By EM Malachi
The Mortal Game
It bothered the king that the pieces did not match. His side was made from obsidian, beautifully sculpted into the expected shapes. The crafter had taken more liberty with red’s side, giving extra details to each of the bloodwood pieces. The knights were decorated with curved swords, and the bishops had gargoyle features. The towers were topped with sharp points that reminded Blackthorn of wolf claws. The board and pieces had been a gift from Lord Batlin when the king suggested they play this game.
The king steepled his fingers and examined the board. His opponent was aggressive; Blackthorn had already lost much dealing with Batlin’s knights. Still, the king had retaken initiative when he sent his own knights into the enemy ranks. As long as there were no other surprises…
The gourd-festooned sloop slammed into the larger merchant galleon, and zombies with pumpkin heads scrambled to board the other ship.
The zombie crew started killing its counterpart and dragged the bodies back to their ship. A living sailor lopped the head off one of the abominations, but the animate flesh kept moving until the rotting hands were around the sailor’s throat.
Batlin smiled as his claw-topped rook captured a pawn in black’s ranks and put Blackthorn’s king in check. Blackthorn’s own rook was trapped and would soon be captured, and many of his defenders were scattered or busy on other parts of the board. “Let me know if you wish to resign.”
Blackthorn shook his head and moved a bishop to defend the king. The diagonal movement of bishops reminded him of mages, always moving at strange angles to everything else.
The mage had taken extra care with his binding circle, even using expensive silver-dust chalk. Daemonology was frowned on even here in Moonglow, so he had taken these precautions.
The mage began the ritual to summon and control a demon. Halfway into the delicate casting, his connection to the magic in the room broke. The failed spell started a fire, and the creature escaped the binding circle. As demonic claws tore into the mage, he was still puzzling out what had happened.
Batlin knocked over his own king with a finger. “An excellent game. Perhaps we will play again.”
Blackthorn studied the final board. “I’m sure we will.”
“May I ask a question?”
“From your reputation, I expected a more lively game or at least a nearly empty endgame. It seemed at times you were more focused on preventing the capture of your pawns than protecting your king.”
“I have a certain affection for pawns. After all, we are all just pawns in this life.”
Batlin gave a nod. “That we are.”
In the ethereal void, the Time Lord strained against his chains as hundreds of spirits tore apart the shrine around him, directed by a voice in the darkness.