Time, Chess, and the Tower of Magic (2)
“Are you from the North Sea region?” asked Zod .
“No,” Desir replied, “but I used to have an acquaintance from that region . It’s thanks to them that I mastered the North Sea rules . ”
“Sounds like you had no choice but to learn it . ”
“That was indeed the case . ”
“It must have been rough . The North Sea rules are difficult . ”
“It certainly was . ”
Zod’s body language seemed to relax . And it wasn’t just wishful thinking on Desir’s part . Compared to just moments prior, Zod’s sense of urgency had eased off significantly . This was no doubt due to Desir mentioning the ruleset that originated from Zod’s homeland .
“Very well,” said Zod, “we shall play with the North Sea rules . ”
Zod flipped the chessboard over, then widened the board on both sides . The usual square board was now lengthened horizontally .
The North Sea rules differed from regular chess in several ways . There were five more rows and columns, which came with additional pieces for each added column . As a result, there are four bishops and knights on each side . Furthermore, there were two warship pieces instead of the queen, referencing the naval background of the North Sea region . In fact, the ruleset included many characteristics meant to emulate actual warfare .
For example, if a pawn does not move for a turn, it may establish a supply line . Supply lines allow pieces within it to move twice in one turn . It was a different take on chess, to the extent that one could say that it was a completely different game that just happened to use chess pieces .
“Good luck . ”
“Same, let’s have a good game . ”
The clock struck four o’clock as the chess match between Tower Master Zod and Desir began .
Both contenders were evenly matched through the opening . Zod carefully surveyed the chessboard, his eyes calmly analyzing the position . Zod’s pieces were perfectly synchronized . The bishops was on the offensive, supported by the knights, making room for a pawn push . Meanwhile, the rooks anchored the formation, defending the sides of the warships . It was a sophisticated defensive position with no gaps in sight .
In stark contrast, Desir’s pieces had no organization at all . The warships were in the back, the pawns interfered with the knight’s movements, and the arrangement of the rooks were in disarray . Dysfunctionality was the theme that permeated on Desir’s side of the board .
Despite this disparity, the match was in a deadlock . However, Desir would be the one to contest that deadlock . Pushing a pawn forward, he challenged Zod’s own pawn .
Without hesitation, Desir’s pawn cut down its opponent, threatening Zod’s defensive position and earning some praise from Zod .
“I must compliment you on your bold strategy,” commented Zod as he used a knight to knock off Desir’s pawn from the board . Unfazed, Desir continued the exchange using his rook to retake the knight .
“However,” continued Zod, “I’m afraid you are too hasty . ” Following his calculated moves, Zod took a bishop from the opposite side of the board and knocked off Desir’s rook, ending the first major exchange of the game .
In this war of attrition, Desir’s side was considerably more battered . Early on, he had lost a knight and was now even further down on the exchange . However, the piece sacrifices were not in vain . The western side of the board, where Zod’s bishop originated, was no longer impenetrable .
Desir advanced his pawn, taking advantage of the defensive gap . Zod attempted a response, but Desir had already positioned his warship early on to take advantage of that gap . Thus, Desir’s mighty warship broke through Zod’s defenses . In an instant, the defense was overrun and the western side of the board was in shambles .
Zod looked at Desir in surprise .
‘He’s pretty good . He’s skilled for sure, but he’s still just a student . ’
From the ruined defensive formation, Zod had positioned a knight near some pawns for a special tactic . Desir had positioned his pieces to quickly penetrate through Zod’s defenses, but left himself open to a counterattack as a consequence . With a decisive move, Zod tore apart Desir’s supply lines, preventing him from moving quickly and allowing Zod to calmly and efficiently capture isolated pieces .
Try as he might, Desir was unable to stop the counterattack . His warship was surrounded by pawns and ultimately fell to Zod’s bishop .
It was a successful counter-offensive . Desir had lost many pieces and would need to regroup before he could make another play . It was the perfect time for Zod to go on full offense .
In North Sea rules, when a player sinks a warship, they are granted another turn . Zod utilized this extra move to advance his front line, taking advantage of the supply lines created by his pawns . Desir tried to disrupt the supply lines with his own pieces, but were blocked by the opposing knight .
Zod advanced his pieces methodically . With his supply line securely defended, his army was able to move forward in a tight formation . In just five short turns, there was a huge supply line that was stretched diagonally across the playing field .
“Hmm…” Desir paused to think . He was definitely at a disadvantage . Zod’s supply line was particularly bothersome . Through this supply line, Zod’s pieces were able to maneuver nimbly through Desir’s front line . It was a fierce match .
Without missing a beat, Desir repelled Zod’s invasion with his own pieces . Sparks flew as the front lines clashed and held their ground . Desir’s positioning neither focused on offense or defense . It was almost nonsensical .
Zod, on the other hand, was focused on his attack . He concentrated his pieces on a single square and broke past Desir’s defenses, successfully penetrating the formation . The casualty of this attack was a bishop and disruption of Desir’s pawn formation . Zod then followed up by capturing two of Desir’s remaining three knights . Victory did not seem far away .
Desir made an attempt to halt the advance, but it was not sufficient . Zod’s pieces moved in sync, preventing any counter play . His rook supported his pawns as they invaded and established a new supply line, further increasing his advantage . Zod’s play was methodical, calmly creating a siege line while simultaneously pressuring with an attack .
Ignoring the danger posed to his other pieces, Desir chose to retreat his warship first . Even then, it was horribly outnumbered .
‘It’s over,‘ thought Zod . Desir’s initial attack was strong, but that was all he offered this game . As the Tower Master expected, the young student was no match for him . Though the game was enjoyable, it was time to finish the match .
As Zod was about to reach for a piece, Desir, who had not said a word throughout the entire game, finally spoke .
“Would you like to make a wager?”
“That’s correct . If something was at stake, we would try our hardest, right?”
Zod immediately understood Desir’s intent . A normal person would not refuse a reward of 120 gold pieces and ask for a chess game instead . There were definitely ulterior motives at work .
Zod’s lip curled into a smile . Building up expectations for Desir’s request, Zod asked, “What sort of wager did you have in mind?”
“Let’s keep it simple . How about if the loser has to fulfill one request from the winner?”
It was a simple wager . However, the stakes were outrageous .
“What exactly could I request from you?” bemused Zod, “what could a student like yourself offer to me, the Tower Master?”
“You could have me work in the Tower of Magic? Despite appearances, I am first among the Single Rankers, even though I am a first year student . When it comes to magic, I am confident that I am second to none . ’
“That’s fair . In that case, my request to you will be that you come work for the Magic Engineering Department immediately after graduation . ” Zod, knowing Desir’s background, decided his request without hesitation .
“Isn’t a guaranteed job more beneficial to me?” asked Desir .
“You’re still a first year student and you’re already talented enough to be a Single Ranker . For the Tower of Magic to acquire such a talent without needing to invest in scouting is beneficial enough for us, don’t you think?”
“I see . I guess it’s my turn to state my request . ”
“Hold on . Before I hear your request, I must say one thing . ” Zod held up a hand, anticipating Desir’s request, “I refuse to provide sponsorship . ”
“You are being very thorough, I see . ”
“Of course . Rules are rules, there will be no exceptions . The application period has already passed and I can’t give you an exception . Rules are important . ”
“I agree wholeheartedly that rules are important . So there is no need for you to be concerned with such matters . I’ve said this many times already, but I have no intention of seeking sponsorship . ”
“Is that so? Then I am very curious as to what your request is . ” Zod could not hide the fact that his interest was piqued . “You somehow obtained information on an Outers raid and were instrumental in stopping them . Then, you refused the reward of 120 gold and asked for a chess game with me instead . Finally, you elected to play with the North Sea rules, which you must have known somehow was from my homeland . What kind of request is worth all that effort? Aside from sponsorship, I have no idea . ”
It was more of a statement than a question . A declaration that Zod was fully aware of Desir’s every action thus far . Unfazed, Desir continued .
“I didn’t think that you would be that curious about my request . Since that is the case, how about I keep it to myself for now so that you can savor the moment? After all, the most anticipated gift is the one you unwrap last . ”
“That’s a good analogy . I like it . I’ll entertain your offer then . ”
Confident in his victory, Zod didn’t see the need to continue questioning Desir . Zod wasn’t being conceited . Anyone looking at the state of the chessboard would say that the game was clearly in Zod’s favor . Desir only had six pawns, two rooks, one bishop, and one king remaining . All of his knights were eliminated . It would not have been unusual for a player to resign at this point .
Desir himself knew this, but he was not ready to throw in the towel .
‘As expected, a genius is a genius,’ admired Desir . ‘This position is no joke . What’s scary is that, even though he’s ahead, he’s not letting up one bit . ’
In terms of skill, Zod was definitely the better player . This was true in the current moment as well as in Desir’s past . In his past life, Desir had already played chess against Zod many times .
The survivors of the Shadow Labyrinth all had their own hobbies . It was something required to help them hold onto their sanity on that brutal battlefield . For Pram, it was cooking, though the choice of ingredients was slim . For Romantica, it was singing . For Saintess Priscilla, prayer .
And for Desir and Zod, it was chess .
The two of them carved out chess pieces from rocks and a chessboard from a boulder . When it came to the ruleset, Desir wanted to use the Hebrion rules, but Zod insisted on the North Sea rules . In the end, Zod had his way and Desir bitterly learnt the North Sea ruleset .
‘It truly was rough . ’
He had to learn and adapt to the extra pieces, the new warship piece, and a slew of special rules . How many days did it take before the unfamiliar rules felt natural? Desir could not recall . Eventually, however, Desir did master the ruleset and was able to play against Zod in earnest .
And was defeated .
Absolutely crushed .
Like a toddler, who just learned to walk, having a race against a professional sprinter, the difference in skill and ability was large . It was a scenario where a more sympathetic player may let the newer player win a game now and then in order to encourage them . However, despite the disparity in skill and experience, not once did Zod allow Desir to win . Not a single game in six years .
Naturally, playing against the same opponent repeatedly for six years would result in familiar positions and patterns emerging . Over time, Desir saw every strategy Zod had to offer and eventually got to the point where he was no longer being crushed and could barely hold on against him .