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"Ever played chess?"

"Never tried. I'm too impatient."

He laughed. "Impatient? Who fed you that one? You were patient enough to wait for your girl to wake up, even when Mr. 'I'm gonna save everybody' and Mr. 'I wanna change fate' said you should give up. Even when it got to be a year later and she hadn't opened her eyes, and the docs said she'd run out of time. Most anybody else would have told themselves they did enough, let go. You had the chance. Could have found a new pretty girl to keep you company—like the one you were living with."

No response—only a cold glare.

Another laugh. "Pisses you off, me suggesting it. No, you waited. More celibate than a priest, though that's not saying much for them. Either way, you never looked another way. Face it, you're the most patient of all the baker's dozen. You did what you had to, picked your battles. You weren't trying to pick off everybody first chance you got like that nut in purple, but you weren't a lazy ass waiting for everyone to kill each other the way green was. And when things didn't go your way, you didn't throw a fit and turn the board over, forcing the whole game to restart. You were the only one willing to go all the way, to sacrifice everything, even more than your own life, for your goal, no matter how long it took. Even if it meant you lost your few friends. Even if it meant your girl left you. Even when you knew you weren't going to be alive to see her open her eyes."

"What's your point?"

"My point is your problem isn't and has never been you not being patient. It's the fact that you subscribe to this belief that you aren't worth shit, and you believe it so strongly that you won't even believe in the people you love more than life itself when they say you matter." He stared at him, almost into his soul. "You're scared, kid. You're scared that they're all right, since you spent your whole life trying to convince yourself you weren't important, that nobody was waiting for you to come home, that no one was going to drag your ass out of hell itself, even when all around you, you saw that they would. Scared as you were about caring for them, you're more scared that they'll care for you. And why? 'Cause you think they'll see there's nothing worth caring about? That's the bullshit you keep protecting yourself with, keep hiding behind as you run away. So here's a question: what would you do if you realized you were worth a damn? If you actually valued your own life just as much as you value theirs?"

He was silent, then: "How do you play?"

"You start off by moving the pawn forward—it can start out at two, but otherwise it moves one. This piece is mostly cannon fodder—if you're playing with it seriously, you're trying to get it clear across to the other side, where it now moves the same way as any other one of your pieces."

"Only worth something by becoming something else?"

"No getting smart with me. The king's the most important piece, but the weakest of them all. Can only go one space, unless we get into fancier rules, but you're just starting out so we'll stick to the basics. Point of the game is to get the other guy's king captured where he can't escape. Rooks can go forwards, backwards, or side-to-side. Bishops can go diagonally in any direction, long as it stays on their color square. Queen is the most powerful—she can go same as either one of them. And the last..."

"...The knight."

There was a slight smile. "The knight. This one's special. It can only move in the shape of an L, which means you've got to be creative with it. But it can go through any other piece on the board, whether it's yours or theirs. The queen doesn't have that power."

Silence again.

"Now, the knight's got problems, sure. Slide out of his way and ruin his attack pattern. Pawns can be a pain. But his abilities outweigh those risks, I think. He's the only other piece beside a pawn that can start the game. So I guess you can say, he's the freest one on the field."

"What do you want?"

"Aren't you a little tired of that question by now?"

"Humor me."

He sighed and swept up the pieces and his board. "I could give you one of these knights and tell you to think on it, but that's stupid, cliché, and I'd be down one piece. At the very least, we walk out of this with you learning how to play."

"And you? What did you get out of it?"

"Remember what I said about how pawns change to something else when they reach the other side? I just got rid of a pawn, and turned it into a knight."


"But you're not going to realize it until it's your turn to play."

The world seemed to shatter, and any hope at understanding it disappeared as everything began anew.

"Well, you made it all the way, and a new game starts. Which opening move are you going to make, Knight?"