“Do you ever wonder what it’s thinking?”
“No. But I often wonder what’s going on in your head. Your decisions are confounding.”
He laughed it off. “Hardly. You’re just naive.”
Vana didn’t rise to the insult and waited for him to make his move. They were halfway through this weeks game of chess and she was doing fairly well, all things considered. He reached out and his hand lingered above a pawn on left of the front line. It hung there as he thought. After a moment he moved his hand down the knight on the other end, and moved that one into play instead.
Even though he’d finished, she continued to wait. It was, after all, a three player game. Riahm left her in peace. He mostly did his chattering on his own turn. He’d talk if it took the Kingmaker too long to take their turn. There was no telling how long it would take, sometimes moments, other times they’d wait over an hour. During its turn he’d just stare at it and watch its strange movements, like he’d never seen it before.
Vana had stopped looking at it a long time ago. It upset her. Not the actual physicality of the thing; it’s function. How had it ever come to this, that they’d put so much of the fate of their world in the hands of this… thing?
She hated it.
The Kingmaker was an enormous jellyfish. It was not an ocean variety and it floated in the room with them by some unknown means. The body was as wide across as a pair of outstretched arms and the tentacles draped eight times that. It was an iridescent blue-ish with pink and purple in the dangly bits. It didn’t sit at the table with them, but drifted around like an aimless balloon. The tips of its tentacles always stayed near the board, waiting for its turn.
She watched as it illegally picked up Riahm’s knight in a slender tendril and placed it across the board, just before her front line, threatening both her queen, a knight, and a pair of pawns. She cursed under her breath. It was going to be one of those games.
“Ooh, tough break,” scoffed Riahm. She knew he couldn’t be more pleased.
“I appreciate silence from the Dustrian Representative on my turns.”
He pressed his lips flat as best he could with his smile. She pushed a pawn out and took his knight. He slid a bishop over and captured the pawn. From where it wound up, her queen was, again, in jeopardy. Now to wait for the Kingmaker.
None of its tentacles moved. She concentrated on the board, trying to anticipate Riahm’s next moves depending on the possible random outcomes the Kingmaker might make. It wasn’t terribly useful. It would take one piece and move it anywhere it wanted, rules of movement be damned. There were sixty four squares on the board. She had thirteen pieces left and Riahm had twelve. That meant that there were over fifteen hundred different possible permutations to consider. It might move his, or hers, and wherever it landed might also capture a piece from either side. She’d seen it end the game by picking up one of her own pawns and killing her king. She’d seen it do the same to Riahm (but with a rook).
Usually, it was a force of chaos. The random choices it made helped and hindered equally. But not always. Sometimes, it picked a side and helped one player win. This too, seemed to be random. At least it used to.
She hadn’t won a game in months. If she didn’t win soon, people were going to start to die.
A soft mushy sensation brushed her elbow. She startled and pulled her arm away. The massive jellyfish had come right up beside her. She recoiled in her chair, leaning away from it. She had the distinct impression that the Kingmaker, eyeless and faceless, was staring at her.
A long pink tentacle reached down, wrapped around her King, and moved it to an open and exposed position.
She managed to keep it alive for four more turns before Riahm checkmated her.
“Another win for the Dustrians! I was sure you’d break your losing streak this week. What are the odds?”
Nearly impossible and he knew it. She got up and left him with the damn Kingmaker blob. Something wasn’t right about this. It all felt broken. She intended to find out what was going on.
A world of strange politics and dangerous consequences sends Vana in a search for the truth in this weird sci-fi story! Find the answers in the whole story on my Patreon!