The air bags were already eaten through by termites, so it was technically useless, except for the weight and the tiny trinkets I could salvage from the inside, so Lindon probably won’t want it. He was the sort that threw the rubbish out when he didn’t need it.

It gave me an idea, suddenly, and I jumped to my feet. Scouring through the rubbish again, I could a thin string and made my way to the foyer – yes, following my pocket watch lest I lose my way again – and reached the top landing of the grand staircase.

I tied the string to the accordion and then, with a strong swing of my arm, I lobbed it upwards and watched as the accordion dangled by the string on the chandelier. I loosely tied the string to the railing, then searched my pocket for a scrap of paper and pen.

“Master, where are you?”

I jumped when I heard Isaiah’s voice. He had exited the entrance from the dining room. “Lunch is finished! Come now!”

“Wait, wait!” I gasped. The dear boy blindly walked beneath the chandelier. “Run, Isaiah!”

By such bad luck, Isaiah did not run but instead turned to my voice, just as the string beside me snapped with a sharp twang. I felt my stomach clench as the accordion fell – and scuffed him in the head.

And he lay on the ground, comatose as a rock.