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[personal profile] elloran
Warning! Long, boring drabble.

There is, in fact, only so long one can read history, no matter how interesting and epic it is. Eventually, one becomes bored with endless lists of battles and conquests, of intricate strategy and complex politics. And despite any history of the Inquest being a absolutely riveting read, Elloran was fast approaching the point where the complex game play and strategy of his histories was forcing him to wish pain upon whomever had invented the cursed game of makrugh. Vara blurred into Varuneh, and the juvenile Inquestor finally motioned his story teller to stop.

“No more, Tash Relentier. No more folly and pain. No more stories of great wars and destruction.”

The old Remember raised an eyebrow, but bowed to the apparently younger man and left. It was his duty to educate Ton Elloran – but as always he was but a servant. Yet the young Inquestor normally could spend hours listening to his heritage; it was unusual to find him so impatient and malcontent.

“Music.” Elloran demanded absentmindedly, and stood and stretched before walking out of his small throne room. He was not yet a powerful Inquestor – the flower city he now inhabited was of yet his only base of power beyond the few backwater planets he had gained for himself in child-games of makrugh.

It was improper for him to be bored, or to even think of the concept. He had hundreds of servants at his disposal, more if he visited a neighboring Inquestors domain. His gardens were lavish and beautiful, and music swelled around him where ever he moved. And yet, he was still bored…or so he told himself as he stalked his palace, ending in his personal study, the one place he could feel truly alone within his domain.

There was something he could do to distract from the lessons and constant politics that his fellow young Inquestors played at. A note sat on his work table, elegant and richly encrusted with precious metals. It was an invitation, one that despite his better judgment he could not turn down. The man who wrote it, Ton Karakael, was a powerful Inquestor, one perhaps poised to become one of the next High Inquestors in the coming century. To refuse an invitation of Makrugh from him would be political suicide.

It would be an invitation he would turn down despite that fact, if it was not for the urging of his friends and mentors. He had been told time and again that Karakael was an arrogant fool whose rise to power was based more on his inheritance from a doting former master than upon any inherent talent he possessed. His proposition to Elloran could only be interpreted as a strong Inquestor picking on a weaker one – and that assumption was one Elloran could use to his advantage to win the game.

Plus, there were worse monsters that Elloran had faced and defeated. His former mentor was one, the Mad King Akamedies. He was already a seasoned Inquestor, having hunted two False Utiopias. He had little to be afraid of.

With this in mind, and various other thoughts to keep himself from backing down, the Inquestor wrote the return note, paying careful attention to the details of his handwriting and the symbolism associated with the paper and ink. He had been told that Karakael was a fool – but one who appreciated small details and hidden symbolism. So the paper was from a tree that was foretold to bring friendship to any who sat beneath it, and the ink from a planet that once belonged to the young Karakael, and now belonged to Elloran. The messenger was a neuter servant child. To a certain extent, the words of the note were less important than the messenger and materials.

The game would at least prove and interesting vacation from the never ending politics Ton Elloran normally had to deal with.

-------------------------------------------

Karakael bowed to the young man before him.

“Atta Heng, Hokh’Ton. You have vanquished me.”

Elloran stared at the board, surprised. “But I only took two of your pieces. Surely you can recover – “

“Pah.” The masked Inquestor sounded disgusted, though his true expression remained hidden. “I cannot believe that you could play a game so well, and yet still be oblivious to the flow of the games around you. Trust me when I say this, there is no way I could have won.”

Elloran glanced at the pieces again, attempting to verify what the elder Inquestor had said. “That is as it appears but…”

“Silence. The game is over, and I have admitted defeat. Do not insult me further, boy.”

The ‘boy’ stung. Surly he deserved kinder words than that from his superior. It was unbecoming for an Inquestor to show irritation – especially in front of an inferior.

“Would you like to know what you have won, Ton Elloran?”

A nod, but the young man’s eyes remained fixed on the board, still reviewing the possible strategies.

“Two planets, and a title of your own.”

That brought Elloran’s eyes up. “Excuse me? A title? But…why?”

“You have just proven yourself a worthy opponent of a powerful Inquestor. What other reason do you need?” The mask twitched into a smile. “Of course, it is tradition to test a young Inquestor before his elevation in status by offering him a game against his mentor.”

“And they play until the young Inquestor wins fairly against the master.” Elloran continued the story, then stopped, yet again surprised. “But I…I should not be eligible yet. And you are hardly my mentor…are you?”

This brought a laugh from the master Inquestor. “Your actions on Ymvyrsh have gained you quite a few friends, and further enemies, boy. But all agree that you are a force to be reckoned with. And since you so handily to care of your former mentor...well, the post is ‘available’. None have yet taken it. But we could hardly leave you rotting in seminary forever, could we?” Karakael stood, and motioned for Elloran to follow. “I was thinking of throwing a party for your ascension. With your permission, of course. And perhaps you could use that fabulous musician who works for you…” He spoke on, handily concealing the irritation he still felt, trying to ignore the sting of defeat.

The strategy would have worked, had the younger Inquestor not glanced at Karakaels side of the board.

“But – where are my pieces?”

Karakael glanced down, and lied easily. “They are invisible. Some malfunction of the board. I am sure it is nothing to worry about.”

Elloran looked unconvinced. “How long has it been malfunctioning?”

“Since the beginning of our game. Does that surprise you?” Karakael smirked, secretly pleased that the young man had so quickly picked up on the source of his irritation.

“You should have called for repair work. It was unfair of me to play against you so hindered…”

“The leaders of the Inquest were quite insistent that you win this game, child.” Inside the mask, Karakael bit his lip. “It is important to them that you are elevated quickly.”

“Are you saying the game was rigged?”

Karakael nodded ever so slightly. “Rather sad, isn’t it? They expected so little of both you and I.” He grinned. “I say we show them how foolish they were to insult us so.”

“But…you are suggesting we take on our superiors. People who have ruled far longer than you or I. Surely if they wished me to win they had a reason for it….”

“Tch. You have much to learn. There are more currents here, Ton Elloran, than the simple rigging of a game. Think about it.”

Elloran looked at the game board again, and thought. “You…you were told to rig the game as well.”

This earned him a smile from the older Inquestor.

“And…you are irritated not at the fact that you lost, but at the fact that they did not trust you.”

Karakael nodded. “Continue.”

“We are both being played in higher games, aren’t we? This loss…it is harming you just as much as it is helping me. If I won a title…what did you lose?”

“Something of no consequence." A lie. "The addition to my land here on Uran S’Varek will go to you instead.”

Elloran still stared at the board. “Why...” he stopped before the older Inquestor could insist that he answer the question himself. “This loss will set back your plans drastically.”

“Correct. The Inquest does not tolerate a loss such as the one I suffered today. Still – it is you who should be angry, not I. I knew the risks going into the game. You have suffered a far greater insult.”

“What?”

A sigh. “Look at the board, boy. It should be easy to see.”

Elloran looked over it again, from both Karakaels side and his. “I still don’t…”

“Tch. They underestimated you. They did not trust me to lose purposefully, and they did not believe you could win. They were wrong.”

“How can you know that?”

The older Inquestor bit back further irritation, reminding himself that the younger man was far less experienced, even if he did display an instinct for makrugh. “Thinkhive, play back the sequence of moves that were made, this time showing both sets of pieces.” He turned to Elloran. “Tell me what you see now.”

The younger Inquestor nodded, and watched as the game started again.

“You started with a traditional ploy, The Dracksian maneuver, one that indicates that you wish for the game to last. You were trying to avoid losing you land, right?”

“Correct.”

“I had thought you were trying to trick me into revealing my playing strategy. That seems like something you would do.”

“It is possible to do both at once, child.”

Elloran ignored the continued use of ‘child’ – knowing that it was probably Karakaels way off irritating him. “I started with the Gamarra move, which is used most often to protect against an opponent that one knows little about. It is a defensive position, which accepts a long, hard game but over time gives the defensive player the advantage.”

“Yes.” Karakael subvoked a command to his palace thinkhive, and Ellorans pieces dissolved from the board. “Now. Had you know that I could not see your moves, would you have done anything differently?”

Elloran thought. Invisible pieces gave him an instantaneous position of strength, especially in a strategy game such as the one they played. Yet… “No, I would not. You are still a far more experienced Inquestor than I. Even with such a handicap, it would have been possible for you to turn the game around, eventually.”

The mask grinned. “Exactly. Now, what of my second move?”

The younger Inquestor reviewed the board. “This…this makes no sense. The Karidian maneuver is another move that exists to prolong the game. But against the Gamrra it has a phenomenal disadvantage, especially in a game that lasts over two hours. At the time, I thought it was another ploy, one to make me act foolishly. But if you could not see my pieces…no, it still makes no sense. Coupling Karidian and Dracksian is almost a sure way to set oneself up for failure, without letting your opponent know your … “ Elloran trailed off. “You did rig the game. And even had you not, the Gamrra usually beats the Dracksian in the long run. I could have won.”

“Yes.” Karakael dissolved the game board. “Do you see why I am so irritated?”

“They underestimated both of us. Forcing you to lose is an insult to your loyalty and an insult to my playing ability. Within the first move they should have seen the flow of the game, and allowed us to play it out fairly.”

Karakael motioned Elloran to follow him, as they moved deeper into his palace. “So you understand. I hope you do not mind my taking revenge for both those insults.”

“That is not nec-“

“Let an old Inquestor have his fun, boy.”

Elloran sighed, and stopped in front of the door Karakael was opening. “Hokh’Ton – please stop referring to me as ‘boy’ or ‘child’. I am neither of those things. I am an Inquestor of my own right, and I should have proved that to you ten times over in the last day.”

The mask raised an eyebrow, and the Inquestor inside of it was secretly pleased. “Oh? What would you prefer?”

“Just…Elloran. Or Loreh. I don’t care which. Just stop treating me like a child.”

“You are a child, Loreh.” The door unlocked, and Karakael turned before entering his mask room. “But I would be honored to call you by your name.”

The door clicked closed, leaving Elloran alone and surprised.

“Makrugh.” He whispered, sighing as he turned to leave, wondering if the entire conversation had been a ploy for the friendship nicknames implied.

You overestimate Ton Karakaels ability to socialize, Ton Elloran. A thinkhive wordlessly replied. There are greater matters than simple friendship at stake here. But he is honored that you would call him your friend.

“Why?” Elloran spoke back, as he walked to a displacement plate that would take him to his own castle.

Why? You are a rare prize among the High Inquestors, Ton Elloran. A child who was able to defeat a Utopia with only his wits and one childsoldier? You are a force to be reckoned with, and already circles are moving to harm or elevate you. Karakael did not lie when he said you had made many enemies.

“But he called himself my friend.” The world dissolved around him, and he was back in his home.

Yes. And that is interesting, is it not? That someone with so much to lose, and such a precarious position, would choose to volunteer to play such an important game with you.

“He…he volunteered?” Elloran was shocked, and stood for a moment on the plate. “But…why?”

He is taking a gamble on you, and clearly allying himself with whatever side you choose to play on. Though…perhaps you were not wrong when you said he wished to be your friend. He took the position as your mentor for one game – he will likely wish to keep that position until you are safe. Think well on whether to accept his offer. Karakael is a dangerous friend to have.

Elloran blinked, thinking of the ‘companions’ who had warned him against playing against the ‘man of a million masks’, and the others who had badgered him into doing so. Cocky, arrogant children who enjoyed baiting their betters and carelessly slaughtering planets in their games. In his way, Karakael was little different. Except that he had offered Elloran friendship, and protection – even when it was unnecessary and perhaps dangerous. He was interesting; an enigma, a challenge, that Elloran would love to get to know better.

“I do not think I would mind becoming his friend. No matter how dangerous that might be.”
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