An Unfriendly Game of Chance
Tulwar in hand and gloomlight gleaming upon the billowing clouds of fetid vapors spewed forth by the miasmagaster, Bujilli followed the bizarre creature back through the open passage-way to its lair. He wasn't thrilled with following the thing, but there weren't a lot of other choices. At least not yet. The vapors surrounding the miasmagaster were noxious, sickening and highly toxic--they swirled and swarmed at the creature's command. If he didn't play along with the lonely old monster it would simply fill his lungs with poison or disease, possibly bursting him like a balloon. The thought of his lungs puffing up until they exploded in a pestilentially terminal mess prodded Bujilli onwards. If he could get close enough to the creature, or maybe find some way to distract it, maybe he could kill it or escape from it.
But then it occurred to him; the miasmagaster was very, very old. It knew this place. What if he could earn its trust, make friends with it? It would be a powerful ally.
Bujilli followed the miasmagaster back along a corridor, past a pair of niches filled with old bones and dried garbage on either side. One of the niches, the second on the left, had a stack of small animal skulls lined-up along its ledge. The other one on the left had a small pile of human or humanoid skulls placed right at the edge, all of them staring outwards through empty eye sockets.
They came to a passage to the left that opened into a small room. The miasmagaster pointed into the room. Bujilli looked inside. It was dimly lit by some small rocks that were twisted-up into an elaborate hanging made up of small bones and dried sinews.
"Sit here," the miasmagaster pointed to a block of fallen masonry that formed a rough seat. The miasmagaster shambled farther back into the dim regions beyond the little corridor to another room and started to rummage around for its chess set.
Bujilli set his tulwar along his leg, within easy reach should he need it. He took a deep breath. He had no spells that he knew would be effective against the miasmagaster...but then he didn't know his spells as well as he'd like--most of them he had stolen from his uncle or had collected from other spell-casters in trade, and he only knew the rudiments of what they actually did or could be made to do. That was something that Bujilli vowed to himself to accomplish as soon as possible--to gain a much better grasp of what all his spells could do and what he could do with them. Most sorcerers were self-taught. They learned via trial and error. A poor half-almas like himself was unlikely to ever gain a mentor let alone a patron, though there were ways to accomplish that...if he dared.
The miasmagaster returned, wheezing and whuffing and puttering about with its prized possession, a classic Yilanian chess set cut in the traditional style. Humming some obscure tune that reminded Bujilli more of an upset stomach than a song, the miasmagaster arranged the laminated boards into position and set-up the pieces in precise order. Then it sat back on its haunches and offered Bujilli his choice of color.
Bujilli chose bone and amber. The onyx and bloodstone pieces looked poisonous to him.
That meant that he moved first.
Bujilli considered the board. It was a hexagon and each of the players sat at a flat-sided edge opposite one another with the hexagon's points flaring out to either side. He had three ranks of carved figures before him and as he examined them he realized that this was nothing like the game he knew as chess.
This could be bad.
Then Bujilli had an idea.
He hoped it was a clever idea.
His life was on the line, after all.
"I apologize, but this configuration is new to me--I do not recognize it; would you perhaps be willing to instruct me in how one is to play this version of chess?"
The miasmagaster rose only a slight bit before it settled back down on its haunches. It burbled and sputtered softly then quickly came to a decision.
"Yes. I will teach you how to play. When you are ready, we will play our match to determine your fate. I am in no hurry to kill you and it has been a long time since I had anyone to talk to, let alone play against."
"I am happy to make your acquaintance friend miasmagaster--"
"But that cannot be so. I might yet be the death of you!"
"I am half-almas. I do not fear death. I know what awaits my soul on the otherside and am unafraid."
"Everyone fears death..." sputtered the miasmagaster.
"No. I do not. Fear is born from ignorance, not from knowledge." Bujilli sat back and observed the creature across the hexagonal chess board from him. The miasmagaster was shaking, either in anger or possibly for some other reason. Could the thing be afraid of something? Afraid of dying, perhaps?
"I know not of almas or your kind. You are a strange one, coming into my den like you did, agreeing to play a game for your life with such a one as me. You are either very brave or very stupid."
"I came because there was no point in letting you just kill me out of hand. Besides, I stand to learn something new that I would probably never have a chance to learn otherwise. I value knowledge. It is the one form of power that nevers fails or betrays."
"Bah! Now you prattle philosophy. Let us play."
The miasmagaster proceeded to explain the nature of the pieces, their capabilities and various attributes and how one was expected to devise strategies based on their various ways of moving, attacking and so forth. It took hours as Bujilli was an apt pupil and continually asked questions, requested demonstrations, and showed great natural talent for discerning the classic strategies of the game's established masters. The miasmagaster found itself absorbed with its teaching, lecturing and instruction.
Finally the miasmagaster felt itself succumbing to weariness. It lacked the stamina of an almas who feared for its life. Bujilli remained alert and awake. He continued to pester the miasmagaster for details, explanations, and knew that his ruse was working when the miasmagaster finally raised its foreclaws and stood up from the chess board.
"I am tired. You have learned quickly and show a remarkable gift for this game. I shall forego killing you for now. You may rest in this room while I go sleep in another. If you remain here, you will be safe and we can continue tomorrow. If you leave, then I shall kill you on sight next time our paths cross, which would be a shame, as you show great promise. You could very well become a chess master if you applied yourself. But the choice is yours to make. I bid you good rest."
The miasmagaster shambled out of the room leaving Bujilli with the chess set...
Here's the map so far:Bujilli is in the room on the top-left of the hallway with the niches along its sides running towards the top of the map from the room with the collapsed floor just behind the secret door...