The gods of Caldoria have a new game to play. But is it truly just a game?
A New Game
The Gaming Room was filled to capacity. Elegantly dressed men and women, even children, lounged about the room, all of them idly joined in some game or another. Most of the occupants drank deeply from golden goblets handed to them by gray-clad servants; even the children shared in the wine. To an unacquainted onlooker it would appear as if some festival or celebration was underway, but in fact, the Gaming Room was like this most days, for this place was not in the mortal realm. No, in fact this place was the Great Gaming Room, also known as the Hall of Amusement to the current occupants, but to the servants, this was the angelic Hall of Creation, where the gods and goddesses of Caldoria watched over their worshippers.
Of course the servants did not really know where they were at the moment, such was the pleasure of the gods to allow their people to serve them here. And they would never remember having been there. Perhaps one or two of them may think that their god spoke to them in a dream, but nothing more. Now'chi, the Lord of the Grave, the Shadow God of the Twelve Realms, thought on this as he scanned the room, smiling scathingly as he named off the countless kings and queens of different lands that were here to serve them today. All of them were men and women of extreme power in the mortal realm, but here most of them had become what they most despised. And presently, they all toiled alongside the common people who served them in their own kingdoms. He almost laughed at that thought. Almost.
The black robed god of evil turned his head to take in the entire hall. The room itself was huge, opened to the starlit sky on one end, and closed with a wall of pure gold on the other, inlaid with fist-sized jewels. A lacquered stage, adorned with more gems, was pushed up against the bottom of the golden wall, used mainly for other forms of entertainment. Now'chi remembered the time he had made the king of Forcatia dance a jig atop that stage; oh those were fond memories. Aged ivory and polished gold adorned a large portion of the hall, silver being the second most abundant metal. Dark mahogany tables, beautifully carved with ornate figures of the land below, were surrounded by chairs made of precious cherry, a plush silk cushion adorning each. Exquisite carpets lay upon the stone floor, containing the same images as the woven tapestries hanging upon the sidewalls. Candlelight gleamed off the shiny metals, casting the room in a radiant glow. A diamond chandelier hung from the ceiling, glittering in the light and sending tiny rainbows dancing through the vast hall. The light came to rest upon a large table holding the most delicious fruits and desserts known to mankind. Yes, this certainly was the room of the gods.
All of the deities, each with their lesser immortals at their side, were present save for one, Edrick, the god of magic. None of the others really noticed his absence though, and no one would have cared if they did; each was concerned with only his or her game. Now'chi certainly did not miss the god of magic; Edrick was no more than a mere annoyance to him. Almost all of the gods were engrossed in games, for that was the nature of the gods of Caldoria. The mortals below them may have believed that their gods, whom they worshipped so diligently, watched over them and protected them, but in truth the gods had given up on the people a long time ago. Ever since the first of them had disappeared so many millennium ago, the gods had forsaken their mortal servants. Now'chi wondered for a moment what it would be like to be a Forgotten God, not worshipped by a single person, no one ever speaking your name again. This had happened to Polis and Müth. He almost laughed again; who would stop worshipping him, after all he was the Lord of Evil, and there would always be evil in the kingdoms of mortals. He was the most recognized god of all.
His current thoughts brought his attention to his counterpart, the Giver of Life, the Protector, the names went on forever. In fact, Hloshim had been given so many names it was sickening to Now'chi to list them all. Despite this, he harbored no ill will towards Hloshim, for he was who he was. Just as Now'chi was who he was. They may have been sworn enemies ages upon ages ago, but none of that mattered in the Great Gaming Room. Besides, the god of all that was good was the next best player of kingdoms among them. And Now'chi should know, for he was the best. He had a sudden longing for a game of kingdoms. Rising from the tasseled cushions he had rested upon, Now'chi patted his robes straight and walked towards the far end of the room where the Giver of Life was gaming.
He strode past several large figures, Flame Immortals, from the land of Maharaehan. They were arranged around a small table, deep in thought over a deck of cards. As Now'chi drew closer to his prospect of an adversary, he felt something small crushed underfoot, yet did not even pause to investigate. Nor did he pause for the glare he received from the three robed men whose amusement he had just interrupted. Lesser immortals it seemed, who had used a touch of their magic to bring the inanimate object to life. They wisely said nothing to him though, slowly turning back to watch their remaining clay figures wrestle upon the stone floor.
The Lord of Shadows continued forward, skirting around a table where two gods sat, silently focusing upon a stones board. They each studied the layout, contemplating their next move as well as their opponent's next move. Neither worried if the other would cheat to gain a better position, there would be no real contest if that happened and the game would be ruined. In fact, there seemed to be no worry among any of the powerful figures. Who could worry when they had no cares at all?
"Hloshim," the dark god began, his voice booming menacingly through the entire hall, "Would you care to join me for a game of kingdoms?" The effect was as he desired. Everyone in the hall turned to look, curious about the challenge. Now'chi smiled inwardly, not allowing even a crease of humor to mar his stern visage.
The white robed figure held a cup of dark wine, inhaling the intense aroma. Hloshim noncommittally nodded his head, happily sipping at the contents in his chalice. He placed a powerful hand upon the table and nodded again to his current opponent, who simply nodded back in acquiescence. Although this lesser god was clearly unhappy about ending the game in a draw, he dared not refuse. He slowly pushed himself up from his chair and offered it to Now'chi.
Taking his seat, Now'chi froze for a moment, almost forgetting what it was like to be in the presence of the God of All that is Good. Hloshim was a commanding figure, his whole essence emanated life, for his power was contained within the body. Entirely majestic, every feature of the man held some hint of grace. His eloquently long face supported a thin nose and thin lips, his eyes slightly slanted, giving him an almost exotic appearance, but his appearance was far from unusual for this hall. Short white hair sat atop his head, connecting to a full, flowing white beard. Hloshim truly had the presence of a father. He smiled at the black-robed man and slowly lowered the cup from his mouth. "Now'chi, you know I always enjoy a good game of kingdoms, especially when playing against my favorite opponent."
The dark man bowed his head to the compliment, a deep scowl etched upon his comely features, but the Giver of Life took no offense to the other god's frown. Hloshim returned the favor and began merrily sipping at the wine again. Now'chi looked across the table to the elder god, who, by rule, would be allowed the first play. Of course, in the mortal realm, Hloshim was actually younger than himself by less than a minute. Now'chi found himself scowling again, and quickly pushed aside those thoughts, for there was no pressing need to dwell on them now. They were not in Caldoria, and Hloshim had risen sooner than he, so thus he was the older of the two in the Great Gaming Room. Even if the magic that permeated the gods of Caldoria masked their true age.
In his mind, Now'chi would always be the senior of the two. Besides, dark always came before light, just as night always preceded day. As Now'chi settled himself into the plush chair, the dark aura that surrounded him cast a long shadow over the dancing light emanating from his counterpart. The dark did not swallow the light, and the light did not blind the dark, there was simply a shadow. Now'chi looked to his opponent down a plump nose, which sat upon heavy cheeks. His chin pointed out an unusually long distance, causing his face to appear longer than it really was. But it was his eyes that made him a true adversary in any game. Those red eyes burned of flame, hinting at the vast amount of power at his disposal, intimidating to most of the lower gods of Caldoria, yet to Hloshim this power was what made him a true adversary. With the flames dancing in his eyes, one never could read in them what Now'chi was thinking. The god of death and everything evil smiled, or as much of a smile as he could manage, and silently they set the game together.
Now'chi looked across the table at Hloshim. Across from him sat a man who was his complete opposite, as if a mirror had been placed there, its image contrast to reality. These were the gods of good and evil, light and dark, the giver and taker of life, peacefully playing a game of kingdoms together. Strangely, there was no animosity present within the Gaming Room, the gods did not bicker or fight for power, setting good against evil. It was not as if Now'chi cared for the man across from him, quite the contrary, but since he had no concerns, there was no reason for hostility. No, there was plenty of complacency within the room.
Hloshim and Now'chi, fathers of good and evil, respectively, silently began their game, both contestants concentrating fully on the pieces lying before them, oblivious to the other occupants of the room. Neither raised their eyes to question a sudden outbreak of raucous laughter coming from the open end of the great hall. Several of the other gods did though, turning their distracted attention from their games to find a tall female clad in red robes turning from the open end of the room, a squat frail-looking man at her side. Still chuckling to herself, she pointed back towards the opening. Starlight streamed from outside the entrance, which was in fact not an entryway at all. A golden banister connected the two walls together, small posts of silver stretching to the stone floor. If one was to peer over the edge, a most spectacular sight awaited his eyes. The mortal plain lay far below, the daily occurrences of the mortals laid out before them. At one time the gods of Caldoria had watched over their respective flocks from this balcony, but now that they did not care, the lives of men were just a game for their enjoyment. At least this was what the beautiful red-robed woman still laughed about.
"You should have seen what I just did," she said between breaths to those few who still paid her any attention. The short man nodded beside her, a twisted smile cracking his stony face.
"And what was that pray tell?" Now'chi boomed over the muffled voices of the inconvenienced gamers, not pausing in his game of kingdoms to even glance in her direction. Fendria, the Goddess of Impartiality and Justice, stopped laughing and pouted at the lack of interest she was receiving. Now'chi sighed; he had taken a gamble to speak to her since he knew her personality well. If one did not consider her when she wished to be noticed, she would not stop until she had been. But now her focus was solely on him; this would most likely ruin his game. Still, Hloshim took no notice of the exchange, so Now'chi engrossed himself back into the game.
"Probably just another of her silly pranks," spoke a voice from a different corner. Now'chi let out another sigh, this time in relief. That distraction may just save him. Fendria may be a glory hound but she also had a very short memory. Funny how an impartial goddess could be so biased for attention herself.
"Hah. A prank you say? You don't even know. My followers were just now praying to me for wisdom to decide the fate of a murderer," Fendria began, "And while they were holding court, Vornsk here sent a dreadful storm in their direction. Thinking this to be a sign from me to spare his life, they let him go. Only he was struck by lightning in the storm and died."
The onlookers broke into laughter now, most everyone joined in, some finding their way to the banister eager to see what the mortals would do next. Vornsk, the god of storms and fury, turned back to the banister to stare at the earth below, taking time to admire his work. One game continued uninterrupted though, two silent figures staring at the carved onyx and alabaster pieces on a kingdoms board. Seeing as the rest of the gods had finally heeded her, Fendria thought it not fair for those two gamers to ignore her and quickly joined them, not asking whether her company would be appreciated or not. Standing in the shadow between them, she diligently stared down at the kingdoms players for quite some time, waiting to see who would be the first to speak to her. Now'chi almost sighed again, but held it back. That would be as good as speaking to her, and then the floodgates would open. Obviously Hloshim had less patience than he did for such trivial matters.
"Fendria, I must really ask you to stop," the white robed god insisted, glaring at the amused woman.
"Ah, but this is so much fun, watching you two." She silently praised herself, she believed that he would be the first to break the silence and she felt vindicated in her assumption.
Hloshim drew his bushy white eyebrows together, thinking for a proper retort to the goddess's remark. But he was saved the effort.
"How are we to be saved from the torture of your incessant babble," Now'chi said.
Fendria frowned sullenly upon him, but before she could answer, a loud clap of thunder reverberated through the hall, followed shortly by a thick cloud of smoke that filled the far end of the hall where the stage had been erected. The echoing thunder slowly died to fill the room with sudden silence. All attention shifted to this intrusion, including the kingdoms players, every god of Caldoria wondering who would disturb their games. But Now'chi knew who it was, knew who it logically had to be. He never let anything slip by him; and there was only one god who was absent. The smoke rose to the ceiling, billowing upward to leave a thin, sinewy man in its place, stringy dark hair hiding half his face.
"Dramatic," Now'chi muttered, turning his attention back to the game laying in front of him, leaving Edrick, the god of magic, to his own devices.
Bowing before the gods and immortals, the new arrival threw his hair back and quickly glanced about the hall. A small smile stretched across his narrow face. Content with the results of his entrance, the man spoke, his booming voice carrying to each member of the room.
"Brothers, Sisters. I am glad to find you all in attendance. Of course, where else would they be..." This last statement trailed away, being meant for his ears only, but still quite audible to his audience. Sensing his spectators slipping away back to their games, he hurried on with his speech. "I have brought you a new game I have created."
Once again the man held each god's attention, for they all loved new games. No one had invented one in ages, or at least ages as they were to mortals. Still, it had been quite some time. Delighting in his glorious reception, the intruder brought forth a fairly large game board from within the many folds of his deep purple robe. Upon seeing the small area the game entailed, the man was greeted with a barrage of skeptical questions.
"How many can play?" One dark-skinned god asked.
"Is that all?" Fendria said sarcastically, obviously displeased by the loss of her limelight.
"What are the rules?" A third god chimed in.
"Brothers, Sisters. Please, only one question at a time. I guarantee each of you will find this game most interesting," Edrick answered, patting his sweating brow with a purple handkerchief then using it to wipe away his sly smile, but he barely succeeded.
Walking to the only empty table, which sat next to where Now'chi and Hloshim were playing their game of kingdoms, he unfolded what actually was a larger board than it had first appeared, inlaid with stone squares of different sizes and colors. All of the gods in the Great Gaming Room pushed close to see his creation. Edrick sat the game board upon the table, that furtive smile revealing his internal laughter at the ridiculous faces of his crowding companions. Moments passed as he reveled in the wondering praise that washed over him.
"Well, are you going to tell us how to play?" Now'chi asked, speaking from the corner of his mouth, finally heeding the newcomer. He made no effort to hide his disdain for the man.
Edrick ignored the heat in the black-robed god's voice, but he did frown at the indifferent remark. He waved his hand over the board, causing many polished oval tiles to appear. Two shades of tiles, each covering a separate portion of the game board, were the only colors. Black and white. Even Now'chi became slightly interested now.
"The game is called pe-tok, and as you can most likely deduce, the colors represent the two separate but equal alignments of good and evil." Edrick paused to let his statement sink in. That should get their attention. "This is a magical game of mind and chance. When two different colored tiles occupy the same square, magic will change one tile to the color of the other, completely by chance. Two or more of one color against a lesser number of the other will be included into the rolls of chance. The object of the game is simple; the side that gains and keeps the highest number of tiles wins. I would ask that Fendria watch over the game."
Edrick bowed low to the goddess of justice and carried the board to the large mahogany table resting upon the stage. Every god had forgotten his or her own games at the arrival of this new, intriguing game. Once laid upon the table, Edrick turned back to his audience, that devious smile appearing again.
"One word of caution," he began, "While the side that obtains all of the tiles will win the game, it may have drastic consequences for the other." With that he simply vanished, no cloud of smoke, no peal of thunder. Now'chi shook his head at the departed god. Who knew what he had meant by that statement. He really was such an annoyance.
Once Edrick had departed, the gods and immortals lined themselves on opposite sides of the table, according to their alignment with good or evil, while some stood in between them. The gathered beings made way for Hloshim and Now'chi, who now joined the crowd, taking chairs at either end of the rectangular table.
"I give the first move to you, oh brother of the light," Now'chi declared ceremoniously, directing his speech to Hloshim.
The good god of life nodded acceptance and stretched forth his hand to touch a white tile.
"Let the game begin," shouted the red robed Fendria, uncontained curiosity exuding from her voice.
With that said, Hloshim moved the first piece.
Please read on: "Game of the Gods - Chapter 1"