Stars twinkled overhead as the expanses of space were strewn before the group that emerged onto a brilliantly white celestial plane. Before them, shining amidst the darkness of the cosmos was a gargantuan dome made of crystal. Nobody spoke as they walked, nobody wanted to. Even The Managers were in awe of the spectacle before them. The five beings approached the structure as two great doors opened to permit them entry, revealing a swirling mist within the confines of the transparent walls. Raljex dropped back and allowed The Fourth Dr., who was carrying his Twelfth incarnation, and the Twelfth Manager to pass by him into the fog before them. The Thirteenth Manager held back and stood in front of the Supreme Being, blocking his path. ‘This has gone far enough,’ The Manager hissed. ‘Why do you linger? Destroy The Dr. now and let us be done with it. There is no other way for this to end.’ ‘I have given my reasons,’ Raljex said simply. ‘Your amusement?!’ The Manager fumed. ‘This is no time for games!’ ‘Strange,’ Raljex said, cocking his head to one side. ‘We’re in a games universe of my creation. I would have thought now was the perfect time for games.’ ‘It makes no sense to continue!’ The Manager hissed. ‘Let us destroy The Dr. now! He cannot win this tournament or you will never exist, oh supreme one!’ Raljex rubbed the place where his chin would be with a wispy hand and nodded to himself. ‘I have already told you that everything is going according to plan, Nigel. Why must you persist in questioning me. This confrontation must take place, otherwise …’ ‘Otherwise what?’ ‘Exactly,’ Raljex said and strode forward into the pea-soup fog. He marched purposely forward until he came to the place where the Dr.’s and the Twelfth Manager had come to a stop. Before them was a raised dais that disappeared into the mist, its purpose and contents impossible to see. ‘And what have you been chatting about?’ The Dr. asked the Thirteenth Manager as he approached. ‘Trying for a mercy plea?’ ‘I don’t see it as any business of yours,’ The Manager said haughtily. ‘But, speaking of mercy pleas. If you surrender now, I might just ask Raljex to go easy on you and destroy you quickly once I thrash you.’ ‘Hmmm,’ The Dr. nodded as he lay his unconscious future-self on the ground. ‘Pride comes before a fall.’ ‘And after yours,’ The Manager retorted. Raljex held up his hands for silence and turned to face the group. ‘The two of you who are unnecessary shall remain here, on the sidelines. The Fourth incarnation of The Dr. and the Thirteenth incarnation of The Manager, will follow me.’ Raljex stepped up onto the dais which seemed to be made of white marble and stormed off into the mist. The Dr. checked his Twelfth incarnation’s pulse and then turned to the Twelfth Manager. ‘If you hurt him while I’m gone-’ ‘Please,’ The Twelfth Manager said lazily, holding up a gloved hand. ‘I wouldn’t dream of it. Where’s the sport in killing a wounded adversary? … Especially if he’s not aware enough to feel the pain I’d inflict on him. I have better things to do.’ ‘The warning stands,’ The Dr. said with a menacing glare as he stepped up onto the dais and followed Raljex and The Manager out into the fog. His footsteps echoed off the marble floor which seemed to be tiled alternatively in black and white squares. Soon, he was stood beside his adversary and The Supreme Being, surrounded by the dense whiteness of the mist. ‘Gentlemen,’ Raljex said. ‘This is it. The one battle upon which both your lives depend. Are you ready to see what awaits you?’

‘If this involves collecting gold and silver tokens,’ The Manager growled. ‘Then I’ll be sorely disappointed.’ ‘Nothing so crude,’ Raljex replied and raised his hands in the air. ‘WILL YOU START THE FANS, PLEASE!’ He roared into the nothingness, causing a whirlwind to suddenly blow up out of nowhere. The twister whirled around the three beings until the fog was gone completely, and the two Video Lords finally saw what form their final challenge would take. ‘CHESS?!’ The Manager thundered as he paced up and down the giant chess board on which they were standing. ‘BLOODY CHESS?! VIDEO LORDS HATE CHESS!’ ‘I can never remember how the horse is supposed to move,’ The Dr. admitted, scratching his head. ‘This is beyond a joke!’ The Manager hissed. ‘It is clear that neither of us know how to play this game! What use is this?’ ‘If I had two grand masters,’ Raljex said simply. ‘The game would last an eternity. If I had a Grand Master and a novice, the game would be over in seconds. Two novices however … … … well, it’s always interesting. Besides, it’s not just a game of chess. We, of course have the matter of the assistants!’ There were white flashes all around them as fifteen assistants appeared for both Video Lords on the board. The King spaces remained empty. ‘You’re making my friends into chess pieces?!’ The Dr. shouted hotly at Raljex. ‘Why ever not?’ Raljex cooed. ‘It makes it more interesting if there’s emotional stakes in these kind of things.’ ‘Then how do you explain them?’ The Manager asked angrily, pointing to his side of the board where all of his previous incarnations, along with his deceased wife Ranette in the Queen’s spot and a large creature that wheezed horrifically through a damaged device below it’s emaciated face. A miniature Black Hole swirled beneath its bullet-hole riddles white armour and five remaining arms. ‘Emotional stakes, Nigel,’ Raljex retorted. ‘The Dr. cares about his companions more than himself, that is why they are here. You care for nobody but yourself, and at one time, your wife.’ ‘Then what is that … thing?!’ The Manager cringed, pointing at the vicious cyborg that floated above the ground, seemingly unaided. ‘Richtocorricas Alpha,’ The Dr. said darkly. ‘What fresh hell is this?’ ‘Oh, it’s all part of the game!’ Raljex said with a hoot of laughter. ‘One more little bit of the delightful puzzle I have set before you. Well then, shall we get started? I presume you know enough to know that a Check Mate will win you the game?’ ‘WHAT THE HELL?!’ The Dr. shouted suddenly as his eyes fell upon the person who was supposedly serving as King’s Bishop. It was The Dr.’s own terminally ill Twelfth incarnation. ‘WHAT KIND OF SICK JOKE ARE YOU PLAYING, RALJEX?!’ ‘Ah,’ Raljex said, leaning past the Dr. to view the Video Lord lying on the cold marble floor. ‘Yes, Dr., this brings us to the bonus that you battled so much for.’ ‘Putting his life in danger is my bonus?!’ The Dr. yelled. ‘No,’ Raljex said plainly. ‘Your bonus, Dr. is that you have earned Redemption for the people you see before you. Take a look at the people from your life that I have selected specifically. William Armer,’ Raljex said, pointing to Will-ko who was serving as one of The Dr.’s Knights. ‘A Wizard from another universe cruelly plucked out of time, tortured, altered and scarred. Then there’s The Freaka-chu, a poor creature cursed to be a freak of nature that will live until the very end of time itself with nothing but the ghost of the one who cursed him and the persecution of the universe for company. A fate worse than death if you ask me. ‘CooCooKaJoo, the very last of his race. Everybody he ever knew or loved dead, all because some silly Darlin’s involved in a war between his race and their enemies, which would have gone in the Roostar’s favour had that tragic event not occurred … the same for J’onn J’onzz the last Martian alive, what a Universe it would be if Mars had somehow escaped the interests of the parasitic invaders and lived on! Then we have Skelifish, the exiled reaper, doomed to wander in shame until he kills the entity that murdered his Father.

‘And let us not forget by no means last and nowhere near least, it’s just that I grow weary of explaining everything to you … I present your King’s Rook, Dr.! Mister. Fred. Kelly!’ All eyes that belonged to people that know the name turned to see the black-clad figure stood on the far side of the board. ‘Or are you still going by “Buster”, Mister Kelly?’ Raljex said with a particularly malicious tone in his voice. ‘Never again,’ Fred replied. His face still bore the signs of the burns that The Manager had inflicted upon him. His left eye looked watery and pale, no doubt it was useless now, and none of his hair had grown back. Raljex cut in before anybody could comment. ‘All these people are condemned to misery by single events of catastrophe in their lives … but what if things took a different turn? I can’t change the events that they have influenced, but I can make sure that they never know the difference when I slot them seamlessly back into the lives they should have had! You have earned them Redemption from this fate, Dr.! Should any of your pieces fall in battle, I will grant them freedom, not only from the destruction that they will face should you loose, but also, I will alter their time lines so that they may never fall into the most horrific circumstances that ruined their lives.’ ‘That’s not fair!’ The Dr. said through gritted teeth. ‘In order to give them their lives back, I’ve got to sacrifice them in the game and if I do that for all of them …’ ‘You loose,’ Raljex said simply. ‘How is that a bonus?!’ The Dr. said through gritted teeth. ‘Now I can’t win. You’ve condemned me to death, Raljex.’ ‘Actually, I haven’t,’ Raljex said as he strode to the far side of the board and seated himself on a giant throne that had suddenly appeared. ‘You can always choose to be the cold, heartless bastard that you can be and stuff your friends. Who’s life is more important? That of the last Video Lord or a few poxy nothings that barely register in the footnotes of history?’ ‘That’s not even a question,’ The Dr. said defiantly. ‘You can’t do it,’ Freaka-chu spoke up loudly. ‘If we loose you, any life we have with The Manager ruling the universe will be no life at all.’ ‘I concur,’ Manhunter said simply. ‘You cannot jeopardize your position for the sake of our happiness.’ ‘If it makes you feel any better,’ Will-ko chimed in. ‘We won’t remember any of this anyhow. Neither will you. No harm, no foul.’ ‘Oh, but The Dr. will remember,’ The Manager grinned. ‘If he survives, his final incarnation will be allowed to remember everything that transpired here. Oh, think of the guilt!’ ‘Yes, think of it,’ Raljex boomed from his throne. ‘Think of it as you make your starting moves. Though, I think you’ll find that the King’s don’t begin the game stood in the centre of the board. To your places!’ ‘This is wrong!’ The Dr. scowled ‘There’s no way you can ask me to play this game. Either way this pans out, I loose.’ ‘I thought you’d be quite equipped to deal with defeat by now,’ Raljex said as he examined the ends of his fingers were nails should be. ‘But, if it makes you feel any better, you can save your Twelfth incarnation. His redemption will be to bring an end to the parasite that’s killing him.’ ‘Wonderful. I can save his life so that he can be destroyed at the end of the game.’ ‘Yes,’ Raljex said with a nod. ‘It does look rather dire doesn’t it? But people have won games with only their King and a handful of pawns before now. It can be done Dr. If you can’t do it … then you’re just not trying hard enough.’ ‘This is wrong,’ The Dr. said, fixing Raljex with a steely gaze. ‘Something’s going on here and I don’t like it one bit.’ ‘Too bad,’ The Manager sneered from his side of the board. ‘I’m having the time of my lives!’

‘LET THE ENDGAME BEGIN!’ Raljex thundered from his throne. ‘THE MANAGER MOVES FIRST!’ ‘Why?’ The Manager said, blinking. Raljex slapped his forehead. ‘Because you are playing with the White pieces, Nigel.’ ‘Ah, yes,’ The Manager said, straightening his jacket as he looked around at incarnations one-to-eight that made up his Pawns. ‘Okay,’ he said, rubbing his hands together. ‘How do Pawns move again?’

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