Thread: Inexorable Altercation [Round IV - Hezekiah]

1. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Loran was sitting on the deck of an empty ship. He had made sure of it being empty, first, before sitting down. He took one of his knifes from inside his cloak, a piece of cloth from one of it's many pockets, and started polishing. The work was calming, a slow, steady movement, cleaning the steel. Great Lords, he needed to be calm!
'Is this a time for polishing, Loran?' his teacher asked disapprovingly.
'Silence, you!' snarled another. 'He is meditating! If he does that, he needs it!'
A seagull, startled by the sounds, took of with a lot of noise.
'Shoo,' said Loran softly, and his teachers and the seagull all disappeared. Funny, he hadn't thought the seagull was part of it as well.
It was slowly soaking into his body. Calmness, relaxation... He knew very well that stress only increased the hallucinations, so he had to avoid it at any cost. Any cost but his live.
He put his first knife to the side, and started on the second one.
Was he going insane, he wondered. His thoughts were everywhere these days, even when he thought he was focused. he had gotten impulsive and instinctual. What had ever happened to careful planning and controled enactment? He remembered getting an extra high mark due to his patience, once, long ago. the only other thing he had ever exelled in was stealth. At least he hadn't lost that.
He put his second knife to the side, and took a deep breath. Cold, salty air filled his lungs. The smell of the sea. The smell of hunting for Ribfish with his caretaker. The smell of killing the crownprince of Delphis. They were good memories, about a better time. Would he let this place taint those memories?
He could've sat like this for ages, had he had the time. But, despite everything he was telling himself, about calmness and patience, he was still in a game. And in games, things could go fast. He returned the knives to their holders strapped across his chest, and focused on the piece of paper in front of him. Seven contenders. One of them was he himself. Six enemies, but only one that needed killing right now. Voitrach. Loran was confident in his ability to kill all the others, but the stone thing was too powerful, even for him. Which meant he had to be killed now, while there were still more of them. Which meant... Loran sighed. Which meant he'd have to find some help.
Not counting himself or Voitrach, there were five contenders left. Will, Felix, the two witches, and the robot. The two witches he was still unsure of. Neither of them had shown any particular powerful feats, but they were chosen, and they were alive. He'd have to avoid them until he knew more.
The robot was clearer. It had shown its full power in the fight with the bruisers. powerful, but not unlimited. He would make a good warrior, if he could be coaxed to Loran's side, but somehow, Loran doubted that would happen. The thing was, the robot was also the most powerful of them all, not counting Voitrach. It would have no reason whatsoever to help Loran.
Which left Will and Felix, both planners. Planners in the sense that they thought, rather then fought. analyzers, if you will. More importantly, neither appeared particularly strong. Certainly not strong enough to take down the stone beast. One of them was definitely what he needed. Which left the choice between a guy who had held him at gunpoint, and would like to see Loran dead and gone as soon as possible, and a man who had saved Loran's life already, and identified as a villain. Not particularly hard.
With that, Loran got up, walked to the side, and lowered himself in the water. It had gotten slightly less calm, he noticed, but he was happy with it. He was a strong swimmer, and the noise would obscure any sounds he might make.
'Now, how to convince the villain?' he thought. 'Or find him, for that matter.'

5. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Originally Posted by PlumFinder

7. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Originally Posted by slipsicle

8. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Voitrach snapped out of it. Being introverted right now has next to no chance of actually helping with anything. He needed to consider what just happened, then act on it. That was what he had to to. Yes indeed.

So what actually had happened there? Loran had, it seemed, filled a ship with gunpowder. He assumed it was Loran - he hadn't actually seen anyone there, but something must have set that explosion off. Loran waits for him to appear, then assumedly leaves? And then when he comes back down, explosion. Possibly some sort of fuse? Whatever it was, his opponent was crafty. Voitrach needed to meet him in a straight fight. Or at least, one that Loran hadn't prepared for.

At that point, a thought occurred to him. Boats. They were on boats. Boats are pretty complex things. Someone or something must have made them. That meant other intelligent life. That meant potential recruits for fighting Loran, as well as, more importantly, people who know all the tricks of this area. Like those big, metal barrels, for instance. They must be there for a reason. All Voitrach had to do was find them first. And what better way to find other people by sending out a signal? Thinking quickly, Voitrach climbed to the top of the mast and jumped. As he reached the peak of his jump, he applied some of his power to keeping him up there and with his (relatively) newly-made voicebox yelled "HEY! Are any survivors around? If so, indicate your position!" With that, he let go and landed with a loud crack on the deck.

9. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Above the exploding ships, beyond the smell of salt and powder, far beyond the starless night, nine cloaked figures stood, surrounding the sphere which contained the conflict below. They themselves were surrounded by a sea of nothingness, a black void where small, seemingly insignificant spheres served as vessels for the worlds they held. It had not been their choice to gather here. Their meeting had been ordained, their choice stripped away ages ago. Together they stood identical, unidentifiable. Each hooded cloak obscured the face of the one beneath it in shadow, their personalities and individuality hidden beneath yet another featureless sea.

They were nowhere, and yet it was only there they could remain. Their anonymity protected them; their non-existence kept them alive. Together they were invulnerable; parted, they would fall.

“How boring..” A voice emanated from one of the gentlemen, faceless but not speechless. Its tone was unremarkable, but its inflection, abrasive.

“You seriously expect this to get us anywhere?” the voice continued, “Watching these weaklings squabble over who gets to live? First off: unoriginal. Now if you’d follow my idea we’d…”

“Be Silent.” The Leader interrupted.

He was unmistakably the Leader. Though there were no markings or appearances to indicate so, the reaction of the others to his words and decrees revealed otherwise. Also, he held the book.

“Are you saying that because I annoy you?” the gentleman continued, “or because that book told you to?”

“You will be silent, because the book says so.” Another gentleman spoke. He stood on the Leader’s right.

“Oh?” a third spoke up, “so you’ve read the book then?”

He has read the book,” was the reply, “If he says so, then it was written.”

“But you can’t know it says it for certain, he may have just…”

The dialogue ceased. In an instant, unexplained, unexpected, the Leader vanished.

Though the gentlemen were struck speechless, nowhere was far from silent. A murky sloshing sound spread from where the Leader once stood. Layers of nothingness pulled away from the eight like a receding tide. Glimmers of light replaced the darkness as nothingness gave way to substance. As the more and more of the void dissipated, the features of what nowhere once was returned, and nowhere was not empty.

An ornately covered floor lay where once nothing remained. The sphere that the eight surrounded was no longer floating on blackness, but was set aloft on a pillar, its light illuminating the floor. The other spheres, other worlds, too were propped upon their respective podiums, each giving their own light to their surroundings.

As darkness fled and substance spread, the gentlemen cultists were gentlemen no longer. Their uniformity vanished with the void as their true features took hold. One was tall, larger than the rest, and silent, the cloak still obscuring his face. Two more kept their cloaks on, quietly they stared. The fourth threw off his hood, revealing a face more reptilian than man. Cedar colored eyes darted from cultist to cultist. The fifth was smaller than the others. Cautiously a youthful face peered from behind the folds of fabric. Her complexion an unnatural black, pinpoints of blue light flickered around her head as she gazed at the man who earlier stood to the right of the Leader. That one too removed his hood, his face altogether human, his eyes wide and mouth agape. To his left, tall and unmoving, stood the gentleman called Gias.

Small, quiet, sobs began to flow from behind the hood of the eighth cultist. One of the others, approached and wrapped her arms about the sobbing figure. Though her cloak remained on, her appearance was undeniably feminine.

Where the Leader once stood, there was now only the book of the Wordsmith. its cover closed, its words, unread by those present.

The cedar-eyed cultist spoke first, “Well great. Now what do we do?”

----------

Above the ships abandoned in the dark sea, the stars began to return to the sky.

10. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

The three figures and four voices which were just moments prior participating in a heated discussion now stood silent, silhouettes against the brightening horizon. The morning was soon to come, but not for a while. Despite being in a heated debate moments prior, none of the figures could muster themselves to say anything. It was not an awkward silence as much as an observant one. Each of the eyes on the ship were now looking upward into the sky, noting the sudden change in atmosphere. The sky lit up tremendously at the abrupt return of the night stars, which in contrast to the near pitch-black standard of the lighting beforehand, seemed blinding to Apathy. It was a strange occurence, if anything, one that in her many years of studying the night in her hours awake past midnight in her past she had never seen. It was almost serene, in a way, that this past series of events had brought forth a welcoming light.
The silence dragged on for another few moments before being shattered by a crack of lightning, signifying the weather had returned all the same as the sky. The sound of thunder was alien to Apathy now; before she'd been tossed into this deathmatch, it rained often, and a bolt of lighting was not uncommon, but now that familiar sound was far, far away from just that. Everybody here had only known eachother for, at most, a couple hours (depending really on how long she slept, which she found she couldn't quite calculate), but it felt like weeks. Everything she knew back in her home universe seemed far away now, and she'd come to terms that she was likely to never see it again. This was a crazy place full of crazy people, she had learned, and nothing was to be taken for granted. It was at this point that she realized she was staring down an opportunity.
"So," she said, bringing the others' attention back, "I'd say we stand a better chance as a group. Strength in numbers. Like, I could...attack stuff, Will could be a planner guy, and you guys" - as she directed her vision towards OTTO and O'rylath - "could be... puncture wound protection. That sound right?" She thought she saw the others began to nod, the latter of which with a rather disapproving stare at their role, before she heard another crap of thunder. However, this one just didn't sound... right. There was no bolt of lightning to signify the sound, and it sounded strangely metallic. She almost thought it sounded like gunfire, but before she could complete the thought she suddenly found that she was laying on the deck of the ship and clutching her left arm, through which she was bleeding heavily. She attempted to repress a sharp yelp of pain, but it found its way out anyways, and before she knew it Will had ducked under the heavy wooden railing through which musket fire was now raining over. There was a rather sickeningly loud screeching noise which sounded kind of like her left ear attempting to give out, but over it she heard the screaming of commands and warnings of intruders from the ship just beside the one everyone was standing on. The voices sounded unfamiliar to Apathy (though she assumed it was her ear), but even with the doubt of that she could tell it was none of the contestants. There were other people around the ship, and judging from how much it sounded like the dialogue was straight out of Treasure Island, they were probably the rightful owners of whatever boat they happened to be on. They weren't here before, though, were they? It's almost like they had mysteriously appeared from thin air...
Despite a little bit of difficulty, Apathy stood up, supporting herself with her right arm, and immediately ducked down again when the whizzing sound of bullets sounded a little too close for comfort. There was an extremely large booming noise and suddenly the entire ship lurched backwards and almost made a sinking motion. The sound of rushing water started to intrude below the ship, and the seas themselves seemed to be coming alive, washing and thrashing around violently. Apathy cursed, wondering how she didn't find the cannons first. The thought of Will, OTTO, and O'rylath was gone, and she immediately dashed across the deck before hopping over the railing and plunging into the cold waters below once more.
The fact that now her arm was now useless didn't help the fact that she was suddenly being shoved into a scrappy hole that had been blasted into the boat, and the stinging of her arm and her ears and fuck all, everything was now amplified by the countless cuts and scratches the dangerously-sharp boards of polished wood were now carving into her, and she pushed herself out of the boat and towards the hostile one. There was no ladder fastened to the side of this boat, but she'd be damned if that would stop her. She grabbed a plank which stood out from the others and took a moment to rip it as far from the ship as she dared. It was difficult and long work, but through the thrashing waves and gunfire, she managed to make a makeshift pathway up the side of the boat, almost like those mountain-climbing games they have at amusement parks. Except, of course, this wasn't for fun. Having now toppled over the deck of the ship (gratefully without drawing attention to herself), Apathy then calmly walked up to the nearest Englishman, politely tapped him on the shoulder, and then caved his skull in with her now electrically-charged shoe.

11. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Rising up from the cracked and splintered deck, Voitrach finds he has attracted quite a crowd. It is composed, he notes, of relatively tall humanoids with a somewhat similar body structure to Will and flesh tones ranging from pink to brown. As Voitrach begins to raise himself, they all back off a short distance and a low buzz of anxious discussion starts among them. After a few seconds, one is apparently designated as the leader and walks forward to meet Voitrach. His dress consists of a metal chestplate of armour attached over an azure jacket that reaches to halfway down the man's thigh, and some tight brown legging which could be either tights or some other kind of covering - it is too difficult to tell from this distance. Shaking ever so slightly, the man takes one more pace towards the gravity-altering golem before asking:

"What manner of man or beast art thou? My crew have been most curious." Almost startled by the question, Voitrach takes his time to reply.

"I could ask the same question. You are only at most the tenth, if not the ninth or eighth, being of your type I have had the fortune to meet." The man is somewhat calmed by hearing Voitrach speak, but he has not quite finished shaking yet.

"Well then, could I question you as to what your purposes are aboard our fair ship?" Voitrach takes some time to think on this, and other matters. What had he been doing before he was startlingly interrupted by these creatures? He had been looking for organisms like them to help him cause the demise of Loran. Maybe he would be able to convince his latest discovery to his cause?

"I have been seeking some allies to help me defeat a particular adversary. It appears to be a strange creature, considerably lacking in morals and unwilling for a fair battle."

"I'll just be a few minutes!" he yelled to the captain. "I need to acquire the opinion of some acquaintances of mine." With that, he lifted himself into the air and dived into the water.

12. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

The entire cabin was quiet, except for the occasional scrape made across the broomstick. Felix studied the girl he had chosen to accompany with. She seems rather uninteresting, but I shall soon find out. Perhaps there is something hiding behind this persona of uncertainty. He lifted himself off of the wall and left the room; Anna was too occupied graphing the symbols into the broom to notice that Felix had left her. Had she asked him where he intended to go, he would have simply replied that he wished to explore the ship. However, his real intent was to clear his thoughts. The manner in which the unlikely two encountered each other did not bring any physical harm unto the villain, due to his shady composition, but it did shake his mind. His mind was a flurry of thoughts, and even the most brilliant of thinkers could be shaken by the sheer amount of information he needed to take in.

All of his actions up to this point had been brought about by spur of the moment decisions. If Felix were to make it out on top, or make it out at all, he would have to use his mind to prevent such sudden occurrences. Precise and exact plans would be recquired to trick and deceive the contestants. Loran and Voltraich were the two heavy variables; however, Loran would probably not attempt a direct attack on the two, due to Felix's daring rescue. While it seems that Voltraich might not necessarily be aggressive, one wrong move could spell disaster. While not exactly a direct danger, I should definitely keep an eye out for Otto. That powerful cannon of his could probably wipe me out instantly. And then Apathy... Felix sighed. This is going to be a long night.

Felix's thoughts occupied him, as he continued wandering the ship, not really paying heed to where he was going. He had wandered for a while before his mind started to slow. Once his mental monologue came to a close, he began to actually examine his surroundings. He had arrived within some living quarters, that had many bunk beds connected to each other. It seemed to be the resting place of the crew, which numbered in the dozens. Alongside each of the beds was a wardrobe, within each was various belongings, among the most interesting was a diary by one of the navigators. Felix's interest was picqued as he opened the book and began to read.

Many minutes went by as Felix read the log in silence, by the light of a candle. Abruptly, the silence was broken by the many screams and yells of a crew in the midst of a fight, which had just seemingly come out of stasis. Felix stood there for a moment, wondering about what could possibly have caused this; there was far too much noise for it to be any of the contestants. However, something much more important came to his attention. "The witch!" He dropped the book he was reading, and dashed through the decks of the ship as he searched for Anna. If the sounds of gunshot and cannons above were anything to indicate, chances were, they were on this ship as well.

On the way up a set of stairs, he nearly ran head first into a crewmate lugging a keg of gunpowder. "E-e-enemy on the deck! Enemy on the deck!" The man yelled at the top of his lungs as he nearly dropped the barrel from shock . Felix swiftly lifted the barrel, for fear of it hitting the ground and igniting, and threw it upon the crewmate, knocking him down. Felix ran past him as he continued to yell as loud as possible. Goddamn it! This wasn't supposed to happen! Felix cursed to himself; yet another obstacle in his way. He charged into the room Anna was in.

"How did this woman get on the ship?" "Just what do you think you are doing here, lady?" Anna was slowly backed into the corner by this group of men who had come out of nowhere; and Anna really wished they would go back to nowhere. She could grab her knife, but one of the men had a gun, and the rest had swords, and it just didn't seem like the best idea. Suddenly, a hand grabbed the shoulder of one of the men; as he turned around, a fist met with his face, and he fell to the floor. The rest of crew turned to Felix as he unsheathed his sword and slashed at one of them. "What the hell?!" The crewmate grabbed his gun and fired at Felix; Felix had been prepared to simply phase through it, but the most brilliant idea struck him as he was barely able to keep his smirk hidden.

The bullet flew into his arm, as Felix let out a yelp of pain. He stabbed the last man through the chest with his "good" arm, and then sheathed his sword. Two of the crew laid dead on the ground, while the other was unconscious. Felix grabbed his arm, as blood began to trickle down it. Anna began to say something as he put his finger over his mouth, and let out a "Shhhhhh". He nodded towards the stairs leading onto the deck, indicating that he intended to go up. He chuckled to himself as he saw the rest of the crew occupied upon Voltraich. Perhaps this day can be salvaged after all.

14. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

As bullets flew, splintering wood and sending fragments in all directions, OTTO froze in place. The pandemonium around the machine would've rendered anything organic entirely unable to cope, he was sure, but his isolated systems were blocking out the external sounds, giving preference to his own internal comms.

"If you are hearing this," came the message, source unknown, "then you, too, are a victim of the whims of an enigmatic master, whom has forced you into a battle to the death with many other strange beings. You are likely far from your home, far from your friends, far from your family.

"My name is Vandrel Reinhardt, and I am in a battle similar to yours. I seek allies, to overthrow these unworthy grandmasters. I assume that, if you can receive this message, then you have some way of reaching into the multiverse. Seek me out. Together, we can fight for our freedom."

There was a slight warble midway through the message, but it was otherwise intact, coming through to OTTO clear as a bell.

"Fascinating as that is," O'rlyath prodded, "these newcomers are bringing some heavier arms to bear. Focus!"

-

When the shooting started, Will dove for cover. There was a set of steps leading up to what Will could only term the bridge, and he wedged himself in the corner behind one as best he could.

The men had quite simply appeared out of nowhere, and Will wasn't terribly concerned with the why for now. He'd managed to escape notice for the moment, but he'd soon be found and likely executed on the spot if he didn't figure out a plan.

His goal was clear to him- he needed to change the nature of the conflict. He was proficient enough with the Blastec, but if he was going to be at his best, it wouldn't be in a shoot-out. He was much more comfortable in a logical arena, and some form of reluctant diplomacy was probably the closest he was going to get at this point.

His goal, then, was only a meter or two away- the captain's quarters had to be behind the double doors between the steps, and if he could get himself alone with the captain, he could try to explain the situation. If that didn't work, well... He had other options available.

-

Two of the newly-arrived sailors were turning a cannon around, and they were close enough to ready by the time OTTO turned his attention to them that he acted on pure instinct.

As the weapon and the targets tumbled over the side a few moments later, additional targets brought additional weapons to bear, necessitating a change in tactics. A location behind cover would be optimal, as without his normal reserves of power a force of this size would win out in a direct confrontation, purely by mass. He could potentially eliminate half of the targets on his current power, but no more. He needed to get under cover, recharge, and extend the conflict. Frail humans would hunger, tire, and die more easily over long periods of time, especially isolated on a craft of this size. The long game would be the more optimal, and a location of long-term viability would be ideal.

After a fraction of a second, the goal was devised- the doors at the far end of the deck would lead to an enclosed space, which he could use as a staging area for raids against the enemy. Taking off at a brisk clip, the combat unit moved across the deck, sending a pair of humans sprawling to the deck, fragile limbs cracked and shattered. The doors were closed, but the robot's charging mass made short work of them.

-

Will, in his hiding place beside the doors, had not been expecting them to burst open in a shower of wood. He'd been hoping, rather, that once the shooting had died down, the captain would return to his quarters, giving Will the opportunity to get the drop on him and explain his point. After that, there would be options.

The sudden entry of the robot put a bit of a cramp in this plan, but not much of one. OTTO was as close to an ally as he'd have on this boat, and the two of them could probably work together reasonably well.

"Right," he began, holstering his pistol and facing the android, "any ideas?"

-

Normally, O'rlyath would be quite happy to sit back and let OTTO's base programming take the reigns. He enjoyed a good swath of destruction as much as the next Being, but in this case, he'd have to intervene. Will, limited as he was, could still prove useful. He wasn't actively hostile, he could be overpowered easily enough when the time came, and he might even have a way to escape if the opportunity presented itself. He was someone to keep alive, at least for now, and he couldn't have OTTO tearing him limb from limb in a primal frenzy.

-

"Will Haven," came the Being's voice, "you should know something." OTTO seemed paused for a moment, stalled halfway through turning around.

Will frowned, reaching back down to the holster. "What's that?"

"OTTO here's running on his base code at the moment, and he's rather keen to fulfil his primary function."

Will tensed up, eyes flicking about the room, checking possible escapes. "Oh? I take it that's 'kill, maim, and tear asunder,' then?" Out the door is just back into the line of fire, out the windows is seawater.

"It is indeed." OTTO shuddered, made it another quarter of the way around, then stopped again. "I'm doing what I can, but this is his original purpose, and it's not easy to counteract. If you don't want to end up in chunks, I'd suggest you figure out a way to talk some sense into him rather soon."

"Of course." Grabbing his data reader, the human began scrolling through the results of his scans of the robot earlier. As he did, OTTO managed a few steps forward, closing more than half the distance in those few strides. Finally, though, Will found what he was looking for. He reread the tiny screen carefully, cleared his throat, and shouted at the slowly-advancing war machine.

"Combat Device Six Three Eight Dash Zero Zero One, your systems are malfunctioning! Engage safety protocols immediately!"

Almost instantly, there was a response. Whatever fundamental programming that drove OTTO to destroy and kill had always been intended for use by one side in particular, and Will had gambled on that side having some sort of just-in-case safety mechanisms around. Fortunately, he'd been right- the machine remained where it was, all lights dimming for a moment.

"He's just restarting," O'rlyath said. "You might want to move- there's no guarantee he won't just go back to his base programming."

Will didn't argue. Picking his way around the splinter-laden room, he made his way to one of the windows. He couldn't go back out the door, not with the gunfire, so he'd have to risk the sea if the robot came back with intent to kill.

15. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

“You’ve got, if I recall this tin can’s protocols correctly, about four minutes. You’d best get off this ship.”

“What?”

The black intrusion upon OTTO’s joints seemed to lose some of its gumminess as the Being had a more concerted look through the warbot’s programming. “Yes, Protocol 24789 – advanced-circuitry-seeking missile turret. He’s scheduled to power down for five minutes, then dig.”

Will looked incredulous. “Dig?”

“Indeed. You brought up a legacy protocol – the default at the time he went by that particular designation. Quite effective actually, before the towers in question were patched to scan below ground level. His lazy programming is hardly your concern though. Three minutes.”

“I- this is insane. If all of the ships are like this-” Will gestured to the doors behind the duo- “We need to get out of here.”

O’rylath appraised the human, before concurring he hadn’t been mistaken. “Who do you suggest?” Will was taken aback, but grimaced, thinking.

“Loran. Unstable, so more dangerous, less likely to co-operate or listen to reason. You need to find Apathy.”

There was a jerky movement from OTTO as the Being tried unsuccessfully to make him nod. “Understood. Two minutes.”

Will knocked out the window with the butt of his gun, before grabbing the captain’s coat and laying it over the exposed edge. “I’ll launch a shot up if I find her.”

OTTO’s eyes lit up, a faint stream of text burning across them as he powered up. Will thought he heard the spectre sigh as he leapt through the window. He kicked for the nearest bit of floating debris, struggling to pull himself from the ship’s undertow. Behind him, there was a splintering noise, followed by a slower groan as the galleon began to sink and flood from the fresh, gaping hold in its aft. Will grabbed a plank sheared off some ship by a well-aimed cannonball, glancing at the silver mass sinking swiftly beneath the floundering vessel.

Environmental parameters exceed optimal range for all pre-programmed protocols. Restoring AI systems…

“Gah! What the!?”

“Your little brain overloaded under heavy fire, and you dug through a ship and are presently sinking. Blame Will on that last part, but we’ll deal with him later-“

“The hell we will! Where is he!? If he’s nearby, I reckon I could fry him-”

“And likely short yourself out in the process. Get your jets working, so I can stop fervently praying your seals hold out in this salt water.”

OTTO grumbled, but brought propulsion online. There was a worrying noise between a groan and a gurgle, before the turbines churned the last of the air out of their innards and started pumping water. The warbot kept up his complaints as assorted HUDs refreshed.

“Ok, so why can’t we kill the Haven guy?”

“We need his assistance – namely, his brains – to eliminate the more dangerous foes.” O’rylath paused. “Like Loran.”

“Whatever,” scoffed OTTO. “I could take on that shady freak without anyone’s help.”

“Well, yes. You could prance about shooting plasma in his general direction until he’s stupid enough to come out of hiding, but the fact you didn’t consider that merely illustrates my point.”

“Shut up,” OTTO retorted, more out of habit. His displays reported five metres until he broke the surface, on a perfect trajectory to land on the deck of an English ship. Slightly more pressing to the duo was how much power these jets were guzzling.

“Prepare for boarding,” intoned the Being. “Your scans read eight humans up top, more belowdecks.”

“Got it.”

The surface beckoned overhead, torn apart seconds later by a charging draconic robot. O’rylath caught the name of this vessel, The Golden Hind, before it became swiftly aware to the pair that OTTO’s calculations hadn’t accounted for his jets failing as they left the water.

Instead of landing on the deck, OTTO strained for the railing, barely managing to get his forelegs over it. The entire galleon keeled over as he sunk his rear claws in, sailors too alarmed to retaliate. He hauled himself up in an ungainly scramble (involving at least one frantically snatched mouthful of rigging), and when finally on level(ish) ground, took in his surroundings.

One sailor had fallen overboard when the warbot had threatened to flip over the ship, but two more burst out from the captain’s quarters. The captain himself glared disbelievingly at OTTO, before looking round his crew and barking, “lower your weapons.”

Francis Drake took a cautious step forward, to which OTTO neglected to respond (albeit reluctantly, on O’rylath’s orders.)

“What manner of beast are you?”

16. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Loran was exhilarated.
The sounds if fighting were all around him, screams and bangs and yells, occasionally interrupted by a gasp of horror as one of the men felt his throat being slit. And another, and another. None saw him coming. None heard him leave. The other cannoneers had left their positions now, shocked and scared by the rapid deaths among their fellow
crewmen. They didn't see Loran, of course. He crept through the shadows, only slipping out to take another life, then hurriedly dissappearing again. If they saw anything, it was the glint of a sudden knife, a spurt of blood, perhaps a cloak fluttering away. Never more than that.
They had cottoned on now, Loran saw. From the twenty men busying themselves with the cannons on this deck, only six were still standing, and they had formed a circle, backs to eachother and weapons drawn. Good. Let them fear. Loran dissappeared up the stairs without making a sound. It was more difficult to hide in the open, but with the chaos of the battle, being seen wasn't the problem it would've been belowdecks. Here, no one could be bothered to follow him. They would convince themselves they were seeing things, and concentrate on the more pressing matter of not being killed. Ah, the irony!
Loran spotted someone with a fancier uniform than the others, and made him drop to the deck, clutching his own intestines. He was a shadow of death, lethal, unnoticed.
He heard a shout behind him. He had been seen, finally. It was almost pitiful, how long it had taken these creatures to see him. He picked up the gun the fancy man had dropped, and shot the first sailor coming at him. The others hesitated. A quick glance told Loran that he now had the attention of half the ship. Good enough.
'What are you?' one of the men shouted at him. One of the braver ones. He would die first.
'I am a killer,' Loran said calmly. He was surrounded by a large group of heavily armed soldiers, some aiming ancient guns at him, some holding their swords at the ready. The last thing he should do was show fear. 'Surely you noticed?'
He took a step towards the man who had spoken. Rather than stop him, the circle of men moved with him. The air was thick with their fear. They probably thought him some kind of demon, come to take their souls to the place where criminals were tortured and mutilated, or whatever these fools believed. It always came down to the same thing
anyway.
He took another step, and the part of the circle in front of him bumped into something, stopping them from backing away. Two quick strides, and Loran was in front of the speaker.
'I like your manners,' he said, grinning the most monstrous grin he could manage. He heard someone approaching from behind, and grinned in that direction as well. The few who had dared approach him, probably to kill him, backed away as fast as they could.
'What is going here!?'
A commanding voice. A leader. Now it was getting difficult. Leaders were generally less superstitious than uneducated sailors. He might just decide to kill Loran and be done with it.
'Just a minute,' he said, smiling at the leader. Definitely a leader. He even had a feather on his hat. Loran turned back tot he sailor he had cornered leaning in close.
'See you around,' he whispered, and blew in the man's face. Between their bodies, hidden from the many eyes, he flicked out a dagger, stabbed the man in the guts, and pocketed it again. He rearranged the man's clothes, and let him drop to the ground. It didn't matter if the blood would soak the clothing soon. If the others believed for just a few minutes that Loran could kill by breathing in their face, it would suffice. By the looks of them, they did.
'Sir, so good to see you,' Loran said pleasantly to the leader, as though he hadn't just killed on of his men. 'I came to make a pact.'
'A pact?' repeated the leader raising his eyebrows. To his credit, he didn't look scared in the slightest.
'A pact,' Loran repeated. 'Me and my companions will fight at your side. we will bring with us the dark forces of darkness. Whoever you are fighting, we'll get rid of them.'
The leader looked at him, disbelieving.
'You just killed a quarter of my crew!' he said, outraged. He gave a signal with his hand, and the many sailors who had lowered their weapons, looking as though they wanted to run, raised them again.
'A price,' Loran said casually. 'For every two enemies we kill, we want one of your men. I merely took an advance payment. Anyway, you have plenty left, haven't you?'
'I'm not going to let you kill my men!' the leader yelled.
'They'll die anyway!' Loran said. 'You might lose much more if you fight this fight yourself. In exchange, we ensure your victory, all we want is to take the dead for our own purpose.'
'No,' said the leader decidedly. 'Leave, devilspawn, or we will kill you.'
A threat before an action. Whatever the leader was thinking, he díd believe Loran was something dangerous, and he wasn't sure if he could kill him. Good.
'Don't spurn us, fool!' Loran said. He looked the leader straight into the eyes, making his purple eyes as wide as he could, showing as many teeth as he could in a beastly snarl. 'We will join the other side! We don't care who wins! We will crush you! Me and the witches and wizards and dragons and our leader, He Who Is Made Of Stone, who can destroy entire fleets with a single fist!'
He stepped closer to the leader, so that their faces were inches apart, and chuckled.
'Or rather, do. I look forward to taking your life.'
'KILL -' the leader started to shout, but Loran took a deep breath, and the surrounding crew recoiled slightly. Long enough for him to force his way between them. he whipped out his daggers, stabbing and slicing wildly, and the men moved away from the cloud of death and fear he was.
'SHOOT HIM!' yelled the leader. Loran heard the first gunshots, but he was over the edge already, back into the water. He moved away fromt he ship as fast as possible. That had been a pleasant detour, and possibly fruitful. If these men would turn against the other contestants, it had been a worthwhile delay. Now he had to go back to searching Felix. Preferably before his own plan killed the villain.

Captain Maynard stared over the railing where the black... thing had dissappeared beneath the water. A cannonball missed him by inches, and he moved away again. What he had just heard was highly disturbing. If there truly were demonic forces at work here, they might prove even more deadly then the Spaniards. He pondered this for a moment, and then rounded on the nearest sailor.
'Find Commander Drake. Tell him there has been some kind of demonic creature on board of our ship, killing our men. Tell him there are probably more, and they came to harvest our souls. Tell him to shoot them on sight.'
The sailor nodded once. He had been among the ones who ahd seen the demon. He was paler than usual, and was shaking slightly. Despite that, he set off to follow the order at once. They were good men, all of them, and Maynard would not let them get involved with the devil. Under no circumstances. The sailor was getting ready a dinghy, and at the last minute, Maynard yelled after him: "Tell him I'm not delusional!'

17. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Another message echoed out through the multiverse, saying much and saying nothing. Once more, the cascade of energy plucked the delicate causal strand that described Will's life and shifted his relative position in time, swapping seventeen for eighteen and bringing more change than just a slight movement.

In his eighteenth run through the loop that defined him, this particular Will had made an exciting discovery. For nearly a year, he had edged ever-closer to a solution, building a device that would literally lock his atoms to their positions in the universe. It was more than just a stasis field- those simply reduced all motion to zero, something that wouldn't prevent outside forces from interacting with them in other ways. No, this device would lock him down, tying him to his place with literally unsurpassable force.

Except it wouldn't. Every test he ran failed, results varying from simple removal of the testing object from existence to a massive impulse of kinetic energy that nearly blew a hole in the side of the Timeless. It took him two months of tests to finally go back to the drawing board, double- and triple-checking his calculations to try and find the problem.

Eventually, he found it, and the realization nearly crushed him.

$\large&space;\dpi{150}&space;\frac{...}{1&space;-&space;(\frac{F_{hold}}{F_{max}})}$

A divide-by-zero error. He'd wasted more than a year of his life on a wild goose chase, all because he hadn't noticed that one error in his calculations.

He docked at the nearest city-ship, Bertrand City, and wasted yet another month losing himself in the finest beverages an interest-abuse scheme could buy.

He had six years left until he was abducted at that point, and while he did set up the loop to continue for another iteration, he didn't do any more work. Even the thought of researching methods of preventing his abduction sent him directly to thoughts of that damnable error.

In the end, he put on a decent show for the nineteenth Will, and when he vanished, that iteration of himself was as full of drive and determination as he himself had been fourteen years ago.

-

Anna certainly wasn't scared and confused. She had no reason to be, after all- sure, three sailors had just appeared and died right in front of her. Sure, the person who'd killed them was now about to go abovedecks and probably kill more of them. And sure, that Will guy had just appeared in front of her, holding out his gun and shouting at a rather empty corner of the room.

He whirled around, searching the room for the person he'd just been pointing his gun at. His eyes flicked to Annaliese as he looked around, then moved on, simply identifying her as "not Atrum".

After a moment, he swore and lowered the weapon. "Damn, he phased out." He turned back to the witch and sighed. "Whatever, he'll be back, and we can get rid of him then. For now, you just focus on getting that thing working. Hopefully we can get to Voitrach before Greyve and Twight finish butting heads."

"G-Greyve?" Anna had some very clear memories on the subject of that particular combatant, none of which were particularly compatible with the idea of him butting heads with anyone.

"Yeah. He's taken a special interest in that Creeper of ours, and I'm happy to have the two of them tied up with each other instead of trying to off the rest of us."

"Didn't you, uh... shoot him?"

"What? No. Can't say I wouldn't mind, but I haven't had that pleasure just yet. Your head on straight?"

Anna was fairly sure it was (sure as anyone could be), but Will wouldn't listen to her. He was already headed abovedecks and urging her to be quiet and come along, completely focused on just getting the two of them airborne as soon as possible.

19. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

The flashes of light. The cursed flashes of light!
There was some sort of fire, or explosions, or lots of lamps on every ship now, and spots of color were dancing in front of Loran's eyes. He held one arm infront of them, trying to shield his sensitive eyes from the fires, but that only served in making the swimming much more difficult. The other option was lowering his blindfold again, hovering up his eyes, and while he relished the thought of some blessed darkness, he just couldn't do that right now. The surroundings were too chaotic, too unpredictable. And even if he hadn't been in the middle of a large battle with ships and seas and cannons, there was still the matter of several powerful beings trying to kill him.
He would need all his senses.
He grabbed hold of the hull of a ship, and tried to climb on board. While swimming was certainly a good way of not getting shot by some random soldier, it was tiresome, and he could see very little of what was going on aboard the ships. He didn't manage to get on board. The wood was too slippery, and his cloak, heavy with water, was not making the climb any easier.
'There's no way I'm going to die by drowning!' he growled to himself.
He climbed a few feet to the side, where a piece of rope was dangling overboard. If it was fastened, he could pull himself up. It was, and he proceeded as planned. As he was hanging there from the rope, he heard a splash, and looked round. Some huge stony thing had jumped off one of the ships, not too far away. Loran only knew of one big stony thing around these parts, and if that particular big stony thing had visited a ship, it was worth taking a look. At best, he would find an unsuspecting ally of Voitrach's on the ship. At worst, he was at a place where Voitrach was not going.
He let go of the rope. He could handle another bout of swimming.

'Now, I don't think we've met, have we?'
The crew turned around hurriedly. Most of them had been busy watching Voitrach go. Felix supressed a smirk.
'Who are you?' the captain of the ship asked. Felix smiled pleasantly.
'Felix Atrum, pleasure to meet you,' Felix said, lifting his hat the slightest bit.
'Yes,' the captain said. He motioned to his men, who did not seem to understand it. Some of them raised arms, some of them lowered them. 'But who are you?'
'Ah, yes,' said Felix pleasantly. 'I am one of the acquaintances of Voitrach... that stone thing that just jumped off your ship,' he added, when the captain looked nonplussed.
'In fact,' Felix continued, 'I may be the very acquaintance he is looking for. You are in luck, captain, for finding me.'
'Ah, yes,' the captain said, and this time he definitely motioned for lowering of the arms. 'Why was the big stone looking for you, again?'
'We will discuss that in a more quiet place,' said Felix. 'Your cabin, perhaps? While enjoying the pleasure of a cup of tea? I would be most grateful for that.'
The captain stared.
'Tea,' Felix insisted. 'Surely you have some? You are British, are you not?'
'Yes, yes,' the captain said. 'I have a personal supply.'
'Let's have a soothing drink, then,' Felix said pleasantly. 'Lead the way.'
The captain started towards his cabin, and Felix followed him.
'By the way,' he added, 'there's a young girl downstairs. Tell your men she's not to be harmed. She is with me. There are also three dead sailors there. They went mad and killed themselves. Speaking of wounds, could someone fetch a medic or something? I fell over just now and got a nasty cut in my arm. Nothing special, but the blood is ruining my suit.'

Will arrived on the deck just too late to see Felix dissappear in the cabin.

'So, are you winning?' Felix asked. He was watching through the window in the captain's cabin, but couldn't see much of the battle.
'I'm not sure, sir,' the captain said. 'Communications have not been good the last few minutes.'
'A pity,' Felix said. The captain put a cup of steaming tea in front of him, and Felix smiled. 'Do sit down.'
The captain sat down on a small stool, since Felix was occupying the captain's chair. The villain took a sip, and smiled again, looking at the captain sitting nervously in front of him. He liked this captain. The man seemed to have understood there were things going on beyond his understanding, and decided to just roll with it. Such men were the best kind, Felix though. All one needed were a commanding voice and an imposing posture, and they were yours.
'Sir, you're colleague promised us help with the fight... is that why you are here?'
Felix smiled assuringly at the captain.
'Most definitely,' he said. 'I might need your help with one or two little problems first, but after that, I will do all i can for you. You have my word.'
The captain nodded, satisfied for now.
'I will return to the battle, then,' he said, and he seemed to grow a little as he took on the role of captain again. Felix studied a map laid out on the table.
'You do that,' he said. 'Say, you don't happen to have some milk for my tea, do you?'
There was a soft gasp near the door, and Felix looked up. He was just in time to see the captain crumple to the floor, blood gushing out of his neck. Loran took a step away fromt he man and pressed a bloody knife beneath Felix's chin.
'No,' he said, 'but I have some blood, if you want to.'

Loran looked Felix in the eyes for a few seconds. Was the villain frozen with fear, with indecision, perhaps? Why was he only looking mildly displeased?
'Why did you kill that man? I liked him.' Felix asked. Loran tried to hide his shock at the calm tone of Felix's voice.
'So did I,' he said. 'He died easily.'
He put his knife back into it's sheat.
'Why weren't you frightened?' he asked, annoyed.
'You know I'm dangerous,' Felix said. 'or at least, you think I am.'
He calmly took another sip from his tea. Loran started to have second thoughts about his descision. This man was infuriating!
'A trained assassin like you wouldn't have given me a warning before killing me,' Felix finished. 'And he certainly wouldn't have made a quip at my expense.'
'Alright, have it your way,' Loran said. He put his hands on the table, and leaned forward, hoping to get some kind of reaction out of Felix. 'I'm here to talk.'
'About what?' Felix asked. He put down his tea, and folded his hands. He suddenly looked more competent than Loran had seen him thus far.
'About the others.' Loran sat down. 'You can look at it from any way you want, but sopme of them are just too strong. Voitrach... He is a freaking golem with some kind of black hole at it's center! How could I ever kill a thing like that?'
'Yes, black matter is a tricky thing to beat,' Felix said. 'I wouldn't try it on your own, if I were you.'
Felix looked awfully smug about something, but Loran pushed on.
'Right, and that is why I'm here. Together, we might be able to kill the thing. We'd need a good plan of course, and perhaps someone else to help, but we could do it.'
'Hm,' said Felix. 'And at what point would you try to stab me in the back?'
'When I get the chance,' Loran said. 'Just like you. Still, I would be prepared to call a cease-stab-in-the-backing until Voitrach is dead.'
'A pact to kill Voitrach,' Felix said musingly. 'I will need to think on that.'
'Don't think too long,' Loran said. 'I want that thing down before I'm out of possible allies.'
'Oh sure,' Felix said. 'Just go kill something, I'll get back to you in due time.'

20. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round II - Armada]

Loran left the room, and shortly escaped into the shadows; he would wait to see what Atrum would do before killing any of the crew. At least, any on the top deck. He just had to make sure that no one heard them scream. Not too difficult a task at all.

Felix looked at the now dead captain; this would be a problem. However, problems have solutions. "So, back to shapeshifting. I have grown somewhat rusty in the prospect, but hopefully I can manage." He let out a sigh as his body warped to resemble the deceased. Although not perfect, it was more than enough to fool any half-blind sailor in the middle of the night. Now, if I can just... The villain's body contoured again, this time releasing a split image of himself. After stuffing the body into a cubboard, and cleaning up the blood, the crime was untraceable. The now two persons left the cabin, as the crew awaited the word of the captain.

"We have come to an agreement; we will assist this man on his endeavors to slay a certain enemy, and doing so, we will have his assistance in battle against the Spaniards. Is that correct, mister..." "Please, call me Felix. Felix Atrum." "Now, Felix, could you tell us all about this enemy?" "It would do nothing more than complicate the matter; for now, be assured that I shall recognize it on sight." "Very well. Men, return to your stations!" A unified "Yes Sir!" erupted from the crew, as they continued navigating, sailing, et cetera.

Felix opened the door back into the ship, only to be greeted by a rather annoyed Will. "Atrum. Just what do you think you're doing?" "Ah, Mr. Williams; so nice to see you. Glad to see you remain in one piece. I would hate to think what Loran would have done to you had he found you first." "Which brings me to the question; just what do you think you're doing?! I had the perfect opportunity to kill him!" "Now, Williams, I assure you I have very good explanations for this. Now, I suggest we enter the deck of the ship so that-" Will brought the ray gun up to Felix's face. "No sneaky moves from you this time. If you have such a good explanation for this, then I demand it now." "Very well, if you insist."

"You see, William, this is all a part of my plan. We villains are notorious for this. By rescuing Loran from your deadly grasp, I was able to lure him to my side; something that would not have been done otherwise. In fact, he has offerred his assistance in slaying Voltraich."
"Why Voltraich? And why team up with such a murderous thug?" Will became angered, and thrust the gun into Felix's face. "Now now, all in due time. Lower the gun, it becomes hard to speak when it's in front of my mouth. Nonetheless, I haven't agreed to his help yet; it has merely been offerred. Personally, I don't care much for slaying Voltraich yet. While I admit he is a wildcard, he isn't exactly the most aggressive being I have seen. But Loran's assistance is crucial; at the very least, if he is trying to kill someone else, that someone isn't me." "Which brings me to yet another point, aren't you aware he could backstab you any moment?" "Ah, yes, that. Have you ever heard of 'honor among theives'? Well, it does exist. Although it is less honor, and moreso 'scratch my back, and I'll scratch your's'. As long as I continue to assist him, he will have no real reason to retaliate. Not that it would do any good." "What is that supposed to mean?" "I mean exactly what I say, William. It will not do him any good if he retaliates against me. You have seen me in action. Your little gun has no affect on me, and I begin to wonder why you even bother to point it at me. I am immune to your trivial physical attacks." "If that is so, then why are you telling me all of this? I find it a bit odd that a villain of your stature would simply lay everything out for me." "Yes; and that is exactly why no one will believe you."

Will brought the gun down as he took a step back. "W-what did you say?" The villain's smile curved into a wicked smirk, as the words danced off his tongue, which Will became more and more convinced looked like one that belonged to a serpent. "No one will believe you if you try to tell them what I have just divulged to you. I have no real reason to tell you all of this, and everyone else would know that, unless they underestimate me. But, that would simply be another advantage I have. Confusion is my weapon, and I wield it well." Will nearly dropped his gun as he stood speechless. Bring yourself together, you can't let him outsmart you! "And just what do you intend to do now?" "Very simple; I will continue to work on the emotions of the witch; I have saved her once, and I hope to have earned her trust by the time this round has ended." "Quit this; don't you see we could work together and find a way out of here? With all of us alive?!" Felix shook his head, and 'tsked' repeatedly. "Will, Will, Will. There are forces more powerful than us at work here. We are under the supervision of gods. They have the power to recreate space and matter to their will, to such an extent that they can force eight hapless vessels from across time and space to have battle. Once you get the notion of escape out of your mind, the sooner you become a more valuable ally." Felix began to walk past Will. "It was nice talking, but I do not want to be around when the crew realizes that their captain isn't... All there." A big smile marked the villain's face as Will realized something he had not before; he could see through him. "Replication is imperfect, and there will always be flaws. In this case, transparency is an issue. In another minute or two, the crew will realize their captain has been killed, and whether you have come to grip with the situation will not matter. As much as you likely despise me, you have no choice but to join me. You can not dispatch this entire crew on your own. I, however, can." Will grimaced as he grabbed his gun and fired at Atrum; his jaw nearly dropped at what he saw. The 'bullet' seemed to simply phase through him! "I say, very nice shot. Now, if you can quit your resisting and come along, this will be much simpler."

21. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round III - Vorlon Complex]

(*Author’s note: Interestingly enough, while the identities and nature of these cultists have suddenly become altogether clear to me, I find that the name and details of the one I originally dubbed “The Leader” remain obscured. Be it a block in imagination or foresight, I do not know, though I am certain these details will come to light as such things do. There is much to write, however, so until that time, the original name will have to suffice.)

Azgard Soo’teruth studied the leather-bound tome which lay in the grand hall of Nowhere. This same book The Leader had held moments before his unexpected departure. No one else knew its contents, only that the dance between the prophesy and history held within was a delicate one -- one which The Leader had wished to safeguard from those present. The sudden absence of The Leader had taken all of them by surprise, even the snide Xilphos required a moment of pause before proceeding to mock Azgard.

“Well, great,” Xilphos sneered. “Now what do we do? Well, Azgard?”

Azgard dragged his eyes away from the abandoned book to meet the serpentine glare.

“I...I’m not sure yet.”

“‘Not sure’?” Xilphos hissed the reply back through serrated teeth. “You just lectured me on the infallibility of [The Leader]’s decisions. I would assume you’d know why he’s so suddenly left.”

The jab was well placed. Azgard had depended on the guidance and structure The Leader offered. He had placed his trust with the abilities and discretion of the one who had proven himself the most suited for the task. All of his calculations and scenarios depended critically on the presence of that individual. Now, in an instant, those scenarios were meaningless.

Azgard ran his hand through the spikes of his pale blond hair. Each follicle stood at even lengths, meticulously cut and maintained with a precision only Azgard was capable of. As his palm brushed past the bristles, Azgard captured every detail. Each strand was in place, each at the proper height. This was real.

“Xilphos, give me a moment. I need to to consider--”

“Well while you’re considering,” Xilphos turned towards the sphere which housed the naval battle, “I have some contestants to murder.”

“No!” Azgard lunged in front of the wooden-faced reptile. “You can’t interfere like that, not without planning!”

“Whose plans!?”

“Mine! Ours! The book’s! Causality is a fragile thing and if not handled carefully, could fracture into infinite pieces! We have to choose the right path.”

“And you think you’re the one to choose it?”

Azgard huffed, “I was his confidant, his right hand. If anything, that alone should be enough for you to listen to me.”

“How convenient,” Xilphos replied, “that the only one capable of confirming that has disappeared forever.”

“Is he really gone forever?” a small voice questioned through broken sobs

“Don’t you dare!” Azgard snapped at Peth. The tiny cultist stayed hidden behind comforting arms and cloaked hood. “Don’t you dare say that, don’t you dare even think that! He is coming back. Do you understand?”

There was no reply.

“Do you understand!?”

“Azgard!” The voice this time came from the cultist whose arms held the now quivering Peth. It was soft, almost motherly. “Please, calm yourself. He’s frightened. We’re all frightened.”

“You’re all weak,” Xilphos muttered. “Do you plan to coddle him until the end, Iifa? He’s been nothing but worthless this whole time. Hey. Why don’t you let
him go and take on those seven bastards. He could weep them to death.”

The others ignored Xilphos, turning instead to the gentleman called Barabbas. He had removed his hood, revealing a pale, bald, aged, yet human face covered in tattooed symbols which ran along the course of his neck and into the recesses of his cloak. Behind him stood the massive, unmoving figure of the one dubbed “Endo”.

“Azgard,” Barabbas asked, “will we be found?”

Even Xilphos waited for the answer to this question. Azgard rubbed his hand through his hair once more. Through his mind raced every possibility, every starting condition, each trailing and connecting with ever branching patterns of causality. He studied the sphere, the position and location of the contestants, who still lived and where they stood. After a moment, he responded.

“No,” he shook his head, “Not for now. Our battle is being watched and monitored by other grandmasters, but it is simply another battle in appearance. At the moment, they should have no reason to interfere. Even if they wanted to, our location is difficult to reach. There are very few ways to go Nowhere. However...our barrier is down. Bystanders have reappeared in the battle, as well as routes for escape. Normally this wouldn’t matter but...this is an historical location. They’re no longer isolated from that world’s timeline. If we continue the battle there...they’ll begin to split the timeline and THAT will attract a great deal of attention. Scattered timelines can disrupt the multiverse, displace other’s domains, give them a reason to come here.”

“So then we must end the round.” Atelia spoke softly. The youngest of the 8 cultists, her wide eyes reflected the azure glow sparkling from her dark ethereal hair.

“If we end the round directly,” Azgard continued, “it would be a deliberate violation of the rules of this contest. That would show we had some sort of trouble and may attract undue attention as well.”

“Gias, what do you see?” Barabbas’ directed his question towards the towering cultist. Gias had moved away from the group and was facing another one of the spheres in the grand hall. His hood remained on, but an orange glow beamed from the ends of the lengthy sleeves.

“I recognize this world,” was the reply. “It would be suitable for the next round...I could transport them there if--” he turned towards the group “--you approve, Azgard.”

“Oh you’re kidding me!” Xilphos rolled his eyes in frustration, “You’re backing up this nervous do-nothing?”

“If Gias supports him, then I do as well.” Atelia spoke, “Should you consult the book?”

All attention returned to the fallen tome. Azgard had never even touched the book, let alone explore its contents. Should he simply trust the causality foretold within to fulfill itself? Had The Leader’s departure caused something to go awry? There was only one answer. Azgard approached the text. He bent down. Running his fingers over the dark flame seared engraving - “Inexorable Altercation”. Their futures, their pasts, their hope, and their condemnation, all possibilities were contained within.

He opened it.

As if in a trance, his eyes locked on the page before him. Unmoving, unblinking, Azgard stood silently as the rest of the cultists waited for his report.

“What is it, Azgard?” Atelia asked calmly.

At her question Azgard blinked, shaking his head. He ran his hand through his hair.

“It’s just...” he paused, bringing down his hand, he started at his palm, confused.

“Is something wrong?” Atelia asked again.

Azgard repeated the motion once more, this time returning his gaze to the others.

“No...I mean...Yes. The book is written in some kind of code...it’s difficult to make out.”

“Surely you can decipher it?” Gias posed the question.

“I...don’t think it’s that simple, a normal code, yes but...”

“Come on!” Xilphos raised a jointed arm in frustration, “All you have to do is read a name! Who gets offed first? You pick at every little detail and never--”

“The robot.” Azgard interrupted, a furrowed brow facing the open text, “If these patterns represent names...his is the only one missing...”

“Finally.” A serrated cedar coated blade shot from Xilphos’ left arm. “Be back in a bit.”

“No.” Gias stopped his advance. “I shall complete the round. Your methods are too...unorthodox.”

“Is this alright Azgard?” A fourth question came from the youthful cultist. Her stature was that of a child, her face the shade of a rich darkness, pierced only by the twinkling sapphire flickers of her hair and widened eyes. In her shadowy hand, she held an orb, translucent and filled with other orbs each contained in the larger. She twisted the ball much like a toy, and the shapes and figures within shifted and spun in intricate designs. Azgard had often perceived Atelia as the most child-like of the group, far more so than the sorrowful Peth. Her eyes belied an innocence, a lack of understanding of the true nature of the multiverse.

“Do it.” Azgard consented. In that moment, Gias stepped forward, and passed through the realm of Nowhere into the battle below.

“Iifa,” Azgard spoke. “it would be best for Peth to avoid watching the proceedings. I have to...try and decipher this book. Atelia--”

“I’ll keep an eye on everything Azgard.” she responded.

With that, Azgard and the book left the grand hall for one of the many corridors sprawling through Nowhere. The other cultists as well went their own directions. Atelia remained, rotating her toy gingerly in her hands as Endo stood silently behind her.

--------------

Journal of Sir Francis Drake: March 17th

As with the other events I have described, the resolution to this skirmish was equally extraordinary, so much so that was it not for the testimony of my crew, and the unexplained damage to our vessels I would have disregarded the entirety of it all as a sudden fever dream.

The creature which had stood before me, some metal demon which had singlehandedly bested one of Her Majestys galleons, stayed his hand for but a moment before attempting his final charge. Had it not been for the intervention of some heavenly protector, I would surely not be writing this entry now. A robed creature with an unearthly orange glow appeared between myself and the aggressor. In a single motion he reached out his hand and stopped the demon in its tracks. I could not see much past the billowing robes of our savior, but the agony scream of the demon rocked the entire vessel. Its death cries were not of this world and pierced our gunblast deadened ears as the being banished the demon from our plane. Fragments of metal and sparking steel threads were all that remained of the creature when the robed figure left, its body and spirit having been ultimately destroyed.

Other crew from other ships, reported spotting a similar robed figure, interacting with other strange beings on their vessels. Though according to their reports, the strangers were not destroyed, but merely disappeared at the touch of the robed being. Some crew members even reported that Captain Maynard was among those taken, but he was later discovered deceased in his quarters. While mutiny is a possibility, I find it hard to believe my men capable of such deceit, and considering the circumstances, an far more otherworldly scenario is probable.

We continue our encounter against the Spanish aggressors, and while I believe victory is soon to come, these events must not go unrecorded.

--------------

The remaining contestants found themselves appearing one by one on a barren planet. A worn down and abandoned structure towered in front of them. When the last of them appeared, a cultist with orange glow emanating from his hood appeared at the top of the structure. Before they could speak, he removed his hood, revealing a stone-like face with bright pupilless orange eyes and pulsing bands running across his brow.

“I am Gias,” The cultist spoke. “The second round has ended. The machine OTTO and creature O’rylath are dead. You are on the world of Vorlon. Here a great battle was once waged against a queen who sought to disrupt the balance of this universe. Hers was the power of memory, and her armaments are testimony to this legacy. This planet is uninhabited, abandoned, save for what you shall find underground. Now fight. Kill one another and we shall move once more, one step closer to the ultimate goal. I shall be here. Watching you. If you attempt escape, you will suffer the fate of your former combatants.”

With that Gias appeared mere feet before the contestants. With a broad sweep of his hand he banished them into the depths of the complex below. The third round had begun.

22. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round III - Vorlon Complex]

Voitrach collapsed onto the floor, caught off-balance by the rapid transportation. That was one thing, for certain - these transitions had become a lot faster since the original switch into that rock temple. Did that mean anything? He considered. Maybe whatever was running this, the voice at the start, the being that had spoken to and scattered them now, was caring less for them, or more specifically their entertainment? Or maybe it was becoming anxious, worried, hasty, maybe even a slight jumpy - so if something went wrong, they could stop any harm from coming to their performers. Yes, perhaps that's what it could be. A mistake, a slip-up. The theory seemed to hold with the sudden appearance of people onboard those boats, that was for certain.

This was no time for dawdling, however. That was something Voitrach knew. Putting the affair with his relocation out of his mind, he set to analysing the area around him. The floor, for a start, was seemingly made of a familiar brown rock. Odd. Cautiously applying a small amount of gravitational force to crack this layer, he pulled up a large chunk and peered underneath. Another kind of rock lay there, this time grey and porous. He tried pulling that apart, too, but it held firm.

Next on the agenda was the walls. There was one on either side of him, extending a long way in both directions. Examining where they led carefully, Voitrach noted a set of double doors at one end, and a turn in the corridor at the other. Along each wall lay shelves upon shelves of jars, each filled halfway with some clear liquid and with some kind of mechanical baton extending down the centre. These were the next point of interest. Picking a direction - towards the doors - and walking towards it, Voitrach followed one shelf of jars, examining each glass container in turn. Most of them had a small label written in scribbly handwriting - lists of names he could not know, read or understand. Halfway to the doors, however, Voitrach found the first exception to this. Another glass jar, yes, half-full of liquid and with a label on front. But the liquid was green, not clear, and the label was seemingly blank. Strange. He picked it from the shelf, tucked it underneath one mineral limb, and kept walking.

By the time he reached the doors, Voitrach had seen the unusual devices surrounding them and was prepared for the inevitable. They were, of course, locked. A shame. Judging by what he could hear through them, they were also trapped - but on the other side. Weren't doors like that designed to keep people out? He guessed that was as good an idea as any. Still, what was so valuable in here? The jars? They really seemed to be the main attraction here. Well, the only way to find out would be by experiment. Unscrewing the lid, Voitrach plunged a hand into the jar. A white flash of light emanated as he made contact with it, and he swiftly withdrew his hand again...

"Hard backup created." stated a voice. Voitrach was surprised. Where was he? This didn't seem like the corridor he had occupied beforehand. This seemed more like...

...he was in space, floating in slow orbit around some huge gravitational distortion. That was right. He remembered this. This would be the moment that would change his life.

23. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round III - Vorlon Complex]

This was it. The battle was lost. The people who had created it had actively interfered, had kille done of the contestants. This was no longer a fair battle. The fates of all of them were in the hands of others.
Loran slowl pushed himself up from the floor. He sat for a moment on the cold stone, then took out one of his knifes and started polishing it.
The room around him was lit by a dim, glowing kind of blue, emanating from the orbs suspended off the ceiling. There was something oddly soothing about the light. He liked it.
The stones the large chamber was made up off were a deep, dark color. He thought it was brown, but it was hard to say in this light. Not that he particularly cared: The cold was more of a problem. It wasn't freezing cold, but it was cool enough to be uncomfortable. It might slow his movements if he stayed still too long, and if there was one thing he couldn't have...
Nevertheless, he stayed still. There wasn't much else he could do. Ordinarily, he would have started looking for his targets, but not now. It didn't matter anymore. It didn't matter who went after who, or which of them was the strongest. That Gias guy had made it clear he had killed the robot. If, ultimately, someone else decided who died, what use was trying to kill anyone? None at all.
Except for one someone, of course.

Having made a decision, Loran slipped the knife back behind his belt, and got up. The walls of the chamber were lined with glass cabinets, containing all kinds of items. Some were definitely weapons, and he considered the possibility of having appeared within the arsenal; Would mr. Gias truly be that stupid? A lot of other things were definitely not weapons, though. There were several shelves of jewelry, and almost half the room was dedicated to goggles of all kinds. Could this be the memory armaments Gias had mentioned? Could they be weapons after all? He took a moment to consider it all, then decided there was only one way too find out, which was using them. He opened the nearest cabinet, and rifled through its contents, looking for items that appeared useful.

In the end, Loran left the room with a headband, made of a metal so thin that it would bend like cloth, several bracelets, clanging at his wrists, three odd looking metal lumps, hot to the touch, resembling guns in different ways, and a couple of rusty spheres he hoped were grenades. He would have to find an empty room somewhere to try out some of it, after which it was just a matter of taking his fate in his own hands again. If someone was trying to decide who lived and died in his place, they would have to answetr to him. And answer him, this mr. Gias would.

25. Re: Inexorable Altercation [Round III - Vorlon Complex]

The last five minutes had been even more confusing and harrowing than the rest of this whole thing had been. Competition. Fight. Whatever it was. It was horrible, and it just kept getting worse. Three men had been killed in, well it wasn't really cold blood as such but at worst it was lukewarm blood and it had happened right in front of her and mostly because of her, and then she'd been accosted by the only other sane person and he'd completely lost it, and then he made her follow and they got separated and there was killing everywhere, and... Light and explosions, the sensation of teleportation, threats from some kind of glowing demon thing...

And now she was in a dark, cold room. It was a nice respite from the frantic, heart-pounding action. Not because this whole thing was overwhelming, Anna was definitely too... Definitely... She sighed. This was all too much. There was no use pretending to be strong and confident or even capable anymore. She just wanted to go back home and pretend not to be aware of the villagers and other witches laughing behind her back. Even being a useless witch in some stupid mountain was better than being a useless witch about to be killed by a hundred different people.

She looked at her knife and her shoddy broom. She thought back to the handful of parlor tricks she was capable of. She considered her physical abilities and mental acuity. And then she thought about the other six contestants and their weapons and skills and strengths, plus that crazy demon guy and all the sailors and those weird explodey things. Why was she even here? It... It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair!

At this point, another woman might have taken her rage and fear and turned them into a weapon, stiffening her resolve and straightening her spine and mowing down those who dared to threaten her with all the determination available to someone who had finally been pushed too far. Or perhaps she would have broken down, the weight of the situation and the magnitude of her impotence crushing her completely and sending her into a spiral of self-destruction and emotional histrionics. A typical narrative would have her grow as a person, and reveal a lot about her through the window of her response to the situation.

Annaliese, however, was not either of those women. She was designed by nature and her life to be the sort of person who good-naturedly try to help people and do what she thinks is best as long as it didn't really inconvenience anyone. She didn't have the force of personality or the power of magic that it took to be a capable witch, and she didn't have the emotional range or self-worth it took to respond adequately to a situation like a Grand Battle. Where a normal person could be equated to a glass, Annaliese was more like a banana: the former, under repeated blows, would shatter dramatically, becoming broken but dangerous; the latter would eventually simply squash, not much good for anything. The witch had reached her squashing point.

She looked at her nearby surroundings, hoping there was somewhere she could sit or lie down until someone came to kill her. It was difficult to see very much or very far; there was no apparent light source in the room, so the only illumination came from the faint and sickly glow of runes on the recently-enchanted broom. Fortunately, there was a large chair or throne very nearby, apparently carved from the same stone that made up the floor and walls Annaliese could see. She moved slowly towards it as if in a dream, shuffling footsteps echoing dully in the otherwise-complete silence.

She reached the chair, dropping the broom to the ground and putting the knife back away. She moved as though to sit down, but noticed that there was something already in the chair; picking up the smallish object without really examining it, she sank onto the hard stone and laid whatever it was in her lap. Her eyes closed, and she exhaled. In the cool stillness and silence of the room, the sounds of slowly-shifting rock could almost be detected, but that was all. It was a place of utter peace, and a fitting tomb for one such as Annaliese.

Still, utter emotional defeat or not, she was still human. After a period of silent waiting, perhaps as short as ten minutes, perhaps as long as an hour or two, Annaliese's eyes opened again. Nothing had changed about the situation, but she did feel a little bit silly just sitting there, not to mention that she was getting rather bored. She blinked a few times and sighed quietly, then looked down at the object in her lap. It was made of metal and glass, but was surprisingly light; it was shaped rather like a crown in a lot of ways, and gave off an air of futuristic regality. She turned it over and over in her hands, and if she hadn't hailed from a place and time that hadn't even experienced a Renaissance-equivalent, might have recognized that the inside was lined with circuitry and electrodes. With nothing better to do, she placed it on her head on a whim.

As the crown settled into place, a brief flash of electricity sparked behind the glass. Annaliese twitched, he back arcing in surprise and a sensation that wasn't so much pain as brief, unbearable tingling; she tried to pull the device off, but it wouldn't budge.

A figure came into being a few feet from the trembling witch; she could see the apparition clearly despite the gloom, and was even more disquieted by its appearance. The word "person" might give some basic starting point, but the slick green carapace, too many limbs, and multifarious compound eyes ensured that the word's connotations of "human" were quite inapplicable. She was dressed in ornate clothing of primarily sky-blue colors; a crown, every way the duplicate of the one on Annaliese, was perched atop her head. She spoke, mandibles clicking softly.

"What's going on? I thought the whole planet was to be abandoned and sealed off?"

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