Friday, October 30, 2015

Pawn Promotion.

Preface: My Wife and I had the fortune to meet some 15 years ago this year. What not everyone may be aware of is the exact nature of that meeting. We didn't connect through some online dating site or any traditional in-person scenarios that are more commonly experienced. 

Back in those days I had grown to become the primary storyteller for my friends for all manner or games set within the World of Darkness. Chiefly among them was Vampire: The Masquerade. When one of my friends met a girl online who was interested in trying, specifically; the live-action variant of that game, they immediately recommended that she talk to me about it. 

We spoke at length for a long time. At first about the game itself and then about life in general. We both eventually decided to meet and everything just progressed. A year later we were married. 14 years beyond that we are still married and enjoying our adventure together. (Along with a whole clan of four little minions of our own.)

So every year around this time I find myself looking back. On this particular instance, I found a culmination of events that transpired to make me want to embrace that old fictional landscape again; if even only for a little while. And, since I hadn't written anything in a awhile, I figured I could try to use it as motivation to pen something together. 

Now, this may not be the perfect tale. Nor, is it perhaps, the most refined. But out of fond memories I decided to dive back in and see what I could shape. This is what came from it. 

I hope it proves to be a fun piece and is enjoyed. 

Happy Halloween.

Enjoy the night.


“Knight takes bishop,” Peter Paxton, Prince of Paducah proclaimed with cold satisfaction. Fingers of living ivory, long and slender, caressed the small horse-headed piece of sculpted flesh. He savored the moment before removing the pointed chess piece of carved bone from the board. In the firelight, eyes as dark as coal drank in the setting laid before them.

Leisurely, the Prince took everything in. On his side of the board there was not a single pawn left standing. They had already been sacrificed early in the game.

His opponent still held the lions’ share of his own pawns. However he had lost his queen in the earliest exchanges of the game. To further weaken his position, all his adversary had left to marshal a defense was a single rook, knight and bishop.

The Prince smiled with anticipation. His grin was an exaggerated expression that only highlighted his unnatural features. Paxton had cheekbones that were shark-like in nature; symmetrical, and sharply angled. Just touching them gave the impression that you would cut yourself.

Everything about Paxton read predator all the way down to his pointed chin. It jutted out from beneath steepled fingers accentuating a look of devilish charm. Even the smooth flowing hair of black silk draped down his back seemed suited as it soaked in the flickering light.

“Leticia, be a doll and remove this,” the Prince casually called out to one of his servants. At his bidding a short woman with porcelain skin and the features of a child’s toy appeared. She moved without uttering a word, albeit in stiff mechanical motions.

Leticia came to a stop just short of the table with a shuffled jerk. When she leaned forward, she had to bend at the waist to collect what remained of a limp form from the floor. Her coarse blond pigtails dangling as she tugged the figure away.

Seated opposite from the Prince and his arrayed pieces of shaped flesh was an enigmatic Kindred. Newly arrived to his domain, he had only recently presented himself before the Prince to be acknowledged, as is the formal custom. Curiously, all Paxton had to go on was the information his guest had offered; that his name was Warren Howard and his lineage was that of the Ventrue clan.

This posed a peculiar puzzle for the Volgirre Toreador to consider. Quite often the Ventrue were rivals with Toreador in all social matters, not to mention when it came to ruling. Yet, this Warren had not made a single move to subvert the Prince or establish any powerbase of his own. What game could he be playing, the Prince thought to himself. Although, it didn’t matter right now, in this game he was certain to lose.

Warren Howard was a sharp contrast to the Prince’s onyx cashmere-suited cutting edge fashion. Seated behind a set of polished bone chess pieces, Warren wore a simple grey shirt and tie complete with vest. The sleeves of his shirt had been rolled up along his forearms and as he reflectively contemplated the board there was no sign of concern to be seen.

Absently, Warren stroked at his beard. He had always kept it well groomed but could never tolerate it being any shorter. There was a reassuring quality to being able to brush it between your fingers. It was also a useful gesture, one he liked to use at times like this.

The Prince monitored all the potential moves that he expected Warren to make with murderous anticipation. Motion drew his eye away from an area of the board he had been watching to see Warren make his move. A single pawn advanced one square.

The move didn’t threaten any of the Prince’s pieces. In fact, it didn’t even position the pawn anywhere close to his pieces or where any of the exchanges had been taking place. There was no logic to it that he could fathom.

Didn’t he know he was going to lose? Why wasn’t he even trying to put up a fight? While Paxton debated whether or not his opponent was just distracted or incompetent, Warren politely motioned that it was his turn.

The beast inside Paxton roused itself. He was growing irritated by Warren’s apparent lack of interest in winning. “Are you even trying,” the Prince spat the question. “You do realize; the entire point of this game is to be the winner, don’t you?”

For a brief moment there was no response. Paxton despised being ignored and with each second his frustration mounted. By the time Warren replied he had already begun to toy with the idea of killing him.

“Pardon me,” Warren politely apologized. “But, what were you saying?” It was perhaps the first time all evening that those eyes of warm walnut had been fixed upon the Prince. Within their depths he could find no discernable pretense, only an honest sincerity that he was oblivious to the questions intent.

“Precisely this,” the Prince declared. To punctuate his point he moved in to threaten Warren’s remaining bishop. A cruel grin sliding a notch higher while he savored his foe’s inevitable defeat.

“You play this game quite poorly, I am afraid,” he chastised. “If anyone was going to give me a challenge I thought that it would be a Ventrue. Instead you offer only disappointment where I had hoped for entertainment.”

“Quite the opposite,” Warren countered. Without another look at the board, the visiting Ventrue advanced his pawn one final space to land it on the Prince’s back row. “The truth is: we are simply playing different games. Regarding the matter at hand; I believe a promotion is in order and since the position is open I think queen would be a nice fit.”

The Prince’s fist closed tightly as he studied the board. “Why, you little…” he began to protest before dismissing the situation with a wave of his hand. “It is no matter; a lone queen will not save you from an entire game of folly. Make no mistake; you will lose. And when you do, I think it only appropriate that I levy some penalty. You will bring before me double the mandatory patronage.”

Paxton had to wonder how he could have missed that pawn. Had he been so focused on the other pieces that he hadn’t realized it was near his back row? Furious at the oversight he rushed a rook into position to capture this new queen before it could even be of use.

“Patronage,” Warren asked, showing no sign of concern for his threatened queen. In fact, Warren didn’t even return his attention to the chess board at all. Instead, he raised a single eyebrow and patiently awaited the Prince’s explanation.

“All subjects within my domain are required to submit raw materials for use in the pursuit of art,” Paxton purred. Warren immediately took note of the obvious pleasure the Toreador exhibited about the subject. The Prince’s very eyes brightened into gleaming orbs of obsidian just mentioning it.

“My work demands components for me to shape, sculpt and transform,” the Prince continued. “There is a certain beauty, one that can be found all around - yet only those with true vision can see it. It is just below the surface; waiting and I draw it out. All I need is a more exotic form of clay.”

This was the admission that Warren had been waiting for. All the pieces were in place. Warren had all the evidence he needed – it all made sense now.

The exaggerated features, the doll sculpted servant, even the chess pieces themselves. Prince Paxton had been clearly abusing his position to indulge his own whims. While Paducah struggled against Sabbat and Anaarch incursions the Prince toyed with his play-things.

There had been rumors, whispers that had escaped Paxton’s iron grip influence over the local media. But information always has a way of getting out; especially when any of clan Nosferatu is involved. It was just a matter of time before the Camarilla became aware of Paxton’s dangerous disregard for the Traditions.

Warren had been tasked with verifying those claims and then, if necessary, dealing with the situation. Not that he minded; he despised corrupt and unfit rulers. Long before his embrace, Warren had found himself driven to act against those who didn’t deserve the responsibility or power of their position. Nothing compared with the sense of justice when that misplaced authority was removed from them.

The Prince had moved his rook into position to capture Warren’s new queen. But in his haste there was one thing he hadn’t bothered to consider: the potential of being baited into a trap. He had been so concerned with addressing his damaged pride that he had played right into Warren’s hand.

Anticipating the reaction, Warren already had another lowly pawn waiting. In one swift stroke it slid over and seized the flesh rook, landing on the back row in the process. “Queening,” declared Warren.

Paxton watched on in complete disbelief. He was forced to turn all his attention from attacking to defending. Every trick he tried failed him. One by one his pieces were dispatched by a growing army of promoted pawns. The peasants had been transformed into a brutal mob and they were revolting.

“Of all the pieces on a chess board, the pawn has the most potential,” Warren began to explain with an instructor’s detached demeanor. “It was a mistake to throw them all away without any thought as to their value. Every single piece has strengths that you can use; you just have to appreciate what you can do with them.

But, that wasn’t your first error. The very first mistake you made was when you sat down thinking you were playing a game. You weren’t. You were playing me.

This game was lost before it began. All I needed to do was to observe you. I studied you in order to gain some understanding.

You see everyone and everything as being beneath you. All that matters to you is your time in the spotlight. The reason you are being defeated by mere pawns is because you are too blinded, deluded and incompetent to see the real threat. For the sake of your depraved whims, you threaten the safety of us all and call it art. I cannot find one single merit in you that would make you worthy of the title of Prince.”

“Insolence,” Paxton bellowed, slamming his hands onto the table. The impact sent the tyrant Toreador vaulting upright and into a standing position. “I’ll not sit here and be talked to like this, not by an unknown Ventrue who is a guest in my house.

Allow me to educate you, if your own sire neglected this important lesson; those in power make the rules. Do not pretend that you can speak to me in this fashion and not leave unscathed. I have plenty of pawns, ones that are far from pieces on a board and they will most certainly not be playing when they clap you in chains.”

Resembling a triumphant madman, the Prince grinned sadistically. Paxton decided to indulge himself in a short chuckle before he announced his opponent’s fate. The dramatic tone was just too delicious.

“Seize this ignorant fool,” he ordered, leveling a finger towards Warren. Yet, the Ventrue remained unruffled. If he had even blinked, Paxton hadn’t noticed.

Then Warren looked back down at the choice board. There was something in the gesture that drew the Prince’s gaze as well. Two short words fell from Warren’s lips. “Check. Mate.”

The very air itself grew still and heavy. Suddenly nobody moved. Every figure that had been moving towards the table at the center of the room now stood frozen in place.

A thick fog seized at their minds. Behind their eyes a heavy weight took hold as a will not their own overwhelmed them. Alongside it was a voice, speaking in a clear, concise tone. It spoke a command that none of them could ignore.

When you hear the words: check mate, you will stop whatever you are doing, the voice instructed. The servants might as well have been statues made of stone. They were helpless against the crushing authority that now dominated their actions.

How could this be happening? Paxton tried to search his thoughts for some clue that would make sense of everything. There was simply no way that his entire staff could have been tampered with. Unless…

The night the Prince first laid eyes upon Warren Howard, he had only just arrived within the domain of the Prince’s Praxis. As was the formal custom, he presented himself straight-away to be acknowledged. The Ventrue had even made it a point, as Paxton recalled, to personally speak with everyone attending. That included thanking all of the Prince’s retainers for the hospitality of their master.

There were those among the Kindred with the ability to dominate the minds of others by asserting their own will over them. Paxton knew it. One of his sire’s own associates had once forced him to remove himself from a debate with a single word. Without any idea it had even happened he had found himself sitting back in his seat.

Was it possible that this upstart could have accomplished something similar, yet on a larger scale? No, Paxton’s beast screamed at him, begging for release. There was no way that this Ventrue could have been so clever. Not in a single night and with the Prince watching.

All he needed to do was deal with this whelp and be done with this foolishness. The Camarilla would never send someone to formally challenge him in such a manner. No, they would have just quietly destroyed him if they had truly suspected.

The gears began to turn within the Prince’s mind. Formality, yes – that was the key. This Ventrue was a sucker for doing everything properly. All Paxton needed was an opportunity and he could demonstrate the beauty in pain. If Warren was so keen on custom then all the Prince had to do was be patient; he would have the chance he needed.

“I have not always had this name,” Warren said solemnly. “A long time ago, I was known as Jack Cade and back then there was different monarch standing across from me. His name was Henry VI and much like you he had betrayed the people’s trust.

I think I will offer you the same proposition that I made him. All you have to do is to admit defeat. Surrender and I will take my leave. It is that simple.”

The Prince had never had any head for history. Even back in his mortal days thinking about the past had just always felt like a waste of time. This Henry fellow sounded important but he could have been ancient history, for all he cared. Not that it mattered; this Warren could never have actually threatened anyone important. It had to be some kind of silly trick, a bluff, no doubt.

It would be an empty victory, Paxton promised himself. Let him think he had bested him. In a moment his back would be turned and then he would find just how twisted his flesh could become. Vengeance would be sweet indeed.

A spiteful sneer crawled across the Prince’s face. “Very well,” he said sarcastically, not bothering to conceal his scorn. “Enjoy your little petty victory, I promise you it is only fleeting. I resign.”

Chaos engulfed the room in one terrifying moment. The second that the words “I resign,” left the Prince’s lips, Warren bowed courteously. Paxton threw himself into a lunge, eager to fuse the Ventrue’s very mouth closed and every servant exploded into motion.

The same powerful force that had frozen them in place had become an unwavering need to act. It spoke to them with the same voice. This time it told them; when you hear the words ‘I resign,’ you will tear the one who spoke them to pieces. And they obeyed.

In violent fashion the ruthless group grabbed, punched, kicked, tore and bit at the Prince. They fell on top of him before he could even lay a finger on his intended prey. Instead he could only howl in agonizing torment as the weight of his attackers bore him down.

Knocked off the table a single chess piece tumbled to the floor. It rolled into a spattering of fresh blood. The irony was both amusing and satisfying for Warren as he turned to leave.

The king had fallen.