The dealer didn’t hesitate and tapped on the deck. A card flew out and lay face up on the table. The dealer didn’t even bother looking at it first. Everyone’s eyes widened in horror when they saw the card.
It was a king of hearts.
Everyone felt a shiver down their spine. Another veteran was gone just like that.
Xiang Nan sighed heavily, lit a cigarette and took a deep puff. He breathed out a large cloud of smoke and shook his head sadly. “Those willing to gamble have to be willing to admit defeat too.”
The dealer looked curiously at Xiang Nan and did not consume the little white figure on the table immediately. He cackled and said, “The difference between our cards is very great, but that doesn’t matter. Like I said earlier, I’ll give those who helped my daughter with her hatred special treatment. So, I’m going to let you draw another card. As long as the two cards add up to more points than mine, you will have won.”
Xiang Nan did not expect the dealer to give him a chance like this, but he wasn’t going to give it up either. He immediately drew another card, but this time, he hesitated before turning it over.
“Well, whether I live or die is already predestined!” said Xiang Nan as he spat his cigarette to the floor and snuffed it out with his shoe. He needed at least a nine to win.
He flipped the card with great flourish and a smile lit up his face. “It’s a jack of diamonds! I’ve won!”
The dealer shrugged and waved his hand to allow the little person to fly back into Xiang Nan’s body. Xiang Nan had survived this round, but that hadn’t been easy. If he hadn’t teamed up with Su Jin to solve the earlier case, he would be dead by now.
He looked gratefully at Su Jin, because he was quite sure that Su Jin could have solved the earlier without his help. Of course, Su Jin wouldn’t have known that roping him in would save him later on, but Xiang Nan still felt grateful anyway.
There were only four owners left, including Han Yiqing. Three of them exchanged glances, as if they had already agreed on something earlier. They stepped forward and sat down at the table.
“We want to play Dou Dizhu.” Su Jin was a little surprised. After what happened with the woman and the two men earlier, he thought the remaining owners would be wary of choosing to play this game. But he also quickly understood that this was probably a game that could ensure that more of them could survive together.
They started drawing lots and the dealer became the Landlord again. He scanned the three humans in front of him and started cackling. “Heh heh! Devouring three souls at a time makes me so excited, I’m trembling! I just can’t help it!”
“Don’t be too arrogant just yet! Nobody knows who will win!” said one of them sternly. At this point, he was no longer afraid and just wanted to defeat the dealer in this game.
But it didn’t take long for them to sink into despair. The pressure on the three owners grew as the dealer got rid of more and more cards. Just one mistake was enough to kill them all.
Dou Dizhu was a game of chance for sure, but it also required one to strategize, make predictions and scheme against the other players. Everyone at the table was good at strategy to a certain extent, so they did their best to consider each round carefully, making sure that they played the best cards possible each time.
But stress was something that often made people suffer a nervous breakdown. One of them ended up playing a bad card. He put a single card down, but the next person was unable to match that card and the right to start the next round went to the dealer.
“The three of you aren’t too bad. I like souls like yours,” said the dealer with a toothy grin as he continued putting down his cards again and again. The other three had no way to counter his cards at all.
After the dealer put his last card down, he shut his eyes with a satisfied look on his face. He snapped his fingers and the three little persons on the table instantly flew toward him.
“No! Please, spare me!”
“Please, don’t eat me!”
“I don’t want to die like this!”
The three of them howled miserably as they tried to stop the dealer. They pounced toward the dealer, unable to accept the fact that they were about to die.
But the dealer smiled even more brightly. To him, these humans were fools for attempting to bargain with him. Those who were willing to gamble had to accept the results even if they lost. They didn’t have a choice in this at all.
Immediately after the three little people flew into the dealer’s mouth, their physical bodies stiffened up and crashed heavily to the floor. All three of them were dead.
The only thing the surviving owners could do was to sigh. The rules within a Challenge were fixed by the Handbook’s universe. Owners could not bend these rules at all.
The last one was Han Yiqing. He stood in front of the dealer and wiped his sweat away as he stammered, “I…I’ll go with something…simpler. Let’s…draw lots! Two lots, one white and one black. White to live and black…to die!”
“Oh? How very clever,” said the dealer approvingly.
Su Jin and Xiang Nan nodded in agreement. Xiang Nan and Situ Jin had chosen to pick one card out of a deck of 54, mostly because they were confident in themselves. Situ Jin believed he could remember where that joker card was, while even though Xiang Nan had failed, he had also believed that he could pull it off. Park Donggeun was also confident that he could remember the cards, but his confidence was unfortunately misplaced as well.
Han Yiqing, on the other hand, knew he wasn’t capable of remembering anything. According to the analysis made by Su Jin and Xiang Nan, picking a card from the deck was the best way to reduce any difference in technique between the two parties.
So, he decided to take an even more extreme method. He came up with a game that was based 100% on chance, eliminating any need for technique. You only had one chance and you could only pick one out of two. No technique could make any difference.
As the old saying goes, those who know themselves well have an easier time in life. Han Yiqing was someone who had sufficient self-awareness in this aspect. He was perspiring profusely because he knew that this way of gambling sounded absolutely crazy. But it was his best bet too.
The dealer wasn’t going to object to playing this way. As long as it involved some element of chance, it was a gamble, so he did not say anything. He opened his mouth, stuck two fingers in and pulled out two short bamboo sticks from his throat.
The bamboo sticks were sticky from the gooey substance in his mouth, but it was clear that the ends of the sticks were colored – one white and one black.
The dealer flicked the bamboo sticks with his blackened fingers and a little container measuring as high as half the sticks appeared on the table. He placed the colored end of both sticks into the container and a darkness shrouded the container. Everyone could hear the sticks being shaken inside the container.
A minute later, the shaking sound stopped and the darkness over it disappeared. The two sticks were still moving a little from the vigorous shaking earlier. The dealer said to Han Yiqing, “Pick one! Pick one to decide your fate!”
Han Yiqing’s forehead was entirely drenched in sweat and his breathing had quickened. He clasped his hands nervously as he stared at the bamboo sticks. He had a 50-50 chance of living or dying. It was just a matter of which one he ought to choose.
He reached for the sticks and started pulling one out, but before the end of the stick could be revealed, he suddenly trembled and the stick fell back into the container. His hand had suddenly cramped up.
“I’m…I’m sorry, my hand…my hand started cramping up,” said Han Yiqing apologetically to the dealer with a fearful gulp. Even his face looked like it was cramping up.
He was under tremendous pressure. This wasn’t his first Challenge and certainly wasn’t the first time he was faced with the possibility of dying. But in previous Challenges, there was hardly any time to think or strategize. You could only desperately fight with whatever you had and you hardly got a chance to think about how you could better survive a particular ordeal.
This time, however, was completely different. His decision alone decided if he would die or not. The thought of that made him so nervous.
“If you’re going to behave like that, I’m going to get angry…” said the dealer with a big grin on his face. His green eyes were filled with anticipation, as if these games that relied on pure chance made him rather excited as well.
Han Yiqing licked his dry lips, then bit on his tongue. The pain helped him to calm down a little.
He exhaled deeply, then held onto one of the sticks with certainty. He kept the other hand on the container and slowly pulled the stick he had out of the container. His other hand blocked his view of the other end of the stick.
He then brought it closer to himself and slowly took away his other hand. His eyes widened and his breathing quickened.
“It’s…it’s white! It’s white!!” Han Yiqing started cheering as he waved it at the dealer. The white end of the stick was very obvious.
The dealer scoffed a little reluctantly before waving his hand and allowing the last little person on the table to return to its owner.
“Tsk, so many of you are still alive. How disappointing.” The dealer had only managed to kill five out of the 13 owners that made it to his round. He wasn’t too pleased with that.
“Well, congratulations, all of you. You’ve survived the second game, Gambling with Ghosts. You can proceed to the third game.” The dealer exhaled and everything before the owners went black again.
When light returned to their surroundings, all they saw was red. They were in an oddly shaped room, where the walls around them were stained with blood and flesh, while human hearts were suspended on the ceiling. The scariest part was that these hearts were still beating.
“Welcome, welcome! This is the third game, Lies, Lies, All Lies!” A woman’s voice resounded loudly in the room but they couldn’t see who was speaking at all.
“Who are you? And where are you?” asked Chu Yi.
“Hahaha! Where am I? I am where you are!” The woman had a very flirtatious voice, but there was a malicious undertone to it, which made everyone shudder from just listening to her speak.
A thought struck Su Jin’s mind. He squatted down and poked at the area around his feet. He straightened up again and said, “If my guess is right…we’re inside your body, right?”
“Her body?” Chu Yi stared at Su Jin in shock.
“You mean we’re like…in her stomach?” Han Yiqing’s eyes were also filled with disbelief.
Xiang Nan squatted down and started touching the floor as well. His hand picked up something sticky from the floor and the smell of it was enough to make someone puke.
“That’s right, you’re inside my body! Let’s play a game, shall we? If you win, you get to live. If you lose…then you’ll become part of my body!” Her laughter started off coquettish, then it became higher and higher in pitch until it became a shrill howling. The owners, especially the non-veterans, began to tremble. They really didn’t want to play anymore of such games…
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