So, that was a bit unexpected. And indeed, it was as unexpected for me as it was for you! But yes, it is true. I am deeply indebted to a prince of Callij. Deeply indebted. You may call me a fool, and I would agree with you, but when you hear the odds I played, I challenge anyone to claim they would have done otherwise. My losses are an utter farce, but the problem is that I cannot prove that. There was no way to rig the game. No way.

Or so I thought… The Lady has been kind, and I now have my chance, however remote it may seem. I will unravel this mystery once and for all. I am an investigative mercenary, and I am excited. Yes, this is genuinely exciting. And it changes my travels somewhat, too. No longer am I flying from debt. Now I am moving forward with intrigue. This is genuinely exciting!

**A plea to creative readers: **as I look upon this, my eyes grow bored by the uniformity! I crave inspirational images, but alas, my hands fail me in that regard. I am not a ruddy artist. Are you? If you are inspired to articulate your (related!) imagination, then please, send it to me, and I will refresh this blot with its vibrancy.

Of course, first I have to escape Mallis. The prince’s (and indeed my father’s!) hounds are still snooping around, but my hidey hole has stayed well concealed. I am cooped up, no way to get out of this back-road inn, but if I have one thing, it is time. I am going to go about this sensibly. The cat will surely get bored eventually, and the mouse (me, for the avoidance of doubt) will bolt when the moment arrives. I have my whiskers to the ground and my mind is spinning with possibility. But before I go any further, let’s think about those odds. I doubt anyone will be unfamiliar with the rules of “flip-coin”, but just in case…

## The Game of Flip-Coin

I have a coin, and it has two sides – teeth and scales. Yes, I am using High-Mandari currency. But the game is equally applicable to Mikaetan stallions, Alliance golds, Calados Drakhars, or any other coins you may wish to use. Coins have two sides, and they are different, and that’s all that matters. Well, not all that matters. What really matters is that one can toss the coin in the air and it has an equal chance of landing on either side. Hence flip-coin is a game of chance. I might flip a ‘teeth’, or I may flip a ‘scales’. Simple.

And that is really the game at its simplest:

- We agree to a game of flip-coin (length one).
- We offer an equal stake (because it is a 50:50 game), and I (or you) flip the coin (a link 1).
- We could then negotiate on the stakes at this ‘mid-point’, but in a game of length one, this is really rather pointless.
- You (or I) then flip the coin; and
- If you (I) match what you flipped, then you (I) win the total staked money. Otherwise, I (you) win the staked money.

Of course, things are never left to be quite so simple. This is a simple game at its core, but it quickly blows out to something upon which an entire trade has been forged. Let’s continue…

Now we’ll make things a bit more complicated by making it a game of length 2. You might think that this means that the coin is flipped twice, but it is not. It is flipped three times. It is flipped in a link 2, and then a link 1, so that we have three flips in total. Player two then has three flips in which to match both links. The second player can flip the links in whatever order they want, but each link must be correctly ordered.

The obvious point here is that the person throwing first has an inherent advantage, because it is now longer odds for player two to ‘match’ or ‘attack’ what player one has thrown. The stakes therefore need to be adjusted accordingly, and the rules of the game dictate that in a game of ‘2s’, player one puts in 4:1 compared to player two. Don’t ask me why, but it’s just true. Someone showed me the mathematics behind it once, but I wouldn’t be able to recite it here. Numbers are not my strength (if they were, I wouldn’t be in this mess).

For a game of ‘3s’, these odds are multiplied-through such that player 1 puts in 16:1 compared to player two. And so on for anyone crazy enough to go even further.

Now, one important point is that in a game of 2s, the odds negotiation at the halfway stage becomes far more interesting. Our stake of 4:1 has to be posted at outset, but at the mid-point, the actual odds of the game are clearer. For example, if player one throws teeth, scales, teeth (T, S | T), then player two can match that by throwing either:

- Teeth, scales, teeth (T, S | T), or
- Teeth, teeth, scales (T | T, S).

This is because links can be thrown in any order.

However, if player one flips teeth, teeth, teeth (T, T | T), then there is really only one way to match that. So, some ‘flips’ have more potential matching combinations than others, and given that at the mid-point we’ve seen the initial flip, the players may seek value in changing the stakes if they are feeling confident. Negotiation rules are wide and varied to say the least.

And indeed, there are many other rules beyond this too. There are in fact too many to get down here, but the key ones are as follows:

- At the mid-point, player two has the option to ‘play a tail’. This gives them one additional flip per link, and therefore improves their odds of matching player one’s flip. However, the cost of taking the tail is to multiply player two’s stake by three to the power of length. So, for a game of 2s, the unadjusted stake goes from 4:1 to 4:9. It’s an expensive option, but it is frequently taken because it makes the game competitive.
- Player two also has the option to play blind, in which case they have to declare which link they are attacking before they attack it. This is generally taken in conjunction with a tail option (above), and changes the stake factor to a multiple of 2 (to the power of length).
- Beyond that, any numbers of different stake wrangling options are also available at the mid-point, and indeed at other points in the game. This is agreed at outset by the players.
- And single games are often seen as too ‘volatile’ for purpose, and instead vast “best of many” scenarios are opted for instead.
- I have also even seen some hard-core factions create tables based on the results of games between dozens of players over the course of many dozens of rounds. It is truly bewildering.

But those complications are not required here. If you have the basics, then all you need to know is that I staked a ‘pure’ game of flip-coin with a prince of Callij. But no game of 2s or even 3s. No indeed. I challenged the prince to a game of 6s. 6s! That gave outset odds of 1,024:1. Long for sure, but I was banking on my opponent taking an open tail. That would have brought things back to 1,024:729 – still stacked in my favour. Yes I was staking money I didn’t have, but I was also confident of my prince failing to match it.

And beyond this, I also threw a cracking flip. T, T, S, T, T, T | S, S, T, T, S | S, T, S, T | S, S, T | S, T | S. The important point here is that only the longest link starts with teeth, and all the others start with scales. This is a good thing from my perspective; you will have to believe me on that if you doubt this.

So, I had thrown this. Brilliant! The odds were all in my favour. We had no wrangling at half-way, but where I expected the prince to use his options, he didn’t. In fact, he plumped for blind and used it to increase my stake rather than reducing his. I now had very little to win (well, it was a big stake so it wasn’t insubstantial), but almost no chance of not winning it. I had one hand on the pot…

…and then watched as the bastard flipped an exact copy of my effort. An exact copy! He tells me that those are odds of 1 in 2 million. 1 in 2 million! This is crazy. So, I’m sure you can see how peeved I was. That is really why I ran from Callij. And indeed, also why the blot winning pot is so important to me. I owe a lot of money now.

Let’s move on. How in all the hells of l’Unna did he come up with that flip? It is madness – the odds are just too long. And yet, sat there with the Lady Grey, I watched as she did the very same thing. The same bloody thing! Yes, she only matched a flip of game length 3, but it was still an exact copy. How?

Here we get thrown into a murky world that I had, until now, dismissed. We all know the stories – that our esteemed father, Dara, had power over the force of chance. It was apparently gifted to him and his family by Rhanna, our god who had won over the native god of l’Unna. Unthara, or Father Fortune, had given up his power over risk, and this had been passed to Dara as Rhanna’s representative on l’Unna. This is what the old stories say.

But it is of course utter rubbish. Even the Ranji do not stand by these stories, and in fact, openly crush them. Dara was remarkable because he was a remarkable man – nothing more and nothing less. And besides, who could possibly hold power over the force of chance?

Fanatics – those who stand religiously by the stories and who are largely marginalised as a consequence – even have a name for this talent, and they call it ‘short-shaping’. They even claim that it is embedded in the very core of Society, but that the upper tiers are keeping it hidden. They cite the Order of the Root as a prime example of short-shaping in action, but no-one believes them. Mostly they are mad, and that is the best of them. It would be crazy to place any sort of reliance on what they claim.

And yet, that is what I must now do. I need a drink.

My first thought is that I need to get away. Obviously, I need to escape this city, but I also need to escape Mandaria. The accused religious suppression of these ideas must surely mean something, and to get away from our beloved religion, one must also get away from Mandaria. Here, the priests of the Ranji have their greatest voice, which is why I must get away. And I have decided. I am going to go to the First Fist – to Xeidan. There is a port not far from here, servicing this city, and that is where I’ll go.

And yes. I hear your question: how will you pay for the travel? Well, I have not been totally cooped up. I have been playing flip-coin, and with rather excellent success. I have my own ways, though I can assure that it is nothing to do with short-shaping. And a tap-room full of drunken fools is a great place to harvest the silver. They really have been excellent takings, and all I had to do was offer the inn-keep a quarter share.

So, that is it. I am off to the First Fist where I will explore that brave new world. What knowledge of shaping they will have, I do not know, and I gather that subtlety will be my best friend, but first steps must always be taken. It all seems so clear now. I have a purpose. And there is only one thing prickling at the back of my mind.

The Lady mentioned long-shaping too…