Trellach v. Damar
A Story by Aaron Canton
Trellach took a breath. Prentiss couldn’t be invincible, she thought; the game of Lords was too complicated for any individual to master every facet. She just had to find something he didn’t know. Yes, he was a champion who probably knew as much as anyone else about the game, but—
She caught herself. He had been a champion when he was alive. Now, though, he’d been dead and out of tournament play for thirty years. Damar had said he, Prentiss, worked out his own variations, but the game was so vast, he couldn’t possibly have matched the last thirty years of Lords theory on his own. The tactics developed recently had to be new to him. Trellach just had to find and exploit them.
A smile played over her lips as she realized what she could do. “I win,” she murmured. “I figured out his weak point, Damar.”
For the first time, the necromancer seemed puzzled. “Really? What is it?”
“You’ll see.” When she had been studying Lords, Trellach had come across games by what was called the ‘sapper’ school, a group of players who had risen to prominence fifteen years prior following a series of high-profile wins by their most fervent advocates. These players didn’t control strong central outposts with powerful pieces like the ‘outpost’ school did, nor did they try to block off such outposts with mobs of weaker pieces like the ‘blockade’ school. Instead they waited for their opponents to extend themselves by setting up outposts of their own, then attacked, undermined, and destroyed those outposts, much as sappers dug tunnels under castle walls to collapse them. Trellach had never used the tactics of the sapper school, and advocates of other play styles had worked out responses to said tactics five years prior… but Prentiss wouldn’t know that.
So Trellach surrendered the central position and withdrew her army to the outer edges of the board. Prentiss immediately seized the opportunity to build up a stronghold in the center of the board, which controlled a huge swath of territory and pinned down most of Trellach’s army. However, every move that strengthened his outpost resulted in him concentrating his forces a little more, and soon only his knight was providing support from a position outside the outpost while all the rest of his significant pieces were packed together in a seemingly impenetrable formation. If she sacrificed her last priest to draw off that knight, Trellach thought, she could set up a wave of her remaining soldiers, overwhelm the outpost, and remove most of his remaining pieces… provided she hadn’t missed something. But if she was wrong and Prentiss resisted her final assault, she’d be out of material.
Trellach took a long breath as she examined the board. She couldn’t see any way Prentiss could get out of it. Yes, he was a master—a fact she was now acutely aware of—but that didn’t make him invincible. And besides…
I’m smarter than these people, she thought to herself. I’m smarter than all of them.
She moved her priest. Prentiss’ hand darted towards his knight, hesitated for a second, and then—just as Trellach’s heart began thundering in her chest—he grabbed it and took the bait. She barely waited for him to let go before making her own next move, advancing the first soldier towards his army. He immediately knew; she could see his eyes darting along the board while he searched for a way out. But it was just as obvious he didn’t know what to do about it, because when the death knight moved again, it was the exact move the outpost school dictated. That left another wing of his formation undefended, so Trellach attacked, and things proceeded from there.
It took another fifteen moves, but eventually Prentiss was down to a single soldier, while Trellach still had three of her own. She maneuvered around his remaining piece and pinned down the general, then swept it from the board once Prentiss tipped it over. “I win!” she shouted, realizing she had been sweating. “So much for your death knight, Damar!” She turned to the necromancer, who looked genuinely impressed.
“Congratulations,” he said. “I’ve never known anyone to beat Prentiss.” He inclined his head. “You are a magnificent player.”
Trellach smiled to herself. Using obsolete tactics wasn’t what she would call magnificent, but it wasn’t like Damar or her citizens were smart enough to know the difference. “I am. And now, as per our agreement, you will perform hard labor until you have paid off your debt to this town.” She nodded at her mages. “Take him away to the dungeons.”
She looked back at the crowd and opened her mouth to proclaim how her victory had destroyed the vandal who had done such harm to them, but she realized her mages weren’t moving. All four stood stock-still while Damar stretched and yawned. “Actually,” he said, “I think I’ll be leaving now—many things to do, you know. Good day, baroness.”
“You will not.” Trellach scowled at her mages. “I said, take him to the dungeons—”
“Why won’t I?” asked Damar.
Trellach stared at him. “Because the rules we agreed on—”
“I thought the rules didn’t apply to nobility?” Damar winked at her and walked past her mages, none of whom even turned in his direction. “Rather unfair, isn’t it? You expect everyone else to follow the rules, but you don’t seem to care to follow them yourself.” He chuckled. “Are they just for those who aren’t as clever as you?”
“Listen, I don’t know what—”
Damar waved his hand, and Trellach’s mages suddenly shimmered as a magic veil fell away from their bodies. All four were rotting, and Tyrn’s skin even shuddered as if worms were buried within it. The citizens in the amphitheater gasped and screamed while Trellach gaped. “How—” she began at last. “That—”
“They were dead the moment they broke into my camp to abduct me,” said Damar, pacing across the stage as if in a lecture. “Literally, actually; I set up a ward to kill any living thing that crossed it and raise it as a zombie. I find it gives me peace of mind.” He smiled politely. “But I had to admit at being curious as to what kind of foolish noble would try to arrest a necromancer, of all people. So I had that Tyrn fellow cast one of those illusions he was so fond of when he was alive, made your pet wizards look all nice and lively, and came back. After calling a few friends, of course.”
Before Trellach could ask about the friends, several forms in the crowd shimmered and resolved themselves into robed figures. The surrounding citizens jumped back as quickly as they could. “You have no right!” yelled Trellach. “You—”
“You had no right to try to kill me because you didn’t like my spell,” said Damar. “So I suppose we’re even.”
Trellach flushed. “Why did you even go through with the game if you could have left at any time?”
“To see how good you were!” Damar gestured at Prentiss, who stood perfectly still, just like Trellach’s mages, now that the game was finished. “Prentiss is a fine player, but he’s not exactly up to date on the latest moves. So, once you challenged me to a game, I figured I would stay and see how you did. And I must say, you exceeded all my expectations.” He grinned. “Do you know what this means?”
Trellach thrust her hand towards her sword, but the zombified Tyrn muttered something, and the blade crumbled to dust. “That—that I’m good enough you won’t kill me? Like I promised—”
Damar laughed, an ugly sound that echoed through the amphitheater. “Incorrect, I’m afraid,” he said. “But don’t worry. Your talent, at least, will live on.”
The baroness tried to back away, but Damar muttered something in a tongue she didn’t know, and the world went black around her.
* * * * *
Damar nodded with obvious pleasure as Trellach’s body, fresh off from crumpling to the stage, rose again. The necromancers in the audience clapped politely, and he bowed until the applause died down, then had his newest death knight bow as well before taking her place near Prentiss. “Thank you,” he called to them. “You’re too kind.”
Someone screamed, and a few people immediately cringed away, as if worried Damar would kill them all on the spot, but the necromancer just beamed at them. “You don’t need to worry,” he said. “My actions were taken only against your noble ruler who tried to kill me. We won’t hurt any of you…unless you give us cause.”
Nobody said anything, and Damar’s smile grew. “Well, we necromancers will be on our way. Although—we might be stopping back here now and then to resupply, rest, and so forth. We may even put up a little guild hall…oh, about where her house used to be.” He gestured at the death knight that had once been Baroness Trellach. “That won’t be a problem, will it?” He waited, but there were again no comments. “Excellent! I knew we could count on this town.”
He chuckled and turned to leave the stage, but just before he got off of it, some brave citizen shouted, “You knew? Did you plan all this out?”
Damar hesitated, then looked back. “Of course not!” he chirped. “I mean, I would have had to predict the completely random attack of rats that plagued this town, that Trellach would try to kill me, even that she’d challenge me to the one game this particular death knight is good at.” He grinned. “I’d have to be very clever indeed to work all that out in advance, wouldn’t I?”
He bowed once more to the citizens, and his zombies and death knights did the same. Then they all walked out of the amphitheater and were gone.