"My Lady, I pledge to you, this was not the work of a ghost. When I entered the room, there was a man directing the movements of the skeleton. When I attempted to fight him, he was helped to escape by a second man." He crossed the room and sank down on a stool near the bed. "Do you remember anything that could help us identify either of them?"
Ella took a moment to think over the earlier predicament, but for the life of her she couldn't remember what happened. The last thing she could remember doing was turning around to look at who was coming in the door. Listening to the story that Thomas had told her made her shiver. To think that a man could just walk into the castle so simply and do that to her. She couldn't even speak, so she shook her head instead to explain that she didn’t know anything about the man.
She looked at her hand which, for some strange reason was still bleeding out that odd symbol on her hand. She could feel an odd tingling in her hand that was unlike anything she had ever experienced. It didn't seem to hurt at all, so that was one good thing.
"H-how, how could th-this ha-ppen to me?"
Thomas sighed and leaned forward, elbows planted on his knees.
"It happened because you were alone, my Lady. Something that won't happen again for a while, I'm afraid. From now on, there will always be at least two Guards with you, and unless I miss my guess, Mageria will also assign somebody to hang around in the background." He scratched his nose and clasped his hands in front of him.
"I'm afraid the reason it happened, was because somebody wants you to be frightened, Lady. For whatever reason, because they are afraid of what Newhaven might do or what you personally might do; their answer is to frighten you so badly that you are helpless against whatever might happen." He chose his words carefully, if ever there was a time to be careful, it was now.
"This was an attack, my Lady. Make no mistake about that. I have my guess as to who it might be or it could be somebody else who wants to cause trouble. Either way, we now have somebody to guard against. But we shall stand firm against them, just as we always have."
Ella walked over to the desk. It was really a stunning piece of art, the desk was. It was made purely of marble and carved from a single block. On it's legs were the engravings of four kings, all holding a the moon in their hands. Two of the moons were full, while the other two were only half full. Underneath the marble top, there was a small wooden drawer that had been attached some while after it had been made. She grabbed a chess board from it and walked to the center of the room where a small wooden table was. She opened the box, and placed her pieces.
"I really don't know who would be a suited regent. I don't see anyone who Blackpond would like to see on the throne less than me. Maybe I'm just full of myself, but I really can't see anyone."
After she had finished the first move, she played her first piece. Pawn to e4. It was her favourite beginning move with loads of versatility. After that, she reached her hand under the table, flinging it back out from under it and stabbing a knife right into the table. "I trained last two weeks ago for three hours." She smirked. "I'd say I'm still quite sharp with a blade too, thank you."
Thomas sat down at the table across from the board and started laying out his own pieces, considering his first move.
"Very good my Lady. But you should perhaps carry one or two of those on you at all times. Perhaps a stiletto blade disguised as a hair ornament? There's a weapons maker that caters especially to female bodyguards, he can be quite inventive."
There was a knock at the door, Thomas held up one finger to hold the game and went to answer it.
"Yes?" It was Sham, and she looked agitated.
"You need to tell Mageria to take the rest of the night off in her room or something."
Thomas raised an eyebrow, the young woman was having trouble keeping her voice down. "Any reason why?"
Sham glared at him and stepped toward, trying to whisper. "Because Grim Pondus just died n her arms. Because she's walking around in complete shock and shouldn't have to deal with anything else. Because I don't think we can count on her reacting passively if somebody pushes her. Is that a good enough reason?"
Thomas grunted and told one of the Guards to let the Black Captain that she was off duty for the night. Then he went back and sat down again across from Ella.
"Sorry about that." He studied the board for one final moment and made his opening move.
Ella couldn't make out what Thomas and Sham were talking about. She wanted to get closer and listen in, but she knew that she wouldn't be able to without being noticed. She knew what her limits were, and she knew that these two were good at what they did and what they did was keep secrets. It was not her place to even attempt to find out what they were talking about. It only took a few moments and he was back, making his first move.
"Good move, but..." She said while moving her hands over her pieces. "... but you might want to change your mind on the your next move if I move my queen's side knight there." She smirked. She was simply just looking at Thomas' eye movements as she was moving her hand over the pieces. Based on that, she was judging what she believed his next move to be.
"And I've talked to the blacksmith who makes specialty weapons. I have a completely undetectable weapon hidden within my corset that is easily accessible. I'd take it out, but I'm afraid that it takes a while to put back in, and I'd have to remove my dress. Out of laziness and decency, I'd much rather keep it in."
Thomas carefully kept a carelessly cheerful expression on his face. Even though Lady Ella was the Queen, he refused to let her win without a fight.
"I believe you about the knife, no need to undress to prove it." He waited while Ella made her next move, then leaned forward and carefully considered what to do next.
"You see, my Lady, I have always been of the opinion that it is the long game that one must win and the way to do that is to map out all the available possibilities and plan for every eventuality."
The move he made reflected that statement, it left a rook in danger but opened up the path for one of the stronger pieces later on in the game.
"For example. Most assassins never plan past the moment of their kill. But every action has an effect, one that will ripple outwards and change the world in ways that can never really be understood. That is why we must try and understand the ramifications of our actions before we make them."
She took some time to look at the move. There were a few potential forks that Thomas was attempting to put up at this point in the game, but it was strange, seeing as he hadn't developed completely yet. "I thank you for allowing me to keep dressed Sir Knight." She giggled while castling her king and filing up her rooks. "The long game is an important one, but if you can't set up the short game, than your long game will fall apart. Typically, it's best to get your king castled by your next two moves. Take it as a pro tip."
She looked away for a few moments to check her hand. The blood was seeping through the bandage. She unwrapped it to see how bad it was, but to her surprise the bleeding had stopped and all that was left was a scar of that symbol on her hand. She didn't put much thought into it as the game was more important to her at the time.
"Oh, I forgot to mention. When I have spare time, I like to look through the archives and look at the old chess records if I have nothing else to do. Did you know that the first recorded game is in there? The game was created by War to hone his skills, but no one wanted to challenge him in fear that he might rage up if he lost. The only person who wasn't afraid was Life seeing that he couldn't die. There are actually two versions of the match. One is where War wins and the other Life wins. Every move is the same up until the last ten moves. If only there was a way to find out which one is the real match. Too bad, it's impossible to know the truth now."
"Of course my Lady. I wouldn't want you to catch a chill in the winter air." Thomas smiled winningly. "However, what seems like a weakness in the short game can become a strength in the long game, as it allows the stronger pieces more free reign."
Thoughtfully Thomas nodded as he followed the movements of the board. "It's always a wise thing to learn from the past." Leaning over, he gently grasped Ella's wrist so that he could look at the wound. "Interesting." Thomas stayed silent as they both worked through a couple more moves.
"Castling is important, but you have to choose between keeping your King safe and keeping your pawns safe. Whichever you choose depends on how you plan to play your game. It can tell your opponent quite a bit about what to expect from you in the future." Thomas moved his bishop, capturing the opposing rook. "Your game also depends very heavily on deciding early on which pieces you consider most important. Even a pawn might capture a King, but they have to be . . . in just the right spot."
He sat back and regarded his Queen thoughtfully. "I do believe, if I had to guess; Life would have been the one to win over War. War, you see, would have only played to a fixed point; once he reached that point the game was over. Life on the other hand, Life understood that the game never really ends at all. There is no checkmate, you simply have to live with the debris that war leaves behind. War saw a series of stopping and starting points, where Life saw a continuous movement.”
Ella had placed her rooks in the perfect position for an attack down one of Thomas' week rows. It would be only a matter of time until she would be able to use it to her advantage. The perfect ploy for her hidden agenda. It only took another move before black's bishop took her rook. She knew what she was going to do next, but she just allowed things to sink in. She overlooked her moves over and over to see what might happen if she wasn't careful.
"I wouldn't be so sure about that Thomas. War was the one who created the game, and Life had never played it before. I mean, it was the very first match ever." She moved her next piece and continued as Thomas thought of his next move. There was only one logical move to make in her eyes. "I do agree that War looks at things as stops and finishes, but I do think he understands that the game never ends. You see, a game of chess may move on after checkmate, but only after pieces have reset. A new King is appointed along with a new royal court and it all happens again."
Thomas made the move she expected. With it, all she needed to do was move her knight up two more times. The first of the moves was a decoy; directly threatening one of her rooks. Thomas needed to move the rook or it would be taken, and that's what he did, weakening his position. He moved his knight up one more time, forcing a fork between her king and queen. "Check." This left Thomas with her only option, and that was to move the king into a safer position. After this move, she took the queen.
"The long game allows for positional strength, but the short game is what always changes the tides. With a single move, the tides of a war can change dramatically. It all started with a small threat to break defences, but then it quickly spirals out of hand into a vulnerable queen."
She smirked allowing Thomas to take in what just happened.
Thomas surveyed the board, raising one eyebrow in approval. "You've learned well, my Lady." He reached out and took up one of his remaining pawns, advancing it to a spot he had been driving Ella's King towards the entire time. "Check, my Lady." He smiled wryly. "I did mention that with the right moment, even the pawn can take the King."
He leaned back in his chair before getting up to pour them both a glass of wine. "Life is war, my Lady. Every living thing struggles to survive at the cost of something else, nothing lives without causing death in some way. So I believe that Life understood War quite well, perhaps in a way that none other could."
Thomas sighed, sipping his wine and letting the rich scent fill his nose. "True, the short game is a type of chaos while the long game requires more planning. But it is a peculiar type of plan that relies on chaos in the first place. Think about it, my Lady. No matter how many moves either of us make, the end will always be one of three options. One of us will win, or we will draw. But between the beginning and the end game, there are millions of possibilities. You just have to guide the chaos in the direction you want it to go."
"Don't focus too much on the long game, or you might miss important stuff going on in single moves. Sometimes we don't move our pieces to have a good long game, but we still always need to have the long game in the back of our mind. For example, you can see that I'm going to win the pawn race once my king is out of check. I don't see the pawn race working out for me in the end though so I'll probably leave that pawn there." She said looking around the board at the few pieces that were left. There was a rook on each side and three pawns. Thomas' pawns were set up close to each other, attempting to force their way down the board, while Ella had two eyeing Thomas' pawn island and a pass pawn on the other side.
Ella's only reasonable way out of check was to remove the pawn eyeing her king from the game with her rook. That left her pass pawn on the other side vulnerable to attack from his rook.
After the pawn exchange had ended, things were even both positionally and with the pieces left on the board. Ella couldn't see a way to break it, and it looked like Thomas wouldn't be able to break her line, but they tried anyways. They spent over an hour without speaking to each other, moving their king and rook around to get an edge on the other. Finally, after the hundredth pointless move in a row, Ella decided it would be best to give it up.
"How 'bout we call this a draw?"
Thomas nodded. "I'm afraid I must agree, my Lady." he held out one hand across the board.
Ella smiled at Thomas and removed her pieces from the board to put them away in the marble desk. When she looked out the window overseeing the desk, the lights of morning had been lit. In the chill of white that carpeted Valcrest, there was warmth. It still wouldn’t be warm again for a couple of months. “It looks like we’ve talked the night away.” Ella smiled.
The sweet morning light brought cold chills through Rita as she pulled the covers from her. The blanket of ice stung her exposed arms and legs like thousands of hornets. She retreated back into her covers and got up. She moved closer to the fireplace which was only down to its last embers. She rekindled it and the fire roared on, allowing her to leave the comfort of her covers without fear of being stung by the bees of the cold.
After she changed, she ran strait outside. It was only ever that cold out when it had snowed and snowed it has. Over the grime and filth of Blackpond lay undisturbed snow from the night before. All the worries of the city were lifted off her, and everyone’s shoulders as more soft grains gently touched down on top of the old snow before it.
With this change in the seasons came a change in the attitude for the people of this rotten city. Not only were the children seemingly able to run around the city without fear of being kidnapped for once, but also the adults all had this joyfulness about them. None seemed to worry at all about divides that separated them on a usual basis.
A few kids ran up to Rita, throwing snowballs as they passed. Each one, exploded on impact around her chest and waist. Then from behind, something knocked her in the head, leaving chunks of snow and water lodged in her hair. She turned around with a wicked grimace on her face, eyeing the three children behind her who were all pointing fingers at one another. Rita smiled and with a quick swoop through of her hands, she grabbed a clump of snow off the ground and threw it at the kids. The three kids giggled as they scrambled to avoid the snowball.
Soon enough, everyone was getting in on the fight. From the littlest of kids to the most cold hearted adults. The spirit of the snow was in all of them.
As the snowballs flew along the air, Rita stopped for a moment. The snowballs flew in this seamless choreography that could never again be replicated. She just wanted to admire the unspoiled harmony of this moment, because it sure wouldn’t last forever. The Day of Creation would go by and everyone would forget about this. They’d go back to their lives.
The Day of Creation…
… She’d almost forgotten. The Day of Creation was celebrated every day on this day, which was typically before the snow would fall. Before the death of Rory under the hands of Lamya, people would forget about life for a while to celebrate on the streets the day that Mother and Father created Valcrest. Along with that, it was believed that it was also the same day that all the Twins had been created. Each set of twins being exactly a year younger than the ones before them. It seemed like Blackpond was through with
“The Day of Creation!” She shouted with jubilation just as a snowball collided with her smiling face. She wiped her eyes of the water and looked around, dodging another snowball from the same direction. At that moment, she realised who it was that threw it at her.
In the distance, she saw the very last person she believed would be playing out there with everyone. Lamya stared across, every once in a while a kid would pass by, but her stare cut through every one of them. Typically the stare before she did something really devious, this time it was only one of someone looking for some fun. Rita really just could not get a read on this woman. Impossible would be an understatement in this situation. Rita looked back with the same intensity; snowball ready. She was going to see how good this assassin really was.
Dominic stared at the chaos at hand. It was really not what he was expecting from Blackpond. He had even made his presence perfectly known to the city by wearing his iridescent Black Knight armour over the layers he had on already. From what Dominic had heard, the practice of ‘fun’ had been eradicated and the only real thing that was practiced was oppression. Obviously his sources were wrong. There were snowballs flying, people making imprints of them in the snow. In Valcrest they were called snowbirds because of the wings and tail that was made from flapping one’s arms and legs across the snow. It was really magical and something that he just never really imagined.
He decided just to enjoy the sight for a while. After Grim’s funeral, he needed something that would ease his mind. He didn’t know the man all too well. Most of the times he would spend his time in his disgraceful White Knight armour and didn’t have time to be less diplomatic. What he did know of the man was only good things. This man had an ability that could cause so much dread if he let it get out of hand and yet he was able to govern it to a point where he was able to function as a regular White Knight himself. It was a shame that he no longer stepped the earth.
There was a whole lot of wonderful surrounding him. Something that he didn’t have a chance to experience in a while, even in Newhaven. Then the day got a whole lot better. Out in the distance he saw a woman throwing snowballs at Yishka. The beauty of her in her winter clothing seemed to block everything else from his vision. He didn’t walk any closer; he just sat at a near bench and watched that goddess of splendour frolic and flip through the air, weaving past even the most straining of snowballs to dodge that this other woman threw at her. He could watch this forever.
Things got more than serious however when he heard a cry from somewhere nearby. This was different from all the other’s laughs and screams. This one sounded like it was something of true distress. A woman in the distance that needed help. She wasn’t too far away at all. Just a few turns down a couple of streets was all that was needed to reach the alleyway he heard the screams from.
In the corner of this alleyway, there was a man brooding over a young woman with a kitchen knife in hand. He hoped that this man was only a thief, because if he was thinking of doing anything else, he’d pay the price. Dominic approached the man, making as much noise with his armour. Claymore in his hand, he gently placed it on the man’s shoulder. The weight seemed like it was a little too much for the man with his knees buckling under the weight, but he still managed stand. He dropped the sword beside the man, and in an instant, he swung the knife around, only to deflect off his armour. Obviously the blade hadn’t been sharpened in a while as it barely made a mark. He simply gripped the man’s wrist and stated to squeeze. It didn’t take long before the man was begging for him to stop, so he let go. It wasn’t over for this man though. He cocked his arm back and clocked the man square in the jaw and the man fell over.
He walked slowly over to the woman on the ground. “Are you all right?” He asked.
She seemed to ignore her comment, only laughter came from her lips and as she looked at the man on the ground. “Do you think he’s actually one of them?” She asked the man. He looked behind him and saw the man rubbing his jaw, trying to get to his feet. “Yeah, he’d defiantly a Black Knight.”
“What’s going on here?” He asked.
“We need your help…”
When Evin had gotten to the Plains the other night, he went straight to sleep. He hoped that Theron would still be there for him to talk to in the morning. First he wanted to talk to Kate. He felt bad about using her as a weapon for this war. He wouldn’t have said anything and just let the girl die, but at the last moment, he just couldn’t come to terms with killing her. She wasn’t the target that he was after; it was Sean that he really wanted.
He walked out of his tent to see snow on the ground. It was nothing that he was really fond of, but the street performers who had arrived the same night from Newhaven were a delight. Even though he didn’t like parties typically, he still liked to watch the talents that these people possessed. Most of them weren’t even taking advantage of enlightenment to do what they did. This amazed him, especially the magicians who seemed to make things appear from nowhere. His eyes were trained to see what others didn’t and even he could be tricked by some of the stuff they would do.
After his moment of distraction, he quickly moved to the tent of the leader. Lena wasn’t there for him to complain to. He really didn’t like Lena for some reason. Annie was less like her mother than most thought she was and Evin really respected that about her.
“Annie, its Evin. We need to speak.” He said from outside the tent. He wasn’t positive that she was there, but needed to try anyways. “I’m sorry if you’re busy, but I have other things that need doing today and it can’t wait. Again I’m sorry.”