"Oh, good. I can do detecting gravitational fields, even faint ones. Uhh... thataway?" Voitrach, seeing that the way he pointed leads straight into a wall, starts pulling away chunks of rock to either side to make a tunnel.
Granite tastes like dust. Magic, as any wizard will tell you, tastes like tin. Anyone can recognize the taste of salt, and silver has its own distinctive bite. People don't think about mineral flavors very often, but most can recognize a wider variety of inorganic flavors than they realize. Annaliese, for instance, was tasting iron at the moment. A lot of iron.
Anna scrambled to her feet, a task made much more difficult by attempting to do it quietly and with one hand clamped to her nose. Okay, so. Clearly the mana in this area was unstable. Ordinarily that spell wouldn't wear off like that; they must be near some sort of natural leyline or something. Messing with the flow of chakrums. Chacka. Something. Magic energy, okay?
Anna took a couple tottering steps towards the still-open balcony doors; after that man who had yelled at her had moved his attention elsewhere, everyone had seemed to forget about her again. This suited Anna just fine; she didn't need a bunch of psychos and murderers concentrating on her anyway. Not that she couldn't handle it, obviously, it was just... Untoward. Couldn't go around upstaging everyone, I mean really that sort of thing...
It was while she was occupied with this train of thought that the witch wandered into a corridor leading away from the arena. As often happened when she was in the middle of her internal monologues, Annaliese was even more out of touch with the world around her than usual.
Greyve had been meandering through the corridors for most of the time since the round started: he'd encountered a few small rooms full of bizarre runes and even fuller of little exploding rock spirits; the half-oni had had little trouble disposing of the little pests, and had rather enjoyed grabbing them as they launched at him, swinging them around with their own momentum, and sending them barreling back at their companions. Still, there hadn't been much challenge, and he'd been promised real opponents.
After clearing yet another apparently-pointless room of its explodey denizens, Greyve leaned against a wall, metallic fingertips pinging against the stone. As usual, without the sounds of violent spirits trying to blow up on him, there was no sound other than what Greyve made himself. After a few moments of lounging against the stone, he sighed and stood up, heading to a pair of corridors that led out of the room. He picked one at random and started down it, then started as he heard some unidentifiable noise behind him. The half-demon turned and went back into the chamber he'd just left, looking around and completely failing to divine the source of the now-silent sound. His eyes narrowed, then he heard it again. From the other hallway came the unmistakable strains of conversation from a ways off. Smiling and cracking his knuckles, Greyve headed for the source.
... And really, who could be blamed for that sort of thing? Anna had her knife out now, after having used it to remove a large cobweb from her path, and was absentmindedly gesturing with it as she talked to herself. It's not like she'd asked to be involved in some sort of interplanar deathmatch. Nobody ever asked Anna's opinions, and she had so many of them. Maybe this was just the opportunity she needed to stand out, make people realize who she was. For that matter...
As he'd travelled down the corridor, Greyve had spotted a knife-wielding woman coming the other way. He pressed himself against the wall, banking on her not having spotted him in the half-light, and crept towards her. His heart pounded and his lips curled into an involuntary smile as he approached; he held in the satisfied sigh as she made to move past him, and his gauntleted hand snaked out to grab her wrist. She yelped and made to pull away, but the toned demon just pulled her closer and twisted her arm behind her. He chuckled quietly to himself as she struggled, Forcing her back along the corridor the way she came. "I... Don't make me... Magic!" The woman's other palm came out of nowhere and dealt a glancing blow to Greyve's chin; he winced, and pinned her other hand to her side. She continued to pull back, forcing her captor to move back the corridor towards the arena.
If he hadn't been so excited about his first battle, the half-oni probably would have exercised more caution, or even just finished Annaliese sooner; as it was, he was enjoying the thrill of having an opponent, and was paying too little attention to his surroundings. He'd forgotten that the voice he'd heard was male, and therefore hadn't realized there was at least one other person in the room he was moving towards.
Anna, for her part, was panicking far too much to consciously decide to move towards the others; it was simply terrified instinct to move backwards away from a threat like this. It wasn't often that she was manhandled by muscular six foot men, and even more uncommon that those men had small, curved horns peeking out of their hair. Actually, there hadn't been much manhandling at all in Anna's life, and possibly as a consequence of this, a panicked little voice in the back of her mind was screaming the word INCUBUS over and over again. It was this voice that made Anna the sort of woman who, if she lived in modern times, would carry a small bottle of mace in her purse, despite holding the firm conviction that looking like she did, she'd never need it. It was also this voice that, under the gazes of everyone else in the arena who had by now noticed the struggle moving across the balcony, forced her to do something otherwise completely out of character. Whimpering quietly in the back of her throat, the witch slammed her forehead into her assailant's face.
Greyve yelled, and his mouth filled with the sharp taste of iron. In the brief moment that his hands involuntarily released, Annaliese pulled away from him, and leveled the knife between them. She yelled "I'm not afraid to use this!", but the figure-eights the tip of the knife was performing proved her a liar.
"That is quite enough, Miss Nibbs. Please place the knife on the ledge and back away. Greyve, please step back as well. Any failure to comply will be interpreted as aggression, and I will take action against those threatening a non-aggressor."
Will stood, stance wide, on the floor of the arena, pistol aimed up at the two on the balcony. He glowered up at them, aiming at a spot somewhere in the middle, ready to shift aim to one or the other.
For a moment, no-one moved, save for Annaliese, wavering uncertainly. Greyve just stared at her, his mind thoroughly oppressed by his predator instincts.
"Miss Nibbs, I have no interest in continued hostilities. Please drop the knife and back away." He flicked a switch, and the Blastec hummed. It sounded like it was increasing in power level or damage setting, but it was really just a self-cleaning routine. In a pinch, it also worked for intimidation.
It worked well, too- Annaliese's indecision ended, and, hand shaking a little, she placed the knife on the ledge next to her. "Right, see? Not-"
Greyve dove for her, mind lost in an assassin's high.
Will fired, driving a focused beam through the half-Oni's side. The demon's face registered a momentary surprise before it was overcome by an expression of nothing at all.
His body thumped to the ground in front of Annaliese, the hole smoking slightly.
Will placed his pistol back in its holster. "Pity," he said, still calm and civil, "that generator would have made things much easier."
Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?
Our ammunition is scarce, and we are in inferior numbers. Our ships are sinking left and right, and yet--!
Sir Frances Drake could feel nothing but disheartenment, as one by one he saw his men falling. It was one thing to sink a ship, but this! "Order all ships to fall back!" he finally shouted. They would take nothing more from this but losses.
But his words were drowned by a roaring sound, accompanied by a flash of light. Could lightning have struck so close... kya?!
It wasn't simply lightning, the stars in the sky... they were gone! Sir Drake's eyes were glued to the heavens, but had he thought to look down, he'd have seen a peculiar emptiness, where so many of his men once stood.
Salt... the taste of granite had certainly become the taste of salt. There was no clear transition for the contestants, but they now certainly stared at something new. A crescent moon's pale glow was all that illuminated the purple sea. The smaller, faster, British ships were one-by-one being sunk, as the legendary Spanish Armada flexed its might.
But still, the arrival of the contestants had marked something peculiar. Where before, thousands of men had sailed, there was now only one.
Round II - The English and Spanish Armadas
"A peculiar choice in arenas." one of the Gentleman Cultists said, "It is rare for a populated arena to be chosen so early one"
"It is not populated." Another spoke, "All of the humans there have been replaced, save Sir Drake. Still, it is a peculiar decision."
"There is more," the leader said, as he held out a letter. It was certainly old, the paper stained with time, sealed with wax. Written upon it, 'Only for the eyes of the most sadistic of the Grandmasters'
"I believe the sadist Grandmaster it mentions has already begun his game. Gais, take this to him."
The Gentleman called Gais took the letter, and began to walk.
Loran lay on the hard wooden deck of one of the ships, savoring his timely rescue. There were no guns aimed at his head for the moment. Noone was watching him. He supposed this was the end of alliances. One of them had died, true to what the Gentlemen had told them. None of them would be foolish enough to think their fate was avoidable. If one of the others was, despite all the evidence, he'd not make it to the end...
But then again, none of them would. Loran would see to that.
He got up and looked around. It was dark again. Someone up there seemed to like him.
There were to fleets. For a part they were mingled, but more than half of all the ships still lay facing eachother, as if preparing for battle. The calm was unnatural, though. Such a war-like scenario, a scene predicting blood and death, and no sound but for the sloshing of the waves and the creaking of the ships.
He went belowdecks. A warship such as this was bound to be stuffed with weapons, and indeed he returned shortly with a sabre behind his belt and two ancient guns. He had considered taking some gunpowder to load one of the cannons, but the casks had turned out to be too heavy. In the captain's cabin, he'd found a spy-glass and a captain's hat.
With the spy-glass, he could see both fleets better. There were too many ships to count on either side, but he wasn't looking to count them. He quickly spotted what he was looking for. A small ship, or at least smaller than theone he was on now. Small enough that he might be able to sail it on his own. It would be slow and ponderous sailing, but it would be sailing. Having a verhicle would give him an advantage, he hoped. It even had two cannons, one on either side of the ship. He started making his way towards it, all the while on his guard fort he others. He had spotted several of them on both fleets, and even a guy who was definitely not a contestant, standing on the largest ship of the other fleet.
Will groaned- he'd materialized in a cell on one of the ships. It wasn't a problem, really, since he could open the primitive lock any number of ways, but the place reeked something awful.
He made short work of the lock and quickly made his way to the deck above. The air was salty and crisp, and the smell of the brig was pushed out of his mind. Mostly, it was deposed by the sky- it held his attention entirely. Aside from the slice of moon, the sky was black, plain, and empty. It just felt wrong, somehow. If it were cloudy, the moon would be blocked as well, but since he could see it-
He cut off that chain of thought and pulled out his data reader. The situation was to be analyzed, first and foremost. The empty sky was going to be a part of that, but it couldn't take up his whole attention. He needed the whole picture before he could start worrying about individual parts of it. He started to wave the device around, gathering data about their surroundings.
Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?
In the brief moments between Greyve's death and the wrenching sensation of planar travel, Annaliese had snatched up her knife from where she'd laid it. It wasn't even as though she particularly thought she could use it in combat or that it was of some sentimental value; it was simply her knife and she intended to keep it. It was hers!
It was actually rather fortunate for the witch that she had picked it back up, because...
Anna was in a crow's nest. Crows' nest. Crow nest. Anna was in a big wooden basket that was rocking back and forth forty feet above the ground but the ground was a boat and the boat was in the ocean and how should Anna know how to swim she grew up in the mountains! Sure she could probably turn into a bird again and just fly down, but a quick glance at the moon oh goodness where are the stars told her that it was an inauspicious phase to be attempting major magic and any implications that it was simply because the hummingbird spell was exhausting would be slanderous at best.
Anna slid down onto her haunches, back against the rough wood of the nest of crows. She held the knife to her breast and closed her eyes, savoring the cool feeling of a familiar object in her hands. The knife was stability and home; the knife was not being hurled through the multiverse and told to kill people; the knife was not terrifying heights or demons or subtly horrific starless skies. Mostly, the knife was a knife, and Anna could respect that kind of simplicity.
Apparently the sound of the ocean was supposed to be calming, but Anna didn't believe it; the ocean was big and you drowned in it and it stormed. Everyone knew Worse Things Happen at Sea. The susurration of dark purple waves lapping against the empty ships did little to calm the mountain witch's nerves. Quite the opposite. The combined stress of everything that had happened so far and what Anna considered an unrelenting aural assault frayed her already-frazzled nerves; probably because of this, when an unfamiliar squawking noise sounded near her head, Anna's eyes snapped open and she yelped loudly. A grey-and-white bird took off hurriedly, disappearing almost instantly into the gloom of the night, and the sound of Anna's outburst carried over the white noise of the sea, instantly alerting everyone abovedecks to her presence and position.
Voitrach landed with a crash on the deck of an empty ship. At first, he panicked. This sea atmosphere had none of the life giving dust he had used to make himself stronger in the caves.
Then he realised. The sea atmosphere. The sea! It had water, which, at this size, he could pick up a large scoop of in one go, and add it to his body under the shell of rock. He would become the sea. And... he would become incredibly powerful. Perfect.
He jumped in, and sank to the bottom.
She still wasn't used to that whole teleporting thing.
Opening her eyes once more, she stumbled around as she did the last round, trying to regain her senses. Eventually, her half-consciousness drove her to fall back down against a wall. She stayed there for awhile until she found she could see again. She groaned accordingly, and stood, observing the deck she'd been placed upon.
The entirety of the arena seemed to be incredibly, unnervingly still. An unnatural peace that hung as thick as the fog which rolled low to the surface. "Of course," Apathy said to the surrounding nothingness, "they'd put me on a boat." No matter how hard she tried to fight it, Apathy had always found she was incredibly prone to seasickness, and could never quite stand being on a boat. It was already creeping in, much to her protest. She groaned and fell to the edge of the deck, where she sat for a moment, until suddenly an unexpected yelp shattered the silence. Bounding up and grabbing a hold of the railing, Apathy remembed that there were 6 other people on this fleet with her.
Swinging her eyes around, she tried as hard as she could to locate any of the other contestants. There was a slight movement near a ship close to her, and so she made it her duty to get away from it as soon as possible.
Promptly she moved from the deck into the lower bows of the ship, where she hoped to find a way to access the sea surface as soon as possible. As crowded as the scene was, the water was the easiest way to maneuver the area as quickly as she could. She reassured herself that she also had an advantage in the water, considering how well electricity would flow through it. Calming herself from the leftover panic of the last round, Apathy continued to climb through the lower areas of the ship.
In the ship's heart, she found all sorts of interesting things to capture her interest. In some rooms there were crates of food stacked up upon eachother, each stack reaching up to the high ceiling. As she pulled a small barrel out, she was delighted to see an abundance of apples run out when the heavy thing eventually toppled over her. Regaining her composure, she grabbed one and decided that a lunch break was too overdue.
After she ate, Apathy still took a little time to explore the other parts of the ship. While the room she discovered the barrels and crates in held nothing but fruits and limes, she soon found another storage area. Pulling out a box which she found to be surprisingly light, she cracked it open and found not food, but a grey powder filling to the brim. She took a small sample and felt it, only further confirming what she was afraid it was.
Her accusations were correct; she'd been placed not on a sailing fleet or a fishing one, but instead a warship. While she hadn't seen any cannons placed about, she imagined there was a multitude of rifles placed about somewhere else she hadn't been. While at first this seemed incredibly unnerving, she quickly realized that she could use that to her advantage; from what she knew, Will was the only one that had a gun. While she and the others had primitive knives or blades, having a ranged weapon seemed to be a serious advantage. Even if the gun was just for safety, Apathy made a mental note to find another boat, relatively far off from anyone else, and find a weapon she could use. Since her initial plan was to go through the water and she planned to stick with it, she couldn't bring a rifle with her since it would get wet and inevitably something would go wrong.
And with the subject of getting out of the place coming to the top of her head, Apathy decided to do just that. While she ransacked the ship time and time again, she couldn't find any hatches to make the job easier. Unsatisfied, she returned to the top of the deck and looked nervously down at the purple waves below. If she were to jump from the railing, it seemed easily like a 100, maybe 150 foot drop. Dangerously high, at least. But, she had no other options... so she climbed up onto the railing, held in her breath, and reassuringly told herself this was the only way to get down.
With one last push, she let herself fall down into the thrashing waves below.
At first there was an uninviting numbness, which eventually subsided into a stinging pain, which slowly faded out as well. Apathy found herself being thrashed against the side of the wooden boat, which she didn't find very pleasurable either, so she kicked against the boat and swam away as best as she could. Unsurprisingly, she suddenly found that all of this was incredibly tiring and so she eventually stopped at another, larger boat. She found a helpful metal ladder that had been fastened to the side and climbed up, exhausted.
Half-asleep, Apathy thought to herself how hilarious is was how fast she'd changed from the lazy, careless girl she was upon being pulled into the battle into the timid yet strategic one she realized she was now. She supposed that while the latter was a better one to be in the long run, considering it'd last her longer, she honestly couldn't decide which one she wanted to be.
The dark sky hung over the young villain, in all of it's eeriness.
The scorn in his voice would make most people instantly recognize it's sarcasm; had only there been sarcasm in his mind.
He cracked a smirk. Nigh, a smile. The round had gone perfectly. All contestants had been examined, and the most hostile had been eliminated. Alliances formed, and shaky acquaintances gained. To Felix, this could not have gone any better.
The villain stood on the top of a towering mast, gazing below at the many ships that littered the seas. All was lit by a solitary moon. The silence broken only by a shriek of terror.
"Two guesses on which contestant that was. Only the second one counts."
As Felix eased himself down, he continued to examine his predicament. If he could further ally himself with some of the weaker contestants, then he could keep them alive until the later rounds; and make it much easier to finish the contest alive.
The young witch, that had moments ago let out a yelp, was several ships away. For most, this would be an issue. However, Felix merely hovered over the raging ocean, ship to ship. Hopefully no one sees me; I need to keep them in the dark about my powers as long as possible. I have already made one suspicious.
Soon, Felix was on the deck of the ship the witch had been forced to nest on. As he gazed upwards, he sighed to himself. Had he been brought down to saving helpless dames? That was something heroes normally do! It won't be much longer...
Loran was spending his time hauling gunpowder aboard his small vessel, and stuffing it near the bow. The boat was rapidly turning into a floating bomb. Every now and then, he would stop doing this, and examine the ships around him with his spy-glass. Noone had come anywhere near him yet. There had been a distant shriek, several minutes ago, but the enviroment hadn't changed, and no more sounds had followed, so it was not likely to be a contestant dying. Perhaps it was a clash between two of them, but if so, Loran ignored it. He would not make the same mistake again.
'When a fight is inevitable, always be the one to start it.'
It had been one of the first lessons about assassination he'd been taught. The third, in fact. It had only been preceeded by:
'Kill a man when you can; When you can't, don't', and 'Never give your victim time to react to your actions. Kill him before he sees you or before he suspects you.'
Wise lessons, all three of them, and hundreds more following them. When Loran had found himself in an unexpected situation, knowing he would have to kill or be killed, he had done the only logical thing, and taken the role of killer. It had turned out to be a bad move. The victims had been too prepared. He had broken rule 2 in favor of rule 3.
Now, however, he was better prepared. He could put his assassin skills to use here.
Victims who thought assassination was all about knives were wrong and would die. Victims who thought it was about more were wrong as well. In a way it was all about knives.
Only assassins could truly fathom the ways of assassins.
Anna had stood up, following the encounter with the weird bird. It was time to get out of this stupid basket before more weird birds came and did whatever it was weird sea birds do. Anna had no idea what weird birds did, but it was probably weird. This whole situation was weird with its weird sky and its weird water and its weird people. And boats. Boats were automatically weird because it took a really weird person to decide "I am going to ride these trees across a big old ocean full of sea monsters and storms and gods that are frankly not very nice".
Between the witch's flustered internal monologue and her search for a ladder, she managed to miss Felix looking up at her. Anna couldn't imagine who designed this stupid ladder anyway. Surely if you were going to have a big giant basket at the top of a pole, the least you could do was attach a real ladder instead of nailing a handful of planks to it and calling it a day. This shouldn't be an unreasonable expectation! It's not like Anna was asking for stairs or a clockwork elevator or a magic glyph that made a twinkly noise and just poofed you up and down; she just wanted a ladder.
In her estimation, it looked like getting over the crow's's nest would be the hardest part of the climb down. She had to throw a leg over and try to get it balanced on one of the stupid "rungs" while trying not to get her skirt tangled around her ankles or a nail that someone just put there so it could tangle her up, then shift her weigh over with no real handholds. If she could get past that, the rest of the climb down should be easy. Anna was pretty fit, she could handle some exertion. She wasn't some creaky old woman who just sat around and yelled at people.
The actual process of getting onto the ladder was less trying than she'd expected: no vengeful nails leapt out to snag her clothes, no sudden attacks of vertigo sent her plummeting to the deck, and no weird birds showed up at all. After several extremely wobbly seconds, Anna was on the outside and heading down. She allowed herself a small smirk for conquering the stupid boat. It was about that time that there was a small creaking noise and the nail holding the rung she was grabbing slid out of the mast.
Felix had spent several seconds watching Annaliese's awkward attempt to get out of her high position, hands in his pockets and moonlight glinting off his monocle. He was actually rather relieved he wouldn't be having to rescue her; even if it did work towards his goals, he was nothing if not a man with standards, and that sort of blatant heroism just rankled with a deep part of him. He took a couple of quiet steps, repositioning himself that he would be right there when the witch turned around after climbing down; as he waited, he tried to coax his customary smirk into a genuine-looking smile.
His target was about halfway down the ladder when she let out a small whimper and leaned back. Felix's brow furrowed as he wondered what was going on, but by the time he realized what was happening, Annaliese had already fallen several feet. He wasted precious seconds wondering if it was worth revealing his hand by using his powers, and before that dithering was over the witch was on him.
There wasn't really time for shock or internal annoyance or much of anything at all. One second Anna was eyeballing a very rude nail, the next she was falling through the air, and the next she was wincing as her back collided with something that was mercifully not a hard wooden deck. It had only been a fifteen-foot fall, but it hurt.
It seemed obvious, in retrospect, that the one thing he'd actively decided not to bring was the thing that would have been most useful right now. At the time, it had been a supremely logical and reasonable decision, and, given the same circumstances, he would've made it again in a heartbeat. There had simply been no reason to bring it, given the knowledge he'd had at the time.
This did not, of course, mean that he didn't regret not bringing Van Kulmer's Visual Guide to Historical Technologies. With it, he could have potentially identified the century (or even decade, if he was lucky) from which these vessels hailed, and from there, he could have cross-referenced with any of the several histories he had thought to bring to potentially determine, down to the date, which battle this had been.
This all assumed, of course, that this was an actual historic battle and not some simulated generic scenario designed solely for the purposes of this competition. There was no way to know, really- whoever it was that had abducted him from the Timeless was advanced enough to do so through all the various shields he'd developed over the iterations, and they'd done it without causing any detectable spatial anomalies. He'd simply vanished, replaced by what had appeared to be an average sampling of the nearby atmosphere. If they could manage that, he had no doubts that they were capable of generating an artificial section of ocean and populate it with a variety of appropriate seaships.
Of course, when it came to useful knowledge, it meant he was up the proverbial creek. The gravity was Earth normal, the atmosphere was basic pre-industrial fare, and the variations in the passage of time was within typical levels, given the tides. As far as he was concerned, it might have actually been Earth in whatever century it appeared to be.
So he holstered his Data Reader and looked at the ship around him. He wasn't exactly experienced when it came to seaships, but he'd spent years living solely aboard a spaceship, and the principles were likely the same.
First order of business, then, was inter-ship travel. Moving to the edge, he saw that the nearest ship, while close, was still a good five meters away at least. He wouldn't be crossing that gap on his own. That left closing it. It only took a moment for him to gather up a bundle of rope and, after a few tries with different things tied to the end, he managed to get one rope across. Another soon followed, and a third and fourth joined them in quick succession.
That done, he tried his first idea. He didn't really have much of an idea about the resistance he would encounter, so it seemed perfectly reasonable: a simple pull would exert an equal pull on the two ships, moving them closer together. Unfortunately, his guess at the resistance was much lower than what it actually was, resulting in nothing more than a bit of a pathetic swaying motion.
His second idea, a bridge between the two ships, was scrapped in planning. There wasn't exactly an abundance of excess material around, and the distance, while relatively small, was still longer than any individual length of wood he could find.
Idea three, as is often the case, bore more fruit, albeit rather indirectly. While wandering the deck, looking for supplies for a potential slingshot, his thoughts turned to the rigging of the ship, which actually extended over the side a ways. A workable idea formed in an instant, and mere seconds later, he was swinging across to the next ship over.
A few moments later, he was swinging back- his destination ship was a dead end, with nowhere to swing from on the other side. Hopefully, the other direction would be a bit more fruitful.
From his position under the water, Voitrach could tell it was starting to get to his head. For years, nay, centuries, he had been an organism of rock. His each movement required massive strains to make it happen. His agility - though average by human standards - was still not as high as he knew it could be. But the water was both a curse and a blessing. It was so easy to control, to make his - he had already experimented in the distance with making changes to the odd pattern of waves - but the way it rippled, it flowed, it was a whole alien sensation. Trying to keep in control was a greater task than his own head could manage. But it was a greater tool than anything else he could think of! He could not stay here, but he could not give it up! In desperation, he decided on a compromise. He would keep himself connected to the water with a few tentacles. That way, he would be able to move as a rock creature, but with the help of the sea. Probably. Happy with this, he exited the water at high speed and grabbed the side of a nearby ship. Clambering over the edge, he looked across the deck. Empty. He could have sworn he'd heard something. He ran to the hold doors and looked inside, curious. It was full of gunpowder, and nothing else. Maybe he had just imagined the noise. Maybe the person making it was on another ship. Yes. Another ship. Going towards the mast, Voitrach pulled himself up the terribly makeshift ladder, before surveying the ships around him. No signs. Odd.
By the time he had reached the fourth ship, Will had established a routine. Land, check for others, grab a rope, pull back, swing, and repeat.
"Y'know," he said to himself, "if there's one place I never thought I'd be when I vanished, it was swinging between primitive seaships."
No? How about murdering someone in cold blood- did you see yourself going off to do that?
His voice hardened. "Of course not. Sometimes, these things just have to be done."
He landed on the fifth ship, glanced around, then grabbed a rope.
Really? He had to die? You couldn't have just stunned him?
"No, of course not. It would have taken several seconds minimum to select the correct setting, and by then, she would've been dead."
Right. You couldn't have switched to a stun instead of going for intimidation, I get it.
"If I hadn't run the self-clean, she wouldn't have dropped the knife, and things would've just gotten worse."
He rushed through the routine on the sixth ship, more focused on the conversation than on the world around him. He barely glanced around before snagging the nearest rope and pulling it back.
Right, of course. One of them might have died if she hadn't- oh, wait. That's right: one of them did die.
"That much was inevitable. If I'd gone for the stun-"
Then she might have had to fight him off with that knife she had in her hands! Can't let that happen, can we? No, you have to take responsibility for everything.
"You know damn well she'd be more likely to hurt herself than anyone else with that thing."
Not necessarily. Why would she have been selected for this battle if she couldn't fight, hm?
The seventh ship he landed on was another dead end- there were more ships beyond it, but they were too far out to swing to. Frustrated, he just strode over to the far side and stared out at the fleet.
"Okay, fine. So maybe she could've held her own. That's not a risk I was willing to take."
No, of course not. And why would you? It's not like having two artificial grav generators in one place would be useful enough to warrant such a risk.
"I can still save some of these people if I can just get that gravity golem to cooperate. It's still possible to open a rift with just one source, you know that."
Right, I forgot. You're a rift wizard who can take a few pieces of information from a data reader and extrapolate that into precise dimensional coordinates.
"I said possible, not easy. Besides, it's the best chance we have to get people out of here alive."
Behind him, Apathy lay on the deck. Will had practically swung right over her coming onto the ship, and he'd been too preoccupied with his own conversation to notice her.
Great, she thought to herself, I guess he's crazy too.
Last edited by Pinary; 12-24-2010 at 10:39 PM.
Felix had but a moment to react; unfortunately for him, he was too deep in thought to really comprehend what had just happened. He was too encompassed by his musings of the girl to actually realize that she was falling. If he was any average brain-dead hero, then he could have easily dodged; or rather, attempt to catch her. But, being the great intellectual he is, his meditation kept him from quickly reacting. Oh the pains of being a genius. Very literal pains.
He was at an impasse. Having a female land on top of you is not nearly as inviting as it sounds. His first thought was to shove her off; This would come off as rude. He could try to pick her up. Afraid my back isn't quite up for that right now. Either way, time was ticking, and the witch was just beginning to react to her situation.
Fifteen feet doesn't seem that far of a distance, but that changes when you are talking about vertical distance. She had braced herself for impact, but her fall was broken by something. She couldn't care less what it was at the moment; she was just thankful it was there.
As she began to set herself up, she realized just what she had landed on. Hey it's that villain guy from earlier- hey wait a minute. "Uh, hi. Nice seeing you here. You come here often?"
"Nah, just every once in a while."
The two collected themselves as Felix began to speak. "Ahem. As I intended to do before our little fiasco, I would like to talk to you about the competition. As has been made plainly obvious, we aren't going to leave alive by dawdling around and saying 'Let's be friends' . Quite frankly, I'm sure most of us here would gladly shed a little blood for a chance out of here. That's why I need your help." "What could you possibly need me for? And just why should I listen to you?"
Felix paused for a moment as he articulated his next thought. "I sense much latent potential in you. In addition, you seem to be one of the most sensible. As for why you should listen to me..." He held out his hand, as a smile formed on his face. "I guess you'll just have to trust me."
Loran wasn't happy with what he saw.
While he had been off getting more gunpowder, one of the other contestants had boarded his boat. A huge creature was slowly making his way up the mast.
He was confident in his abilities to dispatch any of the other contestants, be it with his knives, the centuries old gun, or his bare hands. All but Voitrach. For how did one kill a creature that could control substance with his mind? Not just stone, as Loran had foolishly assumed at first, but also water, as the tentacles touching the sea told him, and who knows how many other things. The assassin's mind made plans, each one discarded for their dangers. Loran knew he would not survive a direct encounter. He considered shooting the golem out of the mast, but would it even be hurt by bullets? The other option would be to pull out the big guns, and detonate the massive amount of gunpowder loaded inside the ship. That might work, and yet, it might go very wrong. If this golem could control fire as he could control stone and water, such an explosion would make him even more powerfull.
'Retreat,' said his teacher in weapon handling, and Loran hissed at him to stay silent. He himself was at a risk of being heard and seen, being only two ships away from Voitrach. He sat crouched in the shadow, and Voitrach appeared not to see him. Its eyes, or where Loran assumed to be its eyes, had moved over Loran's hiding place twice, missing him both times.
'Blow him up,' said his teacher.
'I can't. Too risky,' Loran hissed back.
'Then blow up one of the others.'
Loran bit back his angry reply when an idea struck him... Blowing up one of the others meant they had to be on his boat... With that stone guy sitting in the mast, that shouldn't be too difficult...
Voitrach was concidering going back down. The fleets together were too big to properly see everything going on, and even the nearer ships he couldn't see perfectly. There were too many masts and sails and other structures blocking his view. For all he knew, the other contestants might be huddling together behind that sail over there. Yes, better go back down and search manually.
At that moment, something exploded almost directly beneath him, and before he knew it, the mast started to topple.
Loran couldn't surpress a smile as Voitrach crashed into the deck, mast and all, and then continued some more. That last bit had been a miscalculation. If the golem went all the way through the bottom, the explosive trap that had cost Loran so much work would go lost. But it looked like Voitrach stopped falling before passing through all the floors. Loran slinked back into the shadow. One well-placed casket of gunpowder near the foot of the mast had done all the work. That big oaf had completely neglected to keep an eye on his direct surroundings, giving Loran the chance to sneak close through the shadows.
All in all, the noise had been incredible, and anyone who had missed that explosion and subsequent toppling of the mast must be blind and deaf.
'And now we wait...' Loran whispered. The others could arrive any moment to see what had happened.
His teacher smiled at him. A rare show of praise.
Voitrach hit the next deck with a thud. This was worrying. Maybe his level of control was not great enough to keep stable whilst calculating the complex physics of water. That sounded to be the most viable solution. He would have to take more care, in future.
Loran's smile turned into a slightly anxious one as the first drips of water came through the ceiling. Technically this wouldn't cause much to change... it had just best be kept an eye on. For certain. He didn't want to be hampered by dampness during his well-planned victory.
As Voitrach slowly eased himself up, struggling to keep control of the water that had likely caused this, he realised why it was so hard to keep it there - he'd already lost control of it. Hmm.
Well, that makes things a bit eas-
He suddenly stopped and thought. He'd just lost control of the water. Below decks was gunpowder. Water makes gunpowder soggy and useless. Gunpowder is likely to be useful for something... and that something was Loran. He did not tolerate killers, not in a universe where life was so few and far between. In his entire lifetime, this was only his third encounter with other sentient life.
He made a mental note that it could be possible that one of the others, for example Apathy, could be filed under this category of 'heartless killers', but only time would tell.
Wait. He was diverging from the task at hand. That being water. Hurrying down a deck, he came to the level with the gunpowder on it.
Loran eased himelf deeper into his hiding spot before the golem came down. It was so noisy, it was hard not to notice it coming. Seriously! Who makes something like that?
"He's seen you!" whispers a voice behind him.
"No, I don't think he has. And shut up. I'm trying to hide here."
"No, no, he has. Look how his eyes keep coming back over this spot. He knows you must be here."
"If he knew where I was, he would have investigated. Not just given me a few looks and then ignored me."
"I also know that he has excellent hearing. It would be a miracle if he hadn't noticed you already."
"Just shut up! You aren't helping."
At this point, Loran glanced round. Great. That was two of his teachers he had now passing hints over his shoulder. One is okay, but two? A bit too far there. It makes you seem stupid, for one, needing more teaching to get the point.
"Ugh. Did your decrepit circuits protest that as much as I did?"
O'Rylath, the incorporeal entity he was, hadn't taken to kindly to the dimensional leap. OTTO was silent for a moment as he ran the scans, then replied with irksome cheerfulness. "Nope. All systems operational, only potential complication is this salt air. Still, my alloys'll hold up-"
The warbot would've frowned at this point, if he were capable. He settled for an exasperated whine instead, knowing his ethereal companion wasn't doubting the salt-tolerance of his hull. "Go on, O'Rylath. Just tell me what I forgot."
"Can your sophisticated sensors detect any electrical sources on this ship?"
"Wonderful. I suppose this means unless you become seaworthy, or that Apathy girl is close by, we're stranded on this craft, completely weaponless?"
"Unless you had an actual plan, shut up." OTTO's reply had more bite, if only because the damnable Being was right. He paced up and down the galleon's deck, trying to get accustomed to the swaying underfoot as he peered over the stern, looking for a propeller. "How are these things supposed to move without engines, anyway?"
"Perhaps, considering your predicament, you should figure that out."
"... Shut up," grumbled the robot, as he glared up at the limp sails.
Okay, so, it wasn't like Anna was afraid, it really wasn't, but this whole situation kind of sucked. Kind of sucked lot, really. It said a lot about how much it sucked that having someone described as a "textbook villain" being right next to her and asking her to trust him didn't even make it onto Anna's List of the Ten Worst Things Right Now. Not that there actually was such a list, obviously, but it's all about making a point. Things pretty much sucked.
She looked nervously over at Felix and tried to grin confidently. "Well, I guess there's not really a lot of choice, one way or another." She laughed and it definitely sounded like a strong woman in control of a tough situation and not at all like a frightened titter from girl with a gun at her throat. "While we're trusting each other, could you humor me for a sec? I don't really like being trapped on one of these ships, and–" It was about that time that the mast of a ship only a few boats away exploded and fell over; Anna and Felix snapped their heads towards the sound, and caught a glimps of Voitrach falling and crashing through the deck. Felix patted her on the shoulder, but probably just because he was a gentleman or at least pretending to be one, and definitely not because Anna had whimpered; witches just don't do stuff like that.
"Erm, yeah let me just..." Anna scuttled off towards the cabin, apparently intent on getting belowdecks. Felix watched her go; once he was sure she wasn't going to look back soon, he let himself slump and rubbed the small of his back a bit. With a series of pops and an eventual loud snap, he straightened himself back up and shook his head a few times. A "that's better" smile crossed his face for a moment, and he glided after his new nervous ally. Well, not glided really; it's probably best to be clear in cases like Felix. But he did have an elegant way of moving and covered the distance fast.
When he caught up to her, the self-proclaimed supervillain found Anna wandering fairly-aimlessly and occasionally rooting through a pile of various things or opening a door. He watched this go on for a minute or so, but just as he opened his mouth to suggest Anna explain her plan to him so he could help, she pulled out of a doorway holding a large broom above her head with a triumphant look on her face. "It's perfect! What's a witch without a broom, after all?"
The broom was... Not perfect. It looked about as much like a witch's broom as Anna did like a witch, which is to say it looked about as much like a witch's broom as a novelty shop halloween decoration would. The primary place where the simile breaks down is that the novelty broom (like Anna herself) would be making the effort to look magical, while this broom simply looked like... like something someone would settle for. It was one of those wide, long-handled brooms used for swabbing decks and cleaning out convention halls; it was about as elegant and aerodynamic as the woman about to ride it and gave off a definite air that it planned to stop working at the first inconvenient moment.
It was this inspiring object that Anna had apparently been looking for; she sat down on the floor and laid the handle across her lap, smiling happily as she pulled out her knife and began engraving into the worm-eaten wood. Felix leaned against a wall and pulled the brim of his hat down slightly, biting back a sigh and letting her get on with whatever it was she was doing.
Voitrach crashed through the wooden side of another ship, propelled backwards a way by the explosion. Looking down at the sphere of dense rock compressed by the central black hole powering him, he saw hairline cracks forming.
"Ouch. That hurt."
After a second, it occurred to him to check if his assailant had survived the blast. Another moment's thought dismissed this. They hadn't been teleported to a new world yet. There go his hopes.
After another few seconds, it occurred to him that he ought to find something to do. This was a new feeling. For the past ten million years or so he had simply floated through the deep void of space, occasionally checking up on whatever inhabitants of whichever planets he floated close enough to. At none of these points was he ever more than half a millimetre across.
Then he had found a black hole.
And then, just as he'd found his powers, got used to them and built up a new body for himself, he'd been dumped here. Forced to either fight his way out of a group of similarly normal people driven to the same fate by the same competition, or find some other way out.
He rather preferred the second.
Actually, it rather seemed as if everyone preferred the second. Except Loran. And possibly Felix. Maybe even Apathy. But Loran was for sure.
In his head, he made a mental checklist.
1. Kill Loran.
2. Escape from deadly contest.
3. Attempt to return life to normal.
A short reflection made him notice two additions on the end of his list that he was sure he didn't put there. Maybe his thoughts were being controlled by other things, just as he controlled the individual molecules of this world...
The thought was worrying.
"Ok, if I can just attach this rope-"
OTTO's thoughts vocalised, muffled by a thick rope clamped between his mechanical jaws, were interrupted as the breeze changed direction and nearly yanked him off his feet. Ignoring O'Rylath's derision, the robot put a little more grit into it, and managed to wrap it once round one of the masts like a pulley-
OTTO instinctively ducked, losing his grip and hissing with frustration as the rope slithered out of his jaws again. The boom arcing around to smack him in the back of the skull didn't improve his mood either.
"Who was that?"
For once, O'Rylath saved his host the snark and tried to be helpful. "Your sensors indicate an anomalous entity was in the blast radius - previous scans would lead me to assume it's Voitrach."
"Huh. What's he doing blowing up boats?" The dracobot conceded another jab would be forthcoming from the Being, and went to grab the errant rope again so he had an excuse to not come up with a retort. To his surprise, the spirit was pensive, before finally replying in cautious tones,
"He is the most implacable of our foes, and I speculate someone else must've seen him as enough of a threat - much as I doubt any sort of explosive from whatever archaic age we're stranded in would be capable of damaging a black hole. Still... it certainly does not bode well for us if the humans renege on their promises of alliance as soon as they are out of each other's sight."
"... We should probably find Apathy." The robot's reply was quiet even with the mouthful of rope, but the creak as sails caught wind and the ship beneath them protested into reluctant motion was encouraging.
"For once, I'm inclined to agree with you."
OTTO felt oddly relieved at that last bit of snark, and cemented it with an encouraging graunching noise as he dug his claws into the aft deck, still gripping the rope in his teeth. He twisted it as best as he could round the helm without releasing it, then gave it an experimental tilt.
The galleon, no longer sluggishly plowing through the water, glided in a smooth arc away from Loran's destroyed ship. OTTO would've given a triumphant whoop, but with a mouth full of rope he settled for a satisfied grunt. O'Rylath kept a metaphorical eye on the scans, trying to find their electromancer.
"Oh, your scans indicate Apathy's on that craft. The portmost one - that's left assuming you didn't know - in that row of four. Judging from the tech readings, that Will Haven man's with her."
OTTO dug his metal talons a little deeper into the wood, and dragged the ship's bulk toward the craft the Being indicated. "Whu's the hurprih' for, then?"
"Please, don't look, but you're picking up an unidentified life source from that isolated galleon straight starboard of us... now. Rather powerful too, I might add."
The war machine swung his head around, following his sensors instead of trying to decode O'rylath's nautical jargon. "Tha' whu-"
O'rylath might've said "I told you not to do that," but OTTO certainly didn't catch it as the Spanish ship compliantly keeled round, abandoning its previous parrallel approach of the boat Apathy and Will were on. It opted instead for a perpendicular collision.
Apathy extricated herself from the railing she'd seized when Will had spotted OTTO's crash course. The dragon picked himeself up off the deck and nodded his chromed head sheepishly at the duo.
"What the hell was that for?"
"You try steering a ship with your mouth," OTTO retorted.
Sir Drake had retired to his stateroom by the time the cache of gunpowder exploded, and he barely gave the sound a thought. His focus was entirely on the turmoil inside him.
All his life, he'd been able to sense the feel of the sea. No one else quite knew what he meant when he tried to explain it, but there had just been this instinctual knowledge always lurking in the back of his head. When a storm was coming, he could feel it far before the waves began to get choppy, and when opposing ships were approaching from around an island, he could feel their hulls in the water. It was as though the seas themselves were speaking to him, and right now, they weren't talking- they were crying out in pain. Something was tearing into them, dragging them down and compressing them. It manipulated them, controlling them, and the pain this caused them made them cry out in anguish.
The seas' cries echoed in Drake's head, all bellowing at once.
"What makes you think steering a ship with your mouth is any sort of good idea?!", Apathy shot back.
"Do these look like effective hands to you?!"
"Alright, so your bad design excuses your clumsiness?"
"You're one to talk! 'Oh, look at me, I'm a sack of meat! I'm vulnerable to puncture wounds! I-'"
"Would you please stop antagonizing her," O'rylath interjected. "She's hardly likely to cooperate with someone making fun of her species."
"He's right, you know. We humans are rather sensitive about our not-terribly-stab-resistant bodies." Will cut in this time, his voice halfway between snarky and diplomatic and his intention not even clear to himself. "There are genuine threats around, and it might be best if we could put our physical differences aside for a moment and discuss things diplomatically." He was pretty sure he was trying to be genuinely pacifying, but he couldn't really tell with that sort of thing.
"Oh really? You're going to talk about peaceful negotiations after what happened back in that cave?"
"I did what I had to," he said, not sure if he was telling that to Apathy or to himself. "If he'd killed her, we'd have one more crazed murderer loose on these ships with us, and I think we've got plenty already."
In a distant universe, a pair of beings sent out a message, broadcasting it far and wide across the multiverse, its chaotic pattern echoing past universes and delivering its explanation and invitation to a number of beings. It is not pure information, however- its medium, too, a barely-controlled burst of energy, burst forth from the universe and cascaded past others. Most universes, closed and isolated, felt nothing, and the few that had been opened felt barely any effect at all. A slight time-ripple, perhaps, but nothing more.
One universe, however, had a loop of causal thread pulled through its skin, wrapping back around upon itself before being drawn to another universe, and another. The inviting transmission, surging through the void, plucked the string ever so slightly, shifting the universes' temporal alignments by an infinitesimal amount.
There was no flash, no jolt, no gradual blur- one moment, Will was standing on one side of the ship trying to persuade Apathy that he wasn't such a bad guy after all, and the next, he was a few meters to his left, waving the data reader over OTTO's metal form. He stopped, blinked, and tapped the reader. Looking up, he saw the other two looking at him as though he'd just spontaneously teleported.
He furrowed his brow for a minute, thinking, then checked the reader again. Slowly, he asked, "did I ever tell either of you how many times I'd been through that big timeloop directly preceding my experiences here?" They shook their respective heads. "Alright," he continued, slow and distracted, "well for the record, I'm number seventeen." Clicking a few buttons on the data reader, he checked back over the data he'd been gathering. "There was a... a bump, of sorts, in the temporal variance in the area. I'm not positive, but I think that may have been some sort of discontinuity between this universe's timestream and my own, shifting my iterations in comparison with this battle's own." An idea came to him, and he slipped the data reader back into its holster. "Who died in the first round", he asked, "and how did it happen?"
"You shot Greyve," Apathy provided, talking to him as though he were mentally ill, "when he tried to kill the witch."
"Alright, that matches up," he said, frowning. "But something changed, yes?"
"One moment, you were over here, and another, you were standing next to puncture-proof there, if that counts."
"It does indeed, but something's still not adding up... Eh, it's not important right now. Where were we?" Clasping his hands together, he looked from OTTO to Apathy, expectantly.
Having sorted out the wails and cries a bit, Drake had some space to think. Fight back, he thought. When under attack, fight back. His thoughts went out into the water, echoing throughout and provoking a response- slight, surely, but there. The water began to move a tiny bit more, its gentle lapping beginning to grow stronger, slowly building.