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Thread: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)

  1. #101
    The Statman Victorious Pinary's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Wandering through the cars, Lloyd found himself sinking into his old routine. He was quite happy for anything to distract him from the gun he couldn't bring himself to dispose of, and looking for the plots sitting just below the surface was a welcome distraction. There were the grey-skinned humanoids who were frozen in a heated argument over a napkin with an indecipherable script on it- he took the napkin, copied the symbols (with a few errors) onto another, and switched that with the original. There was the squat, brown being playing some sort of chess-variant with a large insectoid being- he picked the largest, most ornate piece and moved it onto the brown being's lap. The artist in the corner would find his drawings covered in barbecue sauce, and the travelling salesman in the corner would find his filters full of fork-holes.

    And yet Lloyd was not satisfied. These were fun things, to be sure, and he had no doubt that these people would be inconvenienced, but they were just... missing something. They weren't enough, really- they didn't take the entire plot of the story and turn it on its head. That would be practically impossible- these beings were from a multitude of universes, and there could hardly be said to be a single overarching plot to any of them. These were massive places, and even if he could take down a plot of that size, there would have to be one to take down in the first place.

    No, he thought. There's still an overarching plot here. The Monitor wanted things on the train to go a certain way, and messing up that plot would certainly take some work.

    Lloyd grinned. "Oh yes," he said, speaking to the frozen, unaware people as he passed by. "That Monitor's plot is going off the rails..."

    -

    Several minutes later, one of the train's technicians flickered out of stasis, blinking a bit as the field wore off. After a moment, he focused his eyes, finding a gaunt-looking man in a brightly-coloured shirt looking concernedly at him. Still a bit woozy from coming out of the field, he asked, "what, uh... what's going on?"

    "The stasis-lock's been failing intermittently all along the train," he said, words tumbling out in a panicked tone. "Someone needs to check the diagnostics, but all the other techs are still frozen!"

    Frowning, the still-groggy technician turned to a nearby terminal and clumsily punched in a keycode, unlocking it. A few keypresses later, he said, "I don't see-"

    The bottle of cheap champagne smashed open as Lloyd brought it down on his head, splashing everything in the service alcove with sticky, fizzy liquid. Lloyd sputtered a bit, wiping it out of his eyes. In retrospect, he thought, maybe the champagne bottle was a bit cliché. Oh well. He instinctively reached for his shoulder, sighed, and started rummaging through cupboards.

    "Dammit," he said, coming up empty-handed, "where's a decent towel when you need one?"

  2. #102
    King of Scotland Drakenforge's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Karen let her hand slip away from the hilt of her sword. She generally didn’t except Sarika to go around bashing doors open, and even then she had been on edge after spending so long in a train. She knew it wasn’t a monorail, she knew the chances of this thing derailing were probably non-existent unless an outside force worked on it, but still, a basic fear from the accident that claimed the lives of her beloved parents ha been rooted in her without her knowing. She had never used one since; she had barely gone outside at all in the two years since.
    She felt a little better with Sarika around, and was glad that she could get rid of the apprehension that was growing in her gut since the end of the last round.

    “Do you know who didn’t make it?”


    Sarika took a moment to arrange her thoughts, before she replied, “Dekowin… she turned on Lloyd, and both he and Marcus shot her. But-“

    “I get it. Nobody wanted to kill anyone. It was do or die. Dekowin, huh… “

    Karen let her sentence fade off. Dekowin had seemed like someone who could have survived with their talents. Her death made her question just what she could accomplish. She had felt the same way about Marcus. CHARLIE and Reudic were out, she felt no reason to help them, and saw CHARLIE as a threat to the lives of everyone here. And Lloyd, she had a bad feeling about him. It wasn’t his physical body she was afraid of; she felt he had dangerous ideas. Give someone like that enough time, and they could do some major damage. But could she really choose who to save or not?
    She’d fight everything she could fight and protect everyone she could, what else could she do?

    Small voice in the back of head murmured “win”

    As she tried to bite down on that selfish thought, the train rocket into a new direction, causing the two girls to plummet off their feet. Karen snapped her left fingers creating a levitation spell, however Sarika wasn’t as resourceful and slammed into Karen’s chest. Karen wrapped her arm around her and waited for the train to turn back to what they viewed as “normal”.

    When their feet finally touched the ground and Karen turned off the spell, Sarika could only notice that, oddly enough, Karen wasn’t letting go. She actually seemed to be shaken up, and rather nervous.


    “Hey, you feeling alright?”

    Karen gave a nod in agreement, but still wouldn’t let go.

    “You sure don’t look like it. What’s the matter?”

    “I… don’t like trains.”

    “You mean like a phobia?”

    “You could say that.”

    Karen took a deep breath and let Sarika go. She walked unsteadily to the wall and leaned against it for support.


    “How come you hate trains? Is it bad?”

    Karen glared at Sarika, but not in a menacing way. Sarika couldn’t feel any hatred or resentment at it. Only… sadness.

    “Two years ago. Monorail accident. I… I lost both my parents. It’s something that… changed me. I never managed to see people the same way. Almost as if humans became more like husks. Or maybe I was the husk…”

    Karen instinctively added “You don’t have to say anything, its fine” to the end, guessing that the guilt trip would cause Sarika to apologise. She didn’t have time for apologies.


    “Would it help if I warned you when the train is going to go sporadic?”

    “Greatly. Then I can stop us falling over that much faster.”

    Karen was feeling better now, and realised that it felt pretty nice to be around Sarika. She was nice and clever, something that Karen respected. She tapped at a small device by the door, and it slid open.


    “…ah, a door panel. Whoops”

    “You mean you bashed it open because you didn’t notice?”

    Sarika shrugged, which caused Karen to laugh. While out of character, Karen was pretty at ease now. She could only wonder how long that would last. She’d just have to make the most of it.


    “So where are we going?”

    “The way I came from. It was a ritzy kind of party car, but I guess the way you came was empty?”

    “Uh… yeah. Empty…”

    Karen left the conversation as it ended and walked back into the fancy party car. It was just as bustling as she left it.

    “We have to get through this?” Sarika moaned, “I hate that cold shudder.”

    “Cold…shudder?” Karen asked blankly.

    “You didn’t notice? If you touch these creatures you get this… well, cold shudder.”

    Karen reached out and poked a vaguely mole-like creature with her index finger. It passed through, and gave her a shudder, cold, down her spine.

    “See?”

    Karen sparked a flame into her hand and warmed it up for a few seconds, letting the fire die out afterwards. She heard Sarika tut under her breath behind her before she slipped around the patrons rather quickly, leaving Sarika to awkwardly follow, though not nearly as gracefully. Karen reached the opposite doorway rather quickly and waited for Sarika to catch up. When she did, she made several complaints which Karen wasn’t really sure the meaning of were. When Sarika had composed herself they passed into the next car. At first sight it seemed to be some kind of bar, and upon closer inspection, it was. A whole bar had managed to be stuffed into the train car, drinks wall, tables, counter and even a jukebox. Karen even saw a vending machine next to her that had an electronic cover. It listed the names of drinks in dialects she had no understanding of. After a few moments of scrolling she hit what looked like French she found a common brand of fizzy drink she used to have a taste for.
    She reached into her pocket and brought out a bag of coins, recognising them as the currency from her game. Shrugging a “Why not?” she slotted in a few coins and made her selection. After a few suspenseful seconds, the bottle dropped into the slot at the bottom. She picked it up, twisted off the cap and took a sip. A combination of sweetness and fizzyness gave her a strong tingle on her tongue. She turned to Sarika as an afterthought and asked “Want anything?”


    “A black coffee? I guess.”

    Karen scrolled further as she drank her soda. She selected Coffee from the English spelling and added black to the choice. A small cup appeared by the side of the vendor and coffee dribbled out of a tap into it. She handed it to Sarika and looked over the bar once more.

    “I wonder why nobody can move.”

    As if to be galactically ironic, the crowd in the bar began to move again. Some were quite surprised to see Karen and Sarika (from their perspective) to suddenly appear out of nowhere. Karen glared back at a strange green creature that seemed to be looking at her. Or maybe that was the back of its head, she couldn’t really tell.
    After a few seconds though the crowd stopped moving again, and Karen and Sarika were left to ponder what had just occurred.


    “Well-“

    “-That was odd.”

    As they both stood idly sipping their respective drinks, the door at the far end opened, revealing Lloyd who promptly walked in.


    “Ah, hey girls! I wondered when I’d meet someone I recognised. You wouldn’t have happened to see any towels around have you?”

    Sarika happened to blush at this, while Karen just stared awkwardly to the side as Lloyd approached.

    “Bad topic?”

    “I found your towel actually.”

    “That’s great!”

    “It’s been on fire. A bit.”

    Karen reached into her pocket and carefully took out the half scorched towel that was Lloyds.


    “Egad! Why was it on fire?” He said, grabbing it from her hand.

    WIt… attacked me. I had to defend myself.”

    “It’s a freaking towel! How would it attack you!”

    Karen shrugged the question away, saying “Who creates a character fixated on towels anyway” under her breath.

    “What kind of swear work is freaking?” Sarika added, also under her breath.

    “Whatever, I still need a new towel then. This thing won’t do at all.”

    “There are bedrooms… back our way…” Sarika managed to say with some difficulty.

    “Then that’s where I’ll head…”

    Lloyd passed through with no more discussion appearing.

    “What’s wrong with the bedrooms?”


    “Well… It’s embarrassing.”

    Karen stared at her blankly.

    “Okay okay. It’s… a homosexual couple ‘going at it’ alright!”

    Even Karen had to blush at the thought of that.

    “Boy, Lloyd’s going to be shocked if he walks into that one.”


    “I had to see it too, y’know. It’s not a nice image.”

    They both silently agreed never to mention it again.

  3. #103
    I Don't Deserve This Title MalkyTop's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    A criminal usually did his work at night. Thus, a vigilante had to do her work at night. Sarika hadn’t been much of a night owl at first, but she soon got used to the habit of staying up all night and it was all thanks to warm, heavenly, delicious coffee.

    Okay, maybe not delicious. Actually, coffee tasted damn horrible. Always so bitter. She actually was more of a sweet-tooth. But damn her if she was going to back down and put something inside coffee besides more coffee because CAFFEINE.

    But yeah actually this was horrible. Sarika set down the cup without finishing her drink. She had read somewhere that caffeine was a drug you could get addicted to. She was pretty sure if anybody wanted to cut the habit, they could just get the coffee here and be turned off by coffee forever more.

    Okay, maybe one more sip. Better than getting tired randomly in the middle of some sort of important thing.

    “So, any plans?” she asked Karen after downing the rest and gulping it down with a shudder.

    The swordswoman, having finished her drink a while before, paused and admitted, “No. Not at all.” And then she suddenly found herself berated by a long stream of words that seemed to go on with no end in sight.

    “Okay then, because I was thinking, you know, since it’s a transdimensional train thing, right, and we need to kill the Monitor, you know, or this stupid game’ll keep on going and we’ll die one by one and you know that wouldn’t be good and oh my god, Lillian! I can’t believe I almost forgot her…” Karen stared as Sarika trailed off and stared into the distance. She waited before trying to get a word in in case the bird woman had something else to say, but as soon as she opened her mouth, Sarika started up again. “But anyways, my point is, you know, that robot’s in a completely dimension or something, so usually we wouldn’t even be able to get to him, but as said before, it’s a transdimensional train, so if we take control of it and, you know, sort of steer it, we could probably get to him! We can stop him from ever doing this sort of thing again!” And finally, she seemed to be done. Karen stared at her eager grin.

    “…Can we actually beat him?”

    Sarika’s smile faltered, showing that at least she had some sense of what she was suggesting they go up against. “Well…failing that…we could probably drop us off in our respective homes…maybe? And forget about the whole thing…”

    Karen thought about this idea a little longer. Did the game world count as a dimension, or would she actually have to be dropped off at the real world? That could be potentially interesting…

    “You’d think he’d have some sort of safeguard. Against that sort of thing, I mean,” she said slowly.

    Sarika was getting visibly agitated now. “But we have to try!

    “What happens if we have to derail the train to go through with either of your plans?” Karen asked nervously.

    “Weeeeeell.” The winged woman paused for a long time and tapped her staff on the counter. “At least it’ll be derailed in space, I guess.”

    “I don’t exactly want a train to derail anywhere,” the dark-haired woman muttered as Sarika rested a soft arm on her shoulder and stared seriously at her behind the goggles.

    “Look, I’m pretty sure you want everybody to get out of this as much as I do. You can’t let a chance like this go.”

    Karen stared back and conceded that, no, she couldn’t. Sarika grinned.

    “Also the train’s about to do a loop-de-loop.”

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

    The first-aid kit was quite a welcome sight by now, after all the turning and veering and crashing into walls and other fun things that might have been a tad more fun had he a leg in better health. Instead, there was a lot of loud cursing and, after a while, just resigned, frustrated silence. Thank God for the first-aid kit.

    Some of the salves he found inside were completely unrecognizable and, though there was an English translation on each of them about uses and directions, they seemed to be hilariously mistranslated. ("Ease to suffer the pentagroimeter area," "Please to not insert in improper place," "Anguish required.") They could at least be potentially useful, he supposed, and so he at least pocketed them for some other time. But he definitely recognized the bandages and the splints and oh god thank you that salve which he had no idea what it was named but it would help the swelling so much.

    And as he was taking all of this and rejoicing as stoically as he could about finally doing something about his damn ankle, he couldn't help but think that there was some weird sort of sound coming from down the hall. It was sort of a familiar sound. Kind of like a tck tck tck...

    And then something hard and cold collided with his back and he crashed into a door which collapsed under his weight and then things were exploding everywhere and dammit couldn't this have happened just a few seconds later geez.

    The mercenary leapt to his feet rather quickly when he noticed that there appeared to be a great ball of fire flying towards him. As he ran through the door, he started to put two and two together. As he entered the second car and jumped to the side to avoid being consumed by flames, he was compiling the proofs to uphold his calculation and as he aimed his own firearm down towards an unseen enemy that he could definitely hear coming down towards him, he was jotting down the final dot of 'Q.E.D.'

    And he would have opened fire had the floor not suddenly turned into the wall.

    As Marcus tumbled forward, CHARLIE's legs scrabbled for some sort of purchase before finding one in the form of the passenger seats. This worked well until Marcus' head crashed painfully into its chest and they both fell back towards the door until the train turned again and they took a detour to the ceiling and then the train turned again...

    This wasn't really helping his leg much.
    Last edited by MalkyTop; 12-18-2010 at 10:25 PM.

  4. #104
    Thaumaturgical Construct GreyGabe's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Finally finding himself on the floor again (at least he was pretty sure it was the floor…) Marcus allowed himself nearly a full second of self pity before rolling to his side, narrowly avoiding a large, pincer-like claw which tore a furrow out of the rather plush carpet and some of the metal floor beneath. Marcus looked up at Charlie, as it prepared to bring down its other claw, knowing Marcus had nowhere else to roll. Later, he would never admit, but at that moment Marcus found himself on the verge of panic. He yanked up his shotgun and opened fire, without bothering to aim or really even look where he was shooting. Charlie jerked back, and Marcus took the opening. He scrambled away, grimacing as he used his bad leg to scoot himself along.

    He had scored a hit, anyway. Charlie’s left claw and arm were damaged, the front tip of the claw torn off, and a furrow ripped down the arm. However, a burst of flame told Marcus that he hadn’t disabled the arm entirely. He ducked and rolled behind a seat, but not before being seared by the edge of the blast. After the flames died down, he rolled back into the aisle to find… nothing.

    Ssssshhhhhhiiiiiiiit.

    Marcus began moving towards the door, listening for any sign of movement. He couldn’t hear anything but a low hissing.

    Wait. Hissing? He looked up. His shotgun had torn a group of ragged holes in the ceiling of the train, and air was escaping out into the strange void beyond. Well, now he knew that going outside was a bad idea, not that he had ever thought it was a good one. He began moving towards the door once again, when he saw a rippling motion sliding towards him high on one wall.

    He opened fire, tearing another chunk out of the train’s hull. The hunter-bot dodged it easily though, coming down hard on the floor a few feet away. Marcus dropped his gun and grabbed two grenades from his belt, pitching them forward. Charlie smacked one aside, sending it crashing into a window, sending hairline cracks through it to the frame. The other grenade sailed past its pincer, landing on the floor next to it and bouncing.

    Marcus turned and ran, scooping up his gun and throwing his arms protectively over his head. The two grenades went off in tandem, blowing out every window in the carriage and sending both inhabitants of the car flying. Marcus felt himself slam into the door, knocking it open and tumbling head over heel through it. He lay on the floor, his ears ringing, and hoped to hell that he had managed to kill that hunk of deadly junk, or at least space it.

    Somehow, though, he doubted it. It might have pulled back to lick its wounds (judging by the fact that it hadn't already burst through the door and killed him), but Charlie was way too tough to be killed by those little concussive grenades.

    Finding himself in some sort of storage room, he pulled himself behind a nearby wooden crate and applied the salve, splint, and bandages. He was almost too dazed to feel relieved. He also noticed, vaguely, that his head was bleeding a bit. Maybe a piece of shrapnel had skimmed his scalp. He bandaged it up, too, and stood, swaying a bit. He wished he had brought some trip-mines so that he could leave a few surprises for any horrible death machines that might follow him. He also wished he had a suit of heavy combat armor, a sturdy helmet, an anti-tank gun, and the rest of his merc team, preferably heavily armed and ready to call in air support.
    Alas, alack, that such woe would betide etc.

    Continuing on to the next car, past a frozen cargo-hauler he found, surprise! More storage. He glanced around for anything that looked useful, but didn’t see anything overly promising. On to the next car he went, this one a sleeper. The lights were out, and a few lumps under the blankets in a few beds told him that the car was occupied, but other than that there was no sign of life. He kept moving, ignoring the static forms. If at all possible, he wanted at least a few cars between him and Charlie from now on. Opening the next door, he stopped suddenly as he saw movement on the other side of the car. He snapped his gun up, surprised to see what looked like some sort of humanoid frog-thing with long, spindly legs and an round orange gut. It stood and regarded him impassively, as if he weren’t holding a high-powered weapon pointed in its direction. He wasn’t sure why, but something about the being seemed… off, somehow. Aside from the obvious reasons, of course.
    More movement next to the creature caught his eye, and he saw a head of light brown hair peeking from around the thing’s leg, which after a second he realized was the little girl from before. What was her name… Livia? No… Lillian. That was it.

    Great. ‘Cause Marcus was just wonderful with kids.
    Ha.
    Ha ha. Ha.

    In point of fact, Marcus did not understand children in the slightest, and seldom enjoyed being around them for any length of time. They were small, and sticky, and asked annoying questions, and typically got in the way.

    Buuuuuut… he couldn’t just leave the kid, especially not with frog-man, who might be some sort of little-kid eating space-alien or something. He found himself wondering once more why the girl was here, ghost-bracelet or no. Slowly, Marcus lowered his weapon.

    “Hey, there, Lillian. Right? You remember me?”
    The girl glared at him.
    “My name’s Marcus. Uh… who’s your friend?”

    “His name’s Burden,” she said, finally, still glaring at him distrustfully.
    “Hi, Burden.”

    “Hmmmmmmmm… Greetings. Were you the cause of the great clamor a few moments ago?” The frog-man spoke at a slow, steady pace.

    “Uhh, yeah… we should probably keep moving. Else the other guy involved in the ‘clamor’ might catch up and that would be bad. But I’ve got a few questions first… hey, wait!”
    Lillian had turned around and marched through the door without a backward glance. Burden nodded at him once and followed.

    Marcus shook his head and walked after them, still limping slightly and glancing over his shoulder from time to time. “Best. Day. Ever. Woooooo.”
    Last edited by GreyGabe; 12-20-2010 at 09:51 PM.

  5. #105

    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Reudic rested in the cool stream that flowed through the center of the village, letting his roots spread out and float upon the water's softly moving surface. The plant watched and listened to the world around him in an absently-minded way. He watched as other Viridioflorans went about their business for the coming sun phase. He listened to the calls of waking companion beasts and the trickling of water hitting stone. This was one of hit favorite spots to relax after a long night of hunting.

    "Long moon phase?" came a familiar, well not so much a voice as it was a serious of scents, pheromones, and gentle rustling of leafy tendrils. It was Liliutsinge, Reudic's bond-partner and closest friend. Reudic gave a non-committal gesture and a 'pulsing hum' to signify the joy at Liliutsinge's arrival.

    "Yes, but a good one. We happened upon a gathering of prey beasts. They didn't put up a fight. But enough of that. What do we have to do today?"

    "Well, you should get some more rest. But other than that there is maintaining the dam, feeding of the companion beast younglings, caring for the saplings and tendin..."

    ---------

    Reudic awoke from what seemed to be a long dream of a distant memory somewhat dazed and disoriented. The sudden jumping between one point in dimensional time-space to the next did not seem to agree with the plant. Just as suddenly as Reudic himself arrived, did The Monitor's visage appear on the screens around the room and began an explanation.

    Slowly stirring from his uncomfortable resting spot, upside down and atop a glowing fixture on one of the cars walls; he looked at his surroundings. He was in a seemingly large, or at least long, cabin filled with bookcases and seats with strange screens and devices on them. Reudic was deposited into the Infinity Express's Entertainment Car, though the plant creature had no real understanding of anything that was going on even as The Monitor went about explaining the circumstances. Reudic didn't really care either. He was still vaguely angry, though the reason seems so distant in light of the memories he had just dreamed, as well as quite curious about the things that he now saw before him.

    Along the floor large gray vines dug into an oddly colored grass, vines that also snaked their way along the rows of strangely shaped bushes. Reudic had no proper understanding of the cables, tubing, carpets or chairs that he saw before him, but he could not help but be curious of the gray wires that seemed so much like his own vines. Especially because these vines appeared to be connected to various strange creatures in a multitude of ways.

    His curiosity getting the better of him, Reudic plucked one of the wires from one of the human-looking passengers. It appeared that the wires stayed connected to a passenger physically while remaining physical even when everything else would past right through them. The plant then attempted to interact with the wire by touching it to the tip of one of his own vines, and in the instant they touched a world opened up to him.


    Unknown Lifeform Attempting Access...
    Subject's Previous Interactions:
    - Inorganic
    - Human
    - Unknown Humanoid
    - Human
    - Human
    - Volkhanbet
    - Human

    Checking Subject's Language Base...
    Checking... Checking...
    Insufficient Understanding.
    Attempting Lingual Download.
    0%...
    10%...
    15-20-40%...
    60%...
    90%...
    Done.

    Attempting Full Information Integration.
    Downloading Supplemental Knowledge Bases.
    Literature... Done.
    Culture... Done.
    Entertainment... Done.


    Reudic could feel knowledge being forced into him as he connected with to the computer's information mainframe. Knowledge beyond his previous understanding and wildest imaginations. Thoughts had filled his head but they were not his own.

    Quoth the Raven... Frankly, my dear, I don't give a... Log, log log. Better than bad it's...
    are hearing this, then... victim of... -matic master... 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...
    Mister DeVille... and I am in a battle similar to yours. I seek bros... to overthrow these unworthy seven evil exes. 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... Queen and country!


    The computer began to dump information to the plant's nervous system at a massive rate, but no where near enough to overload Reudic's ability to process the it, if anything the computer had the hardest time keeping pace with the Viridioflorans natural ability to absorb data. So strained were the machine's resources, that it could not prevent Reudic from reaching out and digging into its databases further. There Reudic found the rest of the odd message that had been recorded.


    |"If you are hearing this, 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."
    |

    In Reudic's new state of understanding, the message seemed extremely pertinent to his current situation. Using his connection to the computer gain access to the train's communication systems, Reudic began a reply.

    "I am Reudic Otsaceae, a Viridiofloran. I, as well, am in a battle to the death though only recently have I become fully aware the circumstances in which I am involved. Truthfully, I am indifferent towards your plan to obtain freedom from these events. Nature demands that the strong or cunning survive, and the weak or dull die. I am, however, rather against the idea of unnecessary death and carnage. To this end, I shall do my best to aid in your endeavor to overthrow these 'grandmasters'. I shall, perhaps, even bring this message up with those whom I am pitted against.

    I purpose that a list of these 'grandmasters' be composed, along with any known or useful information. The master of this particular battle is one that calls itself The Monitor. That is all information I have on him. Good luck, Vandrel Reinhardt and to the others who may yet see this."

    Reudic forced the message to be sent just as the computer finished downloading all its information into Reudic, as useless as most of it likely was. The connection was severed seconds afterwards. Leaving the plant slightly disoriented, its awareness once again in the entertainment car. Deciding all that could be done had been, Reudic moved on to the next cart, looking to relay his findings to the others as well as test his new found understanding.

  6. #106
    The Statman Victorious Pinary's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Dropping a reserve down, probably have something up by tonight or so.

    Update as of tonight or so: Post progress made, I'm about halfway. Probably get it done tomorrow.
    Last edited by Pinary; 01-02-2011 at 10:52 PM.

    Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?

  7. #107
    The Statman Victorious Pinary's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Lloyd burst out laughing. Having gone through more than one racy novel before, he was hardly shocked by what he saw, and as far as interfere-able situations went, it was some of the lowest-hanging fruit around. It only took a few minutes' searching out in the rest of the car to find a camera, and a few compromising shots later, he had what he wanted. The memory card went into an envelope, a random comm ID number and a large sum of money were written on the side, and the instant blackmail threat was set oh-so-casually on the bedside table. Based on the clothes that were strewn around, both of the beings involved were high-status in some way or another, and shots like that could ruin careers in many societies. With any luck, the two would panic, their trip would be plagued by stress, and their carefully-laid plans to keep seeing each other would come apart at the seams.

    His work done, he checked the closet, grabbed a towel from the middle of the stack, and left, taking the pen he'd used with him as well. A good pen, like a towel, could have many uses, and he was hardly going to pass one up.


    -

    A few minutes later, he repeated his earlier performance with another technician, this time slamming the man's head with a cupboard door instead of something likely to burst and spray them both with drink. This time, he managed to glimpse another section of the keycode, leaving him missing just two more digits. Hopefully, he'd only need to do this once more until he had access, and once he did, he'd be ready to go.

    Reconnecting the alcove's stasis unit to power, Lloyd moved on, heading down the hall and over to the next car. Entering, he found another crowd of frozen people, these seeming perhaps high-class than those in the last. Grinning, he set about his work, throwing a bit of chaos into peoples' lives. He didn't have to, of course- he could've just moved on by and continued his quest for the keycode- but it was comforting, a little slice of the routine he'd always lived. For the briefest moment, he could pretend to himself that he wasn't at risk of taking any number of weapons in the back at any second, instead immersing him in the act of tearing these peoples' intended plotlines to little bits. Ruining the battle could wait a bit longer- he wanted to have a bit of fun first.


    -

    Had Reudic not just had a compilation of cultural data dumped into his mind, he wouldn't've fully understood why Lloyd was messing with the antique jukebox in the corner. Floating up behind him, he saw him switching the track from "Beethoven – Symphony No. 5" to "Lou Bega – Mambo No. 5", and while he now recognized the reference, he still couldn't bring himself to care much for what he could only term Lloyd's 'antics'.

    Lloyd, focused on making his selection, didn't immediately notice the viridiofloran coming up behind him, and when he did, he started a bit and whirled around. "Ah, uh... Reudic! Excellent! Glad to see you," he said, his tone making it clear that he wasn't all that glad to see the less-than-sociable plant monster. "How're things going?", he continued, sidling around the jumble of vines and moving behind the bar. In an effort to appear casual, he started pouring assorted things into peoples' drinks.

    "Recently, I have become acquainted with many aspects of culture," he said, shocking Lloyd enough to make him squeeze dish soap all over the bar around the glass he was aiming for. "Among those aspects, as you can tell, was human English."

    "Well, that's just, uh... That's great!" In truth, Lloyd had no idea if that was great or not. He hadn't paid Reudic much attention in the last round, and he wasn't sure if being able to talk was likely to make him more or less likely to poison, absorb, and slowly digest him. "How'd you manage that?"

    "In my curiosity, I inadvertently connected myself to this train's computer system," Reudic explained, "and it automatically provided me with sufficient cultural knowledge to communicate effectively. It inserted into my mind a large amount of information about human literature, culture, and entertainment, and-"

    "Hang on," Lloyd asked, frowning. He could smell a plot hole a mile away, and even though he wasn't in a novel any longer, he could still feel something fishy about Reudic's story. "You're not human, and the majority of people on this train aren't human either. Why would it give you human cultural knowledge? I mean, did it fill you with information about martian culture and in-jokes as well?"

    "No, it did not. As far as I can tell, it equipped me to be best able to communicate. At the moment, my pool of others to communicate is largely human-dominated, making that culture likely the most useful."

    "Oh." Lloyd deflated a little, halfheartedly pouring sink cleaner into a business-thing's glass. "I suppose that does make sense, yeah."

    The two lapsed into silence, Lloyd disappointed and Reudic disinterested.


    After a few moments, Reudic spoke up. "While I was connected to the systems," he said, "I discovered a message that appears to have been sent by a contestant in a similar battle to this one."

    Immediately, Lloyd's attention was fixed on Reudic. "Someone in another battle sent you a message? How, why? What did they say?"

    "Not me particularly," Reudic responded, his slow, careful speech contrasting with Lloyd's quick, urgent fascination. "It was sent to anyone who could receive it. I do not know how it was sent, but the person who sent it called himself Vandrel Reinhardt and claimed to be in a similar battle to our own. He sought out allies to overthrow the 'grandmasters' running the battles and fight for the freedom of the combatants."

    "Well, this is great! We should, uh..." He trailed off for a moment, conflicted, but he quickly brightened back up. "Sorry! I was just saying, we should get in contact with him! If we can get some sort of connected, organized resistance going, maybe we could stand a chance of blowing the grandmasters' plans to bits!"

    "Quite possible. I have already sent back a response, in which I expressed my support for his cause and told him of the Monitor, and as long as we continue to have access to the appropriate equipment, I intend to continue communications with him."

    "Ah, brilliant! This is just fantastic!" Instantly, Lloyd was done messing with trivial bits of assorted aliens' lives. He had a chance, a real shot to take down the Monitor's plans, and that was more important than anything he could do to these people. Rubbing his hands together, he headed for the door.

    "Follow me," he said. "I've got an idea."


    -

    Several minutes later, a third technician had been smashed on the head and the keycode had been obtained. Grinning madly, Lloyd punched it in and turned to Reudic. "Alright, this is it." He brought up the train's control menu on the screen, grabbed hold of the faucet of the nearby sink for support, and punched a button.

    "Time to throw this battle off the rails."

    Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?

  8. #108
    King of Scotland Drakenforge's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Karen was already sick of dealing with the train’s stomach lurching twists and manoeuvres, and now she had to worry about derailing it from the only other existent thing in sight.

    “I’m not sure I’m up to derailing something I have a phobia of, even without the fear of hitting a floor or wall or large building. And besides, I have more pressing concerns to worry about. Like getting to Lillian before Charlie does. Machines don’t have pity or mercy. It’ll take that chance to drop our numbers. It will kill her.”

    Karen felt she had emphasised that fact enough, and headed towards the rear end of the train.


    “Hey wait what about me I wanna save her too. I mean sure I don’t have a huge sword like you do, or fire or a gun or space tech but I can see the future though it can give me a headache and I have my staff!”

    She held it aloft like it was some sort of prideful symbol… No actually it probably was just that.

    “Yes, I’ll need you there. She seems to have taken a liking to you.”


    “What about derailing the train? Couldn’t we split up and I go save Lillian?”

    Karen stared off towards the front of the car, placing together certain known facts in her head.

    “The control car is probably at the front. And I may have just sent a man to do that job for us.”

    Sarika turned as well, and seemed to follow what Karen was suggesting.


    “What’s to say he won’t do it?”

    Karen didn’t have an answer. It was a hunch, pure and simple. She didn’t waste any effort trying to figure out how Lloyd’s head ticked, how he thought things through or decided on actions to take. She just naturally decided he would do what needed to be done. She was still assuming that everything was done by game mechanics, no matter how much she truly knew.

    “The worst thing that could happen from splitting up is the worst happens, and Charlie targets Lillian. The worst from us focusing on Lillian first is that we have to fight Charlie anyway, while the train keeps on its rails for a bit longer.”

    Leaving it at that, Karen made for the door towards the further reaches of the rear end of the train.


    “All right, we’ll do it your way.” Sarika eventually sighed, following suite.

    She didn’t get far before a pinging sound caused Karen to stop in her tracks.
    It was a familiar sound to her, one from the game. Something near her arm caught her attention, and she soon noticed that a message box had appeared out of thin air.


    “What’s wrong, did you change your mind? Hurry up already. A message box?”

    “It’s a message box. Can’t you see i-“

    Karen was motioning to point at it when she cut her sentence off.


    “No, just air and those gloopy things by the bar. What’s the message?”

    Karen pushed her finger near the ‘open message’ tab, and a small wall of text floated up from the image of a letter.

    "If you are hearing this, 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.”


    Karen stood in awe. Many different thoughts fought for priority in her head.
    Other battles? More suffering, more death, more torment. Multiverse? How would that even be accomplished, what would they do next, would reaching their respective home worlds even be possible?


    “Karen? What’s wrong, you look… excited.”

    “Freedom… We can have freedom over killing.”

    Karen touched the ‘reply’ tab, causing a holographic keyboard to pop open. She typed furiously, hoping that the Monitor couldn’t stop her before she could get everything she needed down.

    |My name is Karen. My powers are many and even I may not be aware of their uses.
    If you’re offering a chance at freedom, then my only concern is on how many guests I can possibly bring. There’s a little girl here, and no chance in hell I’m letting her die, powerful entities or not. The Monitor is the name of the one holding this… game.
    Good luck to you, friend. Here’s to hoping we get the chance to contact each other again.|

    She almost punched the ‘send’ button, and was relieved after a confirmation icon blinked. The message box instantly ceased to exist after that.


    “…are you done wriggling your fingers?”

    “I’m done sending a reply to someone who is creating a coup against these game hosts, actually.”

    “There are more of these?! Oh god…”

    “But that means the chance for one person to break free increases. Perhaps one of my old spells can be the key. I’ll just have to see, won’t I.”

    Karen punched in the open key for the door and continued along the next car, when two small bang noises echoed from the cars ahead.

    “Sounds like an explosion, small ones. Charlie or Marcus, or both. Let’s hurry.”

    Karen kept it short and sweet as they jogged around passenger beings and through another car. The number of patrons was decreasing with each car, even though no two cars next to each other seemed to be related. Halfway through this car however, the door opened for them, and in stepped that rag-tag group of Marcus, Lillian and the mysterious Burden.


    “Well, aren’t you two a sight for sore eyes. And arms and heels and everything really.”

    “Bird lady!” Lillian exclaimed with joy, throwing herself into Sarika’s feathery embrace.

    “I’m glad you’re okay” She responded, kneeling down to get a better look at the girl.
    “Are you hurt anywhere?”


    Lillian shook her head in response, and looked at into Karen’s eyes. She nodded a greeting back, and focused her attention on Marcus.

    “You look terrible.” She told him bluntly.


    “I feel terrible, but don’t tell that monster of a machine that.”

    Karen reached into her seemingly large pocket and raked around for another potion. By shape, she could only seem to find two more for healing, and three for magic energy. She sighed, wondering what happened to her large stockpiles. Her fingers brushed something fabric and she pulled it out. Marcus looked dumbfounded when she managed to pull a large witch hat from nowhere.

    “Wondered where this got to.” She muttered, setting it onto her head.
    “Can’t be a witch without the hat. Doesn’t feel right. Much better, might be able to use my full power.”

    “The hat makes you stronger?”

    Karen tossed a healing potion at him in response.

    “Of course it does.”

    Karen finally noticed Burden, who seemed happy to blend into the background of the conversation.

    “Who’s the big one?”


    “That’s Burden. He’s… a friend. He was there when I noticed I was in the train.”


    “It’s a pleasure” Karen said, not entirely certain of how to react.

    “The pleasure is…. All mine, my dear.”

    Karen took a moment to compose herself, before striding up to Marcus.

    “Where’s Charlie?” She asked him with a serious expression on her face.


    “Yeah, you heard I see. I blew out a train cars windows with some grenades. Doubt it did much of a dent to it, but I got away. It should still be that way, somewhere.
    If you’re thinking of fighting it, then I have to tell you it’s a stupid idea. Even I don’t want to take that thing on alone, and I’m a professional.”


    “And I say I don’t care what you think, Merc. I say you’re going to look after this group, help derail this train by heading to the control car and perhaps swap witty banter with Lloyd while I hold off or kill Charlie. And you can’t stop me. I’m not going forwards to die, rest assured. I have a plan. And more than enough power to take it on.”

    Karen didn’t even wait for him to reply before she slipped past him and made her way across the next car.


    “You’re crazy, stupid and reckless.”

    “That’s funny, I thought the same of you.”

    The door slid shut behind her, and Karen let herself sigh. Well, this was for the best. She really did have a plan to take on Charlie. She’d try to take out as many of its weapons and functions as possible while keeping herself alive. She re-examined the blade of her sword, disdainfully noting the cracks spread throughout.

    “Looks like this will be my last act as a Blade Witch.”

  9. #109
    taking a nap bobthepen's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Intent to post. (feel free to post here as well. I am slow, but flexible)
    Last edited by bobthepen; 01-07-2011 at 12:19 AM.

  10. #110
    I Don't Deserve This Title MalkyTop's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Karen didn’t exactly leave behind a relaxed atmosphere. Everybody stood around for a while, sort of glancing at each other, knowing where to go but not exactly comfortable with the current company. Sarika stared at Burden suspiciously while she found herself standing between Marcus and Lillian. The girl was clutching onto her dress and glaring at Marcus in a way only a child could and Marcus tried to ignore this as he healed up and tucked the leftovers of the potion away. But it was still a little funny glancing at her and watching her flinch and hide behind the bird woman.

    It didn’t sound like a fight had started yet. “Alright,” said Sarika, clapping her wings together, hardly making a sound at all. “I guess we—“

    She couldn’t say much more than that because the train gave a warning shudder before, quite loudly, shutting off the strong magnets that held it to the tracks. Or at least one half did. The other half wondered what the hell it was doing and was thus too busy to think to stop before something disastrous happened.

    Then something disastrous happened.

    The train, which had been going around a corner at the time, suddenly had the back end go careening off the tracks, dropping slightly as it spun around from its tether. The front end continued barreling forward, meaning the back that trailed beneath would never really catch up and bash itself right into the side of the front.

    And then the rest of the magnets shut off.

    The front was pulled down off the tracks by the back and the train was then just spinning in space, end over end (actually slightly diagonally but whatever). Not a lot of passengers expected this, though most of them didn’t need to worry.

    Marcus acted quickly, at least, and caught hold of a seat as he fell, thanking god that something else didn’t happen like his arm dislocating or something. A few seconds later, Sarika bounced lightly off his head and clung to his shoulders before she could fall any further, hitting his head with her staff in the process. A few seconds after that, she caught Lillian as the girl fell by. On the other side, Burden had managed to grab on and sit down in a seat. Slowly, the train continued spinning and the ceiling became the floor.

    It was spinning slowly enough that Marcus felt safe dropping down, especially seeing that Burden had dropped down as well. The ceiling was already starting to slope towards the front of the train, but it wasn’t quite an incline yet. As Sarika comforted Lillian again, Marcus glanced out the window, though it wasn’t like he was going to see something. He managed to catch sight of the glowing tracks as they floated serenely away. Everything seems to float serenely in space. Or a void.

    “Well, it looks like the train has been derailed,” Burden said, sounding suspiciously chipper.

    “Yes, derailed it has been!” a voice crowed from the other end of the train.

    Lloyd stumbled and hung onto the frame of the doorway for support as the train started tilting drastically again. Behind him, Reudic floated stoically, not at all affected by these topsy-turvey shenanigans.

    Marcus slid down closer before taking a seat on the back of a chair. “Well, I guess that’s one thing done for me.” He paused, listening to the soft voices of the other three further back. A tiny ‘thump’ further along seemed to indicate the start of a fight. “Now what?”

    A few seconds passed as the train went full circle and the floor turned into the floor again.

    Sarika was with them this time. “There doesn’t happen to be a way to stop this stupid train spinning, is there?”

    Lloyd shrugged. “I can’t say I really thought about that so much,” he admitted.

    “I see. So you derailed a train without knowing if you’ll be able to steer it afterwards.” Lloyd nodded back much too happily for Sarika’s liking. “And why did you even do this?”

    Lloyd paused to let the ceiling become the floor again. At the other part of the car, Lillian found that while the plush carpeting was soft, the smooth ceiling allowed her to slide around quite a bit. And this she did, using the train’s growing incline as a slide. Not good to let a good slide go to waste.

    “You wanted to derail it too, didn’t you?” he finally asked and Sarika impatiently nodded. “Well then.” He managed to bow graciously and sarcastically at the same time. “I did it thinking of you.”

    Sarika turned her head and made a scoffing sound. “Well, while you were busy derailing the train in the name of love, did you happen to notice anything that could possibly steer a train?”

    Lloyd raised his hands defensively. “Hey, I’m an electrician, not a train engineer.”

    The others let this pass without question.

    “Well,” Marcus started. “They had to have had some procedure in case something like this happened. Maybe rockets.”

    “Yeah, there might be something about rockets on the control panel. We could go check.”

    “I can’t really help but think that it would be hard to control rockets while the room is spinning,” Sarika commented. “…But we should probably go check it out. Karen can’t hold up against Charlie forever.”

    “Karen’s fighting Charlie?” Lloyd frowned at the other end of the car. “…She told you not to help, did she.”

    “In so many words,” Marcus smirked. “She basically told us to go back to the kitchen while she went to do the dirty work.”

    Lloyd grinned widely. “Knowing her, she probably even welded the door shut so you couldn’t follow her.”

    “We didn’t check yet,” Sarika said, her tone the most serious out of all of them. “Let’s go before the train starts turning again. Let’s go, Lillian!”

    And thus began Sarika’s backtrack across spinning rooms she had been to before. The bar’s floor was littered with broken glass where the drinks had slid right off. A few of the patrons there were in various stages of spitting their drinks out. Sarika glanced at Lloyd before picking up Lillian (who was a little heavier than she thought).

    “By the way,” Lloyd whispered to her. “Who’s the frog man?”

    Sarika looked over to Burden for a few seconds, who seemed to be quite happy striding behind them. “I have no idea.”

    Ballroom car. Parts of the floor seemed to have gotten slipperier since the last time she had been here. Some parts of the crowd had fallen victim to this strange turn of events. Sarika glanced at Lloyd again, who wasn’t particularly bothering to hide it this time. How fortunate that they were on the ceiling for now.

    “You know,” Lloyd said casually as they tried to quickly cross the rather large ceiling. “If you’re so hung up about whether we can actually steer the train or not, can’t you look in the future and see if the train still happens to be spinning?”

    Sarika remained silent for a moment. Reudic gently but crossly told Lillian not to hang onto his vines. “Well, I certainly can’t say how far I’m looking, but in the future, we’re already out of this room.”

    “Couldn’t have guessed,” said Marcus, who she hadn’t realized was even listening. They passed on into the next car.

    “Ha. In any case, I think it was still spinning. Also…” she hesitated for a moment, causing both men to glance at her. “Also, I think we should hurry.”

    "What? Why?" Though nobody really doubted her enough to not walk briskly.

    “I’m not quite sure yet. Let me get back to you on that.”

    They crossed over to another car.

    “Okay, so what did it look like?”

    Sarika hesitated again. “I…the car sort of…just…” They crossed over to another car. “...slid out of view.”

    A moment’s silence. Sarika picked up a tired Lillian and once again marveled how heavy she was.

    “You mean like moving over to the next car?” Marcus asked as they exited the sleeping quarters.

    “Um, maybe. But there wasn’t any car. Just, you know, blackness. Like outside.”

    This indeed implied something worrying but it wasn’t like any of them exactly knew how it would come to be. But as they stood on the wall of the door that led to the next car, Sarika suddenly said, “Oh my god I’m an idiot.”

    “What?” Lloyd asked sharply before Sarika suddenly thrust Lillian into his arms. The girl struggled to an upright position.

    “Wait! Where’re you going?” she cried out, almost tearing up.

    “Can’t explain. I can take care of it myself. You guys keep going and make sure you figure out how to steer this train fast.” And with that, Sarika launched herself from the wall and held on to a door knob. The door opened and served as another platform for her to leap off of, and in seconds, she was moving back through the door they had just entered.

    Lloyd and Marcus exchanged glances, stared at the door again, then looked at Lillian, who was making the sort of face that usually preceded a rather wet and salty emotion.

    “You don’t happen to know—“

    “No,” said Marcus very firmly. Lloyd turned towards Reudic and immediately thought better of it.

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

    And yes, here it was, about three cars down, back in the gloomy business room. She slightly suspected Lloyd had also done something here though it wasn’t immediately obvious yet. She waited. And yes, there was the tick, the tick she had previously convinced herself wasn’t there. Some snooping around uncovered a slowly ticking briefcase.

    Some point in the future, it was obviously supposed to explode. The ballroom car was floating away because it was separated from the rest of the train. Everybody from there all the way to the end of the train would be stranded in space. All the passengers. And Karen.

    Oh god what was she supposed to do with bombs was she supposed to disarm it? But Sarika quickly stopped herself from opening the briefcase. What if it was supposed to explode once she opened it?

    Okay, she could probably throw it out the window.

    But though Sarika was no science nerd, she had at least heard stories about that thing. Explosive decompression or whatever. That didn’t sound pleasant for her or for the businessmen that happened to be in the room with her.

    The room turned again as she ran through random ideas. Okay, okay, so she just had to let it explode in another part of the train. She couldn’t let it explode in a car with people in it though. And it shouldn’t end up stranding anybody. That would mean…carrying it all the way to the end, probably. Though wait, did Marcus say something about blowing windows out? Was that supposed to be an exaggeration? Well maybe if she happened to see open windows along the way, she’ll chuck it out. But wait, she had to get past Charlie and Karen’s fight so that Karen wouldn’t get freaking stranded.

    Sarika found that she had already started moving, briefcase clutched tightly in her metallic hand. Whatever happens, she had to get it out of the way before it exploded.

    Karen, if you really did weld the door shut, I will hate you forever.



  11. #111
    Thaumaturgical Construct GreyGabe's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Marcus muttered something unpleasant under his breath.
    “Fine. While our cryptic feathered friend does… whatever it is she’s doing, let’s get to the control car. And you,” he said, looking at Lillian, “Don’t even think about going after her. Last thing we need is for you to run into Charlie, or something.”

    “But… but…”

    “No buts. Burden? Keep an eye on her and make sure she doesn’t wander off.” The frog thing nodded slightly, but whether or not he’d actually listen was yet to be seen. “Let’s get going.”

    He moved past them, making for the front of the train as it continued its lazy spin, marveling silently at how much better he felt. What was in that stuff? Nanites or something? Something good, anyway. He waited for the floor to be the floor so that he could get through the door easily. They walked forward for a few minutes, reaching the end of a car as it became the floor.

    “There’s something I don’t get.”
    “What’s that?”
    “I was just wondering why down is still down.”
    “…Is… this the setup to some kind of joke?”
    “No. Why is gravity still effecting us? And since it is, why isn’t it pulling us towards the floor?”
    “Uh… centrifugal force?”
    “Train’s not spinning fast enough. And we wouldn’t be sliding around like this in that case.”
    “I don’t know. Why does it matter, anyway?”
    “I don’t—I guess it doesn’t. It’s just been bugging me.” Marcus continued along the ceiling to the next door. “Nevermind. Forget I said anything.”

    Gradually, the ceiling became the floor, and they could advance once more.
    “Marcus?”
    Marcus glanced at Reudic, floating serenely as the car continued spinning around it.
    “You can…? Nevermind. What is it?”

    “I simply wished to inform you that I have received a communication from someone in a battle similar to our own. The individual in question called himself Vandrel Reinhardt, and he is searching for allies to help him overthrow the ‘grandmasters’ in charge of these battles, and to free the contestants. I sent back a response, expressing approval and support.”
    Marcus absorbed this in silence. “Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that there are more of these things going on. Well, that’s some good news, I guess. It doesn’t help us much at the moment, though.”
    “I believed you would wish to be privy to this information.”
    “You’re right. But right now, I’m more concerned with saving our skins to worry about anyone else’s. But once we're done here, I would be happy to help Vandrel and whoever kick the asses of the ones responsible for all of this."
    "How much farther is it, Lloyd?”

    “Not much.”

    Marcus caught Lillian by the scruff of the neck as she slid past him down the ceiling.
    “Hey!”
    “Jeez, let the kid have some fun. What’s the harm?”
    “I’d just rather not find out the hard way that Charlie somehow managed to get in front of us, is all.”
    “What? We would have seen him…” Lloyd glanced out the window.
    “Yeah, I’m thinking the lack of air wouldn’t pose too much in the way of difficulty for something that doesn’t have to breathe. And I know the lack of gravity wouldn’t bother it.”
    “I… hadn’t considered that.”
    “Hmph.”
    They continued on, carefully navigating the train. Lillian pouted quietly, her only entertainment taken away. Burden patted her gently on the head.
    Eventually, they reached a door marked “Control Room.” It hung slightly ajar, falling farther open as the train tilted forward again.

    “Maybe some of us should wait out here. We don’t want anyone having to walk across the controls.”
    “Right. Reudic, Burden, and Lillian, you three stay out here, and keep watch. Lloyd, come on.”
    “Who put you in charge?”
    “I’m the one who’s going to be driving this thing, aren’t I?”
    “Fine, whatever.”

    Pushing open the door, Marcus found himself in a slightly cramped room. A bank of controls waited at the front, with two seats in front of it. The seats were empty. Over the controls was a broad window, which currently looked out upon lots of nothing. He wondered why they even bothered with the windows. It’s not like there was anything to see.
    “Where’s the pilot, or engineer, or whatever?”

    “Maybe he’s in the john?”
    “Or maybe our kidnapper got rid of him.”

    Lloyd shrugged, indicating that it probably didn’t matter either way. Marcus had to admit that this was true. He sat down in one of the chairs, and Lloyd did the same. They strapped themselves in, Marcus tucking his shotgun into the restraints where it wouldn't fall out (and where it was well out of Lloyd's reach) and examined the controls. Blinking lights, readouts, buttons and switches covered the control bank, each seeming to be vying for Marcus’s attention. Several alarms were beeping away, informing him that something was terribly, terribly wrong and it would be best to fix it. As if it was possible to miss the fact that they were tumbling ass over teakettle through an unending void.

    “This… is complicated.”

    “You can fly it though, right?”
    “Possibly.”
    “Let me know if I can help.”

    Marcus ignored him. These controls were, indeed, very different than any layout he was familiar with, but there were a few things that were vaguely recognizable. He pressed a button experimentally. Some music began playing. He turned it off, and hit a switch that looked promising. A screen popped up, overlaid over the main window. At the top of the screen, the words “Security Feed” scrolled across sideways, over and over. It showed a gridwork of thumbnail-size images, each marked with names, such as “Ballroom Car” or “Sleeper Car.”

    Marcus touched one of the images, causing it to expand to fill the screen. It showed Sarika running through one of the cars, carrying what looked to be a briefcase.

    “What is she up to? It looks like she’s late for a business meeting or something.”
    “Hard to say. Here.”
    Marcus slid the screen over to Lloyd.
    “Let me know if anything important happens.”

    Marcus hit some more switches, bringing up even more windows. One seemed to be a web browser (Who puts that as their homepage… ugh!), another was a stop schedule. Finally, one showed up that was marked “Engine Status.” Marcus couldn’t make much sense of most of the readings, but nothing looked like it was bad, anyway. He hit some buttons situated near blinking lights, assuming they were probably related. One brought up an alert that one of the cars was losing oxygen. Oops. Another said that there were intruders on board. Finally, one brought up the notice that the train had been derailed, in case nobody had noticed. It told him to consult the train’s handbook, page 923, for instructions on how to activate off-track navigational thrusters and distress signals.

    “I need the manual.”

    “There’s a manual?”
    “Apparently.”
    Marcus and Lloyd searched around for a moment, until Lloyd produced, from a closed compartment, a small computer tablet, which had the word "HANDBOOK" printed across the back.

    “A bit of light reading, I’d say. You want me to read it to you?”
    Marcus ignored what he assumed was more pointless nettling. “No, just hand it here.” He powered up the 'book' and selected the proper language. He then brought up page 923.
    The page indicated was covered in diagrams and instructions. Marcus scarcely knew where to begin.
    “This may be a while.”

    “I guess I’ll just keep watching TV then. I wonder if there’s anything good on?”
    Last edited by GreyGabe; 01-25-2011 at 08:53 PM.

  12. #112
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)


  13. #113
    King of Scotland Drakenforge's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Karen’s hand hovered over the door control panel, ready to incinerate the electronics and lock the door. She hesitated. If she were to die, not only would that not stop Charlie, but the round would end. And if the others were going to decide to come help, she felt that this time she would need it. As she crossed the car, she thought of how best to tackle Charlie. It’s true that she had spent some time wondering about this since she first saw the machine. She had a few ideas. Increase her strength, empower her sword, take the heat high enough to melt through its armour. Her sword wouldn’t survive the fight, mostly because she was going to use it as a bomb. Storing so many fireballs in reality doesn’t have the same effect. The limit now was already fit to bursting, if she hit it with any more, it would destabilise. And most likely explode.
    It was just a theory at the moment. She knew the dangers of testing out an idea mid-battle. But she was willing to risk everything for this fight. She knew that if she wasn’t then she would die. In a horrible fashion too.

    Dying in battle… While painful, it did seem the most appropriate for her. She could imagine herself calling any other type of death boring.
    She felt the train buckle, and slammed into the window, which now seemed to be the floor. The train kept twisting, and at that point she realised that the train had derailed.
    Her heart began pounding. How was she going to fight Charlie when she couldn’t keep her footing, or even knew which side of the train her feet were currently on?
    Why was it a good idea to derail the train anyway? The only thing it achieved was that the train would never reach its destination, whatever that was.
    Karen flicked into her own way of dealing with gravity, and manoeuvred into the centre of the car where none of the chairs would beat her over the head. Every so often, she would see something outside of the windows, far in the distance. She assumed it to be the track they had until recently been following.
    She could already guess who had done this. No, she was in fact certain it was Lloyd, even if Sarika also had the idea. She pulled herself towards the end of the car, and rotated with the train so that she could read the red message flashing on the door control panel.


    “Warning: Breach in next car detected. Breathable atmosphere is leaking at an alarming rate. An engineer has been alerted. Thank you for your patience.”

    As she finished reading the warning, the train buckled, and the car she was currently in managed to bash with the front car. She was launched sideways and cracked her skull off of the window. As the splitting pain cascaded through her head and her view darkened she swore, before everything went black…


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

    A day out was something the Renoir family rarely experienced. Colette didn’t care about it, she was just happy to have both her parents with her at the same time. She could have been sat at home having dinner instead and been just as happy. Her father, Antoine, was an author of fiction, and spent much of his time gathering information for his next book. He had amassed at least four best sellers, and was part way into his final book in the series. Colette had enjoyed them immensely, having inherited her father’s love of fiction. She did have trouble with some parts of them, mostly when they involved modern day or futuristic involvements. She preferred fiction set in fantasy than in sci-fi, but her father liked to mix both into one. She stared into his dark brown eyes, and he smiled. Her mother, sat next to him, gave him a nudge and pointed out a park that was passing by in the window.

    Colette’s mother, Renée, was a soldier. Staff Sergeant Renée Renoir. She had blonde hair, which was in stark contrast to her fathers’ and her dark hair. It was a constant shade of pure gold that she usually kept tied back. Today she had changed it to flow around her shoulders. Colette respected her mother dearly, but loved her just as much. Her father told stories of her whenever he could, because her mother didn’t view heroism the same way as civilians. Colette understood that, but knew her mother was a very strong person, in mind, body and heart.
    As the monorail sped through the city she just gazed at her parents sitting across from her as they held hands and chatted about something trivial. Her father motioned to her, palm upwards. She laughed, and placed the back of her hand onto his palm.
    As her father’s warm hand embraced hers, a terrible shriek filled the cabin. His eyes widened in shock, and she saw her mother twist with inhuman speed. The cabin was twisting, and Colette’s stomach turned with inertia. The next thing she knew, the window was showing a large portion of the sidewalk, her mother was embracing her without her even realising she had left her seat, and her father was standing with his back to her. And then everything went dark…

    “My parents” Karen muttered, not fully understanding why she could even think so clearly, “They died protecting me. And this is the last thing I remember before waking up in the hospital.”

    But the flashback did not, as Karen expected, end. She noticed her eyes were opening, showing brief and hazy images. Her head turned, and saw the dark wreckage of the monorail’s cabin interior. She was horrified by the sights of blood dripping from bodies torn apart by the metal framework. But that paled in comparison of what she saw on the face of one man hanging from above her.

    He was grinning

    He was certainly dead with the piece of pipe sticking out of his head, but his grin…
    It was evil. There was no way someone would smile through the crash and die with it on their face. She tried to move, but her body was caught on something below her. Whatever it was, it was warm. Had she landed on somebody? Then it dawned on her.
    Where were her parents? Her head turned to see her mothers face behind her.

    “Thank the lord… you’re okay. Sweetie, are you hurt anywhere?”

    “Momma” her mouth uttered weakly. “No, I’m fine. But you’re hurt!”

    She could see that her mothers head had impacted rather hard. Shattered pieces of glass where stuck in her hair, which was now tainted red by blood.

    “I’ll be fine. Momma’s tough. Have you seen,” She winced once with pain, “Your father?”

    Colette’s head turned around to look again, but she couldn’t see him anywhere.
    She focused again on her mother, who was already growing pale. Her mouth was covered in blood, and her breathing was really ragged. Colette knew about that kind of injury, it meant that there where wounds on her internal organs, most likely her lungs.

    “Listen… to me. Your father and I, we loved you, so much.” She said through ragged, forced breaths. Colette’s vision was blurred by tears, but she didn’t have the energy to wipe them away. She felt her mothers arms wrap around her and she embraced her back. She begged her to stay, she begged her not to die. She didn’t want to be alone. She didn’t want to lose her mother. She was scared.

    Karen hated every moment of the memory. Repressed or not, she didn’t need this kind of memory in her head. It was depressing. And heart breaking. She could feel herself choking up inside and just willed herself to get back to reality. But instead, darkness enveloped the vision, replacing it instead with one of just speech.

    “Colonel.” Spoke an unknown male voice, around mid age.

    “Gentlemen.” Replied another, around the same age, but with more gruff to it.
    “You’ve run the idea by me before, so we can skip to the chase. Renée Renoir was a fine soldier, and I feel honoured to have served with her. Her death, and indeed the death of her husband sadden me dearly. However, you can imagine the shock I had when you told me that even their daughter was suffering a horrible fate. Now, I don’t know how you learned of our research into the VR set, and I don’t care. Colette… she deserves the chance at a life. I approve of the use of one. I’ll get a team of programmers, engineers, and anyone else you need to get this done.”

    “Thank you Colonel. You have no idea what this will mean to her in the long run.
    We’ll begin tests as soon as we can. If she synchronises correctly she should never notice.”

    “But what puzzles me is how she’ll cope. You can’t fake another several years in school.”

    “We have thought about that… unfortunately, nothing comes to mind. In the VR portion, we’ll have her hospitalised for some time. During that time we hope to gather enough information to build her future with.”

    The gruff man sighed.
    “I pray to god that this works. She lost both her parents, fell into an irreversible coma, and yet this is all we can do. I’ll keep in touch.”



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


    Karen’s eyes finally opened, and the first thing she did was punch the nearest hard surface. She finally understood why she had hated her life after the loss of her parents.
    She wasn’t an emotionless husk as she had believed for so long. It was the world around her that was lacking humanity. A VR set where she could enter a VR game…
    The idea would have seemed like idiocy a few hours ago. But she knew that reality didn’t follow sense anymore. She tried to remember the early days after waking up in the hospital, but it was mostly a blur. She’d blamed it on her emotional state since that was what the doctors had told her, but really she just couldn’t “feel” anymore.
    A military VR set… Pain would be allowed, even though she never caused more than a bumped toe to herself in the VR world seeing as she spent nearly every hour of her life in Legends of Fate. And society hadn’t cared. She thought they saw her as a lost cause and were leaving her alone.

    She had to admit, it made her a perfect contestant. Her consciousness had fused with her online character, or maybe her character had fused with her whole body. She wondered about which reality was true, but deemed it unnecessary. She bit her tongue, feeling the distinct pain. Yes, this was her reality now. No matter the past, she had to move forward in the present. But thinking about it, what did her life mean to her now?
    She hadn’t cared about it before. She lived in Legends of Fate because it was fun, exciting, and soon became her reality. And then Coal came into the mix, helped reshape her personality back together, and became her only friend. If she ever wanted to get answers, she needed to-

    Suddenly, she remembered what she was doing in the first place. She had bigger fish to fry, and how long had she been out?! Her spine tingled. She gripped her sword and lashed out behind her. It connected with an unseen force, a large heavy one. It pushed with so much force Karen was forced backwards into the floor, which was now a vertical wall.

    Charlie had snuck up on her during her brief KO session.

    “Thanks for being a gentleman and letting me sleep, you mechanical bastard.”

    She opened her free palm, five fireball spells ready to launch. They enveloped Charlie’s metal, showing her exactly where he started and ended. Its right claw was gripping the blade of her sword, and it was positioning its left to point in her direction.
    Karen had forgotten whether it was a flamethrower or a gun that was encased within it, and she couldn’t see due to its high-tech camouflage. The train car changed direction again, and Karen seized her opportunity and wrenched herself free as a jet of flame nearly scorched her body. She dropped towards what would have lead away from the other group had she not been knocked out, and she saw that the door was torn open, the edges bent like something had squeezed through. But in place of the door, a light blue sheen acted as what she assumed was a barrier to decompression.
    She landed on the wall that surrounded the torn open door, and slapped her left hand against her sword while activating a spell from her Cleric class, Bless Weapon. A faint light emanated from her palm and enveloped the blade. the main characteristic of the spell was to allow it to cause more damage with every hit. She didn't wonder about how that worked out outside of the game, but she trusted it would help. As an upside, she was assuming that it would keep the sword from shattering a little.
    She was about to put on another buff when Charlie began his assault, its camo switched off for the moment. It repeatedly tried to smash Karen with its massive steel claws, but Karen was managing to bash them away each time with her sword. The massive vibrations from each hit reverberated through her arms, but she knew that was a small price to pay. Charlie had the advantage of managing to keep stable with its legs firmly holding on, but Karen had to concentrate on what angle the train was twisting towards so she could work out where to balance herself.
    As she exchanged hits with Charlie's heavily armoured limbs she began to wonder just how she was going to do any damage. It was the right time to do so, so she noted that her sword was barely scratching the surface of the steel. Fire wouldn't do much against it either. She didn’t have any good lightning spells either, her forte was fire alone. She guessed that she'd need a lot more heat to get anywhere through that kind of plating. Heck, she guessed even a blowtorch wouldn't do much against Charlie. She still had a lot of things to resort to, but a lot of them would not only take away a lot of her combat ability in the future, it would put herself at a lot of risk. Then again, she wasn't going to need her biggest attacks if she managed to take out the biggest threat to the group’s freedom.
    Charlie decided to switch to its flamethrower, forcing Karen to use up some of her magic reserves to freeze the spout until it was covered by a large block of ice. While it tried to figure out what was stopping the flames she quickly slid underneath the hunterbot, aided by the fact that gravity was now pulling her in that direction. She suddenly remembered his tail, however, and almost got stabbed through the eye by it as she went by. She leapt to her feet, gained some distance and tapped into her Cleric class again. This time: haste. It improved her reflexes and speed by a noticeable margin. Charlie didn’t turn. It simply stood there as its tail pulled back into-
    Karen charged forward, swinging her sword as she went. She didn’t give Charlie a second’s time to charge its laser before slamming her sword into its tail. It was a lot easier to hit that its claws as she found it to recoil instead of sending her sword backwards in return. She began to realise that Charlie didn’t have a blind spot, or an obvious weakness. He was the mix of boss monster and player, incredibly strong but unpredictable. She buffed herself again with Striking, a spell that increased her damage output and lessened the brunt of the recoil of hitting a heavy sword on hard steel. Charlie kept as it was, piercing at her with high speed lunges of its tail. She countered every strike, and was constantly moving forward to attack again, only to be warded off once again by his tail. She backed up, aware that the tail laser could charge at any point. But she was running out of options. Her body would give out before even its tail did. She needed a lot more power, even with the buffs she had on her she wasn’t doing much at all. Using her sword now, it would have to be sitting on it to even do much. No, for her plan to work her sword needed to pierce Charlie, far enough in for it to stick. She wasn’t going to achieve that, but the alternative would leave her open.

    Taking a deep breath she muttered a word.

    “Berserk.”

    Her heart thumped hard. She felt her circulation increase in speed as her heart began to pound faster and faster. The skin on her hands began to tinge red, her breathing became ragged. To actually feel this ability work in reality, she realised what was happening. Her blood was moving at inhuman speeds, her muscles were getting a lot more oxygen, but she needed to breathe harder to fuel it.
    It didn’t leave much for her brain, and turned her into a fighting machine. That was the part she regretted had to happen, she lost her sense of survival and took too many risks. She’d had to resort to it before, and every time she came out with more wounds that she cared for. She prayed that this time would be different. The tip of Charlie’s tail glowed so she gripped her sword with resolve and began pelting him with more attacks. Each time Charlie tried to hit her; she swung her sword into the tail, rocking the mechanical appendage around. She noticed that now, she was actually dealing damage. A small part of her warned her not to get cocky, which went mostly ignored. Next, she focused on one of its hind legs. At that point Charlie deemed it necessary to turn in the tight space just as the car began to roll sideways. As Karen leapt to the ceiling, which was now the floor, she had a clear view of Charlie’s back. She kicked into a sprint and brought her sword over her shoulder, feeling it connect with Charlie’s back she forced it to move through the metal instead of just smash into it and carved a deep gash through the steel. A brief sense of elation swept over her, but was quickly banished as gravity turned against her, and Charlie’s left claw smashed into her side. Her sword took the brunt of the hit, her quick reflexes saving her life, but it was enough to interrupt her rhythm and leave her at the far side of the car. She immediately repeated the assault, this time from the front. Charlie’s claws weren’t as intimidating as before as every strike left a dent or cut into the metal work. Charlie’s flamethrowers were beginning to thaw, but had yet to work yet.
    It decided to swap to active camouflage, but Karen covered it with a blanket of fire, expecting to blind it. Normal vision, thermal vision and night vision would be useless to the machine now, and Karen expected it to be unable to see her. Unfazed by the flames she went in for the kill, only for Charlie to pinpoint where she was somehow and lash out. It wasn’t perfectly on target, so Karen guessed it wasn’t relying on sight, but on something else. It never occurred to her that her increased heart rate, combined with Charlie’s heart beat sensor was giving him a constantly accurate position of where she was. Nevertheless she recklessly kept on trying to fight Charlie, occasionally gaining the upper hand only to be driven back again. She took her chances, made a move that her Rogue class benefited which involved an intricate series of flips and jumps, eventually ending with her kneeling on Charlie’s back. She had a split second, maybe less. It was enough. Her sword lit up, not with just one or two fire spells. At least three dozen heated up the blade in an instant, her magic causing the heat to climb to over four thousand degrees Celsius. It plunged into Charlie; however, it depleted a lot of her magic reserves. As soon as it was stuck in, she froze the parts that touched the sword, rapidly cooling them. She knew it would be stuck in, twisted the hilt and separated it from the blade. Before Charlie’s tail could smack her off she jump gracefully and landed near the undamaged entrance of the car.

    Karen gripped the heavy staff. It was, in fact, her Witch staff, finally released from its long slumber combined with the blade of her sword. She had fused them together for ease of access. It was what her prize was for maxing out both levels. Most people went for swords of pure element, like lighting and fire, but she thought they were pretty stupid and matched people who loved to show off. Charlie tried its best to grab the sword, but without a hilt it never got a good grip on it. That, and the metal had fused with its back. She contemplated attacking while it was distracted but she was suddenly distracted herself by the door behind her sliding open.


    “Karen listen I know I shouldn’t be here but there really was no choice there’s a bomb and I need to get it off the train but I can’t open any of the windows and even if I could it might just kill me and I need your help!”

    The sound of Sarika’s breathing-uninterrupted plea for help forced Karen to come to her senses, shutting her berserk off. Karen turned to look into Sarika’s goggled face, contorted with worry, black briefcase in her hands. Karen had a smirk on her face.

    “I leave for ten minutes and you somehow find a bomb. Honestly, you guys are a real handful.”

  14. #114
    So enthusiastic Dragon Fogel's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)


  15. #115
    taking a nap bobthepen's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)



    Parent’s gift

    It was a winter’s night. A bespectacled man shuffled about in his study. On his desk sat a small wooden box, crudely crafted. His hands were not used to that sort of work. A fresh fire warmed the room and illuminated shelves of books, thick volumes, although he would admit to not having read most of them.

    A tiny creak caught the man’s attention as a pair of small hands cautiously cracked open the sturdy door. As he turned about, the flickering light from the fireplace revealed tense lips and furrowed brow, but the expression softened as he watched the small girl peek her head into the imposing room.

    “Did you call for me?” The girl asked. It was uncommon for her to enter the study, and her eyes, filled with uncertainty, locked on the man with the gold-rimmed glasses.

    “Of course!” He answered warmly. “Come in…I have something to give you.”

    He added the last part hesitantly, but the child’s curiosity was already peaked. She glanced around expectantly as the man reached for the wooden box. He held the cedar container in his hands, turning it over a few times, considering exactly what it was he was about to give.

    “It’s a precious gift you’re about to receive,” he muttered, turning the box around again, “Honestly, I wasn’t certain if you were ready for it, but I suppose it really is time.” Carefully he handed the small box to the child. She gleefully opened the lid, and an azure light illumined her awestruck face.

    “It’s uh…” the man stammered, but the joyful exclamation of the eight year old child interrupted his explanation.

    “It’s beautiful! I didn’t think I was ever going to get one! Oh thank you so much!”

    Setting the open box off to the side, she wrapped her tiny arms around the man; her face pressed against his chest. The man, however, barely forced a smile as he stared at the glowing pendant he had gingerly placed in the hand-carved box.

    “It’s your responsibility now. Please, ” he said, “ take care of her.”


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

    Spirits Monologue

    Those words, that charge, echoed in the Spirits consciousness. Lillian was its responsibility, its duty. In the two years it had spent guiding and guarding the small child the Spirit had found that it was not enough to simply ensure the curious girl’s safety. Of course there was no law or requirement stating that the Spirit had to do even that, but something about Lillian spoke to the Spirit in a manner no words could convey. The nature of the child and her guardian resonated with one another in such a way that the Spirit truly desired the best for the lighthearted charge. They were very much kindred spirits. Had the Spirit the ability to speak, to laugh and run and grow alongside Lillian, they would probably have made excellent friends, the sort of friends that no matter how long they were apart, upon meeting again they’d find their friendship had grown ever stronger.

    However, that was not the way of things. The two were separated by a gulf far wider than time or place. The Spirit could not run, could not laugh, could not speak. It could not be a friend to the bright-eyed girl on whose arm dangled the pendant to which it was bound. And so, the Spirit was resigned to the role of protector and counselor, to do the best it could to stave off the evils of the world.

    But how was it supposed to protect Lillian from evils even the world could not contain, evils which reached beyond the veil to pluck the child from her home and sentence her to death by creatures and dangers of which the Spirit could never have known? The Spirit had once considered itself an unbreakable shield for Lillian, but in the face of such monstrosities, it knew it was powerless.

    Not only that, the Spirit itself was far from unshaken by its too recent exposure to the potential hideousness of the universe. When the legion of creatures, the swarm of that metal labyrinth descended upon them, the Spirit could sense an evil deeper than their gnashing teeth and slicing claws. The torment of their combined essences, the terror and fury at all things which were not their own howled in an unceasing cacophony perceptible only those denizens of that other plane in which the Spirit resided. The unyielding pressure of their frustration bore down on the Spirit. It felt how badly they suffered, how greatly they wished to end their existence, yet how their twisted bodies forced them towards self-preservation, channeling their loathing into rage.

    Those creatures were monsters, but they were created by something more monstrous, something which cared nothing for their well being, something which saw their existence as mere toys or garbage, something which was not all unlike the being that had captured an innocent girl and forced her to participate in this distortion of a game. A terrible, unthinkable fear resided deep within the Spirit. How far was Lillian, how much evil could she bear, before this being turned her into a creature not unlike those beasts?

    It had not happened yet, however. The critical moment had not come, and perhaps it would never come. Lillian was not alone. There were those around her that did not wish her harm. Some even, it seemed, wanted good for her. While this gave the Spirit some hope, it could not be certain. How could it know these strangers? How could it find out what they would do when pressed? The Spirit longed to ask them, those who Lillian flocked to, Will you care for her? Will you protect her where I cannot? How far are you willing to go?

    The Spirit longed to ask these questions.

    But the Spirit could not speak.

    And the Spirit said nothing.


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

    Burden’s Stories

    Lillian and Burden had traveled through several cars before meeting up with Marcus. They were all cargo cars, like the one before them, and contained boxes, crates, and containers of all manner of shapes and construction. A box is a box, however, and Lillian quickly lost interest despite flamboyant labels and foreign trappings.

    It was not entirely the boxes’ fault for failing to grasp the young girl’s attention. Burden, that orange-gutted, ever-grinning dreamer, had, surprisingly, a great deal of stories to tell, and there was little else that could capture Lillian’s imagination like a story.

    Now most storytellers (at least inexperienced ones) would have found themselves quite frustrated in telling a tale to Lillian. Before finishing a “Once upon a time” the story would have been taken entirely away from them, Lillian’s imagination having already begun forming the fanciful world and filling it with colorful characters that may have nothing to do with the tale or moral the storyteller wished to impart. Midway through a tale, Lillian would interrupt, shaking her head, saying, “I know you said she had [this] but wouldn’t it be lovelier if she wore [that]?” or “No no, that can’t be what happened. It is too tragic,” (or more often) “ It isn’t nearly tragic enough.” Needless to say, her interjections often earned her the scorn of those telling the story. In class she would be forced to sit in the back of the room, arms crossed, and face pouting like a muzzled pup.

    Burden, however, seemed to know just how to tell a story to the young girl, either that or he had no other way of telling it. Between every word and detail the frog-like dreamer left ample space for the vibrant imagination of his audience to take hold, grow, and create. Most listeners (at least inexperienced ones) would have found waiting between pauses and “hmmmm”’s unbearably boring, but Lillian relished in the free-reign the slow-paced speech allowed her. In fact, it would be fair to say that the story he told did not belong to him at all, but to Lillian.

    “I once saw a Tree,” he began, his words barely above a yawn, “it spread across the horizon.”

    Lillian instantly saw the tree as well. Huge branches far larger than herself, larger than even the car they stood in, reaching endlessly in all directions. On each branch sprouted countless sprigs, splitting and separating to make room for the leaves. And oh the leaves! Broad rich green leaves that didn’t block out the light, but simply filtered our all the harshness, leaving that warm comforting green and gold that wrapped around you like a familiar blanket.

    “Many cared for that tree.”

    Of course! A tree so vast and so gorgeous could never stand to be alone. Out of the bark of the tree Lillian saw elves and nymphs and deer and all sorts of creatures arising to tend to it. Some of the craftier ones began to build nests while others simply perched among the branches or basked in the warm green light. She heard the sounds of playful creatures frolicking in one of the many crisp, clear, dew-drop pools. Perhaps an elk, reaching to take a drink would suddenly find itself drenched in the playful splashing of winged nymphs. It would shake off the drips and trot casually to a bright spot under the canopy to dry away its cares. Oh, and of course there would be fairies. Though Lillian didn’t care to think about fairies much at the moment she was certain that--

    “But the tree left them.”

    What? “left them”? How does a tree simply go away? What about the creatures and the pool and the warm welcoming light? Before Lillian could reject the idea she could already see the wearied and frightened faces of the forest fairies. The sleep barely wiped from their eyes, they awoke to the harsh hateful light the tree had once filtered so pure and refined. Now their wings were dry and cracked, tears streaming down their cheeks.

    Lillian gasped. The face of the fairy she had seen so clearly was none other than Dekowin’s. She knew Dekowin had nothing to do with that tree, but the image combined with the memory began to bring back her tears.

    “Is this what you lost?” Burden asked, breaking from his story.

    Lillian checked herself. She was facing a large crate with a colorful logo on the top. She shook her head.

    “No, it’s not this.” She said, sorrowfully, unable to tell the sweet Burden that what was lost would never be recovered. “What happened next? What did all the people do?”

    Burden let out what sounded like a sigh, “They tried to bring it back.”

    Lillian listened, doing her best to push aside any thoughts of Dekowin or fairies.

    “But they could not. They made new trees, but they were not the world tree, though they tried to be.”

    Lillian thought of the new trees. Trees that had never seen how great or beautiful the first tree had been, only knowing of the stories of it, or knowing whatever trees can.

    “It must have been very hard,” she said.

    “Yes,” Burden continued, “They wished to cover the world. That longing hurt the trees…until they were trees no longer.”

    “What had they become?” Lillian asked, confused.

    “I do not know. That dream ended long ago.”


    Meeting with Marcus

    They continued together, Burden telling Lillian more stories of his dreams. There was a world filled with metal creatures and flashing lights where a silver king ruled uncontested; a story of a strong warrior beautiful but tragically betrayed; a creature born from planets in the stars, but forced to live alone. With each story Burden’s grin grew wider--the sluggish creature apparently enjoying himself and the time he was spending with the child. Burden paused, and as Lillian begun to think of sharing one of her own stories, the door behind the pair flung open. A large black-toned man with a formidable rifle stared them down. His eyes studied the pair closely, focusing intently on the orange-gutted Burden. Gradually, he lowered his weapon.

    “Hey, there, Lillian. Right? You remember me?”

    Remember him! How could she forget? This was the man whose hateful firing ended the life of her friend (...as much of a friend as Dekowin had been). Dekowin was gone and now he was here greeting her as if he had done nothing! She glared at the mercenary, her little fist clenched tight around her bracelet’s charm as she began to wish many not-so-nice things upon the armored man. The Spirit, flustered at this sudden shift in thought, tried its best to calm Lillian and at the very least succeeded in convincing her to listen to what the man had to say.

    “My name’s Marcus. Uh…. who’s your friend?”

    Lillian glanced back at Burden. The lanky frog-man did not seem perturbed by the man’s presence, though the wide grin from earlier had lessened. To one not familiar with Burden’s expressions, his face would have seemed quite content, though Lillian (and the Spirit), noticed something thoughtful in the dreamer’s barely upturned smile. Burden’s eyes reflected Marcus clearly, his dull, scratched armor, his impatient stare, and the armed rifle held close to his side.

    The glance was telling, but brief, and Lillian quickly returned her glare to Marcus.

    “His name’s Burden.” She replied.


    “Hi, Burden.”

    “Hmmmmmmm…Greetings…” was the drowsy sounding reply.

    The two began to converse a bit, but Lillian cared little about their conversation. She had been having a perfectly wonderful time before Marcus came in to sour things. And now he was talking to Burden! Wasn’t Burden aware that when your friend is angry at someone it’s only proper to be angry at them yourself? The Spirit would be quick to remind Lillian that she was a frequent offender of this social rule, though Lillian would have just dismissed it. Instead the Spirit decided to reveal another bit of information it had been withholding.

    Ahead. People.

    To Lillian, “People” meant “Not Marcus” and “Maybe Sarika,” so she decided to head off. She stiffened her back, put on her best frown, and dramatically stomped out of the room to make certain everyone knew she was not at all pleased with the present company.


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

    Marcus followed behind Burden cautiously. Normally when heading up the tail end of a group, he could trust the others to alert him to any danger ahead, but when your group consists of a little girl and some frog monster, he couldn’t be too sure. The car was a sleeper car, with a narrow hallway alongside private quarters. Upon entering, he saw Burden standing, unmoving. Lillian was nowhere to be seen.

    Aw shit, Marcus thought, what if he had already eaten the girl? That would solve a headache for Marcus, but bird lady would be pissed. Although if that were the case, they would probably have all been teleported to God-knows-where since that’s apparently how this stupid game works. No, most likely Lillian had already moved ahead to the next car, leaving the two of them behind.

    Marcus tightened his grip on The Retribution. He still had little idea of what to expect from this frog-creature. He seemed sluggish enough, but Marcus had enough experience to not let his guard down at first impressions. He advanced a couple of steps, watching Burden for some kind of reaction, but the grinning amphibian made no movement, just stood, staring into one of the private sleeper rooms.


    “She in there?” Marcus asked.

    “Hmmmmm…” was the eventual reply, “no one is in here, only shells of those in a dream.”


    “What?” Marcus cocked his head to the side and took several steps forward. He kept enough distance between himself and Burden to react, but managed to peer into the cabin Burden found so fascinating.

    “Just some creatures under their sheets,” Marcus observed, “you know them or something?”

    “Perhaps. Perhaps I know them very well.” He added, “I wonder where they are now.”

    Great, thought Marcus. First the robot tries to kill him, then the girl gets mad at him, and now some metaphor-spouting frog is blocking his way.

    “So do I have to solve some sort of riddle to get to you move on or something? Because, in case you didn’t know, there is a homicidal robot somewhere back that way, and I’d rather not meet up with him again soon.”

    “Hmmmmm” Burden yawned as his grin grew wider. Marcus waited for more of a response, but received nothing. Well, he was in no mood to play around. He raised Retribution to his shoulder and pointed to it.

    “Burden,” Marcus said, “do you know what this is for? It’s--”

    “I have seen many of those,” was the reply.

    Marcus raised an eyebrow.
    “Many of these? Where?” If this train had an armory, that could give him a serious advantage next time he ran into Charlie.

    “In my dreams.”


    “Great. Very helpful. Thank you.”

    The raised eyebrow turned into rolled eyes. Marcus was not one for metaphors or convoluted speech. Words were just another action, and he preferred his actions direct, always with a goal in mind. At least this is what he told himself. A hardened mercenary, his creed defined who he was, what allowed him to survive. Anything beyond that was simply a risk. Though he would never begrudge a friend a drink, or a night with good company, and maybe a romance novel--but that was only once and no one had seen and it wasn’t even that good anyway.

    Regardless, Marcus had little time for Burden’s sedated dialogue, and he would have interrupted and pushed the wide-mouthed creature aside if it wasn’t for the fact that, in Burden’s eyes, Marcus could see an image of the Retribution with an almost unnatural clarity. That curiosity alone allowed Burden enough time to start speaking once more.

    “It is a messenger, Maarcus,” he spoke, dragging out the ‘a’ in Marcus’ name. “Many carry them, but the message is never the same.”


    No, this is a gun, and it means that I don’t have to put up with pointless frog-riddles. was what Marcus would have liked to say, but in truth this was not the first time he had heard someone call the Retribution a “messenger”. It had been long ago, and he couldn’t recall most of that night but did remember thinking it true at the time.

    Burden filled his pause with a long “mmmmmmm...” and finished with, “What message do you carry, Maarcus?”

    Marcus stared at the frog man for a moment, then replied flippantly,
    “Let’s keep moving.”

    “Hmmmmmm,” he turned away from Marcus and stepped out of the car.

    Marcus took a step and paused, glancing back at Retribution, then returning to the direction of Lillian and her companion.


    “...damn it.”

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

    Lloyd and Reudic

    There, now I just have to wait for the directional system to destabilize. Lloyd smirked triumphantly at the computer terminal. It was a patchwork job, but it was doing just what he expected. Across the car from him, Reudic hung motionless.

    What’s his deal? Lloyd mused to himself. He’s just gotten a mass of information on an unfamilar world and culture and it’s doing nothing with it! It’s just hovering there, content to use its sudden wealth of knowledge for nothing more than fixing a speech impediment. If I was given that much insight...but Lloyd had been given that insight. Time and time again though countless stories and distorted plots. Lloyd had done everything from turning whole societies on their heads, to crashing neighborhood bake sales. Each time he’d enter a new story and know exactly what he was supposed to do, and then figure out exactly what he could do to watch the story crumble around him. Yet here was Reudic, in the exact same situation and it seemed perfectly content to follow along whatever plot lay before it.

    Maybe he just doesn’t know. Maybe he needs a little push. Lloyd had a knack for giving characters “a little push”.In a Victorian romance, he’d start talking to the heroines about women’s rights. In a courtroom drama, he’d convince an innocent man of the benefits of a plea bargain. In a sea voyage, he’d show the captain the wonders of stamp collecting. It hardly took any real difficulty. Just introduce a flat character to something they had never considered before, and soon enough their actions cause the plot to crumble without any help from Lloyd. Of course Lloyd never felt guilty for this. They were all underdeveloped and single minded; he just rounded them out a bit.

    Now Reudic, here was a character that was fully flushed. The details on his vines, his dangerous smell, all were very real and very unnerving to the protagonist. He appeared, however, apathetic, uncaring aside from basic survival. What was apathy if not lack of an opinion? From Lloyds experience, that was all you needed to receive that gentle push.

    “Hey Rudy,” Lloyd began, “do you really plan to try and help that Reinhardt guy out?”

    The viridioflorian’s vines slithered around Reudic’s core.

    “If an opportunity presents itself, yes.”

    “But how can you know you’re not just falling for somebody else’s scheme? All you’ve heard was some kind of transdimentional message. You can’t know anything about the guy.”

    “If his message is false hope then I will pursue my original plan.”

    “Which is?”

    “Survive until the final round.”

    Lloyd nodded. So he’s a survivalist...a passive survivalist. That may be enough, but I’d like a bit more.

    “The final round huh? What do you think will happen then? You’ll get to go home? That our ‘grandmaster’ will grant you a wish?”


    “How the Grandmaster will treat the winner is unknown, but given the constraints of this contest, that is the longest I could survive.”

    “Oh come on. You expect me to buy that’s all you’re hoping for? To just live a few more hours? If I survive until the final round, I’d travel. Real places, none of that “Journey through Reading” crap you see in the forwards. The whole multiverse would be a giant playground!”

    “I do not see the appeal.”

    “But there has to be something you’d want to do! A nice, warm, quiet spot, saved just for you. A place where you are free to do as you will, without anyone shoving you about in some contest or plot?”

    Reudic said nothing, but it was a vulnerable silence. Lloyd smiled internally. It was rare for a character to hold secrets from him; it made the challenge much more exciting.

    “Do you know how many times I’ve found myself being bossed around by narrators and storytellers who never gave a moment to consider what I wanted to do? ‘Lloyd Conrad: Your name is Ishmael. Get on this boat.’ ‘Lloyd Conrad: Go see dinosaurs then run away.’ ‘Lloyd Conrad: Seduce this maiden then off yourself because she looks like she’s dead..’ Now, when I’m finally free of those oppressive narratives, I hear this: ‘Lloyd Conrad: Kill seven strangers and guess at what happens next.’

    “I’ll tell you something.”
    Lloyd sat himself on a counter next to Reudic. “Who do you think a story belongs to? The Narrator? The Readers? No! It belongs to the characters. We are the ones who have to put up with every inane detail, every stifled conversation, every pointless command and plot point that serves no other purpose than to ‘develop character’ or ‘tell a morale’. Well I have a morale for you: There is no ‘Happy Ever After’. When the book ends, it just starts all over. And that is exactly what this battle will do. It will start over. Even if you win, you’ll just find yourself pushed around again, forced by someone else into their scheme that cares jack-diddly about you.”

    The vines continued to coil and serpentine around Reudic. He’s listening, Lloyd thought, he may not realize it, but he understands.

    “And your solution is to derail a train?” Reudic finally replied.

    “Nah.” Lloyd shrugged. “I’m just biding my time. This train has stations it can dock at in other worlds, but you have to input highly complicated access codes to get there. From what I can tell, the people who have those access codes aren’t here anymore.”

    “So why bother?”

    “Because I have to. If I don’t add just a little chaos, chaos I put in motion, then everything will go according to narrative. We can’t have that. You gotta rock the boat before it can capsize.” He added, “Actually, you’d probably be the best for this.”

    Reudic let go of the overhanging post and lowered itself onto the floor.

    “You assume that I would care.”

    “Of course you’d care!” Lloyd could not let this slip away. “If you refuse to change your story, everything will just repeat itself! You’ll never survive, you’ll never be left alone. You’ll...” but Reudic had already left the room.

    Dang it. Lloyd shook his head.That was too forward. This is much harder when you don’t know everything about someone. Well, he returned to the console, at least the seed was planted.

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

    Exedric

    “THEY WHAT!?”

    Davis Drucker, CEO of Exedric’s security division, slammed his stubby palm down on the open file on his desk. He had not yet read the contents, but his chief R&D officer had just provided a rather concise summary of the thirty page report entitled: “Propensity of AI-CH4 Operation Beyond Accepted Protocol”.

    “We knew that accelerated performance was a possibility of an untested AI system,” the researcher responded. “But you did say you wanted the best available.”

    “Yes! The best available for KILLING THINGS! Not for…” he pulled out a photo from the file. “THIS! What is this?”

    “That’s...a…a painting, sir.”

    “And why are my hunterbots painting!?”

    “Well, really it’s just that one. Others have taken up design, sightseeing, architecture…”

    “Aaaaargh!” Drucker hurled the rest of the file into the researcher’s face, then paced over to the office window. From the window he could see the city, vast skyline full of unique designs, towering structures and hovering buildings. It comforted him knowing his company owned most of it. He wrapped his hands behind his back and stared down at the citizens below.

    “Do you know why this is a bad for us?” Drucker sighed. “The government has taken great care--we have taken great care--to make certain that as both technology and demand increases, there will always be a defining line between people and the things they make. It’s about superiority. It’s about control.”

    He gestured to the streets, as he continued his monologue. “They all need a bit of superiority. They all need a bit of control. Take that away from them, threaten what little power they have and they will fight back. And how would they fightt?” Drucker turned towards the researcher. “The government! They’re the ones who’ll be knocking down our doors, ready to take our heads if word of this gets out. Hundreds of hunterbots spread throughout the galaxy, any of which could go rogue at any time because someone made them a tad too sentient. Not to mention the possible information leaks these things could cause! That alone would be enough for bastards to try and kill us! Why…”

    “Pardon my correction, sir,” the researcher interrupted. “But there aren’t ‘hundreds’ of hunterbots with this issue, only those with the new AI. About two dozen, I believe.”

    The CEO furrowed his brow, confused, “Well, then…destroy them.”

    “If I may, sir,” the researcher said. “The combat efficiencies of these units are beyond all previous models, AI-CH4 is quite effective. My team has developed a kernel program that theoretically, could subdue these…impulses…as long as a primary objective is in place, with minimal impact to their combat efficiency.”

    Drucker gazed down to the file on the floor, then slowly walked back to his desk and sat down.

    “Only two dozen?” he asked.

    “Only two dozen.”

    “And you’re certain we can keep tabs on them?”

    “Absolutely.”

    The CEO steepled his stubby fingers and looked up at the researcher. Drucker knew profit required risks, and he was a man who loved his profits.


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

    CH4-12-L13

    Optics failing. Thermal interference. Motion limited. Mechanical obstruction. Targets: two. MISSION INCOMPLETE.

    The attacks stopped, briefly. Audio sensors picked up conversation. Surrounding noise prevented interpretation. Two heartbeats registered. Charlie lunged and made contact, but not with the target. Something blocked his path. The heartbeats were muffled, moving farther away. Another foreign object was stuck to his tail. MISSION INCOMPLETE.


    From the moment Dekowin’s death resulted in transportation to a new locale, Charlie’s systems determined that, given current data, completing the assassination of the Republic Chancellor required changing locations until a direct route to the primary target could be established. This entailed the execution of the remaining “contestants”, and thus made them his targets.

    Of course he knew the probable futility of this plan; however, there were no practical alternatives. Until he could state with certainty that ‘The Chancellor is dead,’ MISSION INCOMPLETE would continue to plague his consciousness. Some small segment of his programming wished to give up, accept defeat, perhaps even end his existence; but whenever those suggestions began to appear, his thoughts would degrade, taking away whatever aspects made him Charlie and replacing it with MISSION INCOMPLETE.


    Audio processing finished. Adjusted for background noise. Replaying:

    Target label K: “I leave for ten minutes and you somehow find a bomb. Honestly, you guys are a real handful.”

    Target label S: “Yeah yeah. Well we need to get rid of it. You have a teleportation spell or something?”

    K: “Oh I can do better than that.”

    S: “Hey!”

    K: “Freezing Ray!”

    S: “Tell me before you decide to chunk a bomb! Oh crap he’s charging! Shut the door shut the door!”

    End of recording coincides with impact against obstruction.

    They stuck a bomb to his tail? It could go off at any time, and now they were getting away. In his current state he probably would not survive the blast. MISSION INCOMPLETE. No he could still catch up, but if he waited…MISSION INCOMPLETE. He could try to disarm MISSION INCOMPLETE. Manipulate the MISSION INCOMPLETE. If only he could MISSION INCOMPLETE process MISSION INCOMPLETE could end it MISSION INCOMPLETE MISSION INCOMPLETE MISSION INCOMPLETE….


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

    Sarika and Karen try to not die

    Sarika waited for Karen to finish the barrier spell on the car door. She wasn’t too comfortable with the idea of a bit of steel and a little magic being the only thing that separated them from an angry robot with a bomb on his back. Future-sight said the door stayed intact, however far into the future she was looking at least.

    “You’re sure that can hold him?” Sarika asked.

    “I would think so,” Karen replied, sliding her staff into a holster on her back. “Barrier spells like this are meant to reinforce the air around you to weaken enemy blows. I’ve never tried using it on steel before, but I think the effects improve with the material. Though I don’t think I’ll be able to cast much more of these unless I get a good rest.”

    The train car tumbled once more. Sarika caught herself, though the constant shifting was making her ill.

    “We should head back,” Karen said. “Wait for that bomb to go off. Maybe enjoy some of the…”

    *THUD* Something, apparently Charlie, slammed against the reinforced door. Sarika blinked. The door was still intact in the future. *THUD* From what she could tell, Karen’s spell would keep it in place for a while. *THUD* Actually, the very fact that the door was still there meant the bomb didn’t affect this area. *THUD* Maybe that barrier was stronger than she thought.

    *THUD* *THUD* *THUD*

    A quick series of armor slamming against steel echoed through the car, increasing in intensity and frequency. Sarika supposed Charlie was getting frustrated. As she turned to peek through the other door, just to check on the remaining cars, the slamming stopped.


    “Looks like it held pretty well!” Karen smirked “I guess he’s stuck back…”

    “We need to leave, now.” Sarika interrupted, and rushed towards the door.

    “What? What do you see?”

    The feathered seer motioned to the ceiling-turned-wall, “Pretty soon this is going to have a huge robot sized hole in it, blown in from the outside.”

    “But how could--?”

    *thud* *thud* *thud*

    The slamming of metal on metal started up once more, but against somewhere other than the sealed door. Karen’s eyes widened in understanding as the sound of a buzzsaw emanated from the captive robot’s room. Quickly the two rushed though the door and into another passenger car. They continued racing through the car, but an unexpected roar engulfed the room and the train rocketed upwards just before Sarika reached the next door. Karen tumbled backwards through a pair of chess playing arachnids as Sarika caught herself on the chair of a well dressed slime mold browsing through the daily paper.


    “So what was your plan before you stuck a bomb to him?” Sarika shouted down to Karen over the rocket-like roar.

    “I jammed my sword through his chassis!” Karen shouted back, as she climbed through the various passengers. “It’s infused with about a hundred fireball spells! One more, and it will overload!”

    “What do you mean ‘overload’?”

    Karen shrugged, “Supernova?”

    She reached the top as Sarika stared at her incredulously.

    “You gave--Ack!”

    The train twisted backwards causing the pair to land, backs against the ceiling-floor.

    Sarika continued.
    “You gave a sword that explodes on contact with fire to a robot with a flamethrower?”

    Karen frowned. “Does he have a flamethrower? I couldn’t remember!”

    “Lets go!” Sarika shouted. The distinct sound of a buzzsaw ripping through metal screeched behind her as sparks flew in her periphery.

    The two ran into the next car, slamming the door behind them. Sarika blinked, and quickly shut her eyes again. Nothingness. Whatever was about to happen would take out this car. The train spun around once more--This time the floor was the floor. Not missing the chance, Karen and Sarika sprinted to the next room. Sarika looked into the future again. This car was destroyed as well? She didn’t see anything engulfed in flames so she could only assume it was the briefcase-bomb and not the sword-bomb that caused this.

    Karen rushed past Sarika, but the seer grabbed hold of her. Something wasn’t right. When she found the bomb, she knew it took out the car it was in, but the cars ahead of it were safe. How many cars were between her and the others now? Five? Six? They had attached the bomb to Charlie so…


    “We can’t keep running!” Sarika explained, “We froze the bomb to Charlie and he’s following us. If he chases us to the end, the bomb will take out everyone.”

    “Wait...my bomb or your bomb?”

    “Why does that mat--”

    “I’d probably had to have knocked out five guys to fly it this well!”

    “I don’t even want to know what you mean by that. How are the girls doing?”

    “Oh they’re still running, Charlie’s chasing them though.”

    “He’s what!? I told you to let me know what was happening!”

    “Shhhhh! Shh shh shh! I think they can hear us! Hey ladies can you hear us?”

    Both Lloyd and Marcus’ voice boomed through the walls of the train. Sarika glanced back worriedly at the shut door.

    “Lloyd! Where are you?” Karen shouted. “Can you see Charlie?”

    “Sorry!” Lloyd’s voice echoed back “Can’t hear you. I’ve only got a visual. Marcus and I are up in the cabin. He’s activated the emergency thrusters and managed to stabilize us, so we have a nice ride ahead. Oh, Charlie is clawing his way into the car behind you and has these glowy red lights on him. I guess he’s pretty mad. Anyway we’ll see which ever one of you makes it in the next round!”

    “What!?” Karen screamed back at the intercom

    “What! Lloyd, let me see that!” Marcus’ voice shouted. “Sarika. Karen. Move ahead into the next car and listen to me.”

    Sarika and Karen exchanged glances and hurried into the next car, making sure the door was shut behind them. Through the roar of the thrusters they could hear a clamor of buzzsaw and chaingun as the enraged Charlie blindly tore through the obstacles in his way.

    Marcus’ voice continued,
    “I think I’ve found the controls for disconnecting the cars, but I’m not sure which one disconnects what. I need to you let me know what will happen if I activate one.”

    Sarika nodded. If Marcus disconnected the car separating them from Charlie, then everything in this car would be fine. If he didn’t, then Charlie would find them, the bomb would go off and the car wouldn’t exist anymore. A simple, albeit life-threatening plan. Sarika blinked.

    “Here we go!”

    There was nothing, just empty blackness and the glimmer of rails in the far distance.

    “No!” Sarika cried out, flailing her arms.

    “Alright try number two.”

    The car suddenly materialized, its future having changed. The shift in momentum ripped through the seer’s head, but the room was inact, so she signaled for Marcus to disconnect the car. Turning around to check the car more thoroughly, she screamed. The vision of her fragile form impaled under Charlie’s claw forced her to change back to present-sight.

    “There goes the caboose!” Lloyd shouted.

    “Karen, come on!” Sarika motioned for the role-player to advance to the next car. Okay, she thought, if we disconnect the car we’re on, we die by explosion. If we wait in one car too long, we die by killer robot. Disconnecting a car far behind us looks the same as disconnecting the one right behind us. There was only one way to know for sure. Switching back to future-sight, Sarika braced herself against the exit door and peered through a small viewport. Visions flew past her, blood covered walls, an expanse of nothingness, a blinding inferno. Her head reeled from the constant changes in momentum. From floating in space, to racing to her death, she struggled to keep her focus.

    Suddenly she saw it, the car around her intact and looking out into a view of the black beyond.


    “Yes! That one! Flip that one!” she shouted and flapped her wings.

    “Is that a yes or a no?”

    “That’s a yes!”

    A solid KA-CLACK sprung from the other side of the door. As Sarika blinked, she saw the car behind her fade off into the distance.

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

    Lillian meets Reudic

    While Marcus worked to gain control of the train, Lillian found herself snugly secured against Burden’s orange-tinted gut. Whenever the train jostled a bit (such as when Marcus twisted it upside-down), Burden would slide or fall and take the impact with a gentle thump. He suffered quite a few thumps before the train leveled out, but if they affected him at all, Lillian could not tell.

    There was another creature in the car with them. Lillian suspected she had seen it before but could not quite place where. It seemed more plant-like than anything else. Large vines with menacing thorns wrapped casually around fixtures in the car. The creature had no face, much like a rosebush would have no face, though the vines seemed to entangle more tightly around its center. Lillian would have assumed it was simply a plant, with its thorn covered tendrils and deceptively sweet smelling flowers. It moved, however, much more like an animal, and Lillian thought she had seen one of the others speak to it earlier.

    At the moment, the train was flying quite smoothly and Lillian realized it was actually a quite comfortable place to be when you were not flying about and changing directions every few seconds. She had heard Lloyd and Marcus yelling something about ‘disconnecting cars’ and someone named ‘Charlie’ who was apparently not in a very good mood. She refused to pay much attention, however, on account of who was speaking.

    Burden released Lillian with a dull “There you go”, and the curious girl approached the barbed stranger, despite the Spirit’s reservations.

    “You don’t know that,” she muttered to one in her charm. “He’s probably quite friendly. Perhaps he even knows Burden. Besides...” She trailed off, keeping her thoughts to herself. At least he’s not Marcus.

    Lillian stopped a few steps away from the vine-creature. The scent of those flowers were even more wonderful up close! Perhaps it will let me make a bouquet, she thought. Shame for all of those thorns, though, if it wasn’t for them it would be a much more attractive creature.

    Meanwhile, the Spirit watched uneasily. There was not much to sense from the creature. It seemed to care little about anything, though there was some turmoil working within it. What worried the Spirit worse though, was that this creature was in fact a contestant in this ‘battle’. If the Spirit recalled correctly, it possessed a capacity for illusion and was predatory by design. Up until now, the others had acted either protective or indifferent towards Lillian, but most of them had once been young themselves and sympathized with the still small girl. This one shared none of that compassion. However it would act towards Lillian would be cold, impersonal, and unfeeling.

    “Hello, my name is Lillian.”

    The vines shifted casually, loosening their grip on the now stable train.

    “What is your name?” Lillian continued.


    “We have already been introduced. You are either confused or amusing yourself.”

    The creature spoke! Quite well, in fact. The crisp articulated tone originated from somewhere within its thorn-guarded center. Lillian smiled, somewhat relieved. For a moment she had thought this creature might only talk by writing. While she was an excellent reader, holding an entire conversation though pen and paper would have been exceptionally tedious.

    “I do feel like I should know you from somewhere,” Lillian responded, “but we have definitely not been introduced. I don’t even know your name!”


    “Do you mean to say that you have not introduced yourself? I am familiar with the custom but I believed it was sufficient for a third party to preform the formality.”

    “I mean to say that I have never seen you before and, as I said, I do not know your name!”

    “I see...”

    The creature trailed off as Lillian waited impatiently for a response.

    This is hardly what I expected. I mean, I’m not certain what I expected from a talking rose bush but I figured it would at least show the courtesy to introduce itself. The Spirit sensed Lillian’s frustration and suggested casually that the child return to more pleasant company. Lillian would have done just that, had the creature not decided to respond at last.


    “My name is Reudic Otsaceae. Yours is Lillian Finch. Had I been more aware of human states of consciousness at the time, I would have recognized that you were sleeping during our introduction. Though, it is unexpected that the others would not have explained our situation to you.”

    Lillian stared dumbfounded at Reudic.

    “How did?” she stammered. “What situation?”


    “We are to fight to the death.” was the callous reply.

    Lillian shook her head. “I...I don’t understand.”


    “A being who did not identify himself transported each of us from our homes, and instructed us to kill one another until a single survivor remained. We then received an introduction and were transported to a testing facility. I assume you woke up sometime after this. When the creature called ‘Dekowin’ was killed, the requirement for that round was satisfied and we were then transported here. I am uncertain why you were not aware of the message our captor offered us upon entering the train.”

    “I...” Lillian’s began to feel dizzy, far dizzier than she did when the train was tumbling. Instructed to kill? Dekowin...requirment? But how did...why didn’t...I... Lillian fainted, although briefly. The Spirit caught her limp body and eased her into a sitting position in front of the viridioflorian. The charm-bound protector had known Lillian would find out, though it dearly hoped she would not. It had thought, perhaps somehow, she could still be spared this truth, that the protection and love of her village and family had been ripped so cruelly from her. If this was all simply an adventure, simply a fairy tale, Lillian would remain unscathed. The Spirit had prepared itself to protect the child from all manner of assaults Reudic could impose, but it had no means of guarding against this.

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

    Marcus’ apology

    The mercenary leaned forward in his pilot’s chair. Through the monitor, Marcus watched the lights from the disconnected cars fade away into the distance. A quick course correction had moved the train away from its latter half which continued speeding through the frictionless void. Now it was simply a matter of waiting for the bomb to go off and keeping the train steady.

    Next to him, Lloyd sat, reclined with feet up on the dashboard, casually twirling a pen in his hand while he waited for the next round to begin. Turning to the monitor, Marcus flipped through the rooms, checking on the others. Sarika was crouched on the floor, bracing herself with her staff, while Karen rummaged through her pockets, taking note of her inventory.


    Must have been rough on her, Marcus thought. She just looks so fragile...though she is more dependable than anyone else here. I’ll have to make it up to her later.

    The screen flipped forward a few cars. There, the stoic Reudic hovered motionless, supported by a few vines. Kneeling on the ground nearby was Burden, a spindly hand placed gingerly on Lillian’s back. Marcus studied the young girl. She looks...shellshocked. Probably smacked her head on something, oh well.

    The mercenary switched off the monitor and directed his attention towards piloting the train through the vast fields of the void. The task was too tedious, however, and his mind drifted back to the distraught looking girl.

    No, she shouldn’t have hit her head. That ghost or whatever would take care of that. Is she still upset about...

    Marcus looked back at Lloyd, now doodling something on his palm. Karen was equipping herself. Sarikia was trying to manage what was probably a terrible headache. Everyone is preparing for the next round, trying to survive, wondering who we’ll have to kill.

    For a moment, Marcus thought about their situation, what it meant, what was bound to happen, and what he had to say. He shook his head. This is going to sound so stupid.

    “Hey. Everyone.”


    Marcus’ voice echoed through the train. Neither he nor Lloyd could figure out how to shut off the intercom, so they had been simply keeping silent. As his rough voice addressed the train, Lloyd shot him an inquisitive glare.

    “Listen,” he continued. “This whole ‘fight to the death’, it’s a sick joke. I’ve fought...I’ve killed...for a lot of different things: money, but also for pride, and if there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that you never take a job that stinks, and this job stinks the worst.”

    Oh god this is going awful.


    Lloyd raised an eyebrow, and Marcus hastily pulled the monitor between them, switching it on to show the curious faces of the others.

    “What I mean to say is: I’m not taking part in this stupid game anymore. And I don’t expect any of you to ether. From this point on, we’re a unit. We’re all comrades-in-arms and I’m going to fight to make sure every last one of us makes it out alive!”

    He thought he heard Lloyd snicker but he could hardly care. He barely believed what he was saying himself. This thing that was sending them across the multiverse was practically untouchable. If it wanted, it could simply obliterate them, or worse.

    But then there was Lillian. He could see her glare through the viewing screen and he knew exactly what she must be thinking.


    “Dekowin,” as he said the Volkhanbet’s name, Lillian’s glare intensified and a scowl, much less put on than before, covered her face. “She made her choice. She decided to kill or be killed. Honestly, I agreed, and if I had hesitated, it would be her here instead of me. I’m not sorry for what I did, but...I wouldn’t have it go down the same way, if I had the choice.”

    On the montior, Sarika and Karen glanced awkwardly at one another. Lillian’s expression softened as tears began to flow down her tiny cheeks. The long finger of Burden wiped away a tear, and Marcus turned away from the monitor once more.

    Lloyd watched him for a moment, shrugged, and returned to his doodle.


    Welp, thought Marcus, there goes pride. He glanced back at the sobbing child. Damn, I hate kids.

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

    Burden’s farewell

    Lillian tried to hold back the tears. She could not be angry at Marcus, though she wished dearly to be. She wanted someone or something to blame for what she now knew. The Spirit had told her what Reudic said was the truth. Why did it lie to her? Why didn’t it let her know sooner? Oh and Burden! Sweet, gentle dreaming Burden, who still did not understand, who could not understand. How could someone who dreams such wonderful dreams know what it is to be scared and alone and betrayed. What about the others? What about Sarika? Did she know? Was the woman with the soft comforting feathers meant to attack her as well?

    Marcus had said it would not happen again. He said he would fight to keep from killing, from dying. Lillian hated those words. Before they were forlorn things meant to tell rotten jokes or sorrowful stories, but now they loomed above her with the gravity of a fate so very real, a fate she had already seen befall someone she would have called a friend.

    “Why, Burden?” she sobbed. “Why is the world so terrible? Just when you’ve learned one horrid thing you find out there is another even worse!”

    The warm low “Hmmmmm” emanated from the dreamer’s wide mouth. His grin was gone, and reflected in his eyes, the tear of the small girl glistened off his hand.

    “I once dreamed of a wanderer,” his yawn-like speech began, “She carried a wooden cane. Someone asked her ‘What comes after the end?’ She pointed to the stars and said, ‘The End never ends.’.”

    Lillian had stopped sobbing, listening to Burden’s story. She glared distrustfully at him.

    “That’s a terrible moral. It’s too depressing.”

    “Is it?” the frog-man hummed. “After that dream, every dream seemed a little bit brighter.”

    The train car sat in silence. The rockets had been cut off, the intercom was quiet, and everyone was left with their thoughts.

    After several long moments, Burden spoke again.

    “It is time for you to go,” Lillian began to protest but Burden continued. “and time for me to sleep once more.”

    “Will....will I ever see you again, Burden?” Lillian pleaded. “Or...is this the end?”

    “Hmmmmmm, perhaps.”

    Far off in the distance, on a train car speeding into nothingness, a bomb exploded.


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

    Charlie revisited

    MISSION INCOMPLETE. They were gone now. MISSION INCOMPLETE. There was no way to catch up. MISSION INCOMPLETE. He analyzed the weight on his tail. It was about to MISSION INCOMPLETE. His optics were damaged. If he had time maybe he could repair them, though the sword was soldered to his side. He would not get that out alone. MISSION INCOMPLETE. He had a few thousand years left in his power supply, but to end like this? MISSION INCOMPLETE. I wonder, he thought, for a moment uninterrupted, if there was more time, what I would have done.

    Last edited by bobthepen; 02-24-2011 at 12:27 AM.

  16. #116
    So enthusiastic Dragon Fogel's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    Oh hey. Guess it's a new round. That will be up soon.

  17. #117
    So enthusiastic Dragon Fogel's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 2: Infinity Express)

    The hunterbot's destruction signaled the end of the round. With the push of a button, the Monitor retrieved the other combatants, sending them to the next arena.

    But there was still work to be done.

    The Infinity Express had gone spiralling through the void. Its owners would have to recover it, get the time-frozen passengers back to safety, and inspect the train for damage.

    Of course, that was assuming they could find the train.

    The Monitor locked in the train's dimensional coordinates, and pressed a button. The Infinity Express vanished from the void, to a pocket dimension only the Monitor knew of.

    He intended to examine its passenger logs later. But for the moment, he needed to progress the battle.

    The six surviving fighters had been thrust into a network of stone hallways. They were frozen, waiting for the Monitor's command to set time moving again.

    "Apologies for the delay. I had some business to take care of," said the now-familiar voice of the Monitor. "Welcome to Castle Suterrea. This was once the capital of a wealthy kingdom, holding a vault filled with valuable gems and magical weaponry. Some unknown force wiped the kingdom out, however, and now the castle is mostly abandoned... at least of human presence, that is."

    The Monitor paused, and a loud roaring sound echoed through the hallways.

    "What you just heard was the sound of one of the many unusual monsters wandering through this entire area. How they arrived is a mystery; perhaps they were responsible for the kingdom's fall, or perhaps they simply made their home in there after it was abandoned. For whatever reason, these monsters seem to have scattered the castle's treasures throughout its many corridors, and as such, you might find something of use as you explore. On the other hand, you also might find traps."

    The Monitor's voice stopped speaking. The fighters found themselves able to move once more.



  18. #118
    King of Scotland Drakenforge's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Reserved, my chums, to be finished when I return from work.

  19. #119
    King of Scotland Drakenforge's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Karen had managed to keep her façade, knowing that Lloyd and Marcus were watching her flight from the hunterbot and the explosives that were attached to it.
    She couldn’t appear weak in front of them, especially Lloyd. He would have used that as ammo against her. Sarika on the other hand would at least try to understand, and would at least keep that fact to herself. So as Karen’s instincts told her that Charlie would explode, she grabbed onto the feathery woman as the Monitor’s immobilising hold took them from the scene of an exploding train, to leave them an instant later standing in a dark stone corridor. Leaving them with a brief, yet vague explanation of what kind of place the castle was, Karen could feel her body being returned to her own control.
    Her first action was rather involuntary, as her body reminded her of every hurt or overused muscle in her body all at once, causing her to gasp and lose her balance.
    Sarika tried her best to bear Karen’s light weight, but ultimately ended up falling underneath her and toppling to the floor in an embarrassing show of her strength.
    She was going to ask Karen what was wrong, but it was instantly apparent why she was no longer able to stand. The girl’s whole body was shivering, and not due to the temperature. Her brow was sweaty, and Sarika could feel her pulse from Karen’s chest, beating at an irregularly high speed, faster than should probably have been conceivably possible. Not only that, Karen’s face was completely out of character of what Sarika had seen so far, twisted in reaction to the pain she must be experiencing.
    Her teeth were clenched tight, her breathing was ragged, and Sarika could do nothing to help.


    “Karen, I think it would be a really good idea for you to rest.”

    She tried to lift the witch off, but her mechanical arms were unable to list Karen’s weight on their own. She thought of asking Karen to move herself, but that seemed insensitive, and she wasn’t all that heavy really, she wasn’t hurt by having the girl lying on her. So she lay there, waiting for Karen to recover from her fit, contempt with her fate as a temporary mattress. It took several minutes, but Karen’s body began to calm down. She managed to push herself up and lie on her back next to Sarika.


    “Sorry.” Was all she could manage.

    “It’s fine, really, I don’t mind, but what the heck happened to you? You seemed fine before we left the train.”

    Karen took a few more deep breaths before she replied.

    “Marcus and Lloyd were watching. I didn’t want to look weak. It was tough. Fighting Charlie. My arms feel like lead filled with burning ants. Same with the rest of my body. He hit really hard, and I just wasn’t strong enough to keep myself alive while fighting him. So I used magic to make myself stronger. Turns out that has repercussion in reality. You don’t speed up your pulse that fast and get away with it.”


    “That’s right, when I first barged into the car, I could have sworn you skin had a red tint. And you talked a lot faster when we were running.”

    Karen nodded, and tried to move her arm. Doing so caused her to cringe, so she tried to remain as still as possible.
    “Haste: A spell that quickens my thoughts and body. Probably did the damage to my heart and veins.
    Striking: Lets me deal more damage. Probably put too much effort on my arm and leg muscles, probably the one’s in my torso too. “

    She paused momentarily before listing the last spell.

    “Berserk: A spell that even in the safety of my game I used sparingly. It is what hurt my lungs, and everything else. It concentrates the levels of oxygen in my blood, and to do that I need to take in a lot more. But my blood needs to travel faster too, and that’s what gave me that colour in my skin. But it affects my mind too. I take more risks, think less of my own safety, and focus only on destroying the opponent in front of me. You can call me reckless, but it was necessary. I knew what I was getting myself into, and I would have died without it.”


    Sarika sat upright and looked Karen over. Tears were slowly seeping out from under the single eye Sarika could make out under the girl’s hair, falling down the side of her face.

    “You really aren’t as tough as you look, are you?”


    Karen looked away without opening her eyes, probably hiding the shame she was unable to keep locked away.

    “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I think I meant like, you’re just a regular girl deep down, right? You might have been the tough role in your game, but real danger is scary! I’m surprised you managed to do this much! You should feel proud! I mean look at me I couldn’t have lasted five seconds against that machine on my own. You’ve probably saved our lives by getting rid of him.”

    “…Thank you.” She added, as an afterthought.

    If Karen had reacted to her speech, she didn’t show it. She just lay there for a few more minutes, slowly getting her breath back. Eventually, she managed to move her arm enough to get into her left pocket, and soon withdrew another vial containing the healing red liquid that Sarika had drank before. Karen’s hand twitched and the vial slipped from her hand. It fell to the floor and rolled towards Sarika, who promptly picked it up in her claws, removed the stopper and pressed it against Karen’s lips.
    She drank the whole dose in one large gulp, and Sarika noticed that Karen hadn’t opened her eyes this whole time.

    “Karen, is there some reason you aren’t opening your eyes?”


    “They feel weird. Kinda itchy, but I can’t rub them because my arms hurt. The potion should bring me back to working order, and I’ll just magic the rest away.”

    “No more life threatening spells please.

    Karen nodded in agreement, and tried to sit up. Sarika gave her as much help as she could in lifting her into a sitting position. Karen managed to rub at her eyes for a few seconds, and finally opened them to look at Sarika.
    The first thing she saw was a look of surprise in Sarika’s face. She almost dropped Karen back onto the floor.

    “Hey, be careful. What’s gotten into you? You look like you saw a monster.”

    Sarika was lost for words. Karen’s once dark eye was now filled with a bright red tint in her iris.

    “Your eyes are red!” She eventually managed to spurt out, completely devoid of tact or consideration.


    Karen actually gave a mix between a sigh and a chuckle. To think an old game mechanic like that had followed into her mix between fiction and reality.
    Well, she had technically killed Charlie, who was a player in this ‘game’, and red eyes were the sign that one player had recently killed another in Legends of Fate.

    “Ah, that makes sense after all. I killed a player, Sarika. And this is what happens as a result, back in the game. They’ll go back to normal soon, probably a few hours. No wonder they felt weird.”

    Karen was feeling better, at any rate. She was sitting up unassisted now, and her body didn’t hurt half as bad. She spent a large portion of her magic on a regeneration spell that would increase the rate her body healed by itself. She would regain the lost magic with time, but she needed her body to be able to fight first and foremost. The Monitor had told of monsters, and even in her state Karen had heard that howl.


    “I see.” Sarika added, attempting to distract Karen with conversation. “What do you think made Marcus make such a cheesy speech?”

    “Who knows? A mans pride is a strange thing and will cause them to do stuff that doesn’t really make sense at the time. Maybe he just wanted us to trust him. Or maybe he wants us all to know that he won’t shoot anymore of us, unless extreme circumstances force him to. It was a good speech from a man probably unused to saying such things.”

    Karen started stretching her legs from her sitting position, slowly pressing her hands over the muscles to make sure nothing would hurt so much that it would cause her leg to spasm if she put weight on it. Satisfied, she tried to stand up, Sarika quickly rushing to her side to help her up.

    “I’ve been wondering,” She said as she tried to balance on her own feet more then the seer helping her, “Why are you helping me so much?”


    Sarika didn’t especially like Karen, or dislike her. She had felt neutral to her most of the time as they had used each others powers for their own benefit. But Sarika had felt guilty for feeling Karen could do everything just because she had been used to monsters that were not able to kill her. She may have the strength, but she was still just a girl.

    “You needed my help, and I need yours. To keep Lillian safe, to keep us all safe!” She blurted out, rushing back to the comforting thought of mutual gain


    “I see.”

    Karen knew that Lillian was a large factor in the game for them both. Someone that young being associated with so much death and fighting angered Karen. She thought of how best to save Lillian, when she remembered the message she had received from Vandrel. She wondered just what she had that would allow her to help this mysterious stranger. She was learning how to better control her magic, the spells the game had given her now looked more like guidelines or examples. She wanted to test out several theories she was having, increasing the size of the spells, mix them with others and even make some of her own from scratch. It wasn’t the games’ spells anymore; they were hers and hers alone.

    “We’ve wasted enough time. Lillian will probably be alone, and I doubt this dungeon is very safe.”

    She was wary of her wounds, but after a few steps Karen decided that she would last without having to resort to any more spells for the moment. It had taken a large portion for that last spell, so she didn’t have a large amount to fall back on right now. She planned ahead; there would be many fights in this round, against monsters that she assumed would be top-tier. Either she risked injury and death fighting them off, or she used up every drop of magic fighting her way around. Sneaking wasn’t an option, not with Sarika by her side. She’d come in handy in case Karen didn’t notice a trap, which she noticed as she skirted a loose stone on the floor, all too conspicuous on the flat walkway.


    “What happened to your small sword anyway? I thought you had it when we were running away.”

    Taking the staff from her back, Karen gripped the far end and pulled, revealing the bright blade that seemed to flow out of the wood as if it was a cloud.

    “Magic is really, really useful.”

    She shut the sword back into the staff, which floated out of her hand and positioned itself on her back again. Sarika had wondered just how Karen did that, and Karen answered her untold thoughts by saying “That’s how the sword stayed there. Staff is like a broomstick, but more sensible to look at. Of course, it was a lot heavier so it could only grip onto my back and not fly. That is also how I could swing it so easily, without the staff I would have been far too slow to fight anything.”


    “…that is useful.” Sarika admitted.

    She was getting more used to not looking into what Karen was going to say before she had actually said anything. She had her mind on the floors and walls anyway, and if Karen had said anything to her in her visions she just held back the impulse to respond. Her visions told her that Karen was about to go stiff and stop walking, and she brought her eyes back to the present. When she did stop, Sarika could feel something wrong. It was as if the air had gone thicker, or if the gravity had somehow gotten stronger.


    “That’s a boss, and a strong one even by my standards. I’d say that it was a dragon if this was my game, but it could be anything here. And dragons were the toughest, deadliest and most ruthless of all bosses.”

    Karen could feel the power of the boss, but couldn’t tell where it was. But its presence was clearly broadcasted by its strength. Karen didn’t want to fight that thing. She wouldn’t have fought it even had she been in the game. It would overpower her easily, if she was alone. That kind of boss would need around ten seasoned players to beat. And even that would be stretching it. And she had this bad feeling that this wasn’t even the strongest monster in the castle.

    A growl emanated from the behind the edge of a turn in the dungeon walls. Karen drew her sword with a quick motion, ready to fight. A black shape walked into view, dog-like in nature. Red eyes glowed from behind a dripping black visage. Karen tried to gauge its strength, but the beast, or perhaps it was some sort of demon, attacked. It sealed the distance between herself and it in a single bound, and she had to leap backwards to allow herself enough distance to swing her sword. Sarika had moved away, thankfully, and Karen brought her sword up underneath the monsters chest, carving a large gash up towards the neck. The monster slowed, allowing Karen to slip beside it and slice her way along its ribcage. She took another step and turned, expecting to see the dog lying in a pool of blood. Instead, it was turning to look her way. Sarika quickly skirted around several loose panels and hid behind the wall it had came from. Karen shot a fireball, connecting with the monsters face. Its whole body lit up, yet the red eyes didn’t even seem phased. She sighed. The Monitor couldn’t even let monsters have the good nature to die when they receive a lot of damage. So she took a different stance, her blade’s edge facing upwards, balanced at the same height as her eyes. The dog pounced, and her feet kicked her body forwards. She brought the sword down and through the hide and bone of its body, leaving out the other side. A few wisps of wind followed through and dispersed onto the floor in front of her. Weaker than before, her Steel Hurricane was still enough to carve through a lot, but she wouldn’t be able to use it on something massive like last time. But it was different. Sharper and more precise now that she was using a sharp blade. Before it was just brute strength and size. Karen turned once more, keeping her blade steady, but the monster had bean cleanly carved into two haves and was beginning to fade away. She swung her sword, forcing all the gore to strike into the wall as she made her way past the now vanished corpse. Sarika was waiting for her, but Karen raised her finger to indicate Sarika shouldn’t speak.

    “That was just the advance scout.” She told her, readying her sword for more fighting.

  20. #120
    Thaumaturgical Construct GreyGabe's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Marcus sighed as he grabbed his shotgun and waited for the inevitable shift. What had possessed him to play scout mother? He didn’t even do that for his own men, and here he was, trying to rally the people who were supposed to kill him. The rest of White’s Wolves would have laughed their collective ass off if he had made a speech like that in front of them.

    Then came the shift. Marcus listened as his host rattled off the details of the latest killing-ground.
    Castle? Ugh. Magic? Ugh. Roaring demonic hell-beasts? Ugh.
    You could at least send us somewhere where I could hope to find a rocket launcher or something.

    Still, the word ‘treasure’ had piqued his interest a bit. Marcus was a mercenary after all. Money was what made his planetoid go ‘round. Or would, once he was rich enough to own his own planetoid.

    Smiling slightly, Marcus found himself standing in a small, circular room, dimly lit by candles and a small flame crackling away in the fireplace. Behind him stood an old-fashioned, four-poster bed, which was covered by plush red blankets and fluffy pillows. It even looked like the frame was made out of real wood, something Marcus didn’t see too often. In fact, there were several pieces of wooden furniture in here. Two chairs and a small table, a dresser, and an absolutely huge wardrobe were all arranged around the room. A large window looked out on a dark, moonless night.

    Marcus broke down his shotgun, storing it in its special holster. He then unclipped Retribution from his shoulder strap and activated its onboard computer, feeling the familiar itchy tingling somewhere behind his eyes as it connected to his implants. After the sensation faded, he nodded as he felt the usual clarity, the slight rightness when he was on target, and decided that despite the rough ride he’d been through, everything was still in perfect working order.

    Marcus walked slowly to the window, hoping to get his bearings and some sort of overview of the castle. Beyond the thin panes of glass, the night was illuminated only by starlight. Marcus seemed to be in a tower, overlooking the castle’s courtyard. Even with his enhanced vision, he could scarcely see anything but vague shapes out in the darkness. Still, he thought he could make out a courtyard below, past the bulk that was the rest of the castle. Everything was still, and silent. Marcus didn’t like it one bit. Turning back to the room, he began to look around in earnest. Who had lit the candles, started the fire in the fireplace? Why did everything look so… neat? If there weren’t any people here, this room should be dusty, disheveled. It was almost as if someone was living here, keeping everything tidy. His eyes narrowed and settled on the wardrobe.

    He walked slowly over to it, listening for anything that sounded out of place. He reached out slowly, ready to jump back. He grasped the handle, took a deep breath, and jerked it open. Nothing. Well, a few fancy dresses, but nothing really in Marcus’s color. They were all reds and browns, and he was really more of a winter... plus, these looked to be a bit on the small side. He pushed some of them aside, and found nothing but the wooden back of the wardrobe. He backed away and closed it, chuckling at his own paranoia. Deciding that he might as well search the room thoroughly (not that he was looking for treasure or anything, oh no, just being cautious), he moved over to the dresser, and pulled open the top drawer. He then closed it, frowning slightly, deciding that he didn’t really care to root through a lady’s unmentionables at the moment.

    Shrugging, he was preparing to leave when something flitted past the window. His head snapped around and he brought his rifle to bear almost before he realized he had moved. Suddenly, from beneath the window, up popped a figure, vaguely feminine in appearance, with long, skinny limbs and a thin, pale face, surrounded by coal-black hair that seemed to float, weightless around its head. Its eyes dully reflected the candlelight, and its mouth was set in wide grin. Slowly, it lifted one hand and ran its fingers down the glass.

    “Let me in, human. It’s sssssooooo cold out here. Please, take pity on meeeee…”

    Marcus wondered if it had really thought that that would work, or if it was just toying with him.
    “Pleeeeeeaaasssssse?”

    Marcus blinked once, raised the Retribution, and squeezed off two shots. Glass shattered outwards, and the strange woman disappeared from view. Marcus decided that it was time to be leaving. He backed over to the door, turned and opened it, checking that it was safe before turning back to the window. The woman-thing was now inside, standing on all fours, low to the floor, looking up at him with its dull silvery eyes. Its frame was even bonier and longer than he had thought it was, and its hands and feet ended in long, pointed claws. Its head twisted at an extreme angle, and it shifted itself a few inches forward.

    “Okay, you’re in.” Marcus took a backwards step towards the door, “Why don’t you just have a nice sit-down in front of the fire, and I’ll go get you something to snack on.”

    “How courteous! But… unnecessary. There is already plenty to eat, right he--”

    Marcus shot it in the head. It thrashed about for a moment, and went still. Marcus kept his weapon trained on it. Sure enough, after a second had passed, the head snapped up again, the bullet-hole already sealing shut.

    “That was not very nice, human!”

    “You know, you’re right. I’m very sorry.” Marcus shot again, but this time the creature shuffled out of the way, unerringly fast, and began crawling towards him, its long tongue lolling out of its mouth. He leapt backwards, slamming the door shut. He then turned and began to run, finding himself on a long spiral staircase. He heard something slamming into the door, and then the sound of splintering wood. Marcus picked up the pace, moving down the stairs as quickly as was safe. He heard the door crash open, and series of inhuman shrieks that made him cringe in pain came tearing down the stairwell. Scrabbling sounds, like metal on stone, followed soon after. Marcus counted quickly, and it sure sounded like more than one of those things was after him. Yaaaaay. Marcus uttered a silent thank you to Karen for the vial of mystical whatever that was currently letting him run in horror away from something, rather than limping away in horror. Still, it sounded like they were gaining on him.

    Just as he was about to wonder how tall this tower could be, he found a door. It looked… even less sturdy than the one those things had already broken down. Still, it gave him an idea, and he reached down to grab something from his belt.


    They almost had him. His heartbeat was almost thundering in their ears, now. Soon, they would feast as they had not feasted in years. They could not let this one fall into the hands of one of the other beings that roamed the castle! Yes, soon—
    A small, metal object bounced off of the wall ahead of them, closely followed by the sound of a slamming door. The lead slagh caught the object, and stopped to examine it curiously. The others pushed forward, looking to see what the first had. A small metal cylinder it was, with strange red symbols on the side… and another symbol above them, one that almost looked like a pictogram of—



    Even from several meters away, Marcus felt the blast of heat on his back as the incendiary grenade went off, blasting the door into flaming splinters and charring the stonework of the hallway an even darker shade of grey. Marcus turned now, rifle held ready, just in case. After a moment, he sucked in a gasp of smoke-scented air. That had been… less than fun. And now he only had one incendiary grenade to use if Reudic proved less than dependable. Though it seemed to have proven effective in this particular instance, he had to admit. Marcus looked around him. He was now in a long corridor, which seemed to stretch off for as far as he could see. Not that that was surprising; it was gloomy enough that he could barely see much of anything. Once again, he found himself missing his helmet, with its built-in night vision, rebreather system, and HUD overlay. Still, he found he could see far enough ahead to react to anything hostile that might come across him. At least, he decided, there weren’t any more windows about. He began to move, slowly, deciding that he should probably try to find some of the others. And, without anything else to go on, that probably meant he should generally be moving down, seeing as he started out pretty high up. He walked away from the tower door, glancing over his shoulder a few times to make sure he wasn’t followed.

    After the blast had scared away the rest of the slaghs, and the room had gone quiet once more, the young lady pulled herself out from under the bed, where she had hidden from the strange man that had appeared out of thin air. And the nerve of him! Rifling through her wardrobe and dresser as if he owned them, breaking her window and killing her servants with mage fire! These wrongs would simply have to be redressed.
    Had Marcus seen the creature that appeared to be a young woman, he would have decided that she looked very nearly human, but altogether alien overall. Her grey eyes were slightly too large, her hair slightly too white, her skin unnaturally pale. The way she moved was somehow too fluid, as well, as if she was weightless.
    She gathered up her skirts and advanced purposefully down the stairs. Almost halfway down, she came upon one of her slaghs, wounded but not dead, in too much pain even to cry out, the poor thing. She gently stroked its bloodied cheek, and almost absent-mindedly lifted her fingers to her mouth to taste the blood. She decided to take pity on her poor servant, and put it out of its misery by ripping out its throat. With her teeth. For several moments she ripped and tore at it before sitting back, sated, for the moment. With some embarrassment she realized her dress was now all bloody. That just wouldn’t do! She would have to change into a clean dress before leaving. She wouldn’t want to make a bad first impression, after all.

    Last edited by GreyGabe; 02-28-2011 at 07:56 PM.

  21. #121
    taking a nap bobthepen's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)




  22. #122
    I Don't Deserve This Title MalkyTop's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Ah, alright, more fighting monsters that she couldn’t really kill.

    Sarika sort of stood back guiltily and thought for a little bit. She thought about what a killer headache she was having right now. She thought about getting a staff-sword. She thought about how heavy that would actually be and dismissed it immediately. She thought about the passengers that were possibly stranded in the train and found that she didn’t actually care about them. It was sort of surprising. But not really.

    Okay, so she fancied herself a vigilante. But…she wasn’t really a good one. She wasn’t good at fighting and she wasn’t good at protecting and, really, she supposed she had a rather simple definition of ‘justice.’ And now she was finding herself completely apathetic to civilian lives.

    Not to mention she was just leaving Karen to fight everything that was coming along.

    The monsters that came this time were built more like tanks instead of the more lithe form of the scout. As usual, Karen appeared to fight them off rather easily. But she couldn’t fight all of them at once.

    Before she even realized it, Sarika walked up behind one of the large beast and smacked it on the back of its head. It probably didn’t do much besides give a light bruise. In any case, it worked to catch the attention of some large monsters and at least one had a grudge against her and a good reason to follow her down to the end of the hall. Away from Karen, at least.

    Being light had its advantage. Sarika sped easily ahead of them and they lumbered and shoved each other aside, trying to squeeze pass each other to get to her first. She looked behind her often to check that they hadn’t fallen too far behind, and finally jumped high enough to reach the ceiling. One metallic arm forced its thin fingers in the stone to hold her up. She immediately regretted this. It almost felt as though the implants would rip right out of her shoulder. She let go of her staff to use her other arm to hold on and it clattered to the floor. The demonic beasts, even more eager to reach their prey, hurried forward as one.

    The next moment, thick, barbed spears thrust forward through the walls on each side of them and pierced through all three. A few seconds later, the spears retracted and tore them apart. Sarika waited a little before dropping down, making sure not to accidentally land on a switch. She rubbed her shoulders painfully and picked up her staff once again and looked towards Karen, who was already taking care of the rest of the wave. “Let’s go!” she shouted to her just as a clamorous baying started down the hall. Karen cleaved the last heavyset beast in half before rushing over to her.

    Sarika immediately held onto her arm and started running back where they came from, hopping strange patterns on the floor. Behind them was a loud wall of shadowy beasts, advancing swiftly, teeth and eyes shifting to the surface before sinking away again, somewhat like boiling soup. Every once in a while, the beasts would accidentally trigger a trap and their numbers would fall by a few, but not nearly enough.

    Sarika suddenly veered around a corner, somewhat surprising Karen, who skidded a little as she was tugged along. “Where are we going!” she shouted.

    “No clue yet,” Sarika called back. “I’m just following, uh, me?” She turned around another corner and this time, Karen was able to keep up. Immediately afterwards, she turned around another corner. “Did we lose them? No, of course not,” Sarika answered before Karen could even look back. “Wait, wait, there’re some stairs coming up…”

    “We’re—“

    “No,” Sarika responded firmly. “We’re going down. Down,” she emphasized to a protest that hadn’t been voiced yet. “Don’t question the seer,” she hissed as Karen was thinking about mentioning that going down to the possible basement would potentially corner them in the future.

    So when they came to the stairs, they went down, almost slipping down the stone steps. They had already left the shadowy mob behind and already their baying was growing fainter.

    “Alright,” Sarika breathed out, managing to rub her eyes while still running. “I think—eep!”

    The squeak of surprise seemed quite uncharacteristic, and actually rather cute. When Sarika completely stopped, Karen crashed into her back. “What is it?” she demanded, drawing her sword again.

    “Nothing,” Sarika shot back. “Never mind. Let’s stay down here for a while before going up again. Maybe someone else is down here.”

    Out of the corner of her eye, Karen could tell that whatever it was she saw, it was still bothering her. The tense way she moved was obvious enough. But if Sarika was not willing to talk, she was pretty sure she couldn’t force her. At least not for now. If anything dramatic happened later, she would be sure to bring the subject up again.

  23. #123
    The Statman Victorious Pinary's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Lloyd needed a hat.

    That is, Lloyd Conrad the escaped fictional character needed a hat. The other him, the one who had barged into his mind on arrival and was familiar with the setting and backstory of the current location, was quite content without one. He had more pressing things on his mind- the assortment of monsters plaguing the castle, for example, or the recent loss of the rest of his party.

    He'd come to the castle for the same reasons any adventurer would, ostensibly- cleanse the region of evil, make off with the vast riches stored in the vast dungeons below, and gain all the EXP he could. (In truth, the chaotic-neutral wizard was mostly along for the fun of it. Sure, EXP and riches were good, but they were ends, and he was all about the means.)

    For now, though, Lloyd simply chose to ignore that new part of him and concentrated on finding some sort of headgear. He refused to do anything else until he had something on, and Eloyd'k En-Rad would just have to shut up until then.

    Whenever Lloyd was transferred into a novel that didn't center solely around humans, he'd take on the appropriate species for the story. Even if humans were the most common race, he'd sometimes take on a species that would put him just far enough from the norm to not be unusual.

    He never really enjoyed that.

    Eloyd'k En-Rad the elven wizard waited patiently while Lloyd rooted around the deserted servants' quarters for something to cover up his new, rather prominent ears.


    -

    The long, gloomy corridor got boring fast. It seemed to go on indefinitely, dull, impenetrable gloom in either direction. The worn, faded tapestries and paintings that hung from the wall all seemed the same- a portrait of some sort of regal person in some sort of regal pose, a scene in which two groups of soldiers stood holding weapons, a tranquil scene with a pond, some trees, and maybe a few clouds. Each was unique, but unique in the exact same way. They seemed to blend together after next to no time, and it had only been five or so minutes before he found himself relieved to hear something rustle and scrape behind him.

    The boredom didn't dull his reflexes, of course, and he'd barely registered the welcoming sigh he'd made before he found that his weapon was pointed squarely at the elf that was hanging halfway from behind a tapestry.

    Marcus snorted.


    "Not. One. Word." Had it not been for the magic Lloyd found himself in possession of in this particular world, Marcus would have figuratively felt blistering waves of anger radiating from him. As it was, it wasn't figurative. He took a step back and offered a gesture of half-hearted placation. Lloyd just glared scathingly at him for a moment longer, then shot a look down the corridor in either direction and withdrew back into the tapestry.

    Almost immediately, he leaned back out again, frowning- this time, not because he was annoyed, but because he was perplexed.

    He stepped all the way through and stared intently at the gloomy darkness that concealed the corridor in the direction Marcus had been going. A few seconds later, he switched, staring at the way he'd come. Taking a few steps down the corridor, he did so again.


    Marcus looked on with bemusement. Something about the bookworm's demeanour suggested that comments wouldn't exactly be met with enthusiasm, and Marcus was quite satisfied to just look on, barely suppressing his amused grin.

    Lloyd's appearance hadn't really changed between the first and second rounds. He'd been the same general size and proportions, his shirt remaining Hawaiian and his hair wiry and black. There'd been much less variation then than there was now- he'd added nearly a foot or so to his already-on-the-high-end height, and it had seemingly all come from his limbs. There hadn't been much mass added, either- he seemed to have been stretched, his once-reasonably-acceptable form made willowy and even more gaunt than before.

    The ears, though, were what really got Marcus. They were ridiculous, points rising to just an inch or so shy of the top of his head, standing a bit out like two wide, flat antennas, a bat's ears stretched and plastered to the side of his head.

    His outfit, too, had changed with the setting. What had previously been a shirt and slacks were now long, flowing robes, all decorated with an entirely out-of-place pseudo-floral pattern. It looked more like the type of thing a kindly aunt would wear than what belonged on a dignified spellcaster of his caliber. Its material was a bit heavier than his old shirt, and had Marcus noted it past "not armoured" on the few occasions it had flapped open a bit to reveal boring, brown clothes, he would've seen a soft, terrycloth-esque material lining the inside of the robe in a shade rather reminiscent of the towel he'd grabbed while aboard the train.

    Abruptly, after a fair bit of stalking and staring, Lloyd turned sharply to Marcus. "It's a trap," he said, his voice coming out much quieter than he intended. He coughed, cleared his throat, and tried again. "It's a trap," he said, taking as much effort as a shout to just speak at a normal level.


    Marcus forgot for a moment about his apparent ally's amusing appearance at those words. His grip tightened on his gun once more, and he started a standard moderate-threat glancing pattern back and forth around the hallway.

    Lloyd rolled his eyes. "Not that sort of trap," he hissed, leaning closer to the mercenary rather than raising his voice. "I can see it, it's got a sort of... residue, I suppose, is the closest term."

    "Closest, what?"

    "English and Elvish don't exactly translate directly all the time, not being descended from a common linguistic ancestor." Eloyd'k had done a fair bit of reading on the subject of linguistics at one point, and for each of the dozen languages he knew, he could rattle off their history back to the point where "ug" became a verb. "There was magic cast here before, and some part of it remains. It's still doing things, still active, but it's no longer drawing energy from its caster."

    Marcus shot the wizard a look. "ImpCom, man, ImpCom." The phrase didn't exactly communicate what he'd intended it to, though, and Lloyd just continued on.

    "You've probably been walking here for a bit, yes? Boring, consistent hallway, just enough changing to disguise the loop."

    "Loop?!"

    "Yes." Lloyd leaned in a bit closer, but he found it hard to both gesture with his hands and be close enough to be heard well at the same time, so be just backed up a step or two and shouted in order to get his voice to something normal. (Marcus found the disparity between Lloyd's apparent effort and actual volume a bit disconcerting, but it just blended with the rest of his companion's appearance and made him stifle another smirk.)

    "I was in a room, searching for something, and I heard footsteps coming from a wardrobe. I opened it, saw that the back was simply an illusion, and went back to searching. Secret passage, nothing new in this place." He took a breath and kept going- it was way too much effort for him to talk at a normal tone. "When I heard a very similar set of footsteps coming by, I took note but didn't investigate. When they came by again, I stuck my head out and looked around. I saw you, noticed that there was magic in either direction, and came back here. You haven't gone much of anywhere."

    "So wait, if-"

    Lloyd leaned back in close, tired of raising his voice. "No, going back won't work. These loops generally go in both directions, designed to trap you here before you know it and starve you to death." Lloyd had to admit, Eloyd'k certainly had a low threshold for putting up with annoyances. He liked that.

    "You'll forgive me if I spell out the next few thoughts," he continued. "The passage through which I came- one-way, closed. Dispel the loop- too much effort, not enough reward. Blow through the wall- another horizontal loop.

    "There are exactly two ways to escape a loop such as this one. Take your pick and grab an explosive- up or down?"



    Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?

  24. #124

    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Plopping down a reserve because it's past due. I've just been too depressed/uncreative to actually write anything more than long-winded, self-serving diatribes.

  25. #125
    King of Scotland Drakenforge's Avatar
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    Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 3: Castle Suterrea)

    Sarika was taking the lead for once, something Karen was taking a while to get used to. While Sarika had her own roundabout way for avoiding traps Karen wondered just how long she would last seeing her own death so many times. Karen couldn’t imagine a world where she saw her own body being mutilated over and over, and knew that deep down Sarika was actually a strong person. She may not act it, or even realise it herself, but her suffering has created herself a deep character, and the urge to go on. But Karen was hesitant over this fear she was avoiding to mention. Karen could tell from Sarika’s body language, the twitches and the tightness in the shoulders, that something was wrong. Either now, or in the future. Karen was sure she would be prepared for it though, as she had this magical feeling deep in her mind. She had no actual idea of how much reserve magic she had at any given time, but right now she could only assume from the feeling of euphoria she had that she was currently at full. It had taken a long time to regenerate the large amount she had used to summon the fire spirit in round one, and now could probably use a lot of that power to figure out just what laws her body was abiding to.

    Karen planned to tug at Sarika’s back, but the Seer simply stood and turned before she even had the chance.

    “Let me take point.”

    Sarika simply stood and let Karen pass, resuming their run through the long corridors.
    She was quietly berating herself for not realising something sooner. She knew Sarika was enduring a lot of pain, and yet had not thought ahead to rectify it. Karen could tell by the scratches in the dust, uneven patches of stone and sometimes just by pure instinct and yet she could have just marked where it was safe to step. This way Sarika would not have to endure any of the pain.

    “Light” She commanded, opening her palm as she ran. Several small, bright orbs of light sparked into sight. There were about a dozen, each about the size of a marble. They darted across the stones, settling onto the stones Karen was intending to step next. Her foot passed over them harmlessly and Sarika, probably aware of them several seconds before Karen was, just followed as usual.

    “Sorry. About not realizing I could do this sooner.”

    Sarika didn’t respond. Karen could hear her following, but she seemed to be getting tired. While Karen was keeping a good pace she hadn’t thought ahead to how long Sarika could keep up with her speed, and the attacks. She decided they would take a break once she could find a safe place to rest. But for now Karen wanted to move. To shake that bad feeling she had. She had no idea if it was her natural instincts or something her game body was telling her about. In either case she trusted in the feeling. Choosing to ignore it could prove fatal, so she was taking the safe route and worrying.




    While Karen ran ahead, Sarika noticed one small detail about the young girl. Her eyes would dart into every corner, every shadow and every cranny as if daring there to be danger lurking within. And her eyes almost looked disappointed when nothing jumped out at her. Even with her eyes glowing that ominous red, her sword dripping black… innards, for lack of a better term, and her ungodly strength. Sarika was just glad Karen was on her side. But she knew it wouldn’t last. Karen was strong, and inside a battle to the death. It was obvious that danger would follow her wherever she went, that a strong enemy would always be right around the corner to fight her.
    Which was what was about to happen. And Sarika had her priorities. She wanted to find Lillian, and if Karen reached Lillian, the danger would only follow. Yes, she could fight it off, but there was always the risk Lillian would be hurt. Sarika would be able to avoid the danger with her. So she had to leave Karen. She had decided that this was the best thing to do.





    As Karen neared a crossroad she came to a halt. She checked both, and at the start both seemed free of any surprises. A spiral staircase was to the right, while the left continued on the same floor, albeit heading to a complete right angle to where they had previously been travelling. Karen was uneasy about something, yet she couldn’t pinpoint just what she was uncomfortable with. It wasn’t until Sarika crashed into her back, which didn’t cause her to move forward much at all, that she realised what was bugging her. Her head turned around, and she caught sight of something lying parallel on the ceiling. It was a skeleton, bound by arms and legs inside a rectangular recess cut out of the ceiling. The bones where black and slick, and were far larger than a regular humans. Three large eye holes showed nothing but darkness, yet they seemed to be looking directly into Karen’s eyes.

    And then she realised that Sarika was still trying to move her, yet she couldn’t hear what she was saying. It looked like her mouth was yelling, but Karen’s ears didn’t pick up the sound. It was then that she felt a slight aura around her head. The aura of magic. Something had triggered, some sort of magical trap that she had missed. It was making her hearing fail. Karen had to watch as Sarika shoved past Karen and bolted up the stairs. Karen could only guess what she was running for, and quickly rolled down the side passage. She could feel the vibrations in the stone as she got to her feet. She quickly dispelled herself, allowing her hearing to return, as she stared straight back into the now shining purple eyes of the dark skeleton. Worse, her hands were shaking, her muscles grew stiff, and all the hair on the back of her neck was standing on end. Yes, this feeling of being overpowered was definitely the source of her discomfort all this time. The monster before her radiated enough energy to make her whole body begin to shake.

    And yet, she was no afraid of it. She wouldn’t allow herself to be afraid. She gripped the hilt of her sword so hard her knuckles began to turn red, a stark contrast on her pale skin. The action flowed through her body, tensing every muscle she had power over. She turned her fear into pure anger. She had no use for fear, but her anger would give her an edge in battle. Even as the Skeleton raised it’s fleshless arm to remove an amazingly large sword from the ceiling Karen just stood, carefully tensing her muscles. The sword it had taken was a think dark grey blade, and it reminded her of a claymore. However, the blade itself was at least a whole foot in width. The blade spanned three feet, and the hilt was nothing more than a thick pole the bone fingers wrapped around. Karen couldn’t help but feel that her own sword was nothing more than a stick compared to it. Her katana was fragile, meant for slashing and cutting, but that abomination it held would snap it easily, and probably break every bone in her body afterwards. She wished she still had her old sword, as it would have served her well even if she would have trouble swinging it inside the tunnels.
    Then a thought occurred to her. The Skeleton would have the same problem. As it was far larger than Karen, it would probably have trouble swinging even a normal sword. So Karen now had a choice. She couldn’t get past the monster, so she could either take the stairs, a narrow passage that would prove to be difficult to move or attack, and where Sarika was, or take the side route, which led to somewhere else entirely.
    It was a natural choice. She carefully began to step backwards, ignoring the chances of there being traps set where she couldn’t see. She had to see just how the Skeleton moved, she wouldn’t charge ahead if she knew it was faster than she was. It slowly lumbered forwards, apparently being slow, but Karen wasn’t convinced. Nothing radiates that kind of powerful aura only to be slowed down that much. So Karen made a sudden move and leapt backwards with a powerful kick. In a heartbeat the Skeleton had matched her speed and was beginning to chase her. She quickly swung her sword around intending to score a hit across the skull, yet the sword deflected harmlessly off of the dark bone, causing strong vibrations to reverberate through her arm. With her left arm she gripped the base of her staff, still latching itself onto her back. She pulled, disconnecting her second katana from the enchanted sheath. With both swords, she began slicing across the face of the skull, yet each attack did nothing to even scratch it. She had to take another step, and this time put more effort into keeping her distance. She was essentially running backwards now, but she couldn’t turn her back on the enemy. With her agility, she managed to keep balanced even with the speed she was retreating, but she had no idea where she was heading. The Skeleton thundered after her, each step pounding off of the stone floor. The monster was the first to activate a trap, as a spear jutted from the wall and impaled it in-between the gaps in its ribs. Karen risked looking over her shoulder, quickly assessing the rest of the hall. She had to turn her body to make out the rest, but she quickly heard the spear snap as her foe quickly resumed its chase. In an all out race Karen was confident she could beat it, speed was her third best skill after her strength and magical ability. But she gave herself a boost with a Haste spell anyway. She needed to formulate a plan to fight something she couldn’t cut. The sword itself wouldn’t do much, and using power attacks was just going to break her blades. Therefore speed was all she had to fall back on. That was assuming her magic couldn’t defeat the monster.
    She didn’t have a free hand to cast magic, something she would usually need, but Karen ignored that fact. She didn’t trust any of the old rules, and started creating several fireballs out of thin air. She had to put effort into visualising what she wanted since she was using a different method of creation, yet they burst into life quickly, floating around her body as she ran. They then crashed into the Skeleton and bathed it in flames. There was no sign of damage as the Skeleton remained in pursuit of her, just as she had expected. There was no meat or blood to burn after all, and just the small explosions wouldn’t damage the dark substance that made up the monster’s bones. So Karen was quickly running out of options as to how to fight it. The severity of the situation was dawning on her all too quickly. She had to way to attack, few ways to defend and only one direction she could escape. Eventually the tunnel had to end. If it led to a spacious area, then the Skeleton would have room to attack, and she would lose her advantage. She switched tactics, delving into her holy power. It ate up the same reserves as her witch spells, yet it had once been effective on the undead of her game. A white light shone from her body as she began to bless herself and her swords. Then she spun, throwing a bolt of pure holy energy into the Skeleton’s face. It seemed to slow for just a second, so she followed up with a stunning spell mixed with her sword’s swing. Yet her sword once again deflected without even taking a chip off of the bones, and the Skeleton began to flex its sword arm. Karen ducked as it swung wildly in the cramped space, crashing the large blade into the wall and cleaving into the stone. A trap panel’s remains showered over Karen as a segment of wall suddenly crashed into the Skeleton, missing Karen by a few centimetres. She sprinted away before it could escape, intending to lay several traps of her own to slow it down once she could find a good spot. But as she rounded a corner, Karen had to curse her bad luck. The corner lead to a spacious dome shaped room with no exits anywhere in sight. Karen had no choice but to enter and quickly form a barrier over the hollow that served as her entrance. She set several large explosion traps in front of that, followed by enchanting the whole floor with holy magic. But she was getting desperate. Her magic was almost all fire, and while her magic reserves had gotten extremely close to being full it wouldn’t do any good if her spells didn’t inflict any damage. Her repertoire was almost all fire, and her level of holy magic was too low to do much against the undead monster that was hounding her. She wouldn’t be able to escape or hide. And her swords were too flimsy to cause damage. Despair began to seep into Karen’s mind, turning her thoughts into paranoid ramblings. If only she could find a large sword, fuse it with her staff making it light enough for her to use, but there was nothing of the sort in sight. Even enchanted her swords would break if she used them too much, so continuous assaults where going to be her doom. She had her speed, the difference between a buzz saw and a cleaver would mean something in the fight. But if she could use a large attack against it she could turn the tables, yet she had all but forgotten most of the attacks her katana could manage. She had barely resorted to them inside the game as her main sword had dealt with everything for her. The only attack she knew worked with both was her Steel Hurricane, and while she could probably use those it put a lot of strain on her muscles since it wasn’t the blade hitting the target but a large force of wind that the power of her swings generated. Even if she threw one with each sword simultaneously she doubted it would defeat it.

    Nothing from the game was going to help her here. She was going to need a miracle, or create her own from scratch. If she didn’t, the Skeleton would destroy her. It would not be merciful, it would strike her down with such force that surviving wouldn’t be even the slightest possibility. Karen had only felt as helpless once before in her life, after she had lost her parents. And now she was about to die, in a battle she should have been winning.

    She refused to give up. She took all her grief and desperation and forced her will to pump herself up. She’d take the Skeleton out even if it killed herself in the process. She was too prideful to die like this. She thought of everything she had to protect, her new comrades, her old way of life, her beliefs and the idea of ending the monster that had organised the battle. Karen felt the strength in her muscles return as she stood her ground, building up the force she needed to strike swiftly. The Skeleton appeared beyond her barrier, simply smashing it with its free fist. The traps detonated, yet the monster simply walked on oblivious of their destructive force. Karen held her ground as it approached, intending to dodge the first strike it made while counter-attacking it.

    And then it came. The undead minion leapt forwards, sword held aloft in both arms intending to crush Karen in one fell swoop. Instead of dodging to the side Karen leapt forwards under its legs, each katana slicing in from the sides intent of taking off both of the legs at the sockets in the waist. Yet the Skeleton swiftly lifted the legs in a way no normal human could have stretched, instantly doing the splits in midair. The sword crashed into the stone floor, causing Karen to be lifted a few centimetres off the ground. It turned while swinging the sword with a force Karen couldn’t hope to survive against. She manoeuvred out of the way and began to use hit-and-run tactics to keep herself safe. She circled it with quick flashes she was using from her Thief class, attempting to confuse it. She hoped it would mask where her attack vector would be, and quickly began a strike from the side. She danced around the creature, swords flowing through the air faster then a human eye could follow, yet seemed slower to her own. This time, with more room to move and more space to build up speed she was managing to chip away, but that was all. She couldn’t hope to last if this was all her attacks could do. The Skeleton seemed to grow tired of her moving so much, and swung in a wide arc causing Karen to retreat. Her lungs were beginning to tire, and her arms were already shaking from the force of hitting something more solid than reinforced concrete. She hated to admit it but she needed some really big attacks. Her Steel Hurricane had to have something that she could manipulate. Something she could change to put the fight in her favour. In other words, she needed to use an attack that didn’t exist in her repertoire. Something huge, something so powerful it could rip a tank apart. That kind of attack would probably tear every muscle in her arms, and yet Karen couldn’t worry about the results. Simply performing such an attack was out of her mind since she didn’t even know what to attempt. Her body wouldn’t cope as it was, she couldn’t even dent Charlie after all. And Charlie seemed a lot less durable than the Skeleton before her. She had promised to never use it again, and yet so soon she was having to resort to going berserk. Her emotions quickly dimmed, and her thoughts became basic one short. Her eyelid dropped to a hollow stare as she poised to defend herself. Yes, it was clear now. Completely overpower her old self. Take whatever backdoors she could to win. Fine the loopholes in her power and exploit them to the fullest. She began to circle the Skeleton, moving so fast that her leg muscles began to burn from the effort. She then dumped a massive proportion of her magic directly into her swords, causing them to vibrate at extreme levels. While her regular self would have attacked directly right there, her calm, reckless personality taken from the berserk mode wanted complete annihilation of her enemy. Instead of swinging her blades and striking the Skeleton she unleashed a barrage of swipes through the air as she sped around in a wide circumference. Each swing sent forth a blade of energy that quickly flew around the Skeleton, eventually piling up to create a small hurricane. It appeared to be catching on to what Karen was doing and attempted to stop some of the waves, yet its arm was clipped badly by the first two it touched. Karen kept up her ranged assault, filling the room with flying waves all the way to the ceiling. Then she suddenly stopped, and almost battered the air in the room by reversing both her swords direction of movement within an instant. The waves all became one, and enveloped the Skeleton in a fierce hurricane of destruction. Karen was too close to escape and began to be pulled into the centre of the room, and without a moment to lose she enveloped herself with a magic coating that would take away her magical reserves instead of causing harm to her body when she was hurt. She was swallowed by the vortex and instantly was hammered by her own attacks. With little user for them she managed to sheath her katanas in her staff. The impacts of the energy waves caused her to spiral around as she was swung through the air by the current. She heard a humungous crashing noise from one of the ends to the hurricane, she could no longer tell what way was up, and was pulled in that direction. She could feel the form of it wobbling as she was thrown from side to side, and the number of crashing noises kept increasing. Her magic reserves plummeted with an amazing speed, and Karen worried that it would run out before she escaped. Karen had a suspicion that her attack was completely out of hand, but her arms had gone completely numb and she couldn’t move them at all. They swung around limply as she was treated like a ragdoll by her own attack. She made a guess that the crashing noises were the hurricane cutting through the ceilings of each floor, and she wondered if it would reach all the way to the roof of the castle. Just when her magic reserves began to go empty, the series of attacks stopped. Perhaps she had ran out of sword waves, but the hurricane continued through one last ceiling before breaking through the castle roof and throwing Karen upwards.





    And for the first time in two years, Karen took a breath of fresh air.

    She stared upwards at a clear, crisp blue sky. A few clouds floated peacefully overhead as she looked upwards. Her body hung in freefall, the moment seeming eternal as she gazed at the peaceful scene. The air filled her lungs, giving her a sense of freedom. This was real air, not a fake sense she was getting from a video game or what her mind told her was real inside the virtual world created for her. Even if this world was created by some mad omnipotent master to force denizens of separate realities to fight to the death, it was real.
    And then she heard yelling. She twisted her neck below and saw Marcus being thrown by the hurricane towards her. Another followed, yet she couldn’t recognise who it was. She also couldn’t catch what Marcus was yelling about, but it was probably about dying or falling or something like that. Karen no longer had the energy to worry about anything, she just felt like taking a nap. But a voice in the back of her mind brought her to her senses. Of course she couldn’t sleep here, she’d die. It was at that moment she realised she was still in berserk. She lit the rage slip from her mind and a flood of emotions flooded back into her consciousness. She then realised that her staff was still stuck to her back. She tried to flex her right arm, but it remained unresponsive. So she simply willed the staff to do as she commanded and fly towards Marcus. It remained unresponsive as gravity took its hold on her and began to drag her back towards the castle, but it did as she willed it to and launched into Marcus’ chest with a little more force than she intended. He clung to it automatically, surprised that it kept him airborne. He also had the reflexes to grab Karen’s hand as she fell past, yet she was unable to grip back at all. She gazed up into Marcus’ eyes, still feeling weary from the fight, and saw his eyes widen in surprise. She felt that was probably normal seeing as her eyes were glowing red, but she noticed that her other arm was now occupied. The robes figure clung desperately to her other limp arm, and the staff began to dip under the weight of three people.


    “Grip back or you’ll both slip!”

    “My arms are asleep.”

    “Of all times, now?!”

    “We’re falling.”

    “Yeah. We are.”

    “Can you two not see the severity of this situation?!”

    Karen and the unknown person both stared at Marcus, and let go. At the same time they suddenly slowed and began to fall towards the castle at a safe speed. Karen was surprised to see another magic user, and now that she could see his face he seemed to resemble someone she was sure she had met once. And his voice sounded almost like- No, it couldn’t be. This guy had pointed ears and- Oh but he does resemble him, she thought to herself. She guessed that she was not the only one to change in between rounds, although Lloyd’s transformation was rather extreme… and it was a little hard to not laugh at his expense. Karen was sure she’d giggle when she had the energy. Slowly, all three of them managed to descend to a bedroom at the top of the castle safely, although Karen ran out of magic and fell onto the floor from about five feet up. She managed to land on her feet though, so it didn’t show that her magic reserve had hit rock bottom. This was astonishing as her magic reserves had been massive before the Skeleton had attacked her. Her reserves had been almost twice that of normal players back in the game. She turned to see Lloyd and Marcus touch the floor, and she was handed her staff back. Marcus was about to speak when Karen noticed something falling from the sky. She shouldered into his chest and collapsed over him just as the large blade the Skeleton had owned crashed through the roof and tumbled down towards the bottom floor. Karen tried to shift her weight off of Marcus, which was harder said than done when she couldn’t move her arms. She glared up at Marcus, who seemed to be taking her prolonged presence a little too well for her liking. She used the tiny amount of magic she had gathered since her fall and put a spark of fire on his ear to get his attention. He yelped and quickly shoved her off, leaving her to try and stand up without using her arms, or letting her skirt rise too high. Eventually she managed to balance herself using her staff to lift herself back up with it looped under her arm.

    “Done with your little moment?” Lloyd added in quiet jest.

    Of course, his joke was killed off when Karen glared into his eyes. Lloyd probably wasn’t expecting her crimson red eyes.

    “Looks like we’ve both changed a little, Conrad. But the ears don’t suit you. They’re kind of… tacky, even for my standards.” Karen was actually having a little trouble to not smirk, even with her constant monotone expression still remaining still.



    “Yeah very funny, can we ignore our bodily differences for a while and figure out what just happened?”

    Karen had to strain just to hear what Lloyd was hearing half the time, but she decided she had gotten the gist of what he had said.

    “Well, I started with Sarika, we went through a labyrinth of tunnels filled with traps and demon dogs and stuff like that, you know, the easy stuff. Then a dark skeleton appeared and Sarika went upwards and I had trouble killing it and then I did that hurricane… actually I don’t know if it died yet.”


    “Did you get the exp yet?” He asked, his personality taking over for a split second.

    Karen actually couldn’t answer that. Had she gained any experience from these monsters? She wouldn’t know how that felt when it translated into body signals instead of game code…

    Karen just shrugged and decided she’d deal with the problem when it arose. For now she just tried to get her arms working again. In the meantime she gazed at the sky, unable to hid the sun from her eyes.

    “…It’s been a long time since I saw the sky. A real sky. Even one created just for a few hours.”

    Marcus took his turn to interject and asked
    “Have you seen anyone else yet?”

    “Sarika should still be a level or two above where this hole starts”, She kicked a piece of rubble down to check how deep it actually was ,” wow, I really made a mess huh. Might have overdid it with the magic. Half my reserve was a bit much in hindsight.”

    “…half. You have got to be joking. No, don’t answer that, rhetorical statement. Oh right, does anyone want to tell me why people are changing their appearance? Or do I have to wait till Reudic floats in looking like an oak tree?”

    Karen and Lloyd exchanged an awkward glance, and Karen decided to answer.

    “Back in my game, a player is allowed to kill other players. They’re shunned by people who just want to kill monsters, and the game forces their eyes to turn red to show that they’ve killed a player. I killed Charlie, so it affected me. Didn’t expect it to happen really.”

    Karen’s hand twitched. She could feel the blood flow, and sort of move her fingers on her right hand, which was an improvement. Marcus seemed satisfied with her answer and glanced at Lloyd, who didn’t look like he would explain his own appearance any time soon. She continued to move her fingers to get the blood flowing better, but with the ability to move came the pain of over exhausted muscles. She endured it without letting her expression change. She kept clenching her hand into a fist and opening it again, slowly regaining use of her limb.


    “I’ll give it to you that you’ve did some crazy things this game Karen, the fire thing, taking out Charlie, and accidently freeing me and Lloyd here from a dilemma. We were stuck in some sort of magical loop, we were just about to try and break out with explosives.”

    “Magic?”
    And then Karen noticed something. Lloyd had floated his way down, something she couldn’t have expected of him.
    “…So Lloyd, how did you learn magic so suddenly?


    ”… I suppose I could tell you.” He said with his diminished volume.
    “With each new setting I have entered in my existence I have taken on a role that fits right into the setting. This can change my appearance, give me a new set of memories and a wide range of skills. With this setting… I took on an Elf, which is really not my cup of tea.”

    “Also, would you happen to know where I could get myself a hat? I’m willing to settle for anything that will hide these… ridiculous ears.”


    Karen gripped the brim of her witch hat and shook her head. But within her mind a small series of facts began to connect in her head. The layout of the castle she had seen, the traps, the monsters and finally Lloyd.


    “…This is a game, isn’t it Lloyd?”


    “I see you figured it out. Yes, this is a tabletop setting.”

    Marcus simply let the conversation turn into something he clearly couldn’t follow. Karen had wondered just what purpose such trap laden tunnels would serve in practical terms. However, a new idea surfaced in her thoughts. Just what would she discover should she find the so called magical weaponry? She was definitely in the market for a new sword. But third idea occurred to her.

    “Interesting… tell me Lloyd, would you be interested in being escorted to the vault? I imagine it has some interesting treasure, and at least one of us should fine something we’d like.”

    As much as Karen didn’t trust Lloyd, even now that he actually had a fighting chance against her, no matter that she imagined it was a tiny one at best, she still felt that she’d rather keep an eye on him than let him run around with anyone else.


    “…you seem so sure, but it is an interesting offer. I certainly didn’t have any better plans, so I’d say lead the way, so long as you know where you’re going.”

    Karen had a vague idea that there was some kind of entrance hidden away in the dome room below. Either that or it was in the direction she had chosen not to go when she started in the round. It was a natural fact that the entrance to the vault would be behind the most dangerous part of the castle, and if it turned out that the skeleton was the wrong danger then there would be something worse guarding the real entrance, which is where Lloyd would become useful. With her main arm now moving properly she dug into her pocket to find an MP potion, or failing that, one of the sodas she stocked up on. She could really use the sharp sting of fizz on her tongue right about now, and she was rather thirsty after the ordeal. It was the soda she managed to grip onto first, so she pulled it out, twisted the lid off of the glass bottle and began to sip away. She felt the back of her mind cool and rejuvenate as her energy reserves filled further. She could regenerate it incredibly fast, within thirty minutes it would be half full. But she required a small boost right there, to heal her wounds. After her soda and her thirst were defeated she started tending to her arms which were burning with pain. It took a whole five minutes as she stood in silence casting as many spells as her minuscule energy reserves would allow. Lloyd said he’d offer to help her in his quiet volume, had he been a class that held healing spells. Karen took this opportunity to gloat about her multi-classing so much.

    With her arms not hurting as badly and having them wrapped in her healing bandages she was set to go. At Lloyd’s discretion she began to jump from one floor to the one below, following her makeshift hole in the castle structure. Lloyd managed to follow, albeit he took a rather more cautious approach than Karen’s leaps. Marcus mentioned something about heading off alone, which seemed to suit him just fine. He was sick of babysitting anyway, or so he said. Karen hoped he didn’t take the tackle the wrong way, and there were a lot of wrong ways to take that. But her regrets were banished when she touched to bottom floor, for when she got there she spotted a familiar looking blade jutting out of the stone floor, a bone hand still gripping the hilt. She examined it closely, and attempted to pry the remains off. It didn’t budge, so she drew a katana and wedged it between the bone and the hilt, and pulled. With a snap the hand broke and slowly began to disintegrate into a dark black dust. She tried to pull the sword out of the ground, but as she had anticipated it was incredibly heavy. She imagined it must weigh over 130 pounds, roughly. However that wasn’t going to stop her from using it. She re-sheathed her katana and propped her staff next to the sword. She was going to fuse one with the other, forming a hilt and inner hollow in the sword for it to fit, and allowing the staff to be in a constant state of flight and lift a lot of the weight, the same thing she had done with her last sword. While she did that, Lloyd looked for whatever served as the exit to this room, finding the remains of Karen’s traps by the way she had came in originally. It would take her a few minutes to force the staff to fuse with magic, but she’d have time while Lloyd searched the room. Maybe she’d even have time for another soda, or make herself a sling for the blade with whatever materials she could find in her pockets.





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