ASH: ASH #117 - A Fire Afar Off Part 4: Thou Hast Seen Nothing Yet!

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Tue May 1 07:01:45 PDT 2012

     [The cover shows Don Quixote's sword skewering the Earth, lava spurting
out from entry and exit wounds and cracks appearing all across the surface.
Almost lost in the flares of energy is a shadowy hand that seems to be
wielding the sword.]

 '|`  /|(`| |   A Fire Afar Off part 4 of 4 - Thou Hast Seen Nothing Yet!
     /-|.)|-|        copyright 2011 by Dave Van Domelen

                       ACADEMY OF SUPER-HEROES ROLL CALL

CODENAME       REAL NAME                POWERS                   ASSIGNMENT
--------       ---------                ------                   ----------
Solar Max      Jonathan Zachary         Spacetime Control        AMERICA
                 "JakZak" Taylor
Meteor         Sarah Grant-Taylor       Superspeed               AMERICA
Scorch         Scott Handleman          Pyrokinetic              CANADA
Centurion      Salvatore Napier         Strength, Regeneration   MEXICO
Fury           Arin Kelsey              Concussion Blasts        MEXICO
Contact        Aaron Zander             Psi, Mind-over-Body      DIPLOMATIC
Breaker        Christina Li             Telekinesis              DIPLOMATIC
Essay          Sara Ana Henderson       Gadgeteer                VENUS
Peregryn       Howard Henderson Jr.     Elemental Mage           VENUS
Beacon         George Sylvester         Living Light             VENUS
Geode          Unknown                  Living Crystal           VENUS
Lightfoot      Tom Dodson               Velocity Control         TRANSIT

[December 1, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     "Esmeralda" arched an eyebrow.  "I suppose I should've expected that the
sword's power might let you see through my disguise.  After all, it worked
for Catalina Quixano."
     Weapons Masters shook his head.  "Nope, wasn't that.  You may be a
pretty good illusionist, Glyph, but you totally suck as an actress.  I may
never have met the real Esmeralda before, but I knew enough about her to
figure out from day one that you weren't her."
     "Then why let me in past the defenses?" the image of the young hispanic
melted away, replaced by the scaly and snake-haired visage of Zephirah
     Weapons Master pointed in the general direction of the hardened vault
containing the sword.  "We needed the help.  It took me a while to figure out
which mage you really were, and Walters agreed that even if you were Glyph,
we needed an expert before things got worse.  The old man's pretty good at
making bargains with the devil, shockingly.  Besides," he grinned widely
behind his armored visor, "who ever said you were inside our defenses?"
     Glyph hissed in shock, realizing she'd let herself get so engrossed in
the diary that she hadn't noticed the departure of all the mundanes.  And now
the container with the diary sank into the floor, no doubt headed for a
secure vault.
     Doors on three sides of the room opened to reveal the other four
superhuman members of the Freedom Alliance.
     "Surrender peacefully, Glyph," Brightsword advised, his laser torch
snapping to hissing life.  "You've never been much of a combat mage, no need
to add a beating to the day's events."
     "Oh, a beating might be a good thing," Red Widow smirked.  "After all,
even if we can find some charge to hand her over to the cops on...identity
theft, even if she didn't do anything to the real Colina...she'll probably
get released to avoid Sultry dropping a hurricane on Missouri or something.
Might as well apply the punishment right now."
     "Bah!" Glyph snarled, extending a wickedly sharp fingernail, almost a
claw, and sketching a shape into her own palm faster than anyone could
react.  Then she slammed the bloody hand down on the ground and sank through
it in a flash of light.
     "Surveillance!" Weapons Master called out before everyone could scatter
and start searching.  "She still here?"
     "Negative.  Unless she has the cameras spoofed, she's out of the
building," came the disembodied response.  "We have a faint energy trail
heading south, looks like a teleport signature."
     "West entrance, she's outside!" shouted a second security officer's
voice over the comm.
     "Come on," Brightsword gestured, and the team followed him down a "dead
end" hallway.  As they approached, the wall opened up to the exterior and
they jumped out into empty air several stories up.  Not really a problem for
any of them, and within moments they surrounded the robed woman.
     "Wait," Weapons Master sheathed the sword he'd drawn moments before.
"This is the real Esmeralda...or, at least it's not Glyph."
     Esmeralda slumped.  "Then, I was too late?"
     "I think you should come into the security area and tell us what
happened, Miss Colina," Brightsword said, relaxing slightly from attack
posture.  He had pointedly not doused his laser torch, however.

               *              *              *              *

[An hour earlier]

     Esmeralda sprinted diagonally across the chessboard, her heart racing.
The solution was so unlike Glyph, from what she knew about the leader of the
Conclave of Super-Villains...and yet so VERY like her.  Glyph was a
researcher, a mage who invented very little and relied on finding solutions
in the works of others.  So while Glyph's own solution to a chess puzzle
would probably be to research obscure gambits and try to pick a winning one
she thought her opponent would be unfamiliar with, she hadn't designed this
trap.  She'd merely taken it wholesale from someone else.
     It might be worth trying to figure out who'd come up with this, because
it was pretty damned clever, playing a multi-level mental game with the
victim.  You see a chess trap, you assume you're trying to beat a master.
     "Queen takes pawn, checkmate!" she shouted at the empty air.
     A "Scholar's Mate," a quick and savage gambit that assumed bold action
was going to be more successful than elaborate trap and counter-trap, as well
as assuming you weren't playing against a master.  On a board where all the
pieces were invisible and your last step off of a square determined which
piece you became, trying for anything more clever would probably backfire
     Everything went black, but this time it wasn't accompanied by pain, as
it had been whenever she'd lost a game.
     "Looks like I'm in the big leagues now, whether I like it or not," she
muttered as a more normal version of reality faded into existence around
her.  "Maybe I should bite back my pride and get some of that Academy

               *              *              *              *

[December 1, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     "...but it looks like I got here a little too late," Esmeralda finished
recounting the events of the past few days.  "At least Glyph only wanted me
out of the way temporarily, something about the pocket reality of that chess
trap kept me from starving or dying of thirst while I was stuck in it."
     "I expect you were a target of opportunity," Weapons Master scratched
his chin thoughtfully.  "Glyph was in town, sensed your arrival before you
noticed her, and did the swap on short notice.  She's way too thorough not to
have researched you better if she'd been planning all along to impersonate
you, and while she *is* a rotten actor it probably would've taken me longer
to figure her out if she'd known a little more about you."
     "Not exactly thrilled you had access to so much information about me, by
the way," Esmeralda frowned.  "Although I guess I shouldn't be surprised."
     "This ain't the barrio, chica," Red Widow smirked.  "You pissed off a
lotta rich guys with that scroll stuff you did for Kelsey, they're gonna be
looking for every hook they can find to neutralize you if you ever become
more than just annoying.  Just be glad OUR rich guy wanted to hire you rather
than grind you into paste."
     The reading room was mostly empty again, the swarms of security that had
followed on the heels of the Freedom Alliance having fanned back out to look
for any trace that Glyph was still on the premises or immediate neighborhood.
All too often a "clean escape" was a distraction, something Weapons Master
had succeeded in hammering home in training his teammates.
     Only Weapons Master, Esmeralda, Red Widow and the lead conservator
remained.  GLADI8R was body-hopping to help with the search, Brightsword was
keeping an eye on GLADI8R, and Gauntlet had found reasons to be somewhere
very far away from Arin Kelsey's "pet mage".
     "So, since we really did run a security check on the real you while
trying to suss out Glyph," Weapons Master shrugged, "I don't see much reason
to make you wait around, especially with time being pretty short," he glanced
meaningfully in the direction of the collapsinum-lined vault several stories
below.  "Let me fill you in on what we've got so far, then we can see if
there's any more pages we can check out if nothing immediately occurs to

     A short while later, Weapons Master was wrapping up.  "Glyph is
something of an amateur in a lot of OpSec stuff, it turns out.  She was very
guarded in some ways, but we got more than she expected through some simple
techniques, like monitoring what her eyes were pointed at as she talked.
Takes a while to analyze, but in case you were wondering..."
     "...why she'd been so forthcoming?  Yeah," Esmeralda nodded.  "And while
we're laying things on the table, Peregryn sent me a mystic message while you
were talking.  An agent of the Leviathan on Venus claims the world will soon
end by 'sword and flame,' which sounds to me like Quixote's sword's
explosions are going to get worse."
     "So, any ideas, before this whole building gets launched into space like
some sort of TwenCen supervillain plot?" Red Widow arched an eyebrow.  "Or
should we be looking into a timeshare on Venus?"
     Esmeralda shook her head.  "Nothing definite.  I really need to know
more about how the sword was made.  Glyph might have recognized the specific
spells that went into it, but my geek-fu fails me on that one.  I have an
idea, but...."
     After an awkward silence, the conservator sighed.  "We've identified a
few points where stresses seem lower, we can work through those first.  And
I'm not just being a fussy curator, if we rush this the pages could fragment
and we'd have to take even longer deciphering the contents."
     "Understood.  Let's see what we can see," Weapons Master gestured at the
sealed box containing the oldest of the Quixote journals....

               *              *              *              *

The Private Journal of Alonso Carlos Diego Quixano of La Mancha

1st of May, Year of our Lord 1589

     While I have been given to the occasional flight of fancy, I do not
believe myself to be mad.  But none who I would tell this, save a few who
were witness, would believe me sane afterward.  Thus, I dare not commit to
parchment what transpired this past week in any form that might be read
during my lifetime.  And yet, I cannot help but be certain that my tale must
be told true for the future, whether I succeed or fail in my holy task.

     Six days ago, as I surveyed the last of the planting, I was approached
by a Moor who introduced himself as Hamed al Akbar of Toledo.  He required
the aid of a man of noble birth who could acquit himself well with a blade,
but who could bring himself to believe the impossible when staring it in the
face.  At first I thought he was merely a traveling merchant who had been put
up to a bit of mischief by the townspeople...I fear my reputation as a
romantic dreamer has on more than one occasion exceeded my ability to bring
reality to those dreams.

     But there was something about Hamed, an intensity to his very existence,
that told me this was no jest.  Leaving the remainder of the work in the
hands of the peasants, I followed him to a nearby hollow where the rains had
carved a notch in a hillside.  Cowering there was a giant of a man, easily
matching the Bible's description of Goliath, if not larger!  Hamed claimed to
have found the giant weakened by some mishap, and used his arts to further
bind it...but he could not kill.

     I do not know if he lacked the ability, lacked the will, or if some part
of his beliefs simply forbade that he deliver the killing stroke.

     I needed little convincing of the danger such a monstrosity posed to La
Mancha, but I demanded it tell me its name first.  Either it could not
understand any of the languages in which I addressed it, or it was beyond the
capacity of answering.  Its raiment told me it was no mere brute, though, and
I am certain that in circumstances more to its liking it would have been
quite capable of speech.

     In the end, I slew it, knowing no more of its origins than Hamed did.  A
curious symbol was embroidered on its tunic, however, much like the Greek Z.
Hamed suggested that, in absence of more knowledge, we merely consider it an
emissary of the Kingdom of Z.

     It was then that Hamed asked further impossible belief of me.  He
claimed to be a worker of wizardry, who had been plagued by visions of demons
conquering Spain.  Those visions led him to the wretch I slew.  Over the past
several days, he has told me about himself, and about what little he knew of
the Kingdom of Z.  The monsters may use spells to appear as other things,
even as people, but Hamed is able to pierce the illusions and reveal them in
their true form.  For reasons he has not yet explained, he cannot slay them

     And so I have sworn a holy oath to God in Heaven.  I will protect Spain
from the monsters of Z, even if it make men think me mad, even if it cost me
my life.  I may have been born too late for the age of the romantic heroes,
but God saw fit to place me in a time where I might emulate their deeds with
stakes just as high.

               *              *              *              *

15th of October, Year of our Lord 1590

     I believe I have found a man I can trust to help in the struggle against
the Kingdom of Z.  He is an Italian "Condottiere" or soldier for hire who
apparently has become separated from service to the Habsburgs under
circumstances that required him to abandon his old name and assume the alias
of Sancho Panza.  I am convinced that his sins are no more dire than those of
any man who fights for pay, and more importantly he has already aided us in
slaying one of the creatures, shattering his sword on the beast's stony
     I am past my prime and these battles take too much of a toll on me, so
"Sancho" will be a welcome help.  Hamed has agreed to use his arts to
obfuscate our new colleague's trail so that he need no longer fear the
Habsburger ire...although we left it implied that this protection would fade
should be abandon us.  He is not an evil man, but neither is he a saint!  But
then, who alive now is?
     While Hamed still will not tell of his reasons for refusing to
personally kill a giant, he has crafted many useful tools for me, and has
started work with allies in Toledo on a new sword that he claims will let me
see through the disguises of the giants myself.  This would remove the need
to have him always in danger, as well as give another pair of eyes to seek
that danger.  He warns that the sword will be the work of many masters and
will not be ready for months, if not years.  In the meantime, what minor
dweomers he can cast remain helpful.

               *              *              *              *

23rd of February, the Year of our Lord 1592

     This past month, the new sword has been of great help, but it has also
caused problems.  To the good, it does not shatter, and when I hold it I can
easily see the giants no matter their disguises.  We no longer need to lure
them away from people or find some ruse to remove innocents from danger, as I
may slay them as they believe themselves hidden.  It is perhaps dishonorable,
but the giants have shown no honor themselves and do not deserve it from me.

     But as a result of the spells that render them vulnerable, their
carcasses remain truly in whatever form they had assumed through art.  And I
have long since found that their spells do not merely fool the eye, they
trick the mind as well...a giant in the form of a windmill will not seem out
of place for all who see it will believe that there has always been a
windmill on that spot.  This part of the magic persists beyond the death of
the giant, and I find myself having to explain why I put a hole in someone's
wagon with my sword, even if no one can recall who owned the wagon in the
town square.

     I fear my reputation as a madman will only worsen, although at least the
sword makes it more likely I will live to suffer from that reputation.

     The visions that plagued Hamed have come to visit me now as well,
perhaps because the sword is linked to the Kingdom of Z.  Both waking and
dreaming, it is a wonder the wizard is still sane after so many years of
this!  Perhaps by the time the Kingdom of Z is thwarted, I will be mad in
truth and not just in tales.

               *              *              *              *

[December 1, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri Sector]

     "I wish we could get at some of those pages just a little earlier, they
probably have more details about how the sword was made," Weapons Master
     "No, no, we..." Esmeralda was clearly excited by the final passage.
"Well, maybe knowing more would help, but that line is the key.  The sword is
LINKED to the Kingdom of Z.  What Glyph said about the spellcrafting made me
suspect it, but that's confirmation.  I've read about the final war against
Dimension Z, the whole invasion was triggered by the fact the dimension
itself was shrinking, right?"
     Weapons Master blinked as he tried to follow the chain of thought.  "Er,
yes.  Getting smaller and pulses!  Of course," he smacked his
forehead, resulting in a hollow clatter from his visor.
     "Care to fill me in?" Red Widow crossed her arms.
     "It's in the final Don's journals, Cece.  Dimension Z was a closed
universe, like the inside of a shell, with land and water on the border of
reality and the star at the center the result of the universe compressing in
pulses.  It'd ignite for a while, then go out until the next pulse.  Back in
the 1970s, it was already getting unlivable, with all the land crumpled into
jagged peaks and the pseudo-Sun pulsing hotter and hotter.  They planned to
turn the dimension inside out over North America, bringing the invasion
beachhead with them."
     "Ambitious," Red Widow nodded, visibly impressed.
     "If the Kingdom of Z was a Jotunheim offshoot, they probably got
evacuated during the 1980s," Esmeralda pointed out.  "Just ahead of total
disaster.  But the dimension would have kept shrinking, kept pulsing energy.
Only now it's so small the energy is breaking out through any weak spot.  And
this sword is a solid link to the pocket dimension.  Every time the dimension
shrinks, some of the energy squirts out."
     "So, we get an Anchor to tamp down on the sword until things wrap up?"
Weapons Master suggested.
     Esmeralda shook her head.  "The sword isn't the ONLY link, just the best
one.  There's probably a few weak spots from old magical gates here and
there.  Heck, your extended contact with the sword might make the energy come
out through your body if we Anchor the sword."
     Red Widow edged away from Weapons Master.
     "Might not happen today, or even next week, but eventually Dimension Z
will collapse into nothingness.  Then all the remaining energy is going to
come blasting out through every possible crack," Esmeralda predicted.
"Anything we do to keep it from coming out through the sword will just force
more through the other places."
     "That's enough matter to cover Michigan," Weapons Master pondered.
"Even a collapsinum box a meter thick wouldn't stop that."
     "Drop it on someone we don't like?" Red Widow suggested.  "Glyph seems
to like it, let's give it to her."
     "Remind me later to spend half an hour explaining all the ways that's a
bad idea," Weapons Master frowned.  "This isn't like a hand grenade you can
just toss over the...wait a sec."  He pulled out his official communicator
and activated it.  "Get me Walters, ASAP.  I have an idea how we can save the
world twice with one shot, he's gonna love it...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 5, 2026 - High Earth Orbit]

     "Retiarius-7 in position, handing off the package," GLADI8R told
watching ground control.  The Retiarius bodies had been seeded into orbit as
part of the solar reflector project, and while their highly specialized limbs
had been built to manipulate pieces of the reflector net, it had been simple
enough to attach compatible handles to the collapsinum shell currently
coating Don Quixote's sword.  Walters couldn't violate the laws of nature,
but his "superpower" of money let him bend things quite a bit and get a
payload into the Retiarius network on short notice.
     Good thing, too.  The brainiacs on the ground had gotten a better idea
how long they had before final detonation, and it wasn't long.  GLADI8R had
no desire to be stuck on a dying cinder of a planet!
     Not that he was keen on sticking around to see the next surge close up.
Double-checking the boost segment, he triggered it on about 95% of maximum.
That should get it roughly where they needed it, and laser pressors would do
the rest from a safe distance once it had burned through the casing.
     "Logging out, transferring to Retiarius-4," he commed, shifting his
focus to another of the specially-built bodies.  Number seven was probably
going to be close enough to the next detonation for a "soft kill" and he
wasn't enough of a thrillseeker to want to see what that felt like....
     Even from number four, the flare forced him to slam filters down over
his optics.
     "Package is ballistic," he added.  "The nut has been shelled."
     "Confirmed, GLADI8R," ground control responded.  "We saw that one from
down here...."

               *              *              *              *

[December 6, 2026 - St. Louis, Missouri]

     The short December day had ended about an hour ago, and the sky was
about as dark as it ever got over a major city.  Fortunately for the
publicity side of things, it was a cloudless night...although reports had
come in that the last pulse had been visible even through clouds.
     "Pretty convenient that it's gonna be almost directly overhead when it
finally goes boom," Brightsword smirked behind his armor's faceplate.
     "Thank you!" GLADI8R beamed.  
     "There were a number of practical concerns," Gauntlet said flatly.  "The
sword has to be out near the distance of geosynchronous satellites in order
for the intensity to be correct at ground level, but we didn't want to knock
out anyone's satellites.  Positioning it around forty degrees north would
clear the denser spacelanes."
     "Oh, it was a really tricky problem," GLADI8R shook his head, grinning.
He was wearing one of the more expressive Public Relations bodies, although
they'd toned it down a bit once they determined the artificial consciousness
would never manage to make it through to the other side of the "uncanny
valley".  "There's a lot of stuff at that orbital radius, and some of it no
one's supposed to know about.  Up to about 30 degrees either way you're still
close enough to geosynch to be useful, and past that you still have to worry
about anything in a long polar orbit.  Actually, the final blast will take
some stuff out, but just leftovers from Doublecross's Paris reflector.  As
far as I can tell, anyway."
     Further conversation was cut off by a brilliant flare of light in the
night sky, brighter than any fireworks.
     "Well, it was about fifty years late, but Dimension Z finally made its
way to Earth," Weapons Master chuckled, shading his eyes and letting go of a
little tension.  He hadn't felt anything odd during the other pulses, but
since his connection to Dimension Z was a lot stronger than just having held
the sword, he was a little worried that the final blast might leak out
through his body.  
     Applause and cheering could be heard from the crowd gathered in the park
outside the building that had become the Freedom Alliance's base.  "I'd like
to think they're happy we're not going to have a little ice age," Weapons
Master shrugged, "but they probably just like seeing stuff go boom."
     "Boom can be good too," Brightsword chuckled.  "It's not enough to save
the world, you need to put on a show, or who'll care?"
     It was a credit to his acting skills that not even a hint of resentment
flickered across Weapons Master's face.  So many of his friends had died over
the decades, saving the world...or at least parts of it...without anyone ever
knowing.  Brightsword wasn't a bad guy, but Chuck could tell his teammate
would probably never really be a hero either.  But boom can be good too, and
if they do the right thing for the wrong reasons, at least the right thing's
been done, hey?
     "I'm gonna miss having an unbreakable sword," he sighed instead, then
turned to Esmeralda, who had been silent the whole time.  "I don't suppose
you could figure out how to make me a new one?  Minus the connection to a
hostile dimension, that is."
     The Mexican mage shrugged.  "Quixote didn't record many useful details
in the other pages."  Even after Chuck's suggestion had been put in motion,
they'd kept reading parts of the diary as they became available, just in
case.  "Still, I think I have the principle worked out.  But I can't just
enchant an existing sword, this sort of magic has to be, um, baked in.  So
I'd need to work with a swordsmith I trust.  And, no offense intended to you,
but I don't think I would fit in here, not with anyone that Walters would
hire to do the forging.  I'm not American enough for his tastes, and his
tastes make me uneasy."
     The team tensed up at that.  "That sounds like you're calling
Mr. Walters one of the supervillains," Brightsword bristled.
     Esmeralda made a placating gesture, one Weapons Master suspected might
have been backed by a little magic.  "No, I don't know him well enough to say
he's any better or worse than any other man who has attained the power he
has.  But he could be the greatest force for good on the planet and I'd still
find some of his views unsettling.  I came here following omens, Brightsword,
and I'm not going to ignore my feelings on the matter of working with your
team long term.  It feels wrong.  Bad omens.  It's probably just wrong for
ME, however, my path lies elsewhere."
     "Hmph," Brightsword turned back to look at the fading glow in the sky.  
     "Where does your path lead?  To ASH?" Red Widow asked.
     "Perhaps.  It's where I'm headed next," Esmeralda admitted.  "Arin and
Sal helped me break out of my shell and start living life rather than just
existing, so there has to be something to their way of training.  Especially
since Arin used to be just as much a shut-in little mouse as I was.  And I
can't stay the mouse.  My experience with Glyph demonstrates that I likely no
longer have the option to be a hermetic, keeping the world at arm's length
while I study.  History shows that once a mage starts to interact with the
world, the ties get stronger rather than weaker, no matter the mage's
desires.  If ASH does not feel right either, I may seek answers outside the
Combine, or become a wanderer.  But I doubt I can go back home and hide in my
mouse hole.  The world will find a way to pry me out of it...I might as well
go out to meet the world."
     "Welcome to the world," Weapons Master made a sweeping gesture and
bowed.  "Hope you survive the experience...."


Next Issue:

     Esmeralda may not be intent on joining ASH, but they have a job for her
anyway!  Can she "Wake the Wind" in ASH #118?


Author's Notes:

     Yes, Cervantes originated the "you ain't seen nothing yet" phrase.

     I hope no one was expecting a knock-down, drag-out fight scene with
Glyph.  She's really not the sort, and "run away" contingency plans are a lot
more reliable.  Also, she doesn't really have snakes for hair (yet, anyway),
she styles her hair to evoke the medusa thing.  Although I wouldn't put it
past her to enchant things so that her hair had little snake heads on the
ends of the tresses, as an illusion.

     The "scroll stuff" Esmeralda did for Arin Kelsey involved creating
copies of the Scroll of Lysistrata (revealed in ASH #68).  The Scroll is a
treatise on the philosophy of "living furiously" and is enchanted to grant
literacy to the reader.  Most of the rich men that Esmeralda angered are in
cultures where women are second-class (if they're lucky) citizens and
literacy is not encouraged...but some first-world power brokers just dislike
the written content of the treatise itself.  Walters himself is indifferent. 

     The Paris reflector was constructed from a myriad of small reflective
satellites in seemingly random orbits (ASH #37-40) that would synchronize for
a short while to focus a rather large amount of sunlight on Paris.  Most of
the elements were destroyed, but every few months enough would congregate to
make a bright spot in the sky visible even in daytime.  Not always over
Paris, though.

     Weapons Master is probably the only person alive in 2026 who has been
inside Dimension Z, aside from a few Jotuns.  And frankly, no one on Earth
would much care if a few of them exploded when Dimension Z finally collapsed
all the way.

     Finally, while the story didn't really require explaining the details, I
did work out how the chess trap worked.  
     When you arrive (initially or after a loss-induced blackout), it's on a
checkerboarded infinite plain studded by thick square pillars at regular
intervals.  Between each pillar are eight square tiles in alternating black
and white, and the pillars are four tiles on a side.  Thus, the spaces
between pillars are cross-shaped, an 8x8 square with 2x8 tabs on each side
(or a 12x12 square with 2x2 notches cut out of each corner).
     If Esmeralda had known the cheat code spell, the central 8x8 would have
shown symbols indicating the disposition of the board, among other helpful
tips.  As it stood, she had to keep the positions of the pieces in memory.
     Simply reaching out over the 2x8 sections would reveal an invisible but
impenetrable barrier.  In fact, the trap is only the single 12x12 room, with
the rest of the board being illusory (anything left behind in a square
remains visible behind you in the illusion, but reappears at your side at the
end of your move).  Stepping on one of the 16 spots at a border will activate
the teleportals built into the four walls so that you may move in a manner
befitting a the chess man whose space you stepped on...with some weird
caveats.  Which way you moved would depend on which third of the wall you
tried to move through, and if a particular direction was disallowed
(i.e. trying to move a pawn off to the left diagonal if there wasn't a piece
there to take) the wall would be solid.  So bishops always bounced off the
center third, rooks could only walk through the center third, etc.  Knights
were an oddball, blocked at the center and with two of the 8 possible final
spaces alloted to each of the walls (so all moves were effectively "one
diagonal, one forward" even though most people think of them as "one or two
forward, then two or one to the side").  A set amount of time is allowed to
take back a move or alter it, after which the board takes Black's move.
     If a move resulted in a piece being taken, a spectral voice announced
this fact.  There was no punishment for moving a piece into a position where
it was taken, but once gone stepping on that particular piece's home space
would not allow movement (the cheat codes would cause that spot to turn
red).  Of course, without the cheat codes, there's no way to know for sure
which moves the black pieces make, but that's part of what makes it a trap.
Like most of the better traps, if the maker gets stuck in it they still have
to work a bit to get out, even with the cheat code.

     I'm going to have to be moving again soon, but I'm going to try to get
ASH #118 done before I leave Nebraska, since it was inspired by a local bit
of scenery.  Maybe I'll use wherever I move to as grist for #119....


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