Starlight in a Broken Vessel

by the-pieman

Chapter 76

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Chapter 76

Turning away from the grisly sight, I step into the woods. All at once, I feel like a pressure has disappeared from my shoulders, as if I’d been carrying a weight. I look down, and see I’m almost halfway over another space, it looks like, but I get no feeling telling me to stop.

I figure I should turn back, but that’s not allowed for pawns. I move forward until I’m on the next space ahead as I can make it out and just sit still, waiting... now I think I finally understand why the other kids in Junior High said chess is boring.

Something begins moving in the woods from behind me, and I turn to look over my shoulder. A creature, vaguely bipedal, is stepping forward at a diagonal. It’s sort of shaped like a human, but after being stretched to almost comical proportions. Its ‘torso’ is a triangle, leading to a rectangular set of hips hidden in a long robe.

What really got me was that the creature appeared to be totally flat, its thin, paper-like fingers clutching an axe. It was almost like a woodsman’s axe, but sized for the ten, or twelve-foot tall monster. Whatever it was, I’d never heard of anything like it, nor the huge, upside-down black heart symbol on its chest. The symbol pulsed an ugly blue-black. Whatever this is, however, it has stopped a little behind my square, and to one side. I can only hope it’s not going to come after me.

Wait... if this is another piece, then if I move a space forward, I’m safe as long as this isn’t a knight... and I don’t think that would fit too well. I don’t really feel the ‘urge’ to move forward, so I just do so myself, trying to make sure I’m just moving one space.

The weird, card-thin creature turned slowly to watch me, and... wait, card thin? Is it like the card soldiers from the disney version? Does that even work here? I mean it is Wunderland, but this place is definitely a lot more brutal than the ‘G’ rated flick Disney made for the children... strange.

The creature, watching me with its flat, featureless face, turned a ninety-degree angle to its original path, and started off, brushing past me in the process. It was... chilling. Like what I’d expect having a ghost or something pass by would be like. Either way, it disappeared into the foliage. Whatever it was, it was playing as either a bishop or a queen... Wonder what else is ‘playing’ in this game.

After waiting a little longer, I take a move, still not feeling the urge to do so or not. Maybe the ‘player’ can’t reach me in here? That makes little sense, but it is Wunderland...

As I step onto the new square, I hear sniffling. It seems to be coming from ahead of me, and slightly to the right. Dafuq? Who’d be crying during a game of chess? I think about walking over but then something hits me. If I’m a pawn and I move diagonally, that’s an offensive strike. I’d have to kill whatever I ran into. Hmmm, this is a bit of a dilemma. Would I kill someone just to settle my curiosity?

Well, maybe if I don’t step all the way onto the space it might work. Carefully I stretch my leg so it’s still just barely on the corner of my square and try to find out what the sniffling is coming from.

I peek around a tree, leaning on it so as not to lose my balance and tumble into the space. In a small clearing is a young mare, as red as the knight from before. She’s much smaller than the stallion was, and the helmet on her head has twin streams of tears pouring from it. A lance is growing from her shoulder, meaning she’s a knight, I think, but it looks like it’s growing in, and it does not look in any way pleasant.

“Uh... hello?” I begin cautiously. For some reason, my brain makes a comparison to the Witch from L4D... Come on, she doesn’t look that scary...

The mare startles, looking in every direction, the bulky, eye-covering helmet making the motions comical. “Wh- who’s there?”

“Me, I’m right here. What ya crying about?”

The mare looks vaguely in my direction. “It- it hurts. A lot.” She gesture towards her shoulder with a wince.

“Well, why did you start playing then? This isn’t exactly a friendly game.”

“Because I’m a knight!” she stomps her hoof on the ground, then recoils with pain, rubbing at the base of the lance, which is already longer than before.

“So... why don’t you quit being a knight?”

“Quit being a-? What? How does that make any sense?”

“Well, just don’t play, or be a different piece like a bishop or a rook.”

“Only pawns can change.” The mare said, stubbornly shaking her head. She is, at this point, looking about a foot to my left. “Knights charge, Bishops stalk, and Rooks-”

“Ambush?” I suggest. They are definitely great at leading others into traps.

“Wh- no! They defend! And Jacks prowl, and Knaves betray. It’s what they do, what they’re born to do.” The mare takes a breath. “How can you not know that?”

“Jacks? Knaves? Sorry, I’m not from around here. My way of playing chess doesn’t have those. Also, just to clarify, if I stepped onto your space, would I have to kill you? My leg is cramping.”

The knight’s expression turns to one of horror. “W-wait, what side are you on?”

“I’m not entirely sure. I’m just a pawn. I do what I’m told.”

The knight begins scrambling to the edge of her squarish clearing, looking terrified. “Please! This is my first round, I don’t want to die already! Not to a pawn!”

“Well, thanks a lot. Pawns can be pretty important, you know.”

The mare shakes her head. “That’s not what the queen says.”

“Well then, your queen is really shitty at Chess.”

The knight gasps, then her face hardens. “How dare you insult the queen? You’ll die for that!” The mare stands up, angling her lance, which is now long enough to project far ahead of her muzzle, directly at my heart. How can she see now?

Oh well. A challenge has been issued, and I’m no chicken. I step the rest of the way into her square. “You want it that way? Fine. I’m gonna show you what pawns can really do!” I Spark up and enter my Dynamo form. I could use fire, but I might burn down the forest. I grin, my body radiating electricity in crackling sparks. “Bring it on, then!”

The mare charges at me, and I’m able to slap away the lance with pitiful ease. Almost like I’ve hit her with a truck, the mare flies across the clearing with a crackle and a thump, body slamming into a tree and sliding down. The mare doesn’t move, and I realize that I’d just done that with an annoyed slap.

I grin. “Hell yeah! Pawns, bitch!” I yell, raising a middle finger to what I suppose is the now-dead mare’s side of the board. “Don’t fuck with the little guy!” I hear a tiny, whispery groan, and look down, seeing that my chest pocket has a scorch mark in the middle of it. I’d totally forgotten Twilight!

“Oops. Uh, you okay in there, Twi?” A frazzled, blackened mane sticks out of my pocket, followed by Twilight’s blackened face. She coughs, and a nearly-microscopic smoke ring blows from her mouth.

“Heh, sorry. Guess I should tone it down a bit, huh? Well, think of this as firsthand experience with electricity being dangerous.”

Owww....” Twilight sinks back into my pocket, and I chuckle.

“Alright! Two knights down. What next? If the game has just started and that knight hadn’t moved much, I must be close to the other side. Which means if I finish getting there... I can get an upgrade. “As long as I’m not walking right into a rook that is...”

I begin to walk forward, and leave the forest with an abruptness I’m sure isn’t natural. Or very natural, for Wunderland. What I see ahead makes me stop and stare in surprise and wonder. While previously, this place hasn’t made much effort to be all that physics-bending, the landscape ahead changed that perception.

Hexagonal spaces stretched into the distance twisting into strange shapes, such as curving into perfectly vertical walls of spaces, complete with various pieces visible and clashing violently upon them. Hills and hummocks dotted the landscape, and some of the hexagonal spaces were raised, with no relation to the spaces nearby.

Nearby, I can see a pair of the tall, card-like pieces swinging at each other. One has a woodsman’s axe, and I recognize the black form as the one from before, and the other is a red-and-white card, bearing a scepter and looking far less ominous. The one with the scepter is cut in half, and flutters to the ground.

The tall, black card-soldier turns towards me for a moment, and I realize that, here in the hexagons, every direction is both straight... and diagonal. The creature is also, somehow, on a straight-line path from me.

“Oh, that’s the way it’s gonna be then? Alright.” I hop to a space ahead of me, moving out of his line of movement. “I’m no noob, even if you toss new rules in.”

The card-thing turns away and walks off. “What’s your plan now, huh?” I look around, searching for other pieces that he might be making way for, or another piece I hadn’t noticed I might be trapped by.

Instead, it seemed that next to the woods is a relatively safe place right now, and I get ready to take a tentative step forward, keeping an eye out. A piece, looking like a pony with the traditional ‘rook’ top jutting from its head, moves across my plane of motion, the seemingly diagonal movement messing with my perception of the game, if only for a moment. The pony-rook picks up speed as it moves, then smashes into a card-thing that had its back turned, trampling and tearing the card person.

“Huh, not the worst thing I’ve seen, but still pretty harsh. Note to self: Rooks are really nasty.” I move another space forward, attempting to fulfill every pawn’s goal of reaching the other side and getting a kickass upgrade.

After a few spaces of walking, I come across another piece, this one uninjured, and I am surprised. In the midst of this battleground, there’s a red knight, a cheshire cat, and tall, thin creature with bird-like features sitting round a table centered between their spaces. They’re eating pastries, judging by the smell.

I figure “Why not?” and walk over to the table. “Heya, what’s up?”

All three of them look upwards. The knight shrugs. “Idunno.” The knight looks like the spitting image of the first one I saw. The cat responds with “A few birds, some clouds, the sun, and, right now, a white knight.” As he/she said this, a white knight, lance broken, flew over the small picnic, and smashed into the ground several spaces away. The bird-thing said nothing.

“I see. Well, do you have room for a fourth? I haven’t eaten all day, and though I’m not hungry, some pastries sound nice.”

The knight mushes a pastry. “Doesn’t sound so nice to me. And of course you’ve not eaten all the day! It’d be night if you did, and I’m the only knight around here.”

Wunderland... I love you! This place is just awesome. “Well, nevertheless, may I join you?”

“Perhaps for more.” The cat replied.

“More of what? Pastries?”

“You said never the less, so I’m only obliging. How are things for you? I hope they’re behaving.”

Ha! Oh man this place is great. “Yes, they are. Though this game is tiring me out a bit. I’m not even sure whose side I’m on. I suppose I’m on my side. Well, no, I suppose I’m not. I’m sitting.”

The cat looks at me. “And what kind of nonsense are you spewing? Try to speak more sensibly, boy.”

I smile. “I’m just a bit new to this place. I’ve only just arrived yesterday.”

“Well, you’ve still quite some time to go, then.” the cat replies, before yawning. “You should probably be off, if you want to get to the end. Both princes have been taken from the field, so at least you wouldn’t have any competition.”

“Very well. I’ll be on my way then. I’ve not played a game of chess where one can simply take a rest to chat. It was rather enjoyable.”

The cat rolled over into the butter dish, and fell asleep. The knight, at least, tipped his helmet towards me. The bird thing didn’t say anything.

I continue on my way. I’m not sure what they meant by princes, but it seems that I would have an easy time if they’ve been taken. Now I don’t have to worry about something I don’t understand. Shrugging and continuing on, I climb a small pillar of a tile, and note that the spaces are getting smaller as I go. As I slide down the slope on the other side of the pillar, I wonder if I’m still in a game of chess. Not really important at this point though. I’m sure there’s something at the other end of this board. At last, I reach a point where I’m stepping on six or seven tiles at a time. Suddenly, a pair of alicorns, one a bloody red, the other pristine white, zoom up next to me, each bearing a golden crown.

“May I help you?” I ask. They probably want to kill me, but as far as I’m aware, it’s my turn to move. Plus, you can never be too sure

“Yes, you can join me!” the red alicorn said. before I can respond, the white alicorn speaks up. “No, you should join me. I’m not a bitter old hag like my sister.”

The red alicorn looks upset. “We’re twins!”

“Well I hardly see why I should make a choice based on being told what to do. What would I gain from joining either of you?”

The red alicorn puffs her chest up, and sticks her muzzle regally into the air. “I can give you what you want!”

The white alicorn snorts. “I will give you what you need!”

The red alicorn takes offense, snorting and stalking towards the white one. “You and I both know that’s jabber-dookey!”

“Honestly I can’t think of anything I want or need. I’d have to say that while those offers seem nice, they don’t carry much weight at the moment.”

Both alicorns look at me, looking stunned. “B- but you have to choose!” one says.

“Yes! choose a new position!” the other chimes in

“A new side!”

“Choose a piece to be!”

They begin circling me. “Perhaps to be a prince, moving swiftly anywhere on the Board!”

“Or a jack, able to take two pieces in a row.”

“Or maybe just a knight, who can move in that strange half-a-T-shape they do.”

“It’s an L shape.” I say. “And honestly I don’t see too much need to change. I like myself the way I am. As well, I am quite swift and strong as it stands.”

The alicorns look at each other, then back at me. “B-but you’re the knave! You’re the only piece that has to get to the back row!”

“And I have, I suppose. That’s why I’m given this offer? Well if that is the case, then I suppose now that I’ve fulfilled my goal, why change anything?”

They look at me, piteously. “Just choose one of us? The game isn’t over until you choose.”

“Well, then what happens if I don’t make a choice?”

Both alicorns turn hard-eyed, and then step menacingly towards me. “Then you’re just a pawn, and on neither of our sides. And it’s our turn.”

“Well, if you are on opposing sides, then which one of you would move first?”

The two alicorns stop for a moment, then look thoughtful. Neither of them answer for several minutes of thinking. Rules. I can use them to my advantage, fucked up or not. Actually, I prefer them weird. It adds many interesting circumstances.

“So, you say you could give me what I want or need. In the event I did choose a side, what would I be getting?”

The white alicorn smiled. “I’d give you a way across the Board, and directions to wherever you want to go!”

The red alicorn smiles as well, an eerie twin of her sister’s expression. “I can give you a way to undo any one curse, and a treasure from your homeworld.”

“And what treasure would that be? I can’t imagine anything from my world that you could have.”

The red alicorn’s smile grows wider. “Now now, that’s a surprise. A gift in nice, but a surprise is much better, am I right?”

“A punch to the face is also surprising, if it’s unexpected. Surprises aren’t always nice. So if I’m not sure what I’d be getting from you, but I know what I’m getting from your sister, wouldn’t it make sense to choose her?”

“If the caterpillar could help you, then yes.” I stop for a moment. I hadn’t mentioned the caterpillar. Had she been keeping an eye on me before I got onto the Board? It’s certainly possible.

“Well, I’m going to assume that the caterpillar can help me. Also, even if he can’t, I get free pass across the board. Unless the treasure is very very special, your sister seems to be offering the better deal.” I say, gesturing to the white alicorn.

The red alicorn rolls her eyes. “Please, you could simply choose to be a prince piece and have unlimited movement in any direction anyways.” The white alicorn shouts ‘hey!’ and looks betrayed, before the red sister continues. “And the treasure is literally irreplaceable.”

“Well, that does sound interesting.” I turn to the white alicorn. “Do you have anything else to barter or add to your offer?”

“I have tea?” She smiles hopefully at me.

“Is it good?”

She looks at her hooves. “If you like your tea bland...”

“Well then I have one more question.” I pause for dramatic effect. “What do either of you gain from being chosen?”

The white sister looks at me. “Well, whoever the Knave chooses gets to be the winner, and hosts the dinner. Why, we’d get to have salad, and maybe even some unflavored water for desert!” She looks so happy at the thought.

“Huh. You’re putting a lot of weight on this just for hosting dinner. Hmmm... I suppose I should make my choice, now. I’ll go with...”

Next Chapter: Chapter 77 Estimated time remaining: 24 Hours, 27 Minutes

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