Oh my god. This can't be happening. The nightmare—it can't come true. No. No, no, no, no—

"Sarah!" he shouted, the name somehow managing to get through the tangled string of denial crowding his mind. His legs and arms moved of their own accord as Jarred ran, sprinted, pushing the unsuspecting lady out of the way of a distant car that was just as suddenly flipped to its side and currently careening unstoppably towards them.

He saw Sarah flailing her arms to break her fall into the concrete. He saw her turn her head to him, alarm interlaced with unspoken words running madly within her eyes as her messy hair swung wildly about her. He saw—

He saw nothing as a burst of nearly unreal pain blossomed at his side.

And then he felt nothing anymore.

XXX

Jarred woke up with a start, a gasp, and with more than just a few questions.

He blinked twice, rapidly, at the crimson ceiling he awoke to, before scrambling to get up. The rustling of his new clothes was the only sound to assuage the piercing silence he never bothered to notice. Glancing down upon himself, he noticed that he was clothed in a deep red tunic and dark robes. A singular long, red cloth hung around his neck to end halfway to his knees, a cross at each end.

"What..." He began to mutter as he looked up, taking notice of the ridiculous lack of doors in the circular, oddly decorated room. Two black chairs surrounding a single small table that held an odd hat in the centre of the space introduced themselves to him as the sole pieces of furniture present. He looked up at the dome ceiling he previously faced, finally noting the excessively medieval style and the obsession of the designer with black and red that showed through the extravagant colour scheme of the room.

He scanned the walls, eyes starting to narrow in confusion as the absence of windows made themselves apparent to him. If the room were so enclosed, then how on earth had he—

"I see you've awoken."

Jarred whirled around to find a man clothed in the same dark robes as him walking in his direction from a bright red door—how he had not noticed something with such a jarring colour was beyond him—as he spoke. Cold, dark eyes appraised him the way a farmer would a pig as the man stopped before him. Seconds passed with the two males in their respective stances, studying each other with starkly contrasting reasons for doing so.

Finally, the man straightened, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Their choice is odd, I must say, but at least they had the decency to select someone appropriate for the role."

Confusion was etched into Jarred's features, and he let the new silence continue for a beat longer before realising that he had the ability to ask questions.

However, the man stopped him right as he was about to launch into a verbal questionnaire with a raised hand. "I know what you want to know," he said, the smirk softening into a warm, slightly apologetic smile. "It doesn't take being a bishop to read that kind of face at all." Leading Jarred to the lone pieces of furniture in the centre of the room, he began to explain.

They weren't on earth anymore. They weren't in the heavens or within the bowels of hell, either. They were someplace else altogether, somewhere those they've left behind in the land they were born in would never hear of them again. Nobody knew exactly where they were located in with reference to their respective homes, but they've taken to calling the whole thing The Board, and that's what it had been called ever since.

Nobody knows how the Board came about. Rumour has it that the first players were the creators themselves, and were subsequently wiped out due to the lethal nature of the game. What was a well known, inarguable fact, though, is this: Be it doom or destiny or fate, all who set foot on the board are to die there by the hands of another.

"Do you know how to play chess, Jarred?" the Bishop, as the man introduced himself as, asked. Jarred nodded, and the man continued.

Simply put, it was all a game of chess. A messed-up, demented game of chess, but it was the same, classic board game nonetheless. There was a Queen, a King, two Bishops, two Rooks , two Knights, and an appropriate number of pawns for each side as they wage war against each other once more. However, the game isn't as simple as those of its kind.

Just like any other board game, the Board also has its collection of rules. Unlike any other board game, however, these rules are physically impossible to break and have not been broken for as long as the board has existed.

"And another thing, Jarred." at this, the aforementioned boy perks up. "It isn't like any other game of chess.

The first rule of chess is that no piece may travel to a square they are not supposed to

The board consists of three main areas: The two castles for the two colours, and the main board itself. Some people called it the play-area and others called it the battle-field for reasons all too obvious. A grand total of sixty-four squares lie in this area; Some are black squares, others white squares. Each square is roughly three kilometers across and serve as an odd equivalent of small towns on the board. All squares have their fair share of small forests, houses inhabited by people without faces, as well as houses meant for the chessmen themselves.

Traveling through the squares would have to be done by foot alone, unless one is a knight, who would be in possession of a horse. Traveling from one square to another is an act done through transporters that appear wherever they need to, whenever they need to. One reason why the first rule of chess could not be broken is that the transporters cannot allow for the illegal traveling of the various chessmen, rendering it impossible to break the rule.

At this, Jarred decided to cut in. "Can't they go by the sides, though? I mean, if they can travel about the square on foot, can't they just—"

It was the Bishop's turn to interrupt. "No, Jarred. It's physically impossible to do so, what with the heavy barriers at the edge of each square. It doesn't catch the light all that well, but it's there and it feels like some sort of wall that just cannot be broken no matter how hard you try." the Bishop explained patiently. For a moment, the boy was silent.

"Bishop, sir... have you tried it before?" he asked quietly, although the question rang loud and clear within the otherwise noiseless room. The man tapped his chin, eyes flitting to the side as he sifted through memory after memory in search of an answer to the boy's question.

The Bishop hummed as he thought. "Now that you mention it, I don't think I have. I've gone over to the edge to try and touch it for myself, but I never bothered to try anything drastic." he said, then looked over at Jarred once again. "However, I have heard from people who did try. They said they tried nearly everything yet nothing could lay a single scratch on those things. They weren't lying, and I could tell." he finished.

The second rule of chess is that pieces of opposing colours must engage in combat until death whenever they are in the same squares.

When a chessman lands into a square occupied by a chessman of the rival colour, they do not meet immediately. However, the trees start whisper amongst themselves of the presence of two rivaling colours within the same square and within the time it takes for each adversary to get ready, the whole land would have heard and would have started to shrink into itself to form a single arena. The faceless and other inhabitants of the square would wander away to somewhere nobody knows, and the trees and vegetation are simply not there anymore. All that is left is a stage wide open and wide awake for all eyes to see but for no creature to watch. The battle begins, and the losing chessman would fall at the victor's feet, evaporating into nothing but steam. Nothing would be left, not even clothes or weaponry, save for the small chess piece that would lie, toppled over, on the ground. All that is left, as a token of the winner's kill, would be the singular evidence that the victim had ever existed.

"Has there ever been a case where the two pieces didn't fight at all?" Jarred asked, curiosity getting the better of him for him to have interrupted the man once more. Amused, the Bishop simply chuckled.

"Didn't I just tell you moments ago how the rules are physically impossible to break?" the Bishop asked, shaking his head slightly at the boy's forgetfulness. Before Jarred could elaborate his question, though, the Bishop already started to answer it.

"I should have told you this earlier. Things are very different here, as you should have already noticed. Items and objects tend to be reserved, appearing only when they are needed. It's a good thing, though, since it keeps the area clean. However, it's sometimes simply troublesome when they start to get cheeky. Oh, but not to fear—they don't cause any serious problems at all. Now, where was I...?" the Bishop paused, stopping himself before he went severely off-point.

"If the pieces refuse to fight?" Jarred prompted, still expectant to get his question answered.

"Ah, yes. The castle, furniture, and land have minds of their own, I suppose. They might get into mischief at times but they never fail to obey the rules. There was this one case, that the armies have been talking about so much for so long it became sort of a legend. There was once two chessmen of opposing colours who met on the land-made arena and recognized each other as brothers back from where they came from. Now, this sort of happening is rare, yet bound to happen still. You may not have noticed, but the Board chooses its players at an odd algorithm that nobody has ever figured out. People who end up here are from various time frames that some have estimated to be from the fifteenth century, when chess has evolved to its more modern form, to some time in the future that nobody has confirmed yet due to people farther and farther into the future appearing whenever we make a guess. As you can see, with the large pool of people to choose from, selecting two brothers from the same decade or century would be highly unlikely, but bound to happen at one point or another. So the brothers recognized each other and refused to fight; choosing instead to drop their weapons and pull each other into an embrace long overdue. The land, however, refused to let them break the rules. Before they noticed it, the square had shrunk so much in size it was literally suffocating. The brothers had to fight to the death—for the last breath. The chessman who was asphyxiated first died, and the other was made to live with the memory of everything that happened, as well as his brother's chess piece, his only memory of him left."

Jarred was silent the whole time, eyes transfixed on the Bishop as he skillfully recounted the events that never happened to him. Then, as if breaking out of his trance, he sighed. "I guess they'll find a way to maintain each and every rule all the time, then." he said, defeat slightly tinting his words. Then, once again, the Bishop continued.

The second rule of chess is that pieces may only travel with the permission of those of higher status.

There was a sort of class system between the chessmen. The King was at the top of the spectrum, the Queen coming in a close second. Following the two most important and agile pieces respectively are, in order, the Bishops, Knights, and Rooks. The Pawns were at the lower end, held higher in status only by the faceless inhabitants of the squares that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

In a regular game of chess, two people play against each other as opponents. However, at the board, there are a total of sixteen chessmen opposing the other colour. Not everyone could act for themselves. If so, all chaos would ensue and there would be no order in the board. Thus, the five rules of chess has been put in place, ranked as well in order of importance just as the pieces are.

Every once in a while, whenever necessary, someone within the higher ranks would call a meeting to discuss strategy and what is happening. They automatically have the right to give opinions and suggestions of how to play the game. The pawns, however, may only attend the meetings when summoned and may only give feedback when allowed or requested.

Meetings are held anywhere and nowhere at the same time. Every house designated for every chessman for every square has a singular room within its architecture that exists in all the squares for the main purpose of having meetings and discussions with those of other squares. There are sixty-four squares within the board, and all of them host a house with a meeting room. However, there are only two meeting rooms in the whole of the board—The White meeting room, and the Black one. Pushing open the door as a white chessman would lead one to the white meeting room and vice versa. One may not enter the room without the knowledge nor permission of those of high status. This is the room of strategy.

Despite being numerous squares apart, chess pieces have no problem in communication due to the nature of the letters they write. Not unlike most objects in the Board, the letters appear whenever and wherever they need to be to fulfill whatever their purpose might just be. As a result of this convenience, information is easily shared within the coloured armies and so are the instructions and permissions to move from those of the higher status.

"I'm guessing the transporters won't appear unless you have the permission to move?" Jarred asked.

The Bishop nodded. "Correct. You seem to be catching on."

The fourth rule is that pieces may only use physical means to overcome their various opponents in the battle-field

"Oh, dear." the Bishop mumbled. "It must have slipped my mind to explain this to you. Well, all chessmen save for the pawns have special... abilities. Which is why they are chosen for their respective roles, or which they gain through receiving their respective roles. I'm sure you know that if the King dies, the entirety of the black army dies along with him, yes?" he asked. Jarred nodded. "Well, that's pretty much his special ability. It's not much, I know. The Queen, on the other hand, is extremely agile and good at fighting and combat. Us Bishops—"

"Us?" Jarred repeated, half incredulously.

"Surely you have deduced by now from our similar clothing," the Bishop insisted.

"I—what? Why— How— How did I become a Bishop?" he said, eyes wide. The Bishop simply sighed.

"And here I thought you'd be able to figure these things out on your own," he said. Ignoring the half-formed questions posed, he continued. "Bishops tend to be somewhat clairvoyant at least some of the time. Some people claim that we're psychics of some sort, but I wouldn't go that far in my assumptions. Not a single chessman is able to wield magic or powerful psychic ability. We tend to be able to predict the future, is all.

"Wow," Jarred mumbled. Could he really predict the future somehow? Was that what his nightmare the other time was about? Was that how he knew exactly when that car would come nearly flying towards Sarah to inevitably kill her or, as how it played out, him?

"—and thus, we tend to make good strategists, which is why we're higher in rank than the rest." he continued, seemingly intent to move on to the explanations of the capabilities of other chessmen, leaving Jarred with much less time to play around with this new information in his mind.

Knights had horses and were good at fighting on horseback and combat in general. Rooks were similar to assassins in skill as well as appearance. There was nothing much to say about the pawns—They were simply trained in the art of fighting with the sword to make sure they would at least fare decently in combat. Nobody knew about the abilities of the faceless because of—

"And that brings us to our fifth and last rule: In the Board, Chessmen may not interact and build relations with those of no faces." the Bishop stated, quoting the rule itself.

As mentioned earlier, faceless creatures inhabit the squares. These faceless creatures are of humanoid shape, figure and nature. They are neither black nor white, instead opting to be the grey in between. They are known to live in simple houses found everywhere in their respective squares. Not much can tell one faceless from another due to the uncanny similarity between almost all of the faceless.

Very little information is known about them due to the last rule. Despite ranking least in importance, the rule must still be obeyed, and is said to be held together tightly by the fact that the faceless have, as it says on the tin, no faces. They lacked mouths and thus could not speak. However, like any other creature in such a predicament, they adapted, managing to create their own language that they spoke amongst themselves in hushed humming and grunting from their nonexistent mouths and tongues. No chessman can understand so much as a word, no matter how hard they try.

Silence filled the room, Jarred looking expectantly at the Bishop who seemed to have paused his explanation, and the Bishop simply waiting for Jarred to shoot him another question.

"That's it? Five rules?" Jarred asked incredulously

"Would you rather have more?" The Bishop countered, having already gotten used to Jarred's tendencies.

Jarred slowly shook his head, as if any sudden movements would cause all the information he'd just receive to spill out from his head like soup from a bowl.

"So... When does the game start? What happens then? What... What happens to me?" he asked.

"This round of chess will start within a week. There will be an assembly, before the pieces will be sent where they need to go." the Bishop answered fluently, as if he read from a script.

"Then... What do we do now?

"We train you."