Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 126,511,783 Issue: 256 | 8th day of Gathering, Y8
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A Game of Kou-jong


by fushigiyugichichrich

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First Mate Shumi fanned himself with his wings. Though the soft puffs of air didn't supply that much coolness, it was a relief in this blazing hot weather.

     "I swear," he muttered, glaring at the sun. "It's aiming directly at me no matter where I go."

     The green Scorchio gazed wistfully around, wishing he could get an ice-cold glass of water to parch his throat, which was about as dry as the sand around the ship. But the Captain had put him on watch while he took a nap, and certainly he wasn't about to let his Captain down.

     "Hi, Shumi!"

     A pink Kougra jumped up gracefully to where he was standing and gave him a cheerful wave.

     "That's First Mate Shumi to you!" he corrected sternly.

     Linae rolled her golden eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Whatever, Shumi."

     He was about to make a sharp retort when she said, "Hey, Shumi! Let's play Kou-jong!"

      First Mate Shumi gazed at the grinning Kougra doubtfully.

     "Why?" he asked suspiciously.

     "Oh come on, Shumi! Look around you! Everyone's so boring and busy! I've got nothing to do!" she cried dramatically, throwing her arms up in the air.

     Glancing around, he saw that she was right. Everyone else was all busy doing one thing or another, getting ready to set sail from the Lost Desert.

     Hopefully, he looked towards Bonju, who never seemed to do anything, but it seemed that he too was busy, stirring up some masterpiece in that cooking vessel.

     "I don't know how."

     "It's really easy! I'll teach you!"

     "Well..." he began, starting to crack.

     "Pretty please, Shumi? Please? Aren't you bored as well?"

     "Fine!" First Mate Shumi snapped, thinking that the desert heat had finally gotten to him if he was agreeing to do this. "Just wha-AGH!"

     He broke off with a shout of pain, clutching his burnt hand. He had been about to shift his metal helmet in sort of a dignified way. But when he had touched it, he found it scorching hot, thanks to the never-ending heat waves of the desert.

     Linae laughed, and he flushed. Linae was obviously going to tell the whole crew about this at dinner.

     She led him to a nice shady spot behind some crates, and he saw that she had already set up her tiles.

     "You were planning this!" he accused, eyes narrowed.

     Linae shrugged, and patted the spot across from her with a wide, striped paw.

     "Okay, the point of this game is to get rid of all the tiles," she explained. "But the tiles have to match, and they have to be free. And for the tiles to be free, there has to be no tile beside it on either one side or none."

     Her words tumbled out in a breeze as he strained to understand. His head was jumbled up and confused, but he wasn't about to let Linae know that.

     "Isn't this a one-person game, though?" he asked.

     "We can make it a competition. We'll both play separately with the tiles arranged in the same way, and whomever gets through the quickest wins!"

     "Alright, you go first."

     That way, he concluded, he could watch her, and learn before his turn.

     But to his horror, her paws moved so fast around the tiles, all he saw was a pink blur. And in about ten seconds, all her tiles had been neatly removed and put into pairs.

     "Your turn!"

     First Mate Shumi looked at the tiles blankly. Maybe he should just match up all the pairs, but that would be too easy. And besides, by the way the tiles were set up, a newbie could tell that you weren't supposed to just do that.

     He thought of thinking up a clever way to ask for help without sounding like he actually needed it. But in the end, his witty remark turned out to be, "Uh..."

     "Hurry up, Shumi!" Linae said impatiently

     Slowly, he reached out for two random tiles that both illustrated a small picture of a blue fan, and took them out. Linae didn't say anything, so he figured he was okay so far.

     He reached for a tile with four black swirls, shooting frequent looks up at Linae.

     "Shumi, you can't take those out! That tile has other tiles on either side of it!"

     Blinking rapidly three times, he found that he still couldn't figure out how this game worked, and that dealt a terrible blow to his pride.

     Trying desperately to gather what little information that had stuck to his mind, he grabbed a pair of tiles randomly. To his relief, she said nothing.

     It was obvious that he had already lost, as Linae had finished with incredible speed, but he wasn't too worried about that. All he wanted was to get through one game.

     He reached for a tile with a picture of the Brain Tree.

     "Shumi! There's nothing to match that up with!"

     Taken by surprise, the tile fumbled from his grip and slid down a good few feet from where they were sitting.

     There was a moment of silence.

     "You still don't get how to play, do you?"

     "Nope."

     She sighed heavily, and ordered, "Watch me again."

     Linae set the tiles back up, but once again, her paws moved so fast over it, he found himself still not knowing how to play. But he tried anyway... and found again that he had a blank mind.

     "Shumi, this is the easiest setup!" Linae hissed her irritation. Her words didn't exactly boost his confidence.

     "Show me again!" he ordered through gritted teeth. He would learn this game if it were the last thing he ever did in his life.

     He watched closely, but she still went super fast, and he still didn't get it.

     "You can do this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this!" she explained helpfully.

     "Could you... go a little bit slower this time?"

     "Shumi!" she groaned rather exasperatedly.

     She set up the tiles again, but this time, she moved her paws with exaggerated slowness as if expressing her annoyance.

     "See? This... tile... matches... up... with... this... one... 'cause... they... are... both... free," Linae showed him with long pauses in-between each word.

     "Okay! Okay! I get it! You can stop that already!" he snapped crossly.

     To his great surprise, she bowed her head. "Sorry, Shumi. I should be more patient with you, huh?"

     "Well, that would be nice," he said hesitantly, never having heard Linae apologize before.

     "I'll be a better teacher!" she promised fiercely. "I'll start from the very beginning."

     First Mate Shumi smiled a little. Linae wasn't as bad as he had thought.

     As the two sat there on the deck, he made his own promise. He would be a better student and listen to everything she said closely from now on.

     She picked up a single tile and held it up to the sunlight, gazing at it with apparent fondness.

     "This here is my favorite tile, the "Lost Desert Sunset". It was handcrafted in Mystery Island by their natives, and painted from the natural pigments from their wild jungles they have up there. Most tiles for this game are made out of wood, but mine aren't. In my opinion, wood wears off more quickly than the material I have here. I remember my first set when they..."

     Actually, on second thought, he wouldn't quite listen to everything she said.

The End

 
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