-Now, we go over from start again, yes?
Master Broju was clearly unhappy with the young wizards’ debriefing.
-You get to Chino. You have many boats, yes? You follow tracks of robut to hill fort. Under hill iz complex, many fights, yes?
Every questionning “yes” was punctuated by a flash of his enchanted eye.
-In final room, you find king killer rabbit and Rasputin. Stasia’s Rasputin, yes? Earth Rasputin, yes?
He was now standing and obviously expecting an answer, looking at each of them in turn.
-Yes, sir, Hasdrubal answered before the pause became too long.
He glanced at Anastasia, sitting by a window embroidering, and sat down.
-One flee and other kills hosts, yes?
-How does Rasputin find broken world? How at same time? This displeases me.
With an exasperated wave of his hands and a short arcane formula, the conjuror, returned the apprentices to the Academy’s Hall of Doors.
The tiefling spoke another incantation and the low marble table was replaced by a stand with multiple chess boards arranged on arms at different levels, each apparently midgame. Anastasia put down her embroidery and joined him. She moved pieces on some of the boards.
-That was rude, love.
-You can’t expect novices, or even young masters, to handle a grandmaster on their own, especially when no one even knew he was playing.
-Ah, at least, now we know, yes?
With a click he toppled one of Anastasia’s kings.
-Spaseeba. Now there is new game, yes?
He touched the board of the now-finished game and closed his eyes. The board stretched and reformed to accommodate three sides. One side had marble and gold pieces shaped like Academy wizards. Anastasia recognized Vikkard and herself as king and queen. The other pieces were members of the cabal and a few other friends. A pawn was missing.
She recognized the king on the second side, carved out of the darkest obsidian, a tall, caped, skeletal figure holding an hourglass in its hand: Death; the pieces surrounding him variations on the theme.
Rasputin stood as the third and final king. The figurine seemed oddly organic. She swore something was slowly writhing under its surface and she could occasionally see tentacle tips peeking out from the bottom of its robe. The pieces that formed his entourage were nothing more than shapeless greenish blobs with one exception. In lieu of one peon stood a young woman in the style of the first pieces, her marble slowly seeping ooze that disappeared as it reached the board.
-Who is this one?
-This game will not be easy.
-You wouldn’t want to lose more pieces.
-Oh, now you are clever. Fine… Fine… Please be bringing my apologies to our young friends. Oh, and also, be warning them that they seem to have brought back some of the broken world’s energy with them. I do not exactly know what it is, but I think it is harmless, yes? Now, please let me reflect. We must plan move.
Anastasia nodded and walked towards the nearest exit. She turned at the last minute and looked at the wizard.
-You know dear, I think I know a way to balance the board…
He looked up from the board and smiled at her.