“Keep it under control.”
Maytee nodded, not paying much attention to the voice. This new spell devised by Zac was annoying. She was perfectly capable of dealing with these things without someone telling her to be careful.
She approached the door slowly. Most of the buildings that appeared were safe enough, but it didn’t hurt to be careful, especially since a few of the new buildings had thrown that pattern into question. The moment she let her guard down, something would probably jump out at her, and the fact that she was currently pursuing a target just made that all the more likely. She readied a few attack spells before easing the door open.
“Room clear,” she said, moving in. She paused and listened for the sound of her quarry, then quickly moved to pursue. It wasn’t hard to track them. They were neither quiet nor restrained. The sounds echoed all the way back to the entrance; marks on the walls showed nearly every move they had made. She hurriedly ascended the stairs, and dead ahead were the targets.
“What are you blaming ME for?!” Zach was yelling as he cast his spell.
“You’re the reason we were even on probation to begin with!” Mike replied, responding with his own.
As Maytee shouted the word, accompanied by a spell to turn it into a potent sonic attack, and stepped into the room, both combatants flinched, and rather than whatever they had intended to cast, they released a wave of pale multicolored light, both of which washed over Maytee. She, in response, grimaced, feeling a strange chill. “No more of this. You’ve both violated your probation, and now…”
In the forest, a deer drank from a stream, as a beautifully-plumed bird meticulously preened in a nearby tree. Being simple forest animals, both were unaware that on campus, a punishment too horrifying to detail in text was being enacted.
Maytee returned to her room feeling a bit tired from the mission. She took a seat at a table near the door to rest a minute before returning to the day’s business – and now that she thought about it, she was somewhat dizzy as well. She tried to stand, and promptly collapsed. Several minutes passed before the feeling abated slightly and she lifted herself back into the chair. It was at around this time she realized there was someone else in the room.
“Alright, that’s quite enough,” said the hooded figure seated across from her. “Come along with me, now.”
She was a bit shaken – how long had this person been sitting there unnoticed? “Who are you?” she asked, edging away a little.
“Why, I’m shocked you don’t recognize me! I’m everyone’s favorite uncle… Old Uncle Death.”
“Never heard of an Uncle Death before…”
“Well, you’ve heard of Father Time, right? I’m his brother.”
Maytee blinked. This was outright insane. She must be hallucinating.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you here?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious? You’re dying, as a result of a spell you encountered earlier today. Death scheduled for… right now, in fact, so hurry up…”
She shook her head. “No, I’m not going to die right now.”
“I’m afraid you don’t really have any choice.”
“What about a chess game?”
It was Death’s turn to be incredulous now. “Why waste our time? If it were that easy, if just anyone could beat me at chess and be granted their life as a reward, why, nobody would die!”
“But suppose I do beat you?”
Death hesitated before finally conceding, “Yes, I would then go away and leave you alive.”
“Then I challenge you.”
“So be it.” Death raised a hand – which, Maytee noted, was in fact skeletal – and conjured a chessboard on the table. “Since you’re the challenger, I’ll even allow you to go first.”
“How very generous,” Maytee said in something of a monotone, as she made the first move – e3, to which Death responded with b5.
Peepers left the Campus Center after a long interview. He still hadn’t finished providing all the information he had, about his awakening, how it had happened, and what he’d seen before and after.
“So what’s on your schedule for today?” asked Zac.
Peepers shrugged. “First I’m going to check up on Nick, then I’m gonna see what Maytee’s up to.”
“Oh, she had a mission earlier and said she wasn’t feeling well after that,” said Zac.
“Maybe I’ll go see her first, then.”
“Nick first. Better to wait for a while before checking on Maytee, she’s probably sleeping off… whatever it is. Hey, but before that,” Zac added, “there’s one thing we need you to take a look at.”
Death had been bluffing. He wasn’t as skilled as he claimed, or this would have been over already. Maytee was a good chess player, but not an extraordinary one; if this entity could beat anyone alive, then why had she already put him in an early check a few turns ago, and not even lost any pieces yet?
Unfortunately, she allowed herself to think a little too much about this question, and when he threatened her queen with his knight, she automatically moved it… right into the path of the bishop. Until the moment her queen was taken, she had never thought a chess game could inspire a feeling of abject horror. She’d just lost her slight advantage, in a game for her very life.
No use panicking. This demanded focus… all she could do was try to even out the score now. The black bishop was taken, followed by a series of pawns. White knight. Black knight. White pawn. Black pawn – and now it was check again. Death, unconcerned, moved his king away from the remaining knight.
“Putting me in check doesn’t matter if you can’t keep me there,” he said, sounding bored. “Look – are you going to give up, or what?” He moved his queen to Maytee’s back rank, putting her in check this time. He was ignoring his own advice – her bishop made holding that check impossible. Next the black bishop was taken. Another black pawn, and another check. She wasn’t trying to finish it, she was trying to keep him focused on his own king as much as possible – and he’d made that easy for her.
Death was taking his time with his next move. Before he did anything, there was a knock.
“Maytee? Are you in there?”
After a few moments of silence, the door opened and Chebon walked in. “Oh, hey, sorry about just letting myself in,” he said. “I think I left something here last week, and I came to get it. Figured you were out, or something, since you didn’t answer.”
Both players stared at him in disbelief – he wasn’t reacting to the situation at all.
“Oh, hey, you playing chess?” Chebon finally noted.
“Um… yeah…?” Maytee replied.
Chebon, apparently not realizing who Maytee was playing against or what was at stake, slid around to a seat next to Death, and started pointing out a move, which Death irritably took. This put him out of range of an immediate check, or at least any sort of sensible one. Maytee responded as best she could, and Chebon again indicated something to Death. Death moved aside at this point, then gestured for Chebon to take over. Chebon shrugged, looking apologetic, but when Death insisted, he placed himself in front of the chessboard.
“You can’t do that,” Maytee protested. “This game is-“
“I can do whatever I want,” he said, “that’s how it goes.”
Maytee was not so sure this was true, but Chebon had made his move. Not willing to let this break her concentration, Maytee made her move, cautiously. She had an advantageous position, but she had a completely new opponent now. Chebon moved his queen into the action, ready to take out the rook that was the most problematic for him, while putting her in check, stopping her from removing the endangered piece. In response she threatened his own rook with her king, and he acted to save it instead of following through. This allowed her to press the offense again.
There was more haggling over pieces, before finally, Chebon moved the black queen again. Check. Maytee scrutinized the board. She understood the situation, but… looking up at Death, it was apparent something here wasn’t exactly the way it seemed. He seemed, somehow, far too happy about things. There had to be more going on here, more at stake than whether she lived or died. Still… that was a pretty big concern for her at the moment.
“Rook takes queen, checkmate.”
Chebon chuckled and nodded. “Sorry about the intrusion. Should I leave you alone with your guest now?”
“I’m just leaving,” Death said. “Now, come along.”
“What?!” Maytee protested. “But I won your game!”
“Not you. Him,” Death said, pointing to Chebon.
“Why me what?”
“He lost a game of chess… chess with Death. You know what that means.”
“But… that doesn’t make any sense! It’s not fair!” Maytee cried.
“Life’s not fair. And then you die.”
“Whoa, what’s this about death?” Chebon asked, but rather than answer, Death grabbed him by the arm, and they both disappeared. Maytee stared in silence at where the two had been.
A long time passed, Maytee barely understanding what had just happened. Eventually, the door swung open behind her. “Hey, what’s going on?” Peepers asked. “I heard you were feeling…”
He hadn’t finished the sentence before Maytee shut the door behind him and was telling him what had happened, as quickly as possible and somewhat less intelligibly.
“Whoa, slow down,” Peepers said. “Start over.”
Maytee took a deep breath and explained carefully exactly what had gone on during the past several hours. She seemed about to panic again near the end, but held it together. “So Death took Chebon, and… I don’t understand it! I can’t believe it!”
“It’s impossible,” supplied Peepers.
“Yeah, exactly! How could Death just-“
“No, I mean it’s impossible because I’ve met Death. Death is not a skeleton in a robe.”
“But… then… if that wasn’t Death, where’s Chebon?” Maytee asked.