The Dawn of Omega Chess
By Peter Hug
"I'll have his head for this!" The king was nearly apoplectic with rage. He began to foam at the mouth. All traces of intelligence
had vanished from his small pig like eyes. "I'll not have him infringing on my borders. This is war!" He slumped onto his throne as
the oversized crown slid over his ears. He sighed, and pushed the crown up over his ears. He leaped off his throne, tripping over
his own cloak, knocking the already dented and battered crown to the floor. "Where's my scribe?
I need a declaration of war drawn up. Where is he?" He ran over to where his crown lay upside down on the floor, picked it up still running and threw it at his fool, the only person in the throne room to view his outburst. The brightly clad man sidestepped the crown as it skittered past him on the white marble floor. The king had stormed out the door and the room was still shaking from the vibrations of a pair of massive oak doors that the King slammed shut.
"We're going to have to do something now." The fool murmured.
Around the small table sat three men, the room was dark and secluded, hidden away as it was in a back alley in the tanner's district. No one came here if they could avoid it. There was a small lamp in the center of the table that gave off more smoke then it did light. The man who had been in the throne room of the rabid King coughed from the greasy smoke. He was dressed in rather shabby but plain clothes, there was no trace of the past gaudiness left.
"We are going to have to do something soon, the King is ready to declare an all out war with King Loki of Darnhaven. We have to prevent bloodshed on that scale at any cost." His eyes made a quick round of the table. The other two men at the table were both aging. One of the men was obviously another court fool, for he still wore his livery, which was themed with the colors of the duke. Over this he wore a dark overcoat, in order to draw less attention to himself. The other man was obviously the eldest of the three at the wobbly little wood table. He had shock white hair that was close cropped, more in the style of a fighter who often wore a helmet than anything else. By looking at him, you could tell that he had not worn a helmet in a long time, nor was he likely to do so in the future. The sheer weight of it would cripple him. His close cropped hair was most likely the result of many years of habit.
"Pettre, you've been warning us about this for a long time, you must have prepared for this. Our King and King Loki are ready for a pitched battle out on the plains. We need to prevent this senseless act." The man with the short-cropped hair nodded, but said nothing. He rose from his chair and walked over to the wall, where lay a leather case and a staff. He picked up the hard case, and returned to his seat, setting the box on the table that threatened to topple.
He removed two smaller boxes and two boards. He sighed, and passed one of each to the two fools. Each board had a grid ten squares by ten with one more on each corner. Each of the small boxes contained two sets of stylized figures, one set dark, one light. He explained the workings of the game to the jesters.
"I need you to convince our King and King Loki to postpone their battle for two years, this will give them time to train a battle team. The border dispute will be settled by a Tournament match; there will be less bloodshed.
Should they argue, you are to tell them that the high wizard requires it of them. If they hesitate further, you may inform them that this game is the ultimate test in skill and intelligence, rather then senseless battle. We of the brotherhood of Wizards and Champions, who originated it know it and have tested ourselves with it for millennia. This you must do in order to avoid the senseless slaughter that looms ahead." He got off his chair, picked up the empty case and headed to the door, picking up his staff in the passing. He was gone before either court jester could say a word.
Gernin's pleasant repose was rudely interrupted by several sharp jabs in the ribs. It could only be Kes, his wizard roommate. He could not understand why the king had insisted that they be teamed together, after all, he did have another wizard-champion pair, why stick him with Kes. There was no single other combination in history that could have been worse. Gernin was a late sleeper, whereas Kes always rose at the crack of dawn, and seemed to want to enforce his schedule on his champion companion. This was not very welcome, especially after a night at a tavern with tankard in hand. He opened his eyes fractionally, just enough to see that Kes was using his wizards staff to poke him in the ribs. Kes looked younger than he actually was, he was in his eighteenth year, but looked almost sixteen.
He was on the gangly side of trim. He wore dark blue robes, and carried a crystal crowned lorken staff with him that was bound by mystic iron on both ends. He was attempting to grow a beard, after all, everyone knew that wizards had beards. His attempt was just that, an attempt, and not a very good one at that, his bad teenager goatee was sparse, and little more than fine dark hairs tufting his chin. He was stronger than he was willing to admit, this earned him a grudging respect from the man he was currently trying to rouse. They were an odd combination, the one lean, young, tall, and dark haired. The other, only a span taller than most, in his nineteenth year, very bulky, and by a freak twist of heredity, silver-haired.
"Out Gernin, we have sparring practice against Ves and Mernin. His Royal Highness wants us prepared for the seasonal match against the teams from Darnhaven two days from now." He mentioned the King with a certain contempt, both knew that he had almost no comprehension of the workings of the match. The only reason that his team had not lost in the past eight seasons was the skill and ability of his wizards and champions. Gernin rolled out of his bed and hit the floor face up, staring up at Kes. He flopped an arm across his eyes to keep the light out. His eyes were a little sensitive from the heavy drinking that he had done the night prior.
"I'm up, now stop poking me with that stupid staff or I'll snap it in two." He said irritably, still suffering ill effects from his night out.
"First off, I'm not about to stop until you're ready for our sparring match. Second, I doubt that you could summon up enough strength to snap it right now. And third, both of us know that you would never snap it, it's saved your silly bronzed hide too many times for that. Now get up." He prodded him in the gut with the butt end of his staff. He glanced down at the prone form on the floor, still vainly trying to convince himself that the sun was not up, and that he therefore didn't have to get up yet. "Gernin, that's not going to do you any good."
"I know, but I can always try can't I?" He grinned and sat up on the floor. "Give me a hand up, will you?" Kes nodded and reached down to help up his partner.
Once he was standing, he reached down beside his bed and lovingly removed his Broadsword in its scabbard. He practically felt naked without it. He took his sword with him everywhere. This was the case with most king's champions, Their swords were an extension of themselves, and represented the power of the King. Gernin then walked to his closet where he exchanged his pair of light pants for a pair of leather pants, that weren't quite skin tight and a wide leather belt.
He slung his sword over his shoulder and strode toward the door where Kes was waiting. Kes as usual was practicing his wizardry. He was fingering a small flame that he had called up. "Let's go, I feel like showing Ves and Mernin how to do their jobs. I wonder which of the understudy teams we will be training with today." They walked quickly through the black stone hallways to the training room, which was in the courtyard at the back of the team's barracks. As they stepped outside they could see that Ves and Mernin were teamed with Yul and Jernit.
On the other side of the courtyard were Hin and his partner Jarnin. Neither Ves nor his partner particularly liked Kes or Gernin. They decide to remind Kes and his tired partner that they were late.
"Too drunk to get out of bed this morning Gernin? I saw you putting away the ale last night. They had to take you out back and throw a bucket of water on you before they could send you home." They both laughed. This was the only way that they could get at them. Compared to Kes or Gernin, they were both amateurs, and always got soundly trounced during spars.
The four pairs of youths took their places on the tiled courtyard. Gernin winked at his youthful teammates. He was confident as usual. They signaled the referee to begin the match and he summoned up the illusionary units. At the seasonal matches, the units were actual people and they invariably suffered casualties. When the illusionary units resolved the horn was sounded and the match was begun. The echoes of the horn had not faded before the opening move had been made.
Flames and mystic blasts sizzled from the crystal tip of Kes's staff to roast an imaginary knight in his armor. The image vanished instantly.
Yul made a feeble attempt to counter Kes's move by throwing a peasant in front of the flame, but he only succeeded in losing that as well.
Gernin took advantage of this distraction to make his opening move against his opponents. He took a deep breath, realizing that while the knight and peasant had vanished, the horrid smell of seared flesh still permeated the air. He unsheathed his Broadsword with a hiss of metal on metal. From a crouch he pounced off the tiled floor with his bulging legs. The blood pulsed through his veins and the veins stood out all over his half bare form.
He planted a foot on the shoulder of one of the illusory peasants and leaped out using him as a springboard. He hit the ground in a roll, coming up in time to slam the blade of his weapon through the midsection of another peasant. Blood spurted and Gernin took time to wipe the blood that had spattered across his eyes before the creation vanished. There was a crack of lightning and a sickening sizzle as Hin deftly removed another player who had attempted to spear Gernin while he was distracted. The champion looked up to see the smile on the young wizards face. He offered a brief salute with his sword before spinning around to slam his blade into another illusory unit. It vanished. Jarnin stepped beside Gernin, offering him the assistance of his blade. He carried a somewhat shorter blade than Gernin, it was more of a hand-and-a-half blade that, though it had less momentum, it was no less effective.
He wielded it with the brute force of an ox, as he swung down with both hands on the hilt to dispatch another foe. The unit was split from crown to belt before it vanished. He winked at his fellow champion before they continued onward hacking and slashing their way across the tiled courtyard. From behind them came assorted ear-shattering sounds as Hin and Kes continued to hurl various elemental furies at their opponents. From in front of them came repeated curses from the hard-pressed mages, punctuated by an occasional scream as another unit vanished.
Jernit appeared in front of Gernin from between two rooks, offsetting his plan of attack. Jarnin was busily attempting to create an illusion that bore a striking resemblance to pictures that he had seen of King Loki's Queen. He didn't even pause in his onward attack. He tripped the opposing champion with a low swinging kick at his feet and rapped him soundly on the side of the head with the flat of his broadsword, it was enough to keep him out for the remainder of the match ,but not really hurt him. There was still a rule against killing the champions or wizards during a sparring match. Jarnin had dispatched Loki's Queen. Kes had placed Ves in a stasis lock, and was now concentrating his efforts on Yul. Meanwhile, Mernin was suspended twenty feet above the courtyard by an effort of Hin's.
Gernin smiled, he dropped into a crouch and sprang up, planting a foot firmly on top of the head of yet another peasant. He landed another foot on the helm of an armored night and leaped directly at the image of King Loki.
Screaming insanely he brought down his broadsword to politely assist King Loki with the unnecessary weight of the head on his shoulders. As the King's illusionary head bounced along the tiled floor, the remaining illusions vanished.
Kes and Hin undid their spells, and laughed as Jernin fell unceremoniously to the tiles. The winning team was in good humor. The referee of the match announced the victors as they prepared to head to the showers and then to the barracks.
An older man stepped out of a doorway and walked out to Kes and Gernin, helping himself along with his staff. He stopped short of the two and offered a half salute with his staff. His hair was shock white and close cropped.
"The guild recognize you both and wishes you luck in the upcoming match." There was a hint of formality in his voice that identified that the words were a formula, however, he honestly meant them.
The wizard and the champion both bowed in unison. "Many thanks to the guilds, Master Pettre." They assumed a less formal attitude as they began what was a friendly, if brief chat with their mentor and trainer, Master of the guilds Pettre. Gernin grinned.
"Had it not been for you Master Pettre, we would not have gotten this far."
"No, I saw your natural talents, you would have gotten here without me." He smiled. "Your fighting is excellent, I have no doubts that you will win. You have no need of my doubts anyway, you have more than enough of your own."
He smiled once more, and turned to make his way towards the guild's quarters. He was an extraordinary man. He had once been the previous King's personal champion before the old King had passed away. He had been the eminent swordsman. No man had been able to equal him. And to tip the scales further in his favor, he was a skilled and powerful mage. Had anyone ever thought to challenge him, even now, they would be hard pressed to defeat him. After the King had died he had effectively retired from active service but had instantly been snatched up by the fervent guilds who were desperately in need of leadership. He chose the best students and trained them personally, that they might benefit from his knowledge and experience. Kes and Gernin had been lucky enough to receive his attentions. The results of that training were becoming evident. They continued on their way to their quarters to clean up.
After the Match Kes and Gernin had the rest of their time until the seasonal match to themselves. Gernin would normally spend his free hours at a tavern tankard in hand. However, this close to the seasonal matches he did not want to risk the consequences of several nights of drinking and cavorting.
"Kes," He said while sitting across from him in the apartment that they shared, "Get out the Omega board, we need to work on our coordination." He sat himself down at the small square table in the center of the room.
It was plain and simple, and adequate. The chairs that accompanied it were much the same, as was all the other furniture in the room. The only items that were more than utilitarian were the sword and the staff. Aside from these, the only other item in the room was the great board set and pieces that went with it.
Both Kes and Gernin had received the set from their mentor Pettre, Master of the Guilds upon completion of their apprenticeship. The guilds master artisan had sculpted the figurines of the wizards and the champions in Kes and Gernin's likenesses. The remaining pieces were the classic stylized figures of other versions of the game that abounded. The name of the game was Omega Chess.
They were ready for a round of Omega Chess, It was the ultimate in battle chess. All other forms of chess were limited forms of this, the original, created a millennia ago. Learning the secrets of the original game always gave them the extra skill to win in normal chess battles.
These other forms of chess had been created by those who could not fathom the sublime, nor grasp the subtle intricacies of Omega chess.
The refined, however, followed the seasonal matches, Kes and Gernin later attempted to find ways to change the outcome of a seasonal match that had killed their former favorite team. Kes removed the set from it's carved rosewood box and laid it out on the table. They would play a match, as usual, and then compare notes on their own playing styles.
This was the only way to identify their weaknesses without revealing them to any others. The only alternative method to hone their skills would be to have an open match against the likes of Ves and Mernin. They were an unsavory group and would certainly reveal such information if it would get them a placement in the seasonal matches. Kes won the match as usual. He always had been the intellect of the team.
"You left yourself far too open to attack", commented Gernin.
"I know, however, for each move he could have made against me, I had a countermove ready that would nullify his attack." He explained with a smile, he always beat Gernin at these tabletop matches, but he doubted if he would be a match for him in an open fight, he was glad that they were on the same team.
"I need sleep. My head hurts too much from all this thinking", grunted Gernin and unbelted his sword, and flopped, face-first, onto his bed. Kes could only laugh quietly.
The following day was uneventful, any time that Gernin was not sleeping, they were honing their skills at the board. They were both anxious about the big match the next day, though neither was willing to admit to it.
"Get up Gernin, It's the seasonal match today." He didn't even bother to poke his partner in the ribs. The champion bolted upright in his bed and reached straight for his sword. He sat on the corner of his bed and slung the scabbard over his shoulder. He hadn't taken off the leathers from the day before, he had been far too tired.
"I'm ready." He stood up and strode out the door with the wizard close behind. They knew that the other men involved in the match would already be at the arena, so they made for the center of the city and the arena. The sun was already high in the sky when they got there, the matches began late, so they were in no danger of being late. As they looked up at the fighter's entrance arch the sun beat down on them and the cobblestone street. The archway radiated a certain golden glow. This was a day that they would soon not forget. The two drew in a deep breath almost simultaneously and looked at each other. They walked through the entry and disappeared into the shadows within. The match had truly now begun
This short has been rough edited by Daniel C. Macdonald, please visit his webpage
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