From Oppara with Love by Robert Gresham

The Devil’s Kiss Casino, located in Westgate in central Cheliax, was a grand affair. Plush red carpets ran the entire floor and crystal chandeliers lined the ceiling. Rose-colored glass globes hung throughout the casino, each featuring a single gem radiating continual light that bathed the room in a comforting red glow.

Several tables, featuring an assortment of games and spaced comfortably apart for the luxury of the patrons, littered the floor while leather clad women navigated the lanes carrying trays with drinks and exotic tobaccos. The games were operated by halflings wearing uniform white shirt and black tie. Beefy male half orcs and a few tieflings dressed in matching black dinner jackets, walked their circuits keeping their eyes peeled for cheats and troublemakers.

The foyer mirrored the opulence of the casino. Red-carpeted steps descended onto a landing where a nine foot white marble statue of an erinyes stood; arms raised and wings extended. Flanking the statue were two water fountains set into the walls. Carved above them inverted stars: the pentagram symbol of Asmodeus. A light yet disturbing melody filled the casino, emanating from a grand piano on a raised dais in the center of the room, where a dark and most serious man tickled the keys.
However, the various perfumes and tobaccos in the air created a slightly repugnant scent to the place as did the well-dressed security force. No matter how well bathed or groomed, the half orcs could not mask their natural odor.

Near the rear of the room, beyond velvet ropes and a stern looking barbed devil guard, sat four tables crowded with the casinos wealthiest patrons. Taldorian noble’s rubbed elbows with their Korvosan and Chelish counterparts, beautifully gowned Varasian escorts on their arms, while swarthy looking bejeweled Kelishites chatted with somber Tian men surrounded by kimonoed geishas and muscled guards. A few adventurers, judging from their out-of-place survival gear, mixed in with the gamblers as well.
The four games offered at the tables were: Three Headed Dragon, Golem, King & Pauper, and Ghoulette. These games and more could be found throughout the casino, but here the stakes were highest. The gold and platinum wagered here could feed whole villages for weeks.

At the Golem game sat six figures. Starting from the dealer going clockwise: a middle-aged Tian man wearing a goatee and a black silk hanfu. Next to him a local man of mixed blood, sporting spectacles that made his eyes appear three times their size. The next two men, merchants from Katapesh, wore clean white robes and turbans with heavy gold jewelry hanging from their throats and wrists. The shorter of the two men clearly of a higher station from the way he belittled and insulted the other Keleshite who dutifully matched the formers bets. A ravishing Chelaxian woman occupied the fifth chair. She had long dark hair that disappeared down her back, and a long skirted azure dress that was generously cut to accentuate her ample cleavage. Around her throat she wore a string of Tian farmed pearls, while an expensive silver belt with a demonic faced clasp, dangled from her waist. Her striking eyes had a slight feline shape and flashed a mixture of green and gold. Finally in the sixth chair sat another foreigner, a bronze skinned Taldoran man with a head full of short black curls.
The Taldoran was beardless. It was a symbol indicating he was neither an important noble, a member of the senate, or a rich public figure. He was a commoner. He wore a simple black dinner jacket, the style so common it could have been tailored anywhere. A stray black curl from his head rested like a comma above his right eye giving him a slight air of youthfulness, but his mouth had a cruel turn to it and his eyes were dead and icy blue. Those cold eyes watched the other players while simultaneously reading the cards before him.
The current hand of Golem was in its second betting round. The pot was thick with jade and violet chips and three of the players had already folded. The remaining players discarded cards and put the obligatory ante into the pot, in this case five gold coins-a jade chip. The Tian man took two cards, as did the Chelaxian woman. The Taldoran took just one and then signaled to one of the many waitresses.

The halfling dealer, a female with bright red hair and striking green eyes, took the five cards thrown back by the three players and lined them up face down next to each other.

“Bet’s to the left.” The halfling said, putting her palm down towards the Tian man.

A waitress arrived at the table. She was a Varasian woman with tattoos on her neck and hands. She wore the same tight black leather “devil” uniform as the other waitresses, which was little more than underwear.

“Yes Milord?”

The Taldoran’s gaze did not waver from the Tian as he answered her.

“A drink. Two ounces of Northern Isgeri vodka, two ounces of Korvosian gin, shaken hard over ice-not stirred-and served in a wine glass garnished with a single peel of lemon.”

“Yes Milord.”

“Taldorans.” The Tian man said, contempt in his voice. He dropped two violet chips into the pot.

As the bet came to the Chelaxian woman she folded, throwing her cards face down onto the table. The halfling scooped them up with a slender wooden rake and added them to the discard pile.

“Too rich for my hand.” The woman said. She reached into her handbag and removed a slender black, Vudran cigar.

The Taldoran took his time before casually sliding two violet chips towards the pile. He then sat back and watched the other player hard with his ice-cold eyes.

“Twenty gold raise to you sir.” The halfling reported, palm down towards the Tian.

The Tian man looked nervous now, and scowled as he scanned his cards.

“A forty gold bet before getting your cards back and the Golem has a full hand. Chasing the pot are we?” The Tian was referring to the fact that unless there was a clear winner from forfeit, the remaining players would have to match their hands against the ‘Golem’s: the hand made from the discards from the active hands. If the Golem’s hand were better than the remaining players, they would all lose and pay a penalty to the pot, increasing it in size for the next round. The only way to win the pot was to bluff all of the opponents out or to beat all the players and the Golem.

“The chase is the most entertaining part of the hunt.” The Taldoran replied.

“You’re a hunter are you?” The Tian said.

“Aren’t we all?” The Tian man smiled and matched the bet.

“So very true.”

The bets matched, the halfling dealer drew three cards from the shoe and slid two to the Tian and one towards the Taldoran.
The players took up their cards and examined them. Almost imperceptibly, the Tian man shifted in his seat and a slight smile flashed across his face. It was brief, but it was a tell to the practiced Golem player. He dropped two violet chips into the pile.

“Good fortune?” The Taldoran asked in Minkan, the Tian man’s native tongue. The latter man did not seem amused.

“We shall see.” He replied in common.

There was a sudden burst of noise from the next table. Someone had struck it big on the Ghoulette game, for the hideous head had yelled out a particularly rancid insult resulting in cheers from the assembled crowd. The lucky winner was standing and cheering the loudest.

The outburst had another effect too. It caused three of the kimonoed women standing behind their almond-eyed boss to go suddenly rigid, their hands disappearing into the folds of their dress. As the noise from the next table died down, the women relaxed a bit.

“You’ve got jumpy guards.” The Taldoran said, matching the twenty gold raise. “A couple of trained Opparans would do you well. Less obtrusive.”
The Tian man reddened a bit and aggressively threw two more violet chips on the pile.

“You decadent Taldorans think your women are more lovely than my lotus blossoms? Such arrogance.”

“Arrogant is the insult of the envious. May as well call my mother a Belkzan pig.”

The air between the two players electrified. It was clear that they were more than just annoyed with each other.

“Are you men going to cross swords or play cards?” The beautiful dark haired Chelaxian said, a playful look on her face.

The Taldoran, noticing her unlit cigar, offered her a small tinder twig, which he lit and held before her. She smiled coyly and let the flame dance on the tip as she slowly puffed the tobacco to life.

“Finally, a gentleman. It is so difficult to find a gentleman these days. Men around here usually leave damsels in distress.”

“A shame on them. There are much better ways to leave a damsel.”

The Chelaxian woman smiled wide as a twinkle came to her eyes. She took a large pull off the black cigar and let the smoke curl slowly over her slightly parted lips.

“Yes. There are.” The Taldorian kept his eyes locked on hers.

“Twenty gold to you sir.” The halfling said. The Taldoran matched the bet casually, his mind on the Chelaxian.

The second betting round was over and since no one had won through forfeit, the remaining players had to show their cards and face the golem. The Tian man turned his cards and sat back, stroking his goatee and looking quite proud of himself. He had a ‘Guild Hand’ three queens and two fives: a strong hand.

With a slight smirk on his face the Taldoran turned over his cards and an audible gasp erupted from someone in the crowd around the table. Another guild hand: kings and sevens. A better hand.

The Tian stood up quickly, his hands balling into fists. His face grew a dark shade of red, barely containing his rage. His female guards had looks of anxiety about them as if they knew and feared what might come next.

But the game was not over.

The halfling dealer flipped the Golem’s hand over slowly, card-by-card, revealing four three’s and an ace. A mixture of applause and groans erupted from the crowd. The dealer paid out some side bets and the Tian man relaxed and sat back down. Better to lose to the Golem than to the obnoxious Taldoran it seemed. The two men paid their five gold penalties to the pot while the red haired halfling recovered all of the cards and began to stack the pot’s chips into neat, even columns.

The Chelaxian woman stood and left the table, making her way towards the front of the casino while the two Kelleshite’s anted up for the next hand. The Tian anted up as well, eager to win back his coin. The Taldoran seemed to consider another hand but stood up as well.

The Varasian waitress had returned with his order. He paid her with a five gold piece jade chip, far too much, and downed the stiff drink in one gulp. He tossed the empty wine glass abruptly onto the waitress’s tray and turned away from the table.

“Leaving so soon mister…?” the Tian said, his voice patronizing and questioning.

“Wade. Purvis Wade.”

The Tian’s eyes narrowed into thin slits as he registered this knowledge.

“As I said, leaving so soon Mr. Wade? I thought you were chasing the pot.”

Purvis Wade, looked away from the table and towards the rapidly disappearing form of the Chelaxian woman.

“No. I’ve got something better to chase. If you’ll excuse me.”

Wade turned, tipped the halfling dealer a gold coin, and followed after the beautiful woman in the blue dress.

From Oppara with Love continues in Part 2