The Game: Knight or Pawn
By Sean McDonald

"I have good news for you, Spectreblade. After weíre done here, youíll be free to go." It was something the black knight with the possessed armor was waiting to hear for a long time. "That doesnít mean weíre done, though."
"I know. Iíll still have to come back twice a week for the next month, right, Dr. Collins?"
"Thatís right." The empathy therapist replied as he adjusted his glasses. Dr. Collins had a special talent with matters of the psyche, more so than most psychiatrists thanks to his mental abilities. He had a lot of patients, many of them heroes, but he had never had to treat both a hero and his costume before. He spent a great deal of time repairing the damage to both their minds, and now he was ready to send them back out into the world. "Now I know youíre thinking about going right back to crime-fighting the second you walk out that door. Youíre still not completely free from the Gamesterís attempt to control your mind, so take it easy," he warned. Spectreblade was thankful he only had therapy to deal with and wasnít in some secret lair somewhere. "Good old Obsidian Shield," he thought. The good doctor answered his thoughts with words "Yes, your armorís mental shielding is quite impressive, but this is serious. Just stay safe. Iíve never lost a patient and I donít plan on starting now."
"I know," Spectreblade sighed as he got his belongings together. "By the way, I got one question before I leave."
Dr. Collins knew what he was going to ask. "You want to know why I never became a hero, is that it? Well, to be honest, itís because I value my life. I may have psychic powers, but Iím not in the best of shape. I donít have any armor to protect me or anything fancy like that."
"I understand. Well then, youíve been kind, but I look forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight, so itís time I got outta here."
"Okay, then. So, is next Tuesday at two a good time for our next appointment?"
"Sure, Doc." Spectreblade told the doctor. There was nothing left now but for the hero to bow out and get home.

He was jolted awake by the cacophony of cash registers, shattering glass, children yelling, and flute music. John OíDonnell looked around and saw only his bedroom around him and his favorite suit of armor in the far corner. He groggily thought to himself "Typical. My first night back and I get woken up by some weird dream. Well, I guess I better get back to sleep if I want to be up in time to see myself on the six AM news. Letís see how much time I got left." He looked at his alarm clock. It was 5:50. "Funny," he grumbled. "No point in going back to sleep now." John shuffled his way to the living room of his Steel Canyon penthouse. It was a great location in the Copper District with a good view of the skyscrapers Steel Canyon was famous for, but the inside was modest and just a little cluttered. He had a small fortune thanks to the weapons exhibit he helped put together at the Paragon Art Museum, but there was, of course, one piece he wouldnít dare sell off.

The news report of his latest adventure was woefully short, in Spectrebladeís humble opinion. They were used to snowman attacks by now and they jumped straight into a story about the latest new gizmo up for sale at the Talos Island branch of Exarch Industries. It struck a chord with John, but not because it was a cool toy. He looked back on his dream. "No doubt about it. Thatís the place," he thought. "Somethingís going down over there." He went to get his armor.

"Were we not told to refrain from fighting?" Spectrebladeís armor thought as he ran across the rooftops of Talos Island through the chilly winter air.
Its wearer thought back, "Yeah, but this could be our chance to get some of those missing kids back to their parents."
"We are taking a chance by disobeying Dr. Collins."
"We have to. The stakes are too high for us to just sit around."

Spectreblade soon arrived at Exarch Industries. Sure enough, something was indeed going down. There were dozens of children there, carrying boxes of electronics out the back door to masked man in a red jacket and tights. The feather in his hat gave his identity away. "Oh, no. Of all the goons the Gamester couldíve sent to lead this raid, it had to be Piper," Spectreblade griped. This was the same Piper who made a school gymnasium full of concerned parents dance uncontrollably. This was also the same Piper responsible for his recent convalescence.
"We canít risk an encounter with him," the armor cautioned.
"Agreed. I donít want all that therapy to be undone by some clown with a pipe. Letís concentrate on getting the kids home."

Spectrebladeís armor faded into a wispy shadow and put up its invaluable mental shield as he walked into the storefront. The children continued their work, oblivious to his presence. One boy smashed open display cases and emptied their contents into a bag. A little girl with earmuffs clumsily pointed a high-tech pulse rifle at the cashier with one hand and held a stuffed cat in the other. All around, they worked like a beehive collecting electronics for the Gamester. These werenít the kind of opponents Spectreblade was used to, but it didnít take long to figure out how to win without hurting the kids.

The girl with the earmuffs started to cry as her shiny new toy was ripped from her hand and thrown out the window. The others turned toward her in unison. The cashier was quick to run for the door and escape. With the greatest threat in the room neutralized and the children closing in, Spectreblade got to work. His armor began to emit a faint red glow around him, borrowing some of his life force to keep the nearby kids dazed. The first of the kids to approach the big scary knight found himself disoriented, and while he was in a stupor, Spectreblade put a small device on his back to transport him to the authorities. Such devices were commonplace among heroes for sending defeated enemies to the police. The boy was small enough to be transported away even though he was still able to resist. "Thereís one set of parents who will rest easy tonight." He thought.

One by one the remaining kids were teleported out the same way. The effort to keep them stunned had left him badly drained, but it was almost over. There was just one left; the girl who was wielding a pulse rifle a few seconds ago. Spectreblade couldnít see her, but he could still hear her sniffling behind the counter. The shadowy knight climbed over it and reached for another device, but he was out of them. "Not now!" he yelled angrily. "Of all the times to run outÖ" The childís sniffles turned to screams as she scampered away in a panic, leaving her doll behind. Then a shout came from the back door.

"Hurry up in there!" It was Piper.
"Help me, uncle Piper!" the little girl screamed. Piper reached for his flute but Spectreblade knocked it out of his hand with his sword.
"Itís about time a worthy opponent showed up," the knight roared, his exhaustion showing in his voice.
"Just who do think you are, scaring my kids like that?"
"Donít tell me you havenít heard of Ė"
Spectreblade fell to the floor. The child stood behind him, pulse rifle back in hand, still holding back tears.
"Is it over now, uncle Piper?" she asked.
"Itís over now, sweetie. That mean man wonít hurt you anymore." He assured her as he picked his flute back up.
Spectreblade was unconscious, but his armor still had some life left. "Iím sorry, little one, but I have to do this." The little girl began to feel something tugging at her soul. She felt some of her energy being drained away as the shrouded knight rose up from the floor in front of her. She let out a scream of fear and pain as Spectreblade took his second wind from her. Piper immediately started playing his flute while the kid made sure her earmuffs were still on. He didnít have time to shield himself and soon he was back on the floor.

Piper walked over to the poor child as she continued to wail. "Itís okay now. He wonít get up this time," he said, trying to comfort her. "Uncle Gamesterís gonna let you have all the toys you want when we get back home. How does that sound?"
"Thank you, uncle Piper."

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