Date: August 21, 2012
The game to extend Sousa's life transpires, and is rather unlike what he was expecting.
"Blood Red Sandman - Checkmate"
Sousa stares thoughtfully at the gigantic chess board which occupies the space between him and Death. It's all going incredibly well. 'Incredibly' being a word which, in this case, is not merely expressing extremity, as it's so often blithely used. No, here it really does mean 'not credible'. Sousa can't believe it. He doesn't trust it. He is playing a game of pure strategy and logical forethought against a being unbound by human limitations of thought and reputed to be nigh-undefeatable…and Sousa has not lost a single piece.
He had prepared for this event, to be certain. In what time he could spare from more pressing matters (amazing how many issues a Kage faces more pressing than cheating death), he researched and studied the game. Openings, patterns, edge cases, even the mathematical theories underlying the game, he read any texts he could find related to it. He often found himself writing in the margins, noting possible improvements to the strategies presented. He thought too about meta-game. How do you play to best advantage against a non-human opponent? Is position more valuable than capture, seeing as leaving a large number of pieces on the board maintains a more complex problem space and thus favors the human ability of pattern-matching? Would cheating be possible, and if so how worth the risk? Would a being which has existed for thousands of years, perhaps even eternally, be helped or hindered by the imposition of time limits?
Sousa's conclusion on that last one was that a time-limited game, better yet a rushed one, would be more likely to be to his own advantage than an unlimited one. It turned out that he didn't have any say in the matter anyway, the game was set to give each player a moderately restrictive fifteen minutes to burn through. But now, even with a clearly dominant position on the board, Sousa finds that the ticking clock is his adversary.
Death-san had wasted no time whatsoever with each move, silently shifting his ghostly pieces into seemingly careless positions. Sousa's own forces had worked cautiously into a network of mutual cover, then systematically dismantled the other side. The monks who had raised Sousa, acting now as pawns, marched forward as an impenetrable wall. Rurohashi Ruri and Onohara Meimei, the knights, flew over the ranks to pounce on undefended foes before leaping back to safety. Council members Watanabe Itami and Kuroki Kuoroke sliced through the gaps as bishops, cutting the apparitions as keenly as they cut through the board space. Mara and Michi, Sousa's former assistants, patrolled the back ranks as rooks, ensuring the stability of the war machine. And the queen, a scholarly woman named Mei-Lin who was apparently Sousa's mother, stood steadfastly in the rear guarding the king, an orphan genin called Risu.
Sousa knits his brow, looking at the few remaining pieces huddled around Death-san's king. He can practically see all the remaining movement paths available to Death-san, all of them easily shut down. Death-san couldn't possibly have some flabbergasting comeback ready at this point, the structure of the game simply wouldn't allow it. There's something going on here beyond the confines of the game itself, and Sousa needs time to figure out what it is…time he doesn't have.
"YOU'VE ONLY A MINUTE LEFT, YOU KNOW." Sousa looks up suddenly; that was the first time Death-san had spoken since the match began. "IT WOULD BE A SHAME TO LOSE ON TIME WHEN YOU'VE SUCH A CLEAR ADVANTAGE."
Sousa looks at Death-san gaugingly, though it does little good to scrutinize that expressionless face. "You want me to win, don't you?"
"AS I SAID BEFORE, IF YOU FAIL, WE ALL FAIL. I MAY NOT LIKE DEVIATIONS IN SCHEDULE, BUT IF YOU ARE NOT SENT BACK TO RECTIFY CERTAIN EVENTS, THERE WILL BE FAR MORE THAN A LITTLE RESHUFFLING OF YEARS FROM ONE PERSON TO ANOTHER."
Sousa sweeps his arm out over the board. "Then why all this formality?! Why not just do what's necessary?!"
"THIS HAS BEEN PRESENTED TO YOU AS A GAME BECAUSE IT IS THE BEST WAY YOU ARE ABLE TO PERCEIVE IT, BUT THERE IS MORE GOING ON WITH EVERY MOVE THAN YOU CAN KNOW. THE STRINGS OF EVERYTHING ARE BEING PULLED BY YOUR CHOICES. I CANNOT CHOOSE HOW OUR PURPOSE WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED, BECAUSE I WAS NOT MADE WITH SOMETHING MEN WERE MADE WITH. IT IS YOU WHO MUST CHOOSE WHOSE TIME IS SACRIFICED, AND YOU MUST DO SO NOW."
Sousa quirks his head, then scowls. What IDIOCY!!! >.< Death-san may know and perceive things far beyond what any current human can, but is he really so BLIND to the state of the game?! Regardless of what complexities are being manipulated by it, the game itself is abstract and rigidly logical, and Sousa's brain is more than enough to master this tiny corner of the remaining game space. The Kazekage barks orders, and his army jumps to obey them. Death-san moves his own pieces with the same silent apathy he has displayed the whole time. One by one they are devoured, cutting the tree of possibilities in Sousa's mind smaller and smaller. Finally it reaches a wholly inevitable branch, which the pieces blitz along with three seconds on Sousa's clock to spare. "CHECKMATE!!!"
Sousa pants slightly, though he doubts he's actually breathing air, while Death-san places a bony digit on top of his king's head and slowly tilts it over. "Well, and what does that mean, Death-san? I never sacrificed a single piece, and I still won."
Mei-Lin turns and shakes her head at Sousa. "Sousa-chan, it was never about which pieces are removed from the game. They would not have had their years sacrificed even if that had happened."
Sousa looks puzzled. "Then…how does this determine…" Death-san's king falls over with a silent tremor that shakes the very existence of the place. An emptiness yawns open from the spot where the piece stood, and a bright tendril comes up out of it, weaving taller and taller before turning and reaching toward the piece that had made the winning capture. "…Oh." o.o
"He's waking up! Keep applying chakra!"
Sousa slowly opens his eyes. He's surrounded by medical ninja, who are fervently trying to keep a perfect balance of chakra flowing into his still-cold body without overwhelming it. "Kazekage-sama, don't move, you're suffering from hypothermia and extreme chakra deprivation. Just lie still, we need to stabilize you."
Sousa nods faintly and closes his eyes again. So, that's whose life will end sooner than it would've, to give Sousa more time…would he have chosen differently if he'd known what he was doing? It's hard to say. -.-
…Probably a pawn. :P