Lonelight Chapter 01 (Fantasy) (New Version Post #6)

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  • #346547

    Anonymous

    —-New version below—-

    If anyone could provide any thoughts or comments on my first chapter, I would very much love it! Good or bad, I wanna hear it all haha. Thanks, guys.

    Chapter 01: The King’s Pawn

    So, I was about to play chess with a god. And I wasn’t really in the mood.

    I stood—impatiently, mind you—in the middle of a large, octangular room that housed hundreds of students. It was a lot like a smelly cafeteria, but unlike a casual cafeteria, this was the first time any of us were allowed in here. The walls were completely white, clearly untouched, without any windows or carpet. The floors were at least somewhat interesting, with colored, numbered boxes in columns that designated the likelihood of a student being chosen as player by god. And by god, I of course mean the Lonelight, a benevolent being that created our existence. For the record, I said that mockingly, because such a being obviously didn’t exist.

    My instructors and classmates always got flustered whenever I referred to him as a god, because apparently that was an archaic word that didn’t encompass who the Lonelight was. But, I mean, that was basically the right word.

    Standing a few columns to the right of me were Nox and Alice, two students trained in hand-to-hand combat, and both seventeen like me. They began dating long before ever being taken into the academy, and they both stood hand-in-hand at the front of column five. As one could guess, column five was where the most promising students stood, and column one was where the least promising students stood. I just happened to be at the front of column one. That wouldn’t have been too big of a deal, except the instructors sent students to see the Lonelight one at a time, starting with the most favorable students. That was not going to work for me.

    “Instructor,” I said, stepping out of line. I made my way to the front of the room where the previous student should had been returning from their visit with the fake Lonelight any minute. I glanced up at the young women who organized this whole ordeal. Six feet and red hair pulled back; she clearly did not appreciate me stepping out of her perfectly condescending line. Again, for the record, I didn’t like her.

    “What is it, Wells?” Mantri asked.

    “Can I leave?” I reactively rolled my eyes toward the snickering lovebirds in column five, who were probably laughing at me. “Seriously, we all know no one after column four will be chosen by Mr. God, so can’t I just go?” My younger brother was also getting out of school soon, so I had to be there to pick him up. But really, it was my lack of desire to participate with the academy’s worldwide deception that drove me. I didn’t care for it or this little game that the Fakelight—I considered that as my new favorite word—was setting up. It had been who knows how many millennia since the last supposed game, so this one held no interest to me.

    Mantri rubbed her eyes and frowned. “Yes. I am most undoubtedly sure you will not be chosen, too, but you must remain here like everyone else.”

    “Then can I at least go next—”

    “Just stop talking and get back in line.”

    Without warning, a door of light appeared in front of the wall before us. The sudden appearance sounded like multiple waterfalls crashing together, or altered wind, or some unnatural sound the academy pumped through hidden speakers. It looked as if the air ripped and light flashed into existence. Raisa, another column five student, emerged from the light, her dark brown hair introducing her march back into the octangular room.

    She looked at the hundreds of students standing in the now brightly lit room, smirking. Then it morphed into a humble smile. In her hand she held a glass object. Holding it out to her classmates, we all saw that she was given a chess piece: the king. The Lonelight chose Raisa as the most important player—the leader of the soon-to-be-team.

    The classroom cheered for her, half happy and half deflated, since that meant they could not be chosen for that role.

    Alice dropped Nox’ hand and stepped forward to be next to go through the light, but I quickly shot her a crooked smile and said, “Sorry,” before plunging face first into the light.

    The last thing I heard was Alice screaming profanities at me.

    ###

    My body welcomed the natural sunlight, but my eyes took a second to readjust. Once they adjusted enough, I fell in disbelief. I stood on multicolored slate that formed a round platform. Surrounding the platform was nothing but endless sky with clouds an arm stretch away.

    “Where am I?” I muttered to myself. This shouldn’t had been possible. The academy was designed to prepare students for this very moment, but I figured it was just a religious practice with no truth behind it. The door of light I rationed to be something the instructors created with a device of some sort. But here I was, on a platform in the sky, which meant—

    “You’re on top of Paramount,” a voice interrupted my thoughts.

    I looked to the middle of the platform to see a man sitting in a simple chair with his legs and arms crossed, and in front of him was an elaborate table with a chessboard built into it. How did I not notice him?

    “Paramount?” I questioned. “The mountain of the Lonelight? That story has always been a joke.” Stepping closer I got a better look at the man who sat without taking up much space. His face was young, maybe mid-thirties, with light stubble and brown eyes that seemed to convey a feeling of transcendence under the light. It was odd because he looked human. I knew the stories told that we were all created in his image, but I just stupidly never assumed he’d look like us. Then again, this could all be a trick by the academy.

    I looked back at where I spawned from, but there wasn’t a door of light anymore. Just sky.

    “Oh, no.” The Lonelight smiled to one side without moving his body an inch. “Paramount is all too real. No man has managed to climb its terrain, and any plane that dared enter the gates of my clouds has never been spotted afterward.”

    “Again, those are just stories.” Despite this guy being some all-powerful god, I experienced no feelings of fear. Perhaps that was the downside of him looking like us. To me he was just another instructor full of his own pride—leadership filled with too much authority to know what to do with.

    He laughed once and nodded his head toward the chair across from him. “Sit. Play.”

    I obeyed for now, but I pulled my chair a few inches from the table so not to be too close. For some reason that made me feel more in control.

    “Avery Wells, no?” the Lonelight asked. I didn’t even bother asking how he knew my name. “My name is Chorum, the Lonelight, or, god, as you like to tease.”
    He showed no signs of annoyance at that fact; he merely kept his smirk fashioned on his face.

    “We’re going to play a game of chess, Wells, and the outcome will determine your fate.”

    “I’m well aware, and I don’t plan to impress you. I don’t have any desire to participate in whatever you have planned.”

    “Oh?” Chorum said. He reached forward to the board and moved one of his pawns up a space, instantly exposing his king. Before I could look up at him and assess his face for why he made that move, his arms were already crossed, and with the same smirk slapped on his face for good measure. He sure loved that posture.

    I rolled my eyes and regretfully engaged in the game by mimicking his move for the hell of it.

    “Isn’t it beautiful up here,” Chorum said, making obvious small talk. “The sky is as blue as the purest of water, the air dances along your skin like a ballerina, and the sun is just the perfect distance away.” He stared directly at the sun in awkward glee. “Sure, most mountain tops would be freezing, but, hey, I’m the Lonelight, so I can do basically anything I want with my mountain top.” He moved another piece on the board.

    I looked down at the ebony carved table, analyzing possible moves. “It must be nice having academies all over the continent take children from their homes—in your name—so that they can train them to become warriors until the day you decide to show your face.”

    “Oh, ornery little one, aren’t you? You mean to tell me you don’t appreciate the privilege you have over many others in your world?”
    Privilege? I looked up at him dully and back down at the board. For a great deity he sure sucked at chess. Every move he made ended with me countering it. I had decided to beat him at the game just to show him up, but I didn’t care if he chose me afterward. I was not going to accept it.

    The Lonelight reached for the bishop, paused, and then decided to move the rook a space. He returned his arm back to position and said, “But you know, the rituals of your academy are performed for an exquisite purpose. The winning team will be awarded a gift from me unlike any this world has seen.”

    I scoffed. “Yeah, a gift that no one even knows about. Tell me, why exactly was everyone kidnapped? To win some magical large sum of money? Immortality? To what do I owe the honor of your presence after all these years of hiding, Mr. Lonelight?” I had walked through that door of light with the intention of being as uninterested as possible, but even I could tell how worked up I was getting.

    The wind brushed Chorum’s brown hair to the side, almost as if he commanded it to do so. Hell, he probably did. I shook my head. It was only then that I bothered to notice what he was wearing: dark jeans, brown boots, and a white button up shirt. He was actually wearing the fashion of my country. Not some holy robe or other worldly garbs, but boots. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh at him or laugh at myself for considering this mediocre ruse. A real Lonelight? Controlling the wind? He could barely win a simple game of chess.

    “What you will win,” Chorum—I had decided not to refer to him as the Lonelight anymore—said, “will be uncovered to you in the event that your team does win.”

    I laughed this time. “Of course.”

    Chorum quickly shifted topic. “Oh, by the way, your queen is about to be taken.” He shot a cocky glance.

    My mouth dropped. Impossible. I was watching the game the entire time, and I made sure that I would not lose that piece. Fully engrossed into the game, forgetting where I was, I looked at each piece on the board and contemplated any move I could make. It was fruitless, though. It didn’t matter where I moved my queen, she would be taken the next turn.

    But then I saw something…. I pinched the little crown on top of the king and positioned it in front of the queen, setting it down with a determined clank.

    Chorum uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, eyeing the king that now stood between all his pieces. “You would sacrifice your king just to save the queen?”

    “Why not? The king is useless. It has no power. No ability. The queen is the strongest player on the board, and it should survive at all costs.”

    “But if your king dies, you lose, Wells.”

    “In my eyes, it is the last person standing that wins.”

    Chorum fell back into his chair and grinned bigger than I had ever seen someone grin. “How magnificent. Without a doubt, I am picking you as one of the members of the team.”

    “No,” I quickly said, a little confused at why he was impressed by my move. “I don’t have any desire to play your game.”

    “But you must.”

    “No.”

    “Anyone chosen by me has already awakened a power they cannot just give back.”

    “I said no!” With one fluid motion, I jumped up out of my seat and threw the table over to my right. The board crashed to the stone floor. I watched as all the pieces fanning out, rolling away to random places, and a few even making its way off of the edge of the platform. One of the pieces, though, rolled in a circle and stopped at the foot of my chair.

    Chorum wasn’t even phased by my outburst. He merely sat there with his stupid smirk, staring at me as if he expected that to happen.

    “I’m not joining your game, Chorum,” I said as concisely as possible. My heart pounded as the images flooded my mind. My mother and father smiled at me inside of my head, and quickly their happiness turned into sorrow—images I had successfully buried until now. “It’s your name that killed my parents. When I was a toddler, the academy came for me, saying that I was chosen to be a part of their program in hopes of one day being chosen by you. My parents refused. They said a Lonelight didn’t exist, and that they would prove it. They traveled the world, acquiring as much knowledge as possible about the origins of your fable, but nothing turned up. By then, the academy issued a law that any child chosen must be given up, and if anyone intervened…” I would not let a tear escape my eyes. Not because I considered myself too tough to do such things, but because I would not let this fraud see a side of me he did not deserve to see. The academy hired him to rile me up.

    I took a deep breath and locked eyes with that smug man. “Anyone who kills the parents of the young as a way to continue the story of a false god deserves nothing but great chaos.” I had saved and rehearsed that line for many years.

    I turned to walk away, expecting the door of light to reappear so I could leave, but Chorum whisper cemented my feet in place: “What about your brother?” He paused. “Truss, correct? He’s turning what this year? Eleven? You’ve practically raised him since he was born, and in a way, you view yourself as his father. It’s a unique responsibility for any boy your age to find himself in.”

    I faced Chorum once more. I didn’t know whether to clench my fists or relax them. “What about him?” I asked calmly. I wouldn’t allow them taking him the way they did me.

    He stood from his chair and walked over to my chair. Reaching his hand out, the chess piece on the floor levitated and flew into Chorum’s palm. “If you will not play out the ritual as a means to win a reward unlike any other, then consider these words that have yet to be graced upon the ears of any of your teammates. Your world will soon face its inevitable oblivion. If you wish to save your brother from its fate, you will play. And you will win. In my name.”

    My arm twitched, and my body boiled. The wind stopped, making the heat of the sunlight nearly unbearable. Chorum stood calmly, not even phased by the heat, and just moments before he had levitated a chess piece into his hand. I didn’t know what to think or believe. No one had ever done such a thing, but here this man was, performing the impossible. I would have been an idiot not to at least reconsider him as the true Lonelight. But if the Lonelight really existed… I wasn’t sure what was worse to consider: my parents dying because of a fake Lonelight, or them dying because of the real one.

    “What…” I gathered my thoughts. “What is the reward? And who will destroy my home?”

    “I’m afraid I cannot tell you,” the Lonelight said. “That is for your team to discover.”

    I shook my head. “That’s bull and I’m not buying it! If you know all the answers, then why aren’t you telling me?”

    Chorum stepped toward me, causing me to take a step back. This shuffle continued until I reached the edge of the platform, overlooking endless sky. “Tell me this, Wells,” Chorum started, “during our chess game, you had numerous opportunities to capture my pieces. Why did you not act when you had the chance?”

    “Because.” I hesitated, uneasy over being so close to the edge. “If I acted right when I could, I would have surely lost.”

    “Precisely. Just because you have the means to act, does not mean doing so is always in your best interest.” He reached for my hand and placed the chess piece into it, closing my fingers around the smooth, glass object. “Let me give you some advice that I have not given anyone. Gain the trust of everyone you meet, especially your enemies. In the end, it will be your trump card, Wells.”

    Before I open my mouth to question him, the door of light flashed behind me, illuminating Chorum’s face. He smiled and pushed me over the ledge. I fell through the light, disappearing from Paramount and reentering the octangular room inside the academy.

    I used a minute to get back on my feet and recall everything I just learned. Facing the group of students who eagerly awaited to be next to meet the Lonelight, I turned my hand over and opened it, revealing the chess piece. It was the queen. I smiled, unsure whether Chorum was honoring me or making fun of me.

    The students murmured.

    “He was picked,” one said.

    “He’s the queen,” another snickered.

    In the corner of me eye I saw Alice trampling over to me. She displayed a fiery expression. Her fists clenched, poised to attack. “You moron!” she bellowed. “That was supposed to be my chess piece.”

    I didn’t have time to react to her attack. Sure, the academy trained me nearly all my life to fight, but never did I take it seriously. I was a column one for a reason. She was a column five for a reason. With instinct, I covered my face with my right hand to protect me from her blow, but then something happened. My arm tingled—almost tickled in pain. Inside of my forearm, an orb the size of a large marble appeared. It glowed with a silvery white color, like the moon’s light. It protruded out, levitating in the air, and then spiraled up my arm before stopping at my palm. Without even blinking, the mysterious light expanded out and morphed into a sword. The sound of its appearance was like the sound the door of light made: wind screaming between tall buildings.

    Alice stopped her advance immediately. The room fell silent. I lowered my blade, pretending not to be the least bit confused or lost in amazement. Every chosen player was given a power by the Lonelight; whether I believed the stories before, there was no refuting it now.

    Alice walked past me toward the door of light. She turned to me and said, “When I return, I’ll make sure you regret your thievery,” and vanished.

    I scoffed but then quickly frowned. Scanning the faces in the room, I realized that if Chorum was telling the truth, every one of them, and everyone on the planet, would soon die. By who and why I didn’t know, and honestly part of me didn’t really care—all I cared about was making sure my brother was not one of them. I would tear the world apart before letting that happen.

  • #654850

    clareantoinette
    Participant

    Hi, Crono91. Good to see you on the forums again.

    I don’t have time to give this a full critique right now, but I just wanted to tell you I read this entire sample all the way to the end, no skimming, and that tells me you did a good job with the action and piquing my interest as far as storyline goes. I was so disappointed at the beginning, when Wells said the Lonelight wasn’t a real god after that initial setup, so the chess game in the clouds and the revelation that Chorum was actually powerful was exciting to me as a reader. The descriptions were good. I thought the way Wells was pushed off Paramount and back into the octagon room was especially well done. I also thought your names “Lonelight” and “Paramount”, for instance, were clever, although I’m not sure if these are names you created or common names used in games or other books that I just don’t know about.

    I don’t have time to go through this line by line right now, and there were a few words I did feel were off, but as for story and pacing and plot, I thought this was a real good start. You made me curious, and if this were a book in hand, I’d continue reading.

    I’ll try to come back later and show you where I questioned some of the wording, unless someone else comes in and does it for me. 😉 But for story and pacing, I’m giving this a thumbs up. 🙂

  • #654851

    Anonymous

    updog wrote:
    > Hi, Crono91. Good to see you on the forums again.
    >
    > I don’t have time to give this a full critique right now, but I just wanted
    > to tell you I read this entire sample all the way to the end, no skimming,
    > and that tells me you did a good job with the action and piquing my
    > interest as far as storyline goes. I was so disappointed at the beginning,
    > when Wells said the Lonelight wasn’t a real god after that initial setup,
    > so the chess game in the clouds and the revelation that Chorum was actually
    > powerful was exciting to me as a reader. The descriptions were good. I
    > thought the way Wells was pushed off Paramount and back into the octagon
    > room was especially well done. I also thought your names
    > “Lonelight” and “Paramount”, for instance, were clever,
    > although I’m not sure if these are names you created or common names used
    > in games or other books that I just don’t know about.
    >
    > I don’t have time to go through this line by line right now, and there were
    > a few words I did feel were off, but as for story and pacing and plot, I
    > thought this was a real good start. You made me curious, and if this were a
    > book in hand, I’d continue reading.
    >
    > I’ll try to come back later and show you where I questioned some of the
    > wording, unless someone else comes in and does it for me. 😉 But for
    > story and pacing, I’m giving this a thumbs up. 🙂

    Thank you, updog! It’s good to be back. I got excited when I saw you commented on my story haha. University is finally over, so I have some time back in my life xD And my book is complete, so if you ever want to read more, let me know!

    Your positive words were awesome! What you said is exactly how I want my readers to feel. My story is all about playing with the perception of the reader, as well as the character. The reader goes through the thoughts that the character does, and Wells is about to go through some crazy stuff throughout the book. I even have something near the middle of the book that I worry will turn the readers off, but if I did it right ,will really pay off in the end.

    Lonelight and Paramount are my words! Lonelight has a convoluted meaning to it that both the character and readers tried to sort out. And Paramount was more of a fun word choice. Mount is like mountain; Paramount is the top; so Paramount the mountain is a reference to both their tallest mountain, and where the highest being resides.

    But yeah, if you ever get a chance to let me know what the weird word choices I have, please do! I’m sure I have them throughout the book.

    Thanks!

  • #654852

    Anonymous

    I think I caught some of the weird word usages, like rationed, which was entirely improperly used. xD

  • #654853

    clareantoinette
    Participant

    Lol, Crono. I didn’t say “weird” word choices. There were just a couple of spots where I questioned the use of “should had.”. I think, depending on the sentence, it should be “had”, without the should, or “should have.” Sometimes I say “I should have had” (as in: “I should have had a V8″), but I”m pretty sure “should had” is never correct.

    I was REALLY hoping a few more people would critique this for you. As slow as things are around here, you’d think folks would be eager to help. 🙁

  • #654854

    Anonymous

    Hahaha. Maybe it’s so bad people don’t want to bother with it D:

    I was more so hoping more people would visit and post their stuff for me to critique haha. I wanna get the blood pumping back in here

    Also, I have more than enough “should had, would had, could had” in my manuscript to make someone shake their head haha. Changed them. Thanks <3

  • #654855

    Anonymous

    So I rewrote the chapter. When I originally wrote it, I was focused on getting the plot going, rather than some characterization and setting establishing. I haven’t gotten the chance to edit it, so you don’t really need to do a line edit if you’re not up for it. Just curious if you guys like the overall feel of the first chapter–any issues or concerned, so on.

    So, today I was going to play chess with a god. And while all my classmates were super excited for such a thing, I knew better. This god could not be trusted. Hell, I doubted he was even real.

    “Avery Wells, you’re next,” a voice over the intercom said.

    I stood from my desk and walked over to the door. My classmates followed my movement with their eyes, as if they were cameras in a store stalking a thief. Only these cameras were watching to see if I’d try to ruin today’s little ritual. And the smirk I flashed them before leaving the room should’ve given them their answer.

    I made my way down the hallway and to the main office of the Academy. I reached for the brass doorknob and stopped when I smelled cherries. It was a dreadful smell. It felt like someone dripped cherry juice on sandpaper and scrapped it inside my nose. I sighed and opened the door to the office, instantly spotting the giant glass bowl of cherry scented cardboard trees sitting on the desk. The kind of trees people tied to the rear-view mirror of their car to make it smell less like week-old takeout, and more like artificial fruit. Which I guessed fitted the Academy’s overall feel.

    “Thank you for your haste, Wells,” Headmaster Mantri said from across the desk. She closed the folder that had a picture of me in it.

    “It wasn’t intentional,” I said.

    I glanced at the student sitting in the chair next to the desk. She stared off into a world that clearly wasn’t here. Her face was drained of color, and her brown hair covered most of her face. The only movement she made was spinning a chess piece between her fingers. I thought it was the king’s piece.

    “Raisa?” I said to her. No answer. I turned my attention to Headmaster Mantri. “What did you do to her?”

    “Nothing,” Headmaster Mantri said.

    “Clearly that’s not true! You have a damn zombie sitting next to you!”

    “Wells, she just returned from her chess match with the Lonelight. It’s normal to feel some shock after meeting the creator.”

    “Right,” I said. “Did you also meet this creator?”

    Headmaster Mantri only nodded.

    I narrowed my eyes at her. She was serious. Or maybe it was just that her acting was perfect. Or, more likely, she had been spewing these lies of a Lonelight at us for so long, she began to believe it herself.

    “You will learn if you have a role in all of this soon.” Headmaster Mantri rolled her chair back and started for the back door of her office. She opened it to reveal nothing but a room of darkness. “Come meet the Lonelight.”

    I walked over to the back door, my eyes still narrowed. My heart pumped faster at the possibility. But I took a deep breath to stop that. I had to remain clam if I were to uncover the truth.

    “Wells.” It was Raisa. I jerked my head to the now-speaking-zombie. “Come back alive.”

    “What?” I asked.

    Headmaster Mantri pushed me into the dark room and closed the door behind me before I could get my answer.

    “Hey!” I slammed on the door and twisted the doorknob. “Open the door. I can’t see anything in here.”

    I jumped from the sudden explosion of light behind it. A strange ripping sound accompanied it. It reminded me of the same sound I made from tearing pages from my combat skills textbook.
    I turned around with caution. On the back wall was a floating door of light. Seriously, just a door made of yellow light. Its glow illuminated the barren room, revealing walls of boring concrete.
    This was my chance to prove that the Academy was a fraud and kidnapped students for no reason. I walked over to the door of light and stared at it. Poking my head around it, I studied the wall. There had to be a device somewhere. Something that projected it. Or a speaker that played that ripping sound. Something.

    The back wall revealed nothing as I patted it.

    Impossible.

    There had to be something. This was an empty room. This door of light couldn’t exit by itself. I looked to the ceiling, expecting to spot the vent that hid the projection device. Nothing.

    I narrowed my eyes back down at the light. I raised my hand and held it in front of the door. Waves of heat radiated over my hand. I slowly reached forward and into the door. My hand vanished when it breached the light. I looked around the door to see if my hand was on the other side, but it wasn’t. It was just gone. I yanked my hand out and stumbled back.
    Really? I couldn’t think of anything that’d explain that. I started to rationalize it away as a magic trick.

    But then, what if I stepped inside? I’d walk through and see that there was nothing on the other side. Just a trick of the light. It’d know for sure that the Lonelight didn’t exist, and I’d expose the truth. No more kids would be kidnapped for this.

    “Come back alive,” I repeated Raisa’s words. They clawed at my throat. What a stupid and insensitive and cruel thing to say to me. She knew what happened to my parents. She knew what the Academy did to them. And she still said that?

    I gritted my teeth so hard that my jaw trembled. I didn’t care what it took. I’d expose the truth for my parents. I decided to walk through the door of light, expecting to end up in another dark room.

    But I ended up somewhere entirely different.

    My body welcomed the natural sunlight, but my eyes took a second to readjust. But once they did, I staggered from the sight. I was on a round platform of multicolored slate tile with nothing but air surrounding me. The clouds were so close that I could reach over the platform and scoop them in my hands.

    This couldn’t be possible. It wasn’t real. I knew it wasn’t real. I turned around to walk back through the door of light, but it was gone. Vanished. Like it never existed. But. No. I had to get back somehow.

    I stood over the edge of the platform and peeked over. I hoped deep down that I’d see everyone in the Academy standing there, laughing at me. At least that’d mean this was a joke. But nothing was there but clouds. Was this platform really just floating in the sky?

    “You can jump off and check for yourself,” a voice said. “It’s just the death part you’ll have to look out for.”

    I jumped and spun around, the way I had when the door of light appeared. A man was now on the platform. He sat in a chair that wasn’t there before. It was made of the same mixture of greys, golds, browns, and blues as the tiled floor. As if the chair sprouted from the floor.

    “Who are you?” I asked the dumb question. I already knew what he was going to say.

    The man grinned. He sat with his legs and arms crossed. “Some call me the Creator of Life, others refer to me as the Lonelight. However, since I know you aren’t a fan of my existence, you can just call me by my name. Chorum.”

    “That’s because you don’t exist. Well, you exist, but you aren’t the Lonelight.”

    I studied his presence. White shirt, blue jeans, brown boots, brown hair, and brown eyes. He looked in his mid-thirties. Same age as Headmaster Mantri. Were they friends? Did she hire him to play the part? Chorum looked nothing like what I expected the Lonelight to be. I assumed—if he was real, which he wasn’t—that the Lonelight would seem transcendent, with a natural glow or something like in the movies. But Chorum looked like us. He took made in our image to an extreme.

    Chorum the Lonelight raised his hand. “Let’s see if we can change that, shall we?”

    The clouds swirled above. They mixed together at a rapid pace, blocking out the sun. A grim gust whipped over the platform. I planted my knees to the slate to keep myself from falling off the platform. Then the wind stopped.

    I looked around, seeing empty sky again. The Lonelight had his hand lowered and remained still in his seat. I poked my head back over the edge.

    “Anabasis,” I said, my mouth gaping. City of Anabasis was below me. Below this floating platform. I saw everything. The tall buildings squished together and scattered around like when my little brother dumps over his bucket of toys. The ocean butting up against the back of the city. Even the roads that lead out of the city and toward other city-states in continent of Tabulae.
    I craned my head to look at the Lonelight, then back at Anabasis, watching the little dots of people going about their lives.

    The Lonelight was real. The Lonelight was real. The Lonelight was DAMN real.

    I rose to my feet, my back still to Chorum. I couldn’t face him. My body wouldn’t let me. Shivers ran through my spine and pooled in the back of my neck. I didn’t know how to process what I was seeing. My habitual reaction was to look for a reason that explained it away, but I couldn’t. It was all too real.

    “Would you like to sit, so we may begin?” the Lonelight said.

    I turned. The slate in front of the Lonelight gurgled and sprouted. First a table formed, and then another chair. Did he do that with his mind? I started for the empty chair, suddenly realizing I hadn’t planned this far. Originally, I was going to document all the little ways the Academy faked the appearance of the Lonelight. But there was no faking. And now I had no plan.

    “Before you sit,” Chorum said, his jarring voice interrupting my thoughts, “you must know that there will be no turning back. If you want to know more about you do not know, you’ll have to finish our game of chess to completion. Do you understand?”

    This had nothing to do with wanting to know more. I needed to know more. If the Academy killed my parents and kidnapped me just for this moment, I needed to know why. I sat without hesitation. And the moment my butt smacked the hard tile seat, Raisa’s words returned to my throat.

    Chorum waived his hand over the table. Lines etched into the surface, creating a pattern that resembled a chess board. Chess pieces this time flashed into existence, rather than sprout from the tile. They were glass, just like the piece Raisa was spinning between her fingers back.

    “There is only one rule to our game, Mr. Wells. That is, you must impress me. With each of your pieces that I remove, you will lose a fraction of your life force. If you are to lose every piece before impressing me, then you will die.”

    “What?” I instinctively jumped from my seat, but couldn’t. My butt wouldn’t move. It was like a magnetic force kept me in place. “I’ll die?”

    “Some of your classmates have already failed to impress me. The one named Raisa Jewel was the first to break that streak. But do not fret, for if you do manage to impress, I will choose you as a player in a game far greater in scope and wonder than this mere chess match. And if you manage to win at that game… well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.” Chorum reached for a pawn in front of the bishop and moved it up one space.

    The idea of dying pulsated in my head. It gave me a headache and blocked my concentration. Chess wasn’t a new game to me. While all the students used their free time physically training with weapons for combat, I focused on mastering strategic games like chess. But that was in a calming garden room.

    I reached for the pawn in front of my king and stopped. Opening with the king’s pawn was strategically the best move in the game. But Chorum opened with the worst move. It didn’t make sense. None of my opponents had ever opened that way, so I never trained for it. Why had I never trained for it?

    Chorum clicked his tongue, mimicking the sound of a clock, his eyes still trained on the board.

    I reached for the king’s pawn and moved it up two spaces.

    “Relax!” Chorum said. He moved a knight out from hiding. “Tell you what, ask me a question, and I’ll answer it.”

    I studied his move. We were only two turns in, but sweat already dripped from the tip of my brown bangs and splashed against the crown of my king piece. “Um.” I didn’t know what to ask yet. No question seemed important. Then I thought about how I could impress the Lonelight. If I knew why he was here, perhaps I could gauge what he was looking for out of a player. “Why show yourself now after a millennium?” I moved another pawn forward. I couldn’t risk losing one of my main pieces until I understood his playstyle.

    Chorum moved another piece. “Ask me a different question.”

    I looked up and narrowed my eyes at him. Then I remembered I was narrowing my eyes at the Lonelight. Perhaps his banter was actually lowering my guard and helping me think. I slid the bishop along the board to directly counter what I thought his next move would be. “Why do you have academies all over Tabulae kidnap kids to force them to enroll in this?”

    Chorum pinched the tip of a knight and moved it toward my pawn, knocking it over.

    Cyan ropes of electricity shot from my chair and bull whipped my body. I clenched my teeth from the pain. It felt like the electricity was digging through my skin and siphoning my energy. It sounded like a thousand mice chittering in my ears.

    The cyan glow vanished. I patted my arms, legs, cheeks. There weren’t any burns. No marks. No remnants of physical pain. It just felt like a part of my soul was sliced with a scalpel. It wasn’t a feeling I had ever felt before. Was this what Raisa endured?

    “Make them kidnap?” Chorum asked, comically ignoring what just happened. “I don’t make them do anything. I just pass down the promise that a game will be held where the winning team will bring home a prize unlike any they could imagine—a prize what would benefit their home city. How they go about preparing for the game is up to them.”

    The chess match continued, with each piece I lost sapping a portion of my energy from within, and of course nothing happening to Chorum when I took one of his pieces.

    “Let me ask you a question, Wells,” Chorum said. I chuckled at the sentiment. Wouldn’t he already know the answer to any question on his mind, being an all-powerful being? He used the flat side of his fingernail to casually move his rook a space to the left. “What is the thing you want most in this world?”

    I used my pawn to claim his rook and looked up at Chorum. His question dug into my mind. What did I want most in this world? At first the question seemed simple. I wanted to always keep my little brother safe, and watch him grow into a better man than I could ever be. But beyond that? “I want to bring my parents back to life. I want to dismantle the Academy that killed them because they wouldn’t give me up. I want to change the world into something that deserves my brother’s gentle spirit.”

    “You’re speaking of Truss?” Chorum asked. He rose his hand. The clouds swirled around our platform once again, and when they vanished, we were somewhere else. Somewhere familiar.

    The platform was gone. The sky was gone. Our seats and chess table were in my living room. I saw my tattered brown couch to my left. A five-shelf bookcase stood behind Chorum, filled with books on aircraft engineering, insects, and even a few on game theory—I never was able to finish that one. I also managed to catch a whiff of pine that I had used to clean the kitchen floors.

    “Boom! You won’t win!”

    My heart dropped. I turned my head to the side, not wanting to see who sat there on the floor. He had a bucket of toys. He held an action figure in his hand, one of a boy missing an arm, and golden yellow hair.

    “Truss!” I said. He was only a few feet from me, but he couldn’t hear. I tried to tear my butt from my seat, but couldn’t move. “Why are you showing me this, Chorum? You can’t take him.”

    “Oh relax,” Chorum said. “What could I possibly use a ten-year-old kid for?” Chorum grinned and move another piece. “Also, I’m about to take your queen.”

    I looked down at the board. Impossible. I watched each step of the game, and made sure not to let my queen be cornered. There was no way I could win without her. And if I died here…. I glanced at Truss one last time, before the walls and floor of my home melted away. We were back on the platform, floating in the sky. My little brother’s face remained etched in my thoughts. I kept seeing the brown hair and gunmetal blue eyes we both shared. But our similarities ended there. He was far kinder than me. He cared about things I couldn’t bring myself to think about. But he was also too gullible. I remembered playing with those action figures with him, and I’d always make up rules so I could win. He didn’t even notice.
    Rules.

    That was it. That was the answer.

    I reached for my king’s piece—the only one near my queen—and slid it in front of the queen, blocking the enemy.

    Chorum uncrossed his legs and leaned forward, eyeing the king that now stood between all his pieces. “You would sacrifice your king just to save the queen?”

    “Why not? The king is useless. It has no power. No ability. The queen is the strongest player on the board, and it should survive at all costs.”

    “But if your king dies, you lose, Wells.”

    Not true,” I said. “That’s not the rules of the game. You said there is only one rule, and that is to impress you. That means any rule coming before that, including the one about losing if my king is taken, does not exist.”

    Chorum fell back into his chair and grinned bigger than I had ever seen someone grin. “How magnificent. Impressive you are. I knew I was wise to pick you.”

    “To pick me?” He said that as if he had already picked me before this chess game. But why?

    “I want you to play my game,” the Lonelight said, his lips curled upward. “I want you to form a team with Raisa and three others, and compete in a magical competition. And I want you to win, in my name.”

    I couldn’t. I just couldn’t compete. My parents had traveled the world to uncover secrets of the Lonelight and piece together his mystery. And when they returned, they were so adamant against allowing the Academy to take me. They discovered something about the Lonelight. I didn’t know what, but it was enough to protect me from him with their lives. I couldn’t just turn around and willingly join Chorum’s game, even if I had just learned he was real.

    “I refuse,” I said.

    “But you must.”

    “No.”

    “Anyone chosen by me has already awakened a power they cannot just give back.”

    “I said no!” With one fluid motion, I jumped up out of my seat and threw the table over to my right. The force that kept me seated was clearly gone. The board crashed to the stone floor. I watched as all the pieces fanned out, rolling away to random places, and a few even making its way off the edge of the platform. One of the pieces, though, rolled in a circle and stopped at the foot of my chair.

    Chorum merely sat there with his stupid smirk, staring at me as if he expected that to happen.

    “Are you sure that’s the choice you wish to make, Wells?”

    “Yes. Now send me back.” I took in as much air as I could to puff out my chest, which was stupid, considering who I was trying to intimidate. And, of course, the lack of any kind of chest.
    Chorum stood from his chair. His sudden change in posture pushed me back. I was ready for him to summon a bolt of lighting to fry me to a crisp. He opened his hand, palm facing up. I winced, but no lightning came forth. Instead, the chess piece next to my chair floated and landed in his hand.

    “Listen, Wells, and listen closely.” Chorum stepped forward. I stepped backward. We continued this as he lectured. “You’ve probably spent years trying guess what my game is like. Your classmates lay awake at night, thinking of winning a handsome sum of money to afford a comfortable life, or even rewards of immortality. But I tell you, this game is far more important than that, with a reward that breaks beyond the edge of your imagination. Your world is like an hourglass reaching its last grain of sand. Very soon, the world will die. Its inhabitants picked clean. You will all embrace oblivion, and that includes your brother.”

    I stopped moving backward when my foot reached the edge of the platform.

    I looked over my shoulder. Nothing exist below. I imagined I’d fall for eternity if I took one more step. I turned back to Chorum. His body stood close to mine.

    “However, Wells, if you win… oh, my boy, if you so happen to win, you will find a prize that exceeds the very things you ever wanted.”

    “W-what,” I found myself stuttering, which I hadn’t done since I was a kid. “What is the prize, and what’s going to destroy my world?”

    “I’m afraid I cannot tell you,” the Lonelight said. “That is for your team to discover.”

    I shook my head. “That’s b-bull and I’m not buying it! If you know all the answers, then why aren’t you telling me?”

    “Tell me this, Wells,” Chorum started, “during our chess game, you had numerous opportunities to capture my pieces. Why did you not act when you had the chance?”

    “Because.” I hesitated, uneasy over being so close to the edge. “If I acted right when I could, I would have lost.”

    “Precisely. Just because you have the means to act, does not mean doing so is always in your best interest. Now what is your choice?”

    I thought of everything. I thought about bringing my parents back to life. I thought about getting rid of the Academy. But, most importantly, I thought about Truss. About the life we had. He had been through so much, and I couldn’t let anything else happen to him. I decided I’d play the game to keep him alive. And I’d win, no matter what. “I’ll play,” I said.

    He reached for my hand and placed the chess piece into it, closing my fingers around the smooth, glass object. “Let me give you some advice that I have not given anyone. Gain the trust of everyone you meet, especially your enemies. In the end, it will be your trump card, Wells.”

    Before I opened my mouth to question him, the door of light flashed behind me, illuminating Chorum’s face. He smiled and pushed me over the ledge. I fell through the light, disappearing from the floating platform.

    As light swallowed me, I heard the Lonelight’s voice echoing around me. “My game has begun.”

  • #654856

    lacymarie
    Participant

    Very captivating start! The second version definitely fills out the characters/world more. Chorum feels a lot darker in the newer version and the stakes seem much higher. I’m not sure about the wording of a “magical competition” because this feels like something bigger than that.

    Now I want to read more =)

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