Dice kept an eye on the pair of cups throughout the rest of the evening. In time, the blue cup showed more definite signs of life, which oddly relieved him. He didn't want to kill either one of them, after all. Even if the Devil could reap contracted souls after death, Dice could only see it as poor sportsmanship.

Like cheating in a game of pool or cards, or any other of the casino venue's. If you cheated for the money, it wasn't fair for anyone involved. And in the case of the brothers or any other person who sold or lost their souls, it wasn't very fair if they couldn't at least fight for their freedom.

With the two cups sitting up and talking in hushed voices, Dice quietly cut in, offering to let them stay the night. When protests arose that they had to finish tonight, Dice shook his head.

"The Devil twisted his words. Usually does. You actually have three days. You can spare a day to rest."

He wasn't supposed to tell anyone this, but at this point both the cups needed a chance to relax. He was being unnaturally generous, especially for a pair of troublemakers, but he brushed it aside. So long as they didn't tell, and he doubted they would, the Devil would never know anyway.

Despite being suspicious, the red teacup accepted his offer, "But only because I can't get Mugs back to Elder Kettle!"

Dice rolled his eyes somewhat, pushing off from the wall he'd been leaned against for the past couple of hours, stretching stiff muscles. Making his way into the kitchen, he fixed up some tea to boil, grabbing some bread and butter as an afterthought on his way back into the living room.

"Hungry? Oh, don't give me that look, it's not poisoned."

Rolling his eyes slightly, Dice set down the tray on a side table beside the couch, grabbed a biscuit and took a bite. That was all the reassurance that "Mugs", the blue one, needed, quietly setting to the barebones of a meal.

A few minutes later, both were eating happily and the kettle was whistling. Preparing the tea, he set it up on a tray with sugar, cream and the like.

Fixing himself his own glass before standing aside once more, he continued to keep an eye on them.

"Hope you like chamomile. I'm afraid it's all I've got at the moment."

"Thank you Mr. King Dice."

Nodding a little to Mugs, Dice took a sip of his drink, peering over the rim to glare slightly at the red teacup.

"Why are you stickin' your pinkie out like that? You look ridiculous!"

"It's simple etiquette."

He replied stiffly, hiding a slight smile when Mugs scolded his brother for being rude. The red teacup rolled his eyes but said nothing. The three lapsed into comfortable silence, drinking their tea and munching on biscuits.

King pulled out his pocketwatch, checking the time before snapping it shut and putting it away once more. It was getting late. A fact he made sure the young pair of dishes were aware of. And despite some protests, they were pretty worn out.

Before long they were curled up together on the couch, the blanket from earlier forgotten. Rolling his eyes slightly, Dice walked over, pulled the blanket up, and went about making a small fire in the fireplace.

The flickering flames were comforting, to say the least, casting warm shadows and companionable light to the room. Taking a seat before it, he tended to it for awhile, adding more logs as necessary. Sleep weighed heavily upon his eyelids, but for the time being he shrugged it off.

Soon he was snoring on the floor, stretched out before the warmth of the fireplace. . .

/He could feel the cold that seeped through his thin clothes. The hand, completely enclosing his own, leading him along through white, crunchy cold. He was hungry and thin, but the figure leading him was worse. If he wanted, he could've counted every rib on them. (He already had, afterall.)

His teeth were chattering with cold when they finally arrived at their destination. He gasped in relief at the warmth that surrounded them, growing stronger, the further they went into the caverns. Squinting up at the massive casino, with it's noise and flashing lights, he turned to his companion, squeezing their hand a little.

The taller die glanced down at him and offered a small smile, reassuring them that they wouldn't be suffering for much longer. He nodded, trusting what they said to be true. What reason did they have to lie to him? Inside they went, amidst the noise and tall folks, the clink of glass and scent of cigar smoke. There were the low murmurs of great man playing pool and the overtone of jazz music in the air, vibrant colors in the other wise dim space, dotted here and there with bright lights.

There was a large room, with a massive, ornate chair in it, so hot that he was sweating. His warm winter clothes were uncomfortable. Looking up at his companion he was going to ask if he could take off his coat, when he noticed them shaking minutely. Shuddering would be more accurate, and he suddenly felt the presence of another in the room.

A large character, covered in dark fur and sans clothes, with long straight horns and intimidating yellow eyes. The toon held a large pitchfork that had only three curved tines, gleaming golden.

He tilted his head curiously, even going so far as to wave hello, just a little. A little tug from his companion redirected his attention, and he caught the barest shake 'no' of their head. Oh . . So this wasn't a nice person. But if they weren't nice. . . Why were they here.

*"What are your desires?"*

The character boomed, startling him greatly.

"Pl. . . Please. My family is st-starving, fr-freezing out in the snow. I will give you my soul, to end their suffering. . . I'll work at your casino, whatever you wish!"

*"Just sign here, and all shall be taken care of."*

The character snapped his fingers and a scroll appeared before them, as well as a fancy quill pen.

He couldn't help but gasp aloud, awed at the magic he had just seen. It was amazing! The character on the throne grinned slightly at him, winking when his companion wasn't looking as they fiddled with the paper.

The man was helping them, right? Why was his companion so afraid of . . .them . . . Ohh. . . He felt . . . Strange. . . What was—?

Arms wrapped around him as his knees buckled, and it was harder and harder to keep his eyes open. He was exhausted, but why? He blinked up into the worried eyes of his companion, struggling to answer their questions. He was alright, just tired and a little dizzy, was all . . . His gaze drifted a little to the character on the throne, who leered cruelly at them.

Was. . . Was this his fault? Had the man cast a spell on him? Ohh. . . He didn't feel so well. . .

/Remember this,/ a voice murmured; with a start, Dice realized it was his own, /Remember those that loved you so. To forget them . . . Is to lose them. . ./

Tears well up in his eyes, and he used his meager strength to cling to his companion, crying out their name, but they soon faded from his grasp. He reached out desperately, but he had not the strength. The other character, the man on the throne, loomed over him, his grin like a sharks and eyes sharp and cold. Flames encroached upon his helpless form, something tightened against his throat, he couldn't BREATHE—!/

Bolting upright, clothes drenched in a cold sweat, Dice gasped slightly, breath caught in his throat. Glancing around wildly for a moment, he soon realized he was in the Die house, his home. He'd fallen asleep in front of the fire place, in his clothes. . . Making a face, he loosened his tie, so at least it wasn't strangling him anymore.

He'd had this dream before. It was always a little different, from their being other die, more frightening scenes in Inkwell Hell, and always, always it seemed, he was a child once more. Dice never liked these dreams. They reminded him of things he could never attain again, even with a deal with the Devil.

A slight noise behind him reminded the die that he wasn't alone, and after several seconds blank staring he remembered why two young dishes were snoozing away on his couch.

Forcing himself to his feet with a grunt, Dice shook old memories from his head as he made his way to the kitchen. He needed coffee and a proper meal if he was gonna survive today. And possibly a stiff drink. Not necessarily in that order.

Images of the die in his dream last night surfaced as he went about cooking breakfast. Their pips were a dusky black, their eyes snapped a brilliant blue when angered or afraid. He distinctly remembered that they'd skipped meals, giving Dice what food they had. He'd never fully appreciated it when he was younger. . . Never understood why there wasn't enough to go around.

Breathing in slowly, he released his breath even slower, clearing his head. He finished up in the kitchen and reentered the living room, bearing two plates.

The blue cup, Mugs he believed, was already up, yawning sleepily. The little dish started when he plunked down the plates on the table. Dice greeted him quietly and retreated back into the kitchen. The very thought of standing by the fireplace was unbearable. Before he could leave, however, he felt a tug at his coattails.

Glancing back in agitation, he spotted the the blue mug, tugging once again.

"Why don't you sit with us, Mr. King Dice?"

The King hesitated, pulling his suit loose from the little dish's grasp. Shaking his head, he retreated back into the kitchen, eating his meal in silence. He listened, absently, to the two cups chatter, but his thoughts soon drifted elsewhere.

Eyes, eyes like the sea, a mix of blue-green that were. . . Tired. That's how he best recalled them, but they could also be bright and merry, twinkle and smile, held reassurance and compassion in turn. Dice barely remembered them, but while it wasn't the figure from his dream, it had been family. Both of them were, come think of it. . .

Had. That was always the keyword at times like this, wasn't it? Shaking his head, Dice looked up, startled to see the little mug standing in the doorway, scuffing his shoe over the ground.

"Mr. King Dice? I have a question."


"Why are you helping us?"

Dice hesitated, longer than he intended too, uncertain how to answer. Finally, he settled on,

"Because you're just a pair of kids, and neither of ya deserve this."

"We've handled ourselves just fine so far!"

And, there was the red one.

Dice had to resist the urge to roll his eyes and point out how poorly their battle with him was going when his brother was injured. He refrained, however. No use riling them up only to get shot full of holes. He'd have hell to pay with the Devil, should he find out he actually /helped/ these two scamps.

". . . Why'd you do it?"

"Excuse me?" Dice eyed the red cup, "Why did I do what?"

"Sell your soul to the Devil?"

Dice fell silent, averting his gaze. "I didn't."

"What?! Then why do you work for him?! Even the other Casino Workers had Soul Contracts!"

Dice opened his mouth to speak, but he couldn't find the words.

/Remember. . . Remember those that loved you so. To forget them . . . Is to lose them. . ./

". . . It wasn't ever my choice to make. It was en elder sibling, or a cousin. They brought me down to Hell and begged an audience with the Devil. They're the one that made the deal, and signed the contract. Dragged our whole family down with it. Haven't seen hide nor hair of them since."

He was greeted with silence, and looked up to see surprise and sympathetic looks from the two little dishes.

The blue one, Mugs, spoke up at last, "We kinda know what that's like. . . We lost our parents when we were very young."

"Yeah, and Elder Kettle, our grandfather, looked after us ever since. We love him, but. . . We miss our parents sometimes, too."

The red cup chipped in, a little more reluctant to share. There was a hesitance in his manner, compared to his brother's more open compassion.

". . .to be completely honest," Dice continued, the words coming forth before he could stop them, "It's part of why I'm helping you two. I never had a chance to fight for my soul. You two do. And while you've done very well on your own, well, everyone needs some help now and again."

Dice looked away, blushing slightly at the outright grins he was receiving at this point, having thought little of the praise he was giving them.

Feeling a tug on his slacks, he glanced down at the determined faces of the two cups.

"We're gonna help you, too! We can save everyone! We just gotta beat the Devil first!" Mugs declared, full of confidence.

"We'll find a way to destroy the contracts!" The red cup chimed in, a spark in his eye.

"Simple enough, the contracts are made of paper, enchanted perhaps, but paper all the same that can catch fire. You can't burn your own, of course. Otherwise the debtor's may have done so years ago."

The little dishes blinked, then grinned once again, nodding. Turning on a dime, they took off, ready to take on whatever came their way.

And Dice, like the fool he felt he was, found himself running after them, shouting,

"WAIT! You have to beat me before you can see the Devil!"

Cursing under his breath, and knowing there was little time to waste, he skid to a halt, turned about and briefly returned to his room. Afixing his suit and tie, checking over himself in the mirror, his eyes flaring virulent green. Grinning slightly at his reflection, he felt it twist into a frown.

Shaking his head, he smiled once more, a well-practiced, smug, self-confidant smirk appearing, leering right back at him. Satisfied with what he saw, King Dice flashed out a hand, using a card that was well-worn and —others might say— well-loved. It wasn't one of his usual marked aces, but a trick card, and one that was seldom used in battle.

In an instant, he was back at his usual post, before the door to the Devil's Throneroom in Inkwell Hell. Checking his pocketwatch, he guessed that, if the boy's didn't make any detours and ran most of the way, they'd arrive in about five minutes. Rolling his shoulders slightly, he prepared his cards with a flick of his hand, summoning and dismissing them.

The magic was familiar from years practice, but it was not the kind he was born with. A fact he normally never thought of, and it was a wonder he could remember it at all. But now, of all times, he couldn't forget. . .

Shaking his head in order to clear it, Mr. King Dice readied himself for the battle to come, prepared to give it his all. Or at least, give the appearance therefore.

He had to put on a show, in order to convince his Boss if no one else, where his loyalties truly lay. . .

A/N: Thank you all so much for your comments and feedback! Thank you all especially for your patience!

Liselis: Thank you so much! ^^ This makes me so happy!

HiILikePie: J-jeez! *offers tissues* Glad you enjoyed it!

Krackaroo21: Heh, my first fic of the fandom for certain, but far from my first rodeo. I've taken your advice to heart, it actually helped me a lot when writing this chapter!

PinkiePieParty122894: :D Thankyous!

Shadowfang14: Ask and ye shall receive, as it were. And, well, although it wasn't my original intention, Dice ending up being a Guardian isn't too far off, in all honesty.

Tails FT Foxy: Thankyou! Here's the next chapter (obviously, heh. . .)

keiferj69: O-oh dear! *offers tissues and sweets* R-really. . .? Amazing how stories have impact. . . It always surprises me, for some reason, when people react to mine like this. . .

And, to wrap it all up . . . A little preview of the next chapter for all of you! Please enjoy and review, feedback is always welcome!

*/Some Twenty-Odd Years Ago. . ./*

He awoke to a voice calling his name and someone shaking his shoulder. He blinked awake and looked up, quickly recognizing the dusky blue pips and face of his older cousin, inches from his own.

"Mornin' Collin!"

He started, cut off in a yawn. His cousin offered a strained smile, nodding a little.

"Come on, Claude," he replied softly, inching out from under the covers. It had been so cold this winter that they'd had to share a bed to stay warm. "We've got a big day ahead of us."

"What're we doin'?" Claude asked, giving a gap-toothed frown as he huddled further under the blankets. "A-aren't we just gonna. . . gonna stay home and help your mommy and daddy?"

"N-not today, bud. . ."

Collin replied once more, a little more somber than usual.

Claude wasn't stupid or naive Like most seven-year-olds were. He knew things were harder than usual, these past few seasons. How father's store had been losing more and more business, and his unck'y and auntie's little farm had lost most of their crops. And especially with hos sick both pairs of parents had fallen sick this last month. So sick his parents hadn't woken up for two days now.

His cousin hadn't let him into their room. Said Claude might get sick too, and his parents needed him well, so he could help around the house.

". . . Then what are we gonna do?"

". . . Just. . . Get dressed in warm clothes, buddy. We're going out later today and. . . And it's a long walk."

Collin replied, having already pulled on his pants, at present hunting for a suitable shirt. Claude could see his ribs, pressing through pale grey skin. Blue pips and gray porcelain, like rain in the clouds. That's how his mommy always described it, anyway. Not like his own head. Lavender against snow, he recalled her saying.

Nodding obediently, Claude got out of bed, shivering as he left the warm space they're bodies had made, and hunted down some clothes. He picked out the cleanest ones, laced up his shoes all on his own, and grabbed his coat and cap from their hooks by the door. Once this was finished, he headed down the hall.

He paused by his unck'y and aunties room, listening at the door. He heard quiet snoring, and some coughing, and nodded to himself. Didn't sound any worse than previous days, thank God. Next was his parents room . . . Where he heard no sound at all. Collin had told him that this was because they were so deeply asleep that their breathing was too slow and quiet to hear.

Claude hoped they would wake up soon. He missed his father's stories, and his mother's cooking.

When he finally entered the kitchen, Collin had already set out some cold bread with butter, cups of water, and a little bit of cooked bacon. The younger die couldn't help but frown when he realized his cousin had taken the smaller piece, and no meat at all.

"Are . . .are you sure?"

"I'll be alright, I'm older than you . . . You need it more than me. Now, e-eat up, alright?"

Claude nodded, eating the scant meal. He didn't see anymore food prepared. . . What was unck'y and auntie going to eat? Before he got the chance to ask, Collin was taking him by the hand and leading him to the door.

He wrapped his own long, think scarf around Claude's neck, and checked his own boots.

"It's very important that you listen to me and stick close, alright? Don't talk to anyone, either. . . This . . . It's a longshot, but. . . It's the only chance we have, alright? It's going to help us. I promise. Can you do all that, Claude?"

Nodding, determined not to let him down, he took his cousins hand once again, and out they went into the snow.

They went all the way from Inkwell Isle 2 to Isle 3. When they hesitated at the railroad tracks, peering into a large cavern, Claude looked up, and realized his cousins eyes were a brilliant blue shade.

They only looked that way when he was excited, angry, or afraid. . . And the latter of the three was all over his face. What could be so scary about a cave?

"R-remember . . . Just stick close to me, alright? Don't talk to no one, no wandering off, alright?"

Claude nodded once again, and down they went into the cavern's below, soon met with bright lights and warmth uncharactistic of winter.

And there before them, lay the Devil's Casino in all it's flashy glory.

Without another word, Collin lead them inside. And like so many before them, they're fates were sealed the moment they stepped through the door.