He moved his Knight forward. I stroked on the wheels of my wheelchair and repositioned myself close to the ivory chessboard between us. Three seconds ago, he had curled up his greying moustache. I knew why he did it. To prove himself better. To remind me that I was not even capable of sporting a moustache as manly as him. He was smart, yes. But I had prepared for this game for almost an eternity now. He had left his Knight exposed. It stood on the white square on its hind legs. The tip of the sword the Knight held shone vibrantly, just like the tip of his moustache. I was tempted to take out his Knight with my Queen but I knew too well that his exposed Knight was a cleaver invite to trap my Queen within four steps. I moved the Kingside Bishop instead, forcing him to withdraw his Knight. He shot a piercing glance at me before he retraced his move. I envied his steady hands as it picked up and placed the Knight back on the black square. I looked down at my own hand which I retrieved from under the table. It was shivering involuntarily as if it were under a tremor spell.
I had the upper hand now. It will be my move that will determine the direction in which the game proceeds from now on. A strange dilemma overtook me that second. I had two series of moves planned out; one where I’d begin with crossing my Rook to his end of the board and calling a check. And the other where I’d spin a steady web to trap his Queen in. It was a hard call to make. I hovered my trembling hand over the pawn first. He seemed unmoved. I moved by hand towards the Rook and he let out a gasp. I knew this trick of his all too well. Three minutes ago, we were having a disagreement on who gets to make the first move of the game. He told me I should go first as if I needed the edge. ‘No! You go first’ I replied. To my surprise, instead of reverting the same back to me, he accepted as if that’s what he wanted all along. I pushed the pawn to the square ahead. A smile drew across his face. ‘Had he beaten me again? Was this a double bluff?’ I thought.
He coughed twice in a mechanical manner to grab my attention as he made his next move. He pushed his pawn towards the last square, flicked it off the board and revived his queen at the same spot. I had seen the move coming. Three hours ago, he was showing off the new spell he had learnt. He had always been a good necromancer. But to raise a witch who had died a century ago with only a drop of blood she had left behind on a torn piece of paper was remarkable. Truly remarkable. And all I could do was sink back in my wheelchair and accept defeat. I leaned ahead and moved my Knight, to both intimidate his Queen and protect my Rook. That will make him move his Queen back, to the exact square I want it to be at. I tried to mimic his cough to grab his attention but ended up coughing with an immeasurable pain in my chest. I turned around and spat green sputum into the small metal bucket kept beside my wheelchair. ‘You okay?’ he asked. I didn’t respond.
I grabbed the mug kept on the stool to my left and took a sip. The hot water was not so hot anymore. I cleared my mind, focused all my energy on my breath and blew into the mug. Trails of steam elevated as the water turned boiling hot. ‘That’s better’ I thought, taking another sip. When I looked up, he had already made his move. I squinted my eyes and scanned the board to make sure he had played the move I wanted him to. In an attempt to make me feel miserable and insecure about my rapidly losing vision, he alternated his pointer finger between the Queen he had retrieved towards his half and the empty square from where he had moved it. I nodded. Three months ago, he had retreated his “Army of the Dead” from the Embassy. The whole world shook at the news. All his efforts, rituals, sacrifices, crimes and training; only to sign a truce on the day he conquered the Embassy itself? All he asked in return was that the entire Dark Army’s crimes be pardoned. His peers weren’t happy about his decision, neither were the practitioners of the forbidden rituals. They thought he had grown weak over time and thus has lost interest in the throne, but I knew the reason why he signed the truce. It was because he didn’t have me fighting for the Embassy anymore. All his accomplishments and all his victories were meaningless if I wasn’t the one he was up against. When I withdrew from the war because of the legs I lost in battle, I left the world for him to conquer. But he signed a truce and defeated me, again. I moved my Queenside Bishop ahead, leaving my last line with only my Rooks on both the edges and my King in the middle.
He knocked off one of my Rooks with his Queen. ‘Check!’ he said in a cold and unflinching voice. The next move was obvious. I had to move my king up a square to remove the check and he slid his queen across to the other end of the board, knocking off my other Rook. Three years ago, during the “War of the worlds” we were fighting each other off to death. I was leading the Embassy’s army with my students from “The school of Fire”. The undead he and his students from the “School of Death” raised wouldn’t have been a match for our fire spells, but the sheer number of undead he had forced out of the core of the planet outnumbered our students. They were protected by an army of the undead. What followed was a spectacle. Balls and storms of fire against a grotesque army of Zombies. How do you kill something that’s already dead? The burnt bodies would keep getting back up time and again. I was standing my guard, as the last line of defence in front of the Embassy when she flew across the arena and landed in front of me. An enchanting green aura surrounded her. It was her; his best friend and companion, apprentice and his champion, soul mate and his wife, the Enchantress herself. I conjured a ball of fire in my hand and prepared to throw it at her. She glided forward and stopped right in front of me. She raised an eyebrow as the wings of death folded into the back of her green robes. I couldn’t. She knew I wouldn’t. No matter what she had turned out to be, she had meant a lot to me once. But that feeling was easily won over by him, back then and now too. I extinguished the fire in my hand and looked into her eyes. She knew if they wanted to bring the Embassy to its knees, they’d have to bring me to my knees first. She couldn’t kill me either. I could see her eyes screaming sorry as she pushed me into the ground. She cast a death spell on my legs and drained the life below both my knees. I still remember dissolving into the ground as soon as I felt my legs turn to jelly. He thinks he’s smart, to sweep off both my Rooks with his Queen in a single move, but he doesn’t know that I had planned it all along. I quickly began a series of moves to set all the remaining pieces in place for the finale.
He frantically countered each of my moves. He thinks he has the upper hand but he doesn’t see the whole picture yet. It’s not his fault though. He doesn’t know there’s a whole lot to the picture yet. Three decades ago, when I joined as a teacher at the “School of Fire”, he felt a desperate need to prove better than me. He overthrew the Professors at the “School of Death” with the support of his apprentices and took his place as the headmaster of the school. To prove himself the better, he started to work on improving the reputation of the infamous “School of Death”. Soon he found overburdened with a task bigger than himself. Those who passed out from the “School of Death” were never offered proper jobs or equal pay. Every other sector of society frowned upon them. They didn’t even accept them into their neighbourhoods. The embassy banned most of the spells and incantations of the “School of Death” outside of the school grounds and forced them to live a life of mere mortals. It didn’t take him long to realize that these laws and a whole system against their school were forced upon them by the Embassy because they were afraid of them. They knew what the “School of Death” was capable of without any harsh regulations regulating their lives, practices and beliefs. That’s when he started the rebellion against the Embassy and its biased nature. He appointed his wife, the enchantress as the headmistress of the school, while he prepared his students for the inevitable fight which lay ahead. He taught them to fight for their school, their beliefs and their culture. He motivated them with their cause to ensure each one of them rose to the occasion when the time came. That was when he started practising vampiric spells. I don’t think it took him long enough to master them. Soon, a criminal took over our streets. Someone was sucking the life out of the members of the Embassy who would stray away during the hours of the dark. I moved my Queen two spaces to the right.
His eyes widened. He must have thought I made a mistake ‘Are you sure?’ he asked. I didn’t respond. He swooped in with his Knight and took away my Queen. Was I happy to let the Knight take my Queen? No. Was it necessary for me to give her away to win the game? Yes. Three centuries ago, when I had just started as a freshman in the “School of Fire”, I used to spent most of my evenings in “Elixir and Frog legs”, a local pub near our hostel. That’s where I met her for the first time. Her green eyes reflected a part of my soul I never knew existed within me. When she walked across the bar, dragging her green robe across the wooden floor, I was both startled and amazed. “Hi,” she said. She might have assumed I was playing hard to get but the truth was far from it. I was fighting hard to gulp down my swallow of the elixir stuck in my throat. I did notice that he was seated across the bar that night, overhearing our conversation. To compete with me, he joined my school’s rivals, the “School of Death”. He had received various offers from the “School of Ice”, the “School of Life” and the “School of Storm”, but no, he had to join my rival school. We became good friends soon enough, she and I. Even if she was from the “School of death”, our rivals in the Annual championship, we found within each other a warmth that we never found with anyone else. She had a certain unique and remarkable attribute. She always brought out the best in you. She had the magical ability to be a catalyst and speed up the process of finding one’s true purpose in life. She was the one who forced my attention to everything wrong with the system. It took me a whole semester (What mortals would call half a century) to realize the truth about the “School of Death”; the politics and system against them. The manufactured opinions fed into everyone’s mind by the Embassy about their school. I knew I’d fail even if I tried to right the wrongs. I wasn’t strong enough. The embassy was large and had its roots deep into the society. The only person I knew capable of bringing an entire establishment down was him. But he needed that push, that rivalry, me. So I got myself elected as the student ambassador of the embassy and tried my best to appear romantically involved with her in public. That’s when he started asking around about it, figuring out what’s wrong with the system and tried to form a rebellion against the Embassy. It was easy for him to snatch her away. I was my school representative for the Embassy while he had successfully formed a rebellion against it. They shared the same school, same opinions, same dreams and the same goals. When she stopped frequenting “Elixir and Frog legs”, I was sad to lose my dearest friend but happy that I had set something remarkable in motion.
I placed my last move, moving my bishop in and cornering his King completely with the help of the Knight I had strategically placed earlier. ‘Check!’ I said. The smile on his face disappeared. Drops of sweat clouded his forehead. He knew what was happening, although he had never experienced it before. Defeat. I shifted my glance at the neatly folded newspaper on my lap. The article on the first page was the “School of Death” celebrating their newfound freedom. Even though he had withdrawn from the war, his peers made sure all the bans and agendas were lifted off them and their school. The Embassy, for the first time in history, had seen what the students of the “School of Death” united were capable of. Their demands were just and fair. To cut the foot which had them crushed under their boot for so long, they became a bigger hand and pushed it down back their throat. Three millenniums ago, we were both fighting in the dark. For almost ten months until we saw light for the first time. He thinks he was quicker to reach out towards the light but the truth is, I had let him. From there onwards I was his arch-nemesis. He knew no better. And each time he thought he was winning, it was only because I was letting him. A sudden gripping sensation formed around my arm. It pushed its way through to my chest. I held my other hand across the chest and trembled in my seat. He noticed it only when I fumbled off the wheelchair and fell onto the floor. He came rushing towards my side. He yelled out to her. She too was soon beside me, holding my head in her lap. She wavered her hands in the air, preparing to cast a spell. ‘N-N-No’ I told her. I knew this feeling all too well. It was my third time experiencing it. I held his collar and pulled him towards me. I brought him close and whispered in his ears ‘Checkmate, bitch!’ He didn’t respond. I let go of his collar and collapsed onto the floor. I closed my eyes. I was happy. Very very happy. Not only had I defeated him in chess today, but I had also defeated him in life. And now, I’ve defeated him in death as well.