Richard stood at the door, wondering if he should say another word. Matthias gave him a glare of annoyance and he could not help but smirk. No, Richard and Matthias weren’t friend. In fact, they hated each other. They enrolled for the same course at the same university in the same year, but they were polar opposites. Both Richard and Matthias were popular but for very different reasons.
Ever since Richard learned Matthias’ name, he found countless opportunities to annoy him. The only reason university was memorable was because he made an enemy out of the teacher’s pet. It was the only time where he received the attention he wanted, and Matthias never failed to give it to him.
“Richard here, knows what I’m talking about,” Guinevere announced.
As Richard looked at her confused, Matthias got up from behind the counter and casually strode out of the building.
“I’ll be right back. I need to speak to my friend,” Guinevere said to the man with a smile. Without waiting for a response, she gracefully took Richard by the arm and led him outside.
“I do not know what you’re talking about,” Richard said with a chuckle.
“Of course you don’t. You know nothing,” Matthias retorted.
“Now, now boys. Let’s not fight. Sharing is caring, right?” Guinevere said.
Matthias laughed and shook his head.
“You don’t have a choice, Matty. I’ll tell on you,” Richard said.
“Oh, that’s mature.”
“Correction. That’s blackmail.”
“It looks like you learned a thing or two in school after all.”
Richard smiled. He had long discovered that it annoyed Matthias every time he bounced back from a snide comment.
“Let’s not waste time arguing. Did you manage to get the information?” Guinevere stepped between the two of them.
“Do you actually want to share with this freeloader?” Matthias asked in return.
“Does it matter? As long as we’re faster than the other team.”
That was a reason to smile wider. When someone chose his side over Matthias’, it was the perfect opportunity to rub it in his face.
“Fine. Let’s just get the information out,” Matthias gave in, and began leading the way through a connecting path towards the clubhouse lobby.
As the two followed after him, Guinevere seemed pleased at how she managed to stop them from bickering. Unfortunately, Richard was not going give in so easily. Since the sun rose that morning, no one had spoken to him. Breakfast was in an empty dining room, his driver said nothing on their way to Skypeak, and the other four contestants chose to ignore him the moment he stepped into the lounge. Honestly, he thought he deserved some attention.
“How did you do it? I didn’t know you’re a hacker,” Guinevere said.
“He’s not. He has lackeys helping him,” Richard stated.
“They’re called friends. A word I’m sure you’ve never heard of,” Matthias replied as he rolled his eyes.
Richard tried to think of a clever comeback but somehow nothing good came to mind, so he smiled again. That was the best he could do; the only response he knew that protected his true emotions and pride. Ever since he was a child, it was his go-to reaction. When his mother told him she was leaving the family, he smiled instead of begging her to stay. When his father yelled at him for failing the bar exam, he smiled instead of saying he had no passion for it. When Matthias outsmarted Richard in school, he smiled instead of proving him wrong. Since nobody understood Richard and nobody seemed to try, he found himself doing it too often than he should.
As the moment of silence between them started to feel awkward, their phones began beeping. Whipping his out, Richard read the message out loud, “I’ll be waiting in the lounge.”
“How convenient,” Matthias stated.
“She’ll be waiting for a while,” Guinevere added.
“Let’s save her some time then. Instead of copying everything down, let’s just print the list,” Richard said.
“Will that be accepted?” Guinevere asked.
“You did the worst already,” Richard pointed out.
“We. We did it together. If you want in, you better share the weight,” Matthias said.
“Great! We’re a team now,” Richard chimed in sarcasm, as he gave Matthias a smack on the back.
No one argued with Richard on his plan, so the three did as he had suggested, but when they reached the lounge an hour later, they were in for a surprise. Thinking they had succeeded in completing the task first, they stood shocked at the doorway when they saw Jodie, Zach and Ms Leona sitting around a coffee table.
“Finally,” Ms Leona said as she waved them over.
“How?” Matthias asked.
Jodie shrugged and Zach gave no response. When they handed Ms Leona their envelopes, she put them aside and gestured for them to take a seat. Richard did as he was told.
“It’s nice to know you have all managed to complete the task, but that’s not the end of it. In the coming weeks, you will be given assignments to complete. They will not be easy, but the one that performs the best will receive the deed to this empire,” Ms Leona paused as she placed five cards on the table; three aces, two jokers, “your first assignment starts next week. Please pick a card before I tell you what it is.”
Zach reached first and went for an ace, then Guinevere picked an ace after him, followed by Jodie who did not hesitate as she went for a joker. In less than a minute there were two cards left, but instead of snatching for one, Matthias leaned towards Richard and whispered, “You first. Here’s your chance.”
Richard nodded with a smile. “How nice of you.” Accepting Matthias’ offer, he now had to choose.