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One Slip and Prime Mover

by Susannah
Prize Winner, Category 3

This sort of grew on me. It has two short stories, and an explanation of the game involved. The second story is named after the game. Enjoy.

One Slip

One slip, and down a hole we fall
it seems to take, no time at all...

        --Pink Floyd, "One Slip"

Hedgewizard's Dragon Three to King's Falcon Two.
Queen's Wolf Three to HD3.
Midwife's Cat Six to QW3.

He reached uncertainly to his Necromancer's Dragon Six, his highest piece, then pulled his hand back. He could almost hear his Gamemaster's Voice in the next room. Almost.


"Don't even think about it."

"Shaegar, you should let the boy play on his own instincts. He won't have you to help him on the battlefield."

"This isn't the battlefield. This is a tournament."

The younger man shook his head and looked back through the one way mirror at the young boy and his female adversary.


With firm resolve in his head, said young boy picked up the Dragon piece and brought it out into the Move. The young woman suddenly sat back, clearly uncomfortable. He didn't let his emotions show on his face, but was inwardly smiling--she'd been afraid of that Move. Why was the question, and he began to desperately search for an answer.

_There. That's why. In four Moves I take one of her truly high ranking pieces, the Midwife's Cat._

But then he saw why he shouldn't have moved the Dragon. _Oh by the Four, she takes the Dragon three Moves later. Damn it all. How did I fall for that._

He began hunting for a way out of the trap. He had to keep the Dragon. It was his only piece that was on level with hers; she clearly had the advantage in higher pieces for the Move. Her group was largely composed of fives and sixes, with the occasional low ranking piece, while his was an extremist group: five Phalanx at five or above, and five at three or below.

_I'm screwed._


"He's screwed now," Shaegar muttered to himself. Seeing the next seven Moves patterned in his own head, he cursed. Then they began Moving pieces, and he didn't see Matteo making an attempt to break out of the course. He turned away from the window and shook his head.

"Stay calm, Shaegar. Matt knows what he's doing."

Shaegar snorted in response.

"I hope for his sake that you're right, Ashar."


_I hope this works._

One Move from the loss of his Dragon, he did the unthinkable, and began using Influence pieces. First, the Necromancer's Unicorn One. Two spaces to the left.

The adversary sat back in her chair and stared at the board so hard Matt was afraid the wobbly wooden table would cave in under the combined weight of her stare and the marble gaming board.

_Good. Good. She can't see it._


"There," Ashar murmured softly. "There it is."

Shaegar turned back to look out at the board. A puzzled expression crossed his face, to be soon replaced by a contemplation almost as deep as the young girl's.

_What is he doing..._


Midwife's Dog Two three spaces diagonal down.
ND6 to General's Warhorse Two.
MD2 two spaces to the left.
Elementalist's Griffin One two spaces forward.
Sorcerer's Pegasus Four to Colonel's Dracosai One.


Shaegar blinked.

"The slip," he murmured softly, quite surprised. Ashar looked at him curiously.

"The what?" the young teacher asked his older mentor. Shaegar was ignoring him though.

"That's it, Matteo, that's it...take advantage of her mistake. Drive in the wedge. But don't Move until you know what to do. Don't Move until you know where you're going."


_Something happened. I can almost see it. She just made a big mistake. Where. Where._

He could feel Master Shaegar's eyes on his back. _I'll bet he already knows. So what is he seeing I'm not. What is he looking at. Where is it? Where..._


It was the feeling a fisherman has when getting a terribly elusive fish on the hook after hours of desperate hits and misses. The fear that it will slip away before he fully realizes what has happened, and what he is seeing. Matt kept his eyes locked on his Necromancer's Dragon, and in the distance he could see a King's Falcon and a Herder's Parrot, but their shapes were fuzzy. Indistinct.

There was a moment where the sight of how it would all pan out might have slipped free from his grasp, but it was gone as quickly as it had come. The fear that the slippery fish would leap off his hook evaporated in the face of the next eleven Moves.

He had her.


"He has her," Shaegar said with great satisfaction.


Captain's Snake Three to Sorcerer's Griffin Four.
SP4 two spaces to the right.
CS3 two spaces diagonal down.
King's Council Fox Five to CS3.
ND6 three spaces forward.
Duke's Fox Two to KCF5.
Lady's Falcon Two three spaces back.
Colonel's Dracosai Two one space forward.
ND6 one space to the left.

She reached for her Colonel's Dracosai, then stopped.

_She sees it now. Too late though. I've got her right where she needs to be._

The adversary sat back in her seat and sulked for a few minutes. Then she slowly and with great reluctance reached out and laid down her Captain's Jaguar Six, the highest piece in the Move. She was Conceding before the Move was over.

Matt reached out a shaky hand across the board and shook with her.


Shaegar snorted and tried to keep the smug look off of his face.

"He still has a lot to learn. If she'd not made that mistake, he'd be done for."

Ashar raised an eyebrow at Shaegar but smiled. "How does anyone truly win but through another's mistakes?"

"Indeed," came the reply.

Prime Mover

From the point of ignition
to the final drive
the point of a journey
is not to arrive...

    --Rush, "Prime Mover"


"Shit," she muttered under her breath. She should've seen it coming. Really. It all looked so obvious now, thinking back over Asgan's last five Moves. The pattern of his decisions stood stark in her mind. It bore a noticeable amount of resemblance to all the other Rounds she'd ever played against him, which should have set off alarm bells in her head at the last pass. But noooooo. She'd been so wrapped up in her own tactics that she'd totally lost sight of his.

_Hindsight's always 20/20..._ she thought blackly. _This is what
Master Kasgae meant when he said I have tunnel vision._

And now he had her right where he wanted her. Forced into the turtle morph. By the gods. Somewhere on the other side of the country there was a young man sitting at a gaming board in a holoroom, laughing himself silly, she was sure of it. He'd have her Necromancer's Griffin Four if she had to Spar as a turtle.

_Damn him. He KNOWS I can't play in the testudinarian morph. I mean, my record clearly shows where I start losing--and it's whenever I get backed into this damned corner...one of these days, I'll get this piece traded in for something decent, like a Falcon Six..._

_Okay, so my choices. The turtle morph, obviously. Take his Necromancer's Dragon Five, which puts my Sorcerer's Pegasus Three at the mercy of his King's Falcon Four...and in two more moves that leads me straight into Midwife's Turtle Six._

_There has to be something else,_ she thought angrily, slapping her thigh. _There has to be._ After a few more minutes speculation, she could see that there was, but it would involve a very risky move on her part.

_Instead I take Queen's Wolf Ten...which gets me to..._

She followed the Moves. She'd be General's Dracosai Five for the Sparring Match, if she did that. It wasn't the smartest thing to do--she'd never sparred as a Dracosai before, and Asgan clearly had a reputation of winning as Dracosai. She'd only recently won the piece in a Round against an amateur, and never had the chance to bring it into play, except as a pawn to be moved about and cause other pieces to Move where she wanted them to. Her chief Sparring pieces were King's Grackle Seven and Necromancer's Unicorn Eight. But both of them were immobile for this Sparring Match...no thanks to Asgan's careful planning.

_Well, if I follow the turtle move through, I'll be Sparring as one, against a wolf or a fox. Not good, especially since his Wolf is a Queen Ten. I might be able to at least garner a few points as the Dracosai, and he might not get away with my Necromancer's Griffin Four..._

_He IS going to be Drac Nine to my Five, though, and I've never Sparred as a hominid morph before._

She tried to think of it as a learning experience. Every other Move, aside from those two, brought them both to Straight Loss in their own fashion. So it wasn't really debatable, unless giving up was on the agenda. She could throw the game; it wasn't seen as entirely stupid or cowardly to do so. Save pieces, points, and brain power for another day.

_No! I'm TIRED of losing to him! It's beginning to piss me off._

So she did it. Her Hedgewizard's Dragon Two took his Queen's Wolf Ten, which in turn was avenged by his General's Dracosai Nine, and put her General's Dracosai Five in the Sphere at the end of the Move.

The room flickered about her as the holographics kicked in. She felt her body begin to itch, and then her skin was contorting and stretching, and even tearing in spots. It was a rough transformation--the spines of a dracosai were not terribly compatible with human skin. Her face elongated and her teeth grew murderous points. A whiplike tail lashed out behind her, and wings sprouted from her sides. After a few difficult moments of total disorientation, she stumbled to her feet, panting. The colors of the room had gained a strange, keen edge, as had the smells.

"I didn't expect that move, Nasha. Are you sure you want to Spar like this? I'll let you Recall the Move..."

She turned and found herself face a dracosai of black scales with brilliant yellow eyes. He was armed with a katana sword and a dagger, and of course his own claws, fangs, and skills. At Level Nine, he only had to defeat a General's Dracosai Ten to gain full ability as the species. It would make him a highly employable fighter--the dracosai were very useful when it came to combat. They combined the best abilities of humans and dragons, something none of the other forms did. Unfortunately, the morphing to and from the form was, as Nashara had just discovered, very painful and disorienting, and often could only be managed once or twice a day. This meant once you shifted into a dracosai, you were stuck that way until you were strong enough to shift again.

A Five rating got her a quarterstaff instead of a bladed weapon, and less ability. However, her instincts were supposed to be keener than his. Supposed to being the operative term. She, unlike Asgan, had done a lot of fighting in the lower Classes, and hence had to rely on things other than weapons and size. Her scales were golden brown and her eyes brilliant green.

"Better thisss than aszzz a turrrtle to yourrr wolf." Nashara found the voice difficult to speak with. It lisped and hissed considerably. Asgan smiled in the only way a dracosai could, by baring his teeth. He was highly amused by this display.

"You're better at the lower forms, Nasha. You know that," he replied, his voice smooth like silk, taunting her just enough to get under the skin.

"Then perrhapsss it'sss time I learrrned a higherrr forrrrm. Yesss?" She cursed her voice for lisping so badly and without further ado sprung at him. Asgan leapt nimbly to one side and made a small slice with his katana that just grazed the hand Nasha'd been using to swipe at him. Her quarterstaff came around in an unforeseen swing and connected soundly with the back of his head. Asgan grunted and tumbled to one side, shaking his head to clear it.

Nashara came about and let out a hissing snarl that was, amongst the dracosai, a mocking laugh.

"Not as defenseless as I thought," Asgan hissed as he got to his feet. "Come then, Nasha. Let's get this over with. I don't want to bruise your pride any more than necessary."

Nasha snorted and kept moving about Asgan in a slow circle, waiting for him to make the first move. She needed to be the one reacting, not acting--he had too much of an advantage over her. Every mistake he made had to be exploited to its full potential.

And then came a rather glaring error in judgment on his part--he lunged at her instead of being patient enough to taunt her. Nasha leapt back and brought her quarterstaff to bear, knocking the katana from Asgan's hand at the hilt. His high-pitched scream of anger had Nasha wincing and she had to concentrate on him to make sure he didn't pull anything while he attempted to deafen her. Deprived of his sword, he was left with the dagger. His tail snaked out from behind and would have wrapped around Nasha's left foot if she hadn't swatted it aside with her own. Unfortunately this was just as good for Asgan; his tail twined around hers and he jerked her to the ground with one good pull. Nasha shrieked in surprise and brought her quarterstaff down on Asgan's tail soundly as she fell to the ground. His response was to immediately slash at her with the dagger, which gave Nasha a good cut along the forearm she used to block the dagger from reaching her stomach. She made a vicious snap with her jaws at Asgan's other arm, and almost had him, but he caught her chin at the last moment with his free hand. Nasha kicked him in the stomach before he could use his own teeth to do her any damage, and untangled herself from him. She stumbled away and assessed the damage.

Left forearm bleeding profusely. Otherwise she was mostly okay. Asgan had more quantity than quality of damage. He limped away from her and stood panting.

"You're good, Nasha. Better than I'd thought." Asgan spat some blood to one side and stood up straight.

"Thanks forrr the compliment. Shall we finish thisss?" She was finding it easier to speak, now that she'd been in the form long enough to learn its habits. She swished her tail and watched Asgan carefully, quarterstaff at the ready. He was edging towards his katana. One good jump would likely put him within reach of it. Unless...

"Finish? So soon? Well...if you insist--"

He leapt towards the sword. So did she. Her quarterstaff was too slow and she suddenly found herself holding two pieces of wood and not one. With a frustrated growl she swung one of the halves at Asgan and connected solidly with his left side. He grunted in pain and doubled over, giving her the chance to knee him in the head. He spun backwards and grabbed at the wall of the room for support. Nasha stood back, tail lashing. He looked up at her, blood streaming from his nose and mouth.

"Feisty little bitch," Asgan snapped. He sat down abruptly, putting a hand to his swaying and battered head. "I Concede to you. Will a Queen's Wolf Ten be enough to satisfy you?"

Nashara hid her elation, attempting to sound only mildly curious. She succeeded partially. "You're Conceding? Why?"

"Because...I'm not really in any shape to be battling you at this point...and I'll be stuck like this for days if we keep on going." Asgan spat, trying to get some of the blood out of his mouth. Nashara glanced at her gaming board furtively.

_A Ten Piece. A Ten!_ She could hardly believe it.

"Yes, Queen's Wolf Ten will satisfy me," she replied evenly.

"Good." Asgan slowly stood and bowed to her, then retrieved his weapon. "I'm sure you gained enough skill points to qualify for General's Dracosai Seven...check your piece standings after the results are posted," he called over his shoulder as he walked towards the far entrance. The holoroom flickered, and suddenly she was standing alone, Asgan's image gone. Her injuries vanished, having simply been part of the rooms effects--the pain was generated by the holoroom itself. She was well winded, and not likely to be shifting anytime soon.

Nashara slowly walked over to her gaming board. All of Asgan's pieces vanished, save the Queen's Wolf Ten. It was a very lovely sculpting, of a proud blackwolf standing atop a rock outcropping, nose pointed to some distant star. She traced the figure. Her highest Queen piece was a Falcon

_Wolf Ten! Can you believe it!_

Nashara set it down and carefully began packing the pieces into the small space below the board that was provided for them. _We'll just see how long it takes me to be as desirable a fighter as Asgan,_ she thought to herself proudly.

Prime Mover

When Shapeshifters fight, it's a lot like rock paper scissors. They morph and duke it out, each reacting to the other's shapechange with their own. The point of this game is to hone a Shapeshifter's ability in using the various forms. The game only uses 21 forms. There are obviously more available, but the point of the game is not to know a huge number of forms, but to be very capable within a certain set. These are the ones most commonly used in battles.

The board is a fifteen by fifteen sided, checkered pattern. Color patterns are dependent on the player's preference. Everyone has their own board and pieces. Holorooms are used for Sparring and Moves. The rooms can tap into one's neurons and simulate the feeling of pain when one is injured--all the injuries are holographic in nature. Playing can be done unofficially and is quite often, amongst friends. Unofficial play, however, doesn't gain one any skill points or pieces. Better pieces mean better equipment and abilities when Sparring. The Dragons and Dracosai are most notably effected here--Necromancer's Dragon Ten, for example, has lightning-breath abilities, and General's Dracosai Ten is armed to the teeth, as it were.

Anatomy of the game


The Four Classes
The Rulers
  • Tier One: King
  • Tier Two: Queen
  • Tier Three: King and Queen's Council
  • Tier Four: Nobility
    • Duke/Duchess
    • Lord/Lady
    • Prince/Princess
The Magi
  • Tier One: Sorcerer
  • Tier Two: Elementalist
  • Tier Three: Necromancer
  • Tier Four: Hedgewizard
The Warriors
  • Tier One: General
  • Tier Two: Lieutenant
  • Tier Three: Colonel
  • Tier Four: Captain
The People
  • Tier One: Farmer
  • Tier Two: Craftsman
  • Tier Three: Herder
  • Tier Four: Midwife
Skill levels: 1-10

Pieces are named as "Tier-Animal-Skill". In the case of Tier Four of the Rulers, the naming is "SubTier-Animal-Skill". Such as "Duke's Flacon Four".



Each piece has a predefined set of Moves. Shapeshifters go through an entire 2 year course in school defining all the Moves of the pieces, and learning various strategies. A small subset is listed here for simplicity:

Tier Four of Class Two (The Magi): The Hedgewizard
Hedgewizard's Dragon
  1. When Influence:
    • Four spaces in any straight direction
    • Two spaces in any diagonal direction
  2. When Phalanx:
    • Two spaces in any direction
Hedgewizard's Unicorn
  1. When Influence:
    • Two spaces in one direction, then two more in the perpendicular of that direction.
    • One space in any direction
  2. When Phalanx:
    • Three spaces in any direction

Definition of a Move: the Phalanx and the Influence

Each player may use 30 pieces on the board at any given time, to be decided prior to a Round. The pieces may not be changed once the Round has begun. The center 10 pieces, in 2 different rows, are the Move pieces; that is to say, the pieces that can take and be taken, and can be used in Sparring Matches. These pieces are known as the Phalanx. The pieces that are not part of a Move and cannot be Sparred with, but instead shuffle around on the board as a means of getting in the way of the Phalanx, are known as the Influence.


The P's here are the Phalanx, the I's are the Influence. Choosing one's Phalanx pieces is important. They are the only pieces that can be used for Sparring. One might think that only the highest pieces will be here, but any true player of the game will know that this is foolery. The lower ranking pieces can only be traded for higher ones if they are part of a Move. That is the risk one takes with having pieces in the Sphere of Movement. The Influence can only be used to force the Phalanx into various positions.

How to Move the pieces

Obstruction of path only matters for pieces that are part of a Move (i.e. the Phalanx). For those outside the Move (i.e. the Influence), it does not. The piece "hops" from one position to another. This is how they influence the Move but are not a part of it--they can block the path of Phalanx pieces, which must not have anything in their way. If something IS in their way, the piece may either halt where the blockage is and take it (if it is a Phalanx piece), or not Move (if it is an Influence piece; Influence pieces can NOT be taken).

Moves may be Passed and Recalled; Recalls must be agreed upon by the opponent. You are not required, at any time, to Move. It's not considered very wise, but some great saves have been made by waiting until the opponent's strategy was clear, and THEN making a decision as to what to do. Some great saves have also been made when a person in a winning position is so confident that they allow the current underdog to amend a mistake.

Some Clarification on Terminology

Getting to Sparring

The end of a Move is defined as when each player has one piece left from the Phalanx. The two have a Sparring Match as the given piece they end with. The winner of the Match may have any of the pieces of the loser that were involved in the Move. Most often, the loser makes an offer and the winner declines or agrees. Unreasonable requests on the part of the winner are frowned upon. Being a good winner is as important as being a good loser.

Special Case: the Straight Loss

In chess, when your King is in check, you're not allowed to move it into a position where it can be taken, or to leave it in one either. Because Prime Mover doesn't work this way, it's possible to throw a game without Conceding. You simply let all of your Move pieces get taken. This is known as a Straight Loss. It's considered to be a suicidal attempt at finishing the Round--no Sparring, no pieces lost. It's a great sacrifice in points (losing pieces and gaining them in the Move is one way of garnering points), but it's a good way to save a valuable piece if it's become part of the spoils for Sparring.

The Point of the game

To hone Sparring and strategy formation abilities. Like chess. The name comes from the fact that, in the world where this game is used, learning is the prime mover. Your experiences in getting somewhere are just as important, if not more so, than getting there. Obtaining pieces is not the only goal. Neither is being a good fighter.

The author thanks Dev, that wilely yote, for his help with terminology. ;> Many good ideas are to be had in his head. Maybe next time I'll remember to go back and make dessertful grammar corrections.

Susannah!>>><<<And if the doors of perception were finally cleansed...I could take my place again and my love for the world would be wild and pure and not for this goddamned...limiter.
* * *
Copyright 1997: Susannah <NIOBIUM@HACKS.Arizona.EDU> . If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first. Thank you

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