Return to the Necropolis: Chapter 1

Michael O. Varhola

how a pawn-like piece might be moved across the squares of the ten-by-ten board, but it was less clear how one should employ the little sailing ships, bulls, or bare-breasted women with snakes in their hands.

Paros began to sketch out provisional rules for the game but was disappointed and even irritated by his general failure to find anyone willing to try them out with him. Some reiterated the opinion of his adventuring companions Selene and Parthenia that it looked "too complicated," others were simply not interested in trying anything that did not already have rules established for it, and others annoyed Paros to no end when they suggested he was creating the rules so that he could "win" the game. The concept that the rules applied equally to both players and thus favored neither did not seem to be obvious to such buffoons, and the idea that at this point it was a matter of the players learning to master the game rather than defeat each other was even more alien to them.

And then Paros met Pumayo. He had not been overly hopeful when this ugly, swarthy man — who from his robes and turban Paros took to be a foreign merchant — stopped at his table to lean over the board and pieces and make what the rogue assumed were the typical idle and pointless inquiries about them. He had, nonetheless, somewhat perfunctorily began discussing his theories about the game with the goateed newcomer, and found himself becoming more engaged when the other man ordered cups of wine for each of them and began to study the pieces, nodding in appreciation as Paros spoke. Then, as Pumayo eagerly began to arrange the pieces nearest to him in a possible starting configuration, Paros was shocked to see that the man had six stubby fingers on each of his hands! He carefully masked his initial surprise and revulsion, however, and the two went on to enjoy a very satisfying game.

From that point onward, Pumayo was almost exclusively Paros's collaborator on what they began to refer to as "Theran chess," and the two of them collectively developed and tested any number of rules, variants, and options. Paros did think that Pumayo was a bit of a stickler for rules they had not quite nailed down and was less open to changing things on the fly than he was, preferring