While rereading old documents I had saved on a flash drive, I came cross this interaction between two characters in my Soren mythos. Given my head-space for the past, oh, four years, this kind of writing may never come again from my fingers. I enjoy the story it represents, and love the ideas (passive verb choices notwithstanding), but this story might be dead forever. Maybe. I’m unsure. But it bears seeing the light of day, regardless.
This excerpt comes from a series of chess games I wrote for the third novel in the Soren series, one for each major character in the pantheon. This is Darion, a recent addition to the stories, but an old character from the creation story, i pawn dreamer.
Darion sat across from me at the chess table, his face somber and nearly emotionless. He glanced at the table and without a moment’s hesitation, closed his eyes. I pulled the drawstring bag of chess pieces up and prepared to set the table.
“No,” Darion said without opening his eyes.
“We play without pieces. Close your eyes.”
I set the bag down beside me and did as he instructed. “Now what?” I asked.
“We play in our heads. You have a good image of the board, correct?”
“How many spaces across?”
“How many spaces deep?”
“So create it inside. Build it up, piece by piece. This makes you responsible for my pieces as well.”
I partially understood his idea behind doing it this way, but I didn’t firmly grasp it. “Isn’t this the same as the both of us playing separate games in the same space? What good will that do?”
“Close your eyes.” He still hadn’t opened his. I closed them a second time. “Create the board. I’m waiting.” I did as he asked to the best of my ability. As if he knew when I was finished, he said, “Good. What side am I?”
I had no idea. “White.”
“Good.” He was silent a moment. “Come to where I’m playing. Soren.”
“I can’t.” It made perfect sense what he tried to do. “I’m unable to do that anymore. I can’t. The astral plane is too difficult to walk.”
He breathed slowly. I listened to it. It felt like the wind. “Then you begin now, and we play until you can play with me anywhere.”
I settled into the chair, dissolving my boundaries with the real as best I could. Residual memories assaulted me as I stepped into the place that I had all but shut off since Tara’s death. It was dark; the environment rolled by, unformed.
“Come over here.” I wasn’t sure whether the voice was in my head or in the park between us. It felt good to be here again.
Darion sat—not as Darion but as a boy with a giant spider on his shoulder. I dimly remembered him naming it: Sericeous. It had given him the red-dot scar on his forehead and the wing pattern tattoo on his back. Darion’s shape was fleeting, though. His shape darkened the moment I moved toward him, and in two steps he became only a shadow, a little darker than the grass, but without form.
“Come here.” The voice sounded behind me. I turned to follow the sound, but saw nothing. I had a dim view of his trademark hair, rough and unkempt, multicolored like a collie. The moment I took a step, though, it dissipated and all I saw before me was a massive white spider, for a moment, and then even it was gone. Rolling hills stretched as far as I could see. I heard the surf of the ocean nearby. Things slowly formed around me.
“You are walking me through the creation process.”
“Your creativity has died. We must bring it back.”
“Yes. You and I.”
I sat a while, turning slowly to take in the area. The scenery. “This is your place too, then, right?”
“Yes. It is a place from my childhood. I used to pull girls’ pigtails here. My sister’s. Melody and I used to try and skip rocks on the surf. Waves don’t allow for it so much. But I got lucky once.” He sat on a knoll, his back to me. “Come here.”
I followed. He dissipated again. “Instead of imagining me here,” he said quietly, in my ear, with a shussh, “imagine instead the chessboard. I will come to it, and you.”
The board became a stabilizing object. Something to anchor us down. It made sense.
I heard whispering. Like twenty people sitting around us. “Who else is here?”
“The voices of my past. Pay them no attention and they’ll go away.”
“What if I don’t want them to? They add ambiance.”
Darion smiled. “What is your uppermost sacred name here?”
That question brought back memories. “If I remember correctly, you’re supposed to give me something in return.”
Darion smiled. I didn’t see it, but I felt it. The sun warmed a little, the cloud that had previously threatened to block it out moved away. Sounds became a little more crisp. Smells. Sights. I glimpsed the chessboard. “Of course,” Darion replied. “I’ll give you mine. I don’t ask for anything more than that.”
I was about to speak when the air around me grew cold. Fear bordering on terror tickled up my spine. Cockroaches ran across my feet. “Malchus.”
“Funny you give me that name for yourself.” I inhaled a response, but he cut in again, “You aren’t ready for that bit of information yet. Oh, Soren. Your Jack-in-the-box has come to watch. Let him. He’s a guide. He’s a part of you.”
“You don’t understand—” I began.
Darion hushed me with a single whisper. “Respect him. But keep your distance. Respect all things here. You are on his plane.”
“We could go to another—”
Darion shook his head with another whisper. It sounded like several voices at once, indistinguishable. “You must play chess with me here. You must learn this again. You must retrace your steps.”
I picked it back up just fine. “Your name, Soren.”
“Not in front of Malch—”
The chessboard grew a little more solid. Darion dissipated like sand in the wind, and I walked shakily up to the knoll to look beyond. He sat on a beach with the chessboard on the ground, all the pieces set up and prepared. “Your name.”
He grinned. “Fitting. Who gave it to you?”
“Ah-ah,” I replied. He nodded gently, his head bobbing to a tune I did not hear. It seemed more at home in India; it wasn’t a movement I saw on most Americans. “Your turn.”
“Narcissus Gunslinger.” The word surprised me to nearly separating from the plane. They came out clunky, jangled, like puzzle pieces from other puzzles shoved in the wrong space. “Surprising?” The sun warmed a little more; he smiled.
“Then you understand I gave you two names. They are important for you to know.”
I sat down on the beach, feeling sand between my toes, feeling cooling salt-sea wind against the back of my neck. The chess-board wavered, changed, distended, elongated, shortened.
“Focus,” he said with the wind.
He spoke as twenty voices and a scream. “Is Malchus doing this?”
He inhaled a breath that lasted a full minute. “There is only the two of us. Anyone else you find here is a part of you.”
His face instantly crystallized solid, his eyes piercing and otherworldly. They glowed as if the irises were galaxies of stars. He blinked, looked at the board. I looked down as well: it was solid. The pieces were ebony on my side, and ivory on his. The back row on my side showcased seven of my totems, and the King piece made entirely of ruby: Malchus. His back row was similar in displaying totems, though his were—understandably—very different, and his King piece was a bulbous white spider perched atop a smokestack: Sericeous. My pawns were shark’s teeth of varying sizes. His were donut-shaped drops of water.
Four of my totems were missing: the praying mantis—my “Golden Star,” the eel—my “senses,” the ouroboros snake—my “Crown,” and the green sea turtle—my “Astral.”
We played silently for the opening moves. He didn’t comment on my movement choices. He seemed to be quite interested in the back row, my chakras. The moment I touched one of my rooks—a tiny elephant—Malchus in the form of a jackal appeared without sound to my left and Sericeous sat in the sand to my right. The jackal had the surf behind him. The spider had grassy dunes and mainland behind it. I felt humbled and unsettled.
“We must talk about these totems of yours.” Darion’s mouth didn’t move. His hands didn’t move, but the pieces moved anyway. I remembered, fleetingly, Father Carlos playing chess in ecstatic pain by himself in the park, the pieces moving whenever he disengaged. It started this whole thing rolling.
Darion’s hands lay in his lap, between crossed legs. I tried doing the same, and soon both sides of the board moved on their own, intensely judging audiences on both sides, and an eternity to talk.
His talk didn’t come cheap.