[From Dave: Today, we're honored to host one of the marvelous tales set in Emma Newman's Split Worlds. Emma Has been releasing a story a week for the entire YEAR leading up to launch date of the first novel in the series - "Between Two Thorns" - which being released into the world by the visionary folks at Angry Robot Books (click the cover to get all the details). Brion and I are thrilled to be able to provide a digital home for one of these literary delights... we know you'll enjoy it. ]
In 2013 the marvellous Angry Robot books will be publishing three Split Worlds novels, the first is out in March and called “Between Two Thorns”. This story is part of a crazy thing I decided to do before I got the book deal and was forging ahead with the project on my own: releasing a new story every week for a year and a day, hosted on a different site every time, all set in the Split Worlds. I wanted to give readers a taste of my kind of urban fantasy and have the opportunity to build in secrets and extra bits for those people who, like me, love the tiny details. It’s also been a major part of my world-building work alongside writing the novels.
This is the forty-eighth tale in the year and a day of weekly short stories set in The Split Worlds. If you would like me to read it to you instead, you can listen here. You can find links to all the other stories, and the new ones as they are released here. You can also sign up to get the stories delivered to your inbox, one per week for a year and a day.
The Verdigris Set
Gary placed the last pawn on the board and sat down at the table. It was beautiful, each piece so exquisitely crafted he felt tearful. He jumped when the front door slammed and his brother’s return from work was announced by a huge belch.
“Dave!” Gary rushed to the kitchen doorway. “You won’t believe what happened to me today!”
Dave hung up his coat. “You were accosted by a group of Swedish models with only one day left in Bath and desperate for a local man to show them a good time?”
“No. Something much better.”
He ushered Dave into the kitchen and pointed at the chess set. “Remember the chess set auction I told you about?” Dave’s frown told him he’d forgotten. “They belonged to the guy whose grass I used to cut, the one who died, remember? His daughter sold it to me before the auction!”
“Is it a Lord of the Rings one or something?”
“Those are elves, aren’t they?”
“No they’re not, you pillock, they’re faeries.”
Dave raised an eyebrow at him.
“It’s called the Verdigris set. It’s famous. He said in an interview that he thought it was cursed.”
Dave shook his head and went to the fridge. “You’re making this up.”
“I’m not! He was a master chess player but he only won one game on it in the last twenty years. Isn’t it beautiful?”
There was a hiss as Dave opened a can of beer. “You got this month’s rent?”
Gary looked back down at the chess set, blushing. “I had to spend it.”
“On that?” Dave threw a tea towel at him. “You’re bloody useless you are!”
“It’s not like you’ll lose the flat. I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.”
“The whole point of you living here is so you learn how to-” Dave cut himself off. “Bloody hell, you’re making me sound like Dad. I want it by the end of the month, Gaz.” He went back to the table and crouched down, staring at the pieces. “Are they wrapped in gold?”
“Copper,” Gary replied. “It must have been coated or something before they made the pieces. The green squares and the edging are copper too, just tarnished.”
Dave shook his head. “For that price I’d want it to be gold.”
Ignoring him, Gary carried the set into his bedroom. He cleared a space on his desk and then positioned the board under the lamp. He wished he knew more about it, but Mr Cuprum never said where it had come from, only that it was his favourite.
“He would have wanted you to have it,” the daughter had said that morning. “Just pay the reserve so the charity doesn’t miss out. It should go to someone who knew him, not just a collector.”
He picked up a rook. The faerie figurine was wearing a castle-shaped hat made of copper. He set it down and picked up a pawn. Each one had been individually made; they had different coloured hair, eyes, dresses and tunics. It was worth a fortune. “Elves?” Gary shook his head. “What a dick.”
The chess board was the first thing Gary looked at after hammering the alarm clock with his fist. He’d dreamt about hunting for lost pawns around the flat as Dave laughed at him. The sight of all of the pieces on the board drove away the worry that any were lost, but something was out of place.
He threw off the duvet and went to the desk. The pawn he’d held the day before was out of line with the rest, two squares ahead of where he’d left it as if a game had begun. He went to move it back but thought about what old Mr Cuprum had said about the curse. His thumb and forefinger trembled above the piece as he wondered whether to leave it there or not.
“Don’t be such a twat,” he whispered to himself. But he left the pawn where it was and moved the pawn opposite one space forwards to start a classic French defence.
When he got back from his lectures the pieces were where he’d left them. He was annoyed at himself for worrying that they wouldn’t be. There was an essay to work on but it seemed far more important to research classic chess matches.
When he woke, slumped over the desk, a third pawn was positioned next to the first one. With a trembling hand he responded, leading the game into the Tarrasch Variation even though he had no idea who – or what – he was playing against.
Every day, Gary woke to a new move in the inexplicable game and after breakfast he responded with his own. Was Mr Cuprum’s ghost trying to win one last game? He’d tried to watch the board all night but he’d fallen asleep. The solution came to him in the shower; he’d set up the web cam and film it overnight. If he left the curtains open a little, the board would be lit by the streetlamp outside. Then he would know, one way or the other, if it was a ghost, or a cursed set or -even worse – only himself.
Coffee in hand the following morning, Gary sped up the video of the board and watched for any signs of change. He expected a ghostly white hand to appear at any moment but as the hours ticked by on the counter below the image he felt stupid.
A flash of white made him spill coffee over his dressing gown. Holding his breath, he moved the video back until he saw something new and then re-started it.
Dave was leaning over the board, holding his nose to stop himself from laughing, like when they were kids playing tricks on their parents. He played the next move shortly after five in the morning.
“Bastard!” Gary yelled at the screen and then laughed. There was no curse, no ghostly eccentric, just his prat of a brother getting revenge for the late rent.
Gary wasn’t sure what bothered him most; that he’d fallen for it or that he was disappointed it wasn’t a ghost.
“Rest in peace, Mr. Cuprum,” he whispered to the faeries.