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The middle-aged Orsimer looked up at the tower. The tower that stood in defiance of the surrounding desolated lands. The lands that were scarred and disfigured with fissures of the remnants of the last war. The war that won her people their rights to be free and exist as equal citizens. In such a holy land, she arrived at the tower, proud and untouched by the land's history and future alike.
She made her way inside. There was no door, but she felt the magic barrier tingle across her face as she passed through it. It was very sombre and quiet inside, a huge fire roared in the fire pit; the shelves were stocked with many books and the drying-racks were filled with food and spices. The person who lived here had a rich home.
She instinctively made her way to the deck on the roof of the tower, taking care not to touch anything on her way up – she did not want to offend her host after all. Once on the roof, the light from the stars in the clear night sky revealed her host to her: his tall Altmer demeanour and long grey beard were eclipsed by his piercing bright gold eyes, warm and wise like the sun yet filled with emptiness, to the point of being a vacuum sucking at her very soul.
“Get on with it,” he coldly commenced.
The Orsimer began to sing of the song of beginnings, as was customary for such a grand occasion.
“I have travelled far, climbed the mountains, swam the seas – receive me now great stone, and let my lesson build on your great foundation.”
The Altmer’s beard barely moved as he begrudgingly summoned the effort to speak his part of the ceremony:
“Crash your waves on my great stone, and let the lessons fall where they may.”
With that, the battle was on. On the deck appeared two chairs and a table garnished with the arena for the upcoming battle: a chess board. The wind howled and the Orsimer suddenly felt cold in her bones. She wondered if all her training had prepared her for this, the final encounter.
The Altmer sat down behind the white lines, the Orsimer sheepishly took her seat behind the black lines.
“I remember when Orcs would solve their problems with blood and fists, yet now you sit before me ready to battle strategy and tactics absent violence. I often ponder when it was exactly that the world exchanged its colours for grey.”
The Orsimer looked up to acknowledge the Altmer’s taunt but remained silent.
The Altmer moved, opening the match:
Pawn to E4
The Orsimer responded confidently, the training had prepared her with this opening tens of thousands of times:
Pawn to E5
The Altmer wasted no time in the attack:
Knight to F3.
The Orsimer, naturally, defended the territory:
Pawn to D6.
Relentlessly, the Altmer attacked and cleverly defended the attacker in one motion.
Pawn to D4.
"You've lost, young one. You’ve wasted your time. Go and challenge the masters before darkening my door again."
Again, the Orsimer's eyes met with the Altmer’s in acknowledgment, resilience stood fast behind her gaze. She said nothing but she took action. Ignoring his attack, she returned the pressure:
Bishop to G4.
The Altmer, passionless, claimed his prize.
Pawn to E5, First blood.
"I've seen your spirit before," the Altmer stated as he turned his head to the sky. "Young blood – ready to spill as much as needed for the cause. Sadly, it will not help you; I am too experienced. For I am old blood, I am old blood because I do not bleed."
Regardless, the Orsimer drew the old blood out, understanding all the while he was ready for her cut.
Bishop to F3, taking the Knight.
"Cause and effect," the Altmer plainly stated as he remedied the wound.
Queen to F3, taking the Bishop and claiming the South-East region.
"Allow me to demonstrate, young blood, for you yourself are here because of cause and effect. I'll wager your village is in peril... or perhaps a loved one? It matters not though, for regardless of the reason it was the cause. Now your attempt to defeat the four Grandmasters is the effect."
The Orsimer knew the Grandmasters were better than the Masters, better than the best. But did she truly understand what that meant? She knew the Altmer was engaging her on the chess board and in the real world simultaneously. However, she had defeated the other three, she believed she could overcome. She retorted:
Pawn to E5, ending the initial exchanges.
Again, the Altmer gave no quarter, attacking with a whip-like motion:
Bishop to C4.
The Orsimer observed the trap in the making and denied the Altmer’s tempo:
Knight to F6.
Unflinching, the Altmer made his move.
"You’ve already lost. That moment just before you stepped through my door is the best you are ever going to ever be."
Queen to B3
A shock of realization hit the Orsimer: the Altmer was not playing the game, he was playing her. She was now forced to move her Queen if she was to avoid his trap, yet he already knew that. She was playing into his hands. Accepting the reality of the situation, she elected to make the best of it.
Queen to E7.
"Don’t give up. That's what you are thinking, correct?"
The Orsimer refused to lift her head to meet his eyes once more, she would not acknowledge his taunt. This win was too important, it was more important than her. She needed to focus. The Altmer did not press the Orsimer to accept his words, he simply played his turn.
Knight to C3.
"It doesn't matter child, none of it does. Whether you win or you lose, there is no point. It is not how you play the game, for there is no game. It is all simply cause and effect."
Passion pumped through the Orsimer's veins, the young blood started to burn as she analysed the board's naked body, looking for vulnerabilities.
The Orsimer launched a flank attack:
Pawn to C6.
Barely noticing the Orsimer’s effort, the Altmer continued his agenda:
Bishop to G5.
The flank moved into position to attack:
Pawn to B5.
"Cause and effect," the Altmer repeated as he made the effect known:
Knight to B5, taking the pawn.
The adrenaline pumped as the Orsimer calculated the value of the exchange: it was her gain, could this be the turning point?
Pawn to B5, removing the Knight.
She warmed up again to the principle of making eye contact with the Altmer. He was as disinterested as he had always been. The lack of his recognition left a hollow feeling in the Orsimer:
Bishop to B5, taking the pawn, ending the exchange, and challenging the King.
The Orsimer felt disheartened that the exchange had not resulted in her favour, but she had seen worse and survived. One small step at a time had always served her well; the next step was to defend the King:
Knight to D7.
The Altmer castled. In one swift move the Altmer rescued his King from absent threat and brought a new hero to the battlefield, putting pressure on the Knight in shining armour:
Castle to C1.
The blood of the Orsimer began to boil, everything about her felt alive. Her skin was more sensitive to the cold night air, her eyes rushed across the board with precisioned frenzy. This fourth Grandmaster was unlike the rest: he was older, wiser, and more ruthless. Known as the King of the Rooks, her mind raced with possible defences. If the Rooks were out, she was in trouble.
"There's nothing you could have done. When it comes to the heart, the size of the cause has no impact on the effect. You did your best, it is not enough."
Rage took over and the Orsimer's ancient genes took effect, and within the realms of the battle, she went berserk:
Rook to D8, to defend the Knight.
Rook to D7, Knight taken.
The high-pitched ringings sounded in the Orsimer’s ears. She felt confused, searching for answers, grabbing at thoughts. Is this a spell? Is this a dream? The feeling of free-falling overcame her, making her cried out!
The indifferent Altmer explained:
“That is what it feels like to truly experience and understand the limits of your talent young blood. It’s true your potential is limitless but your are bound by laws of time and space. You have to play by the rules.”
Rook to D1.
The rules. The Orsimer needed to remember the rules. She needed to remember her opponent is bound by those same rules. It was one move at a time. She could win this – she HAD to win this – everything and everyone was counting on her. She took a deep breath and inched forward.
Queen to E6.
The Altmer was emotionless in his return.
Bishop to D7, taking the Rook and threatening his Majesty once more.
“One move at a time,” was the thought stomping its way up and down the Orsimer's thoughts.
Knight to D7, taking the insulting Bishop but aligning the Knight for an exchange.
Then it happened:
Queen to B8.
What was the Altmer thinking? Placing the Queen in range of the Knight... unprotected! Aiming at the King, begging to be removed... it’s as if the Altmer had a distaste for her performance and, as punishment, she was to be ceremonially banished.
Knight to B8, removing the Queen. With the Orsimer still carrying her own Queen and one each of Bishop, Knight, and Rook, the odds had swung dramatically in her favour against the Altmer’s lone Bishop and lone Rook. Sheer determination had won again!
The Orsimer eyes, burning with enthusiasm, looked up from the chessboard; she was ready to receive the Altmer's blessing. Regardless of his blunder, she knew he would see the wisdom in her sheer perseverance, just as the other Grandmasters had done. She would gain his acknowledgment. She would be able to reverse the effect and remedy the cause.
“Your lesson, should you choose to learn it," he began, as plainly as before, “is that this was not fate, nor was it without meaning.”
He continued, void of any warmth, "It simply was no more or less than the sum of the parts that came before it."
His hand moved the final piece into position.
Rook to D8.