Reudic resigned itself to momentarily take a moment to recuperate. Though the fear of fire was strong and instinctual for his kind, most had learned to suppress the fear or deal with it some other way. Reudic was among the best of its kind at keeping certain instincts controlled, perhaps even more so after spending time in the dense jungles of his homeworld. Understanding, firsthand, how ones instincts and fears affect oneself can allow for even greater control over them. Despite this, Reudic found himself greatly fearing Charlie's flames. Not only did the fire of the strange metal beast behave unnaturally, but it could spew streams of fire at will, and without regard for its own well being. Reudic's contained anger towards the metal beast mixed with the fear of its flame. The plant's indifferent and apathetic views of its fellow combatants was beginning to wane. It was starting to hate Charlie from the core of its being. Reudic decided to distract itself from the flood of emotions it was now experiencing, if only to try and get through the chaos that was continually unfolding.
Reudic began to coil its damaged roots and vines close to its 'body' as another set uncoiled themselves. The vines and roots would heal quick enough, and they'd be stronger than ever once they did but Reudic would still need to eat someithing to speed up the process. The plant was the first to break the silent truce between sides as it rushed towards one of the beasts. It's vines sprung out and lashed at its prey like whips as it began to emit the chemicals that would allow control over the beasts directly into the air around it. This method was slow, but now that Reudic knew that its abilities would work fairly well on these beasts, Reudic had no need to deliver the substance directly. The plant kept the dose low in order to not affect the other contestants combat abilities as it began to feed on the newly acquired beast. The only enemies that remained were the beasts that were attacking both Karen's group and Charlie, and the giant worm.
Sarika pushed a wing up under her goggles in order to rub her eyes. Rapid-fire future-diversion was not very comfortable on her eyes. Or rather, her head. And now, looking at the present again, she wasn't entirely sure what had happened or is happening or was about to or something. She wasn't sure if she even was remembering the last few minutes right...or the next few minutes...? What? Huh?
"Lillian...what's going on...?" she asked wearily.
The little girl looked up at her, still clutching onto her waist tightly. She was still rather green and slimey and gross but it was nice to hold onto somebody who was kind and sweet and had a big stick to knock things around with. "Uhhh...?" she replied, looking back at the worm and the monsters and people and confusion. "...Fighting...?"
"Wait, what did I just do...?"
"You...uh...came here with that man and shouted a lot with the lady...and she shouted back that you were confusing her more than helping...and then..."
"Right, right," Sarika said, rubbing her forehead and shifting through different alternate futures in her memory. "So that means...uh...the...floor hasn't collapsed yet...?"
Lillian looked down at the very intact floor. "We're sitting on it...are you okay?" She paused before looking a little more worried. "The...the floor's gonna collapse?"
"Um...ugh...I don't...what?" Sarika squinted at the action that surrounded them. Karen was just blasting away at anything that lurched towards them and sometimes slicing if they were too close. She looked a little frustrated and possibly a little tired. At one point, she whipped a small vial out somehow (when did she do that?) and just held it as she attacked, as if reluctant to use it, but apparently something justified the use and she downed it quickly. Looking rejuvinated, she attacked with greater vigor than before and the beasts were all the unluckier for it.
Lloyd seemed to be stuck on some adrenaline high. He stood right next to Karen (okay well, maybe a little behind her and more off to the side), snapping his towel at any creature that Karen didn't kill (which, to be honest, was not many). It was a simple tactic that seemed to at least confuse some of the corrupt monsters, but Sarika did not need future sight to know that it wouldn't work for much longer. Though to be honest, they didn't have much longer to begin with...how many minutes had passed? Five?
The floor rumbled as the worm retreated into its burrow and errupted from a wall in an attempt to destroy the pesky robot. The only thing it accomplished was flinging more rubble around. The few functioning maintenance bots scurried around, flustered, juggling between their primary function and their survival instinct.
Sarika shifted. It hurt. Just like everything else. "I...I have to help, we need to kill that worm..."
Even a little girl like Lillian could tell that, after falling and breaking several bones, after being dragged around all over the place in dark tunnels, after getting swallowed and then vomitted out of a giant worm and hitting the wall, moving was not exactly a thing Sarika should do often. She tried to push her back down. "Wait, no, don't move, please! You'll, you'll hurt yourself and, and..."
Still, Sarika muttered to herself. "We've gotta get out of here...there's got to be a way out...we can't waste time..." And as she spoke, she blinked. They had to have escaped in the future and she needed to know how...
Karen sliced down what seemed to be the last infected monster, or at least the last one that dared to even come close to her. What a relief. Small wriggling space-parasites were actually hard to kill. She kicked aside some bleeding corpses and watched with interest as they seemed to dissolve into blue and yellow...light...thingies. Something like that. As she prodded one with her foot, a scream erupted behind her. The battle-ready woman whirled around, sword raised to cut anything that was attacking the wounded one or the helpless girl, but instead she found that Lillian was wincing and slowly putting her hands away from her ears while Sarika was apparently hyperventilating and staring at...something. It was hard to tell through the goggles.
"What's going on?" Lloyd ask, lowing his hands as well and staring at the bird-woman. She continued staring at some point ahead before seemingly coming back down to earth.
"You screamed," Karen replied, looking back over to where the rest of the battle was. The worm was generally thrashing about, though it seemed Marcus and Dekowin were trying to beat it down. Nothing seemed to be attacking Reudic. Strangely enough, while she was busy with the crowd of parasite-infected creatures, Charlie had gotten attacked by one himself. But it was smarter than the others. It dodged and moved with a strange grace that was both familiar and suspicious to Karen. But there was no time to be suspicious.
"I...screamed...?" Sarika repeated.
"Alright look," Karen started, tossing Lillian a vial of red liquid. "Get her to drink that. I've gotta help the others."
"I'll come," Lloyd said, but Karen stopped him.
"You wouldn't leave two defenseless women all alone, would you?" And before he could reply, she dashed off.
Lloyd paused for a moment, then swung his towel around, not really able to do much else. "So, what were you screaming about?" he asked as Lillian tried to force the cork out.
"What?" Sarika replied, still sounding dazed. "I was screaming in the future..."
"No, you were screaming in the present. Or...past, I guess. What will you scream about then? Alright, here, let me help you..." Lloyd pulled the cork out easily for Lillian who seemed embarrassed for a moment before holding up to Sarika.
"What's this?" she asked suspiciously.
"Um, er," Lillian replied, not entirely sure herself, other than it was apparently supposed to help her friend.
"I think it'll heal you," Lloyd said helpfully. "It looks like that other one she drank, you know."
"I'm not drinking it," Sarika snapped.
"But, but but," Lillian stuttered, dearly wanting Sarika to be well again but unable to actually say it. "Wait! I can drink it first and then you'll know it's not poison, right?" And before the Kindred Spirit or Sarika could protest, she sipped a little.
Her eyes widened in shock as a small burst of energy flowed through her. When she said nothing, Sarika started sitting up worriedly, but she finally licked her lips. "Mmmmmmm," she said, trying to exaggerate the vial's safety as much as possible. "See? It's good! It's good for you! Please drink..."
The metal implant clutched on to the neck of the vial and Lillian cheered up some as Sarika held it up to her face. She bit her lip, but she wasn't thinking about poison, but explosions. Explosions in the future to be exact.
Nobody made it out. Nobody.
They were all still in this room when her vision was blurred by sudden fire and smoke. In fact, still trying to defeat the worm. The stupid worm.
How many minutes now? Was it still five? Or did they actually have less than a minute to live? How could she save everybody? How could she get everybody out in time...?
Nobody leaves until somebody dies.
It was something she had never thought of much. She didn't think she'd have to. She had naively believed that it wouldn't get that far. Or maybe she had denied the possibility in order to rebel against that despiteful robot. But now, there was no other possibility. One person had to die or else everybody would.
But she couldn't kill anybody! But if she didn't, everybody would die! But...
She would have to die.
It was an obvious choice, really. Broken leg. Broken arm. She would die soon. Why not now? And thus send everybody safely off.
She only had a staff and a vial. Not really much to kill herself in time...her eyes set upon something moving about on the floor. It was a shuddering maintenance bot. Battered from the trip out of the worm. So battered, in fact, that a metal plate was jutting out at an odd angle. And it looked quite sharp.
Two people that could stop her. Lillian, she might be able to fight off. Lloyd, maybe not. So it'd have to be fast. And she'd have to get rid of this stupid potion...
After a moment, Sarika had a plan. "Wait," she murmured, making a bit of a show of staring into the distance. "What's- Oh, no. Help me up, hurry!"
"What's up?", Lloyd asked, frowning.
"No time! Just help me up!"
Awkwardly, Lloyd helped her to her feet, supporting some of her weight.
"This way, come on!" She started forward, moving toward the damaged robot and maneuvering Lloyd along with her. Lillian stayed close on her other side, and the group made their way forward.
"Lloyd," Sarika said, gasping a bit with each step, "this is important. You need to keep Lillian safe. She doesn't deserve to go through this."
Lloyd frowned at her.
"Promise me, Lloyd, that you will protect her."
He just looked at her silently for a moment, then said, simply, "no."
She twisted her head around to stare up at him. "What?!"
"I said no," he repeated, and in a pair of quick movements, he snatched the vial from her grip and jammed his knee into the back of her leg. She would've gone down backwards, but he had his arm around her back, supporting her.
"What are you doing?!", Lillian screamed.
Ignoring the little girl, Lloyd pushed the vial to Sarika's mouth. "Drink. Now. You're not throwing yourself on anything."
She hesitated, then reluctantly swallowed the potion. It flowed through her, a tingling sensation that spread out to her fingertips and seemed to fill her whole body with warmth.
"I am not going to be taken for a fool," Lloyd said, "now stand up. You've got Lillian to take care of, and I don't want to have to babysit you, too."
"I have to", she shouted, "or everyone dies! I can't let that happen!"
"It won't happen." He thought for a moment, straightening out the vague plan he'd formed. "Right, here's what we're going to do: unless you say otherwise, I'm going to go attack Charlie."
She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head and looked into the future. After a second or two, she cringed. "No."
"The plant, then."
She looked again, and a second later, said "...no."
She frowned. "There's no explosion. It's not clear, but-"
He was already off and running, headed for the mercenary, towel in hand. Marcus was facing the other way, still dealing with the worm, and neither he nor Dekowin noticed Lloyd coming.
Last edited by Pinary; 09-03-2010 at 08:44 PM.
Karen seemed to dance around the worm, causing small scratches and cuts across its body with her sword. They were glancing blows; she couldn't cut much deeper in her state. The muscles in her right arm felt like they were burning due to the strain of not only the fighting, but that blast from CHARLIE. You didn't stop that kind of ordinance without suffering. She decided to rest just as soon as everything was over and done with. She knew the parasites would probably never cease coming, and if them and the worm didn't kill them, then they would die once the ten minute timer ended. She could imagine the station, if that’s what they called it, imploding in on itself, obliterating everything inside. If one died, the rest would live. But as things were, Karen wouldn't turn her sword on any of the others. Even suicide seemed too much for her to handle. If she died, the combat effectiveness of the group would drop significantly. CHARLIE and Marcus had the tech to survive, but they has limited resources of ammo. Dekowin had brutal strength, but seemed reckless. As long as she had time to rest, Karen could fight for quite a while.
She sidestepped as the worm slammed its head against the wall, shaking the whole room violently. It was only hurting itself at this point. There wasn't much it could do against targets as small as humans, and CHARLIE was as nimble as it was armed when it needed to be. Karen needed to take advantage of that somehow. She picked a spot on the floor that wasn't covered in goo, blood or the bodies of the parasites. She lined herself up against the worm, and fixed her body into a striking pose, her sword poised behind her waist, ready for a powerful swing. She took a deep breath, and braced her muscles for one more exertion.
The worm tried another lunge at CHARLIE, and swung wide across the floor. The machine gracefully avoided and gained some distance away to watch. Karen heard a scuffle to her right, Lloyd and Marcus's voices. She couldn't turn her head to look, as she needed all her concentration on the worm. She stared it down with extreme intensity, and mumbled a single word. A spell, in fact.
The worm stopped moving for a split second. Then it turned, slowly at first, to look at Karen. A non-moving target. A sudden hatred. In impulse it couldn't ignore. It swung its head in a wide arc, and brought it down on a bearing for Karen. She waited until the last second for her technique to work. It needed all the force of the worm to be able to work. A few feet from her body, she kicked into overdrive. Her muscles bulged explosively, and her body twisted, using her left foot as a pivot. Everything in her body twisted to bring her sword around. The air split around the blade, forced out of the way by sheer power. The sword connected with the worms neck, and all the air that had been dragged behind the sword burst forward, the conflicting forces battled, until the worms neck split vertically. The gash cut all the way through, and continued, leaving a loudly carved gash in the metal of the ceiling.
"That..." Karen breathed, collapsing onto her back ignoring the blood oozing out around her, "Was my Steel Hurricane."
Her body felt heavy. She needed a breather. Just a minute would do. And then she would save everyone. Yeah, she'd think of something. Just like Coal would have. Always in the nick of time...
Karen never noticed that both halves of the worm were still moving.
Marcus breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, most of those ugly sons of bitches were dead. There were still a few coming in at a slow trickle, but they were easily taken care of. Dekowin had moved forward again, cutting down anything stupid enough to come within two meters. The slow-down was just in time, too. His leg was now back to a still dull, yet insistent ache, which was definitely a bad sign. If it was this strong already, he could only imagine how it would be in a little while… Oh. Wait. Nevermind. In a little while, he wouldn’t have to worry about his leg bothering him ever again. Unless he killed someone, which was not what he wanted to do. Still, he decided that he had better at least consider it. But who? The girl was out. He couldn’t bring himself to kill a little kid. Charlie? Not in this time-frame. Reudic? How do you kill a big floating plant? Maybe some incendiary grenades… Karen? Maybe. If he caught her by surprise, almost definitely. Still, he liked her guts. Look at her going to town on that worm thing! Not very effective, but still…
Dekowin? Doable, probably. He’d have to take care of it fast, though. Probably not best right now. Sarika… certainly. But he liked her, and she’d saved his ass… several times. So, that just left…
A piece of cloth wrapped itself around his head and went taut, pulling him off balance.
“Mmmf! Mmmmfer Fmmfer!”
Attempting to roll over, a kick took him in the stomach, once, twice. The armor, combined with the pain blocker, stopped it from hurting, but it was still far from enjoyable. Another kick, this time in the chest. And… now! Marcus grabbed his assailant by the foot, yanking him off balance. Marcus rolled over fully and got to his feet, whipping the cloth away from his face. A towel? He glared down at Lloyd as he tossed it aside.
“Hey! That’s 100% genuine Egyptian cotton! It’s expensive!”
Marcus drew a pistol from his hip pointed it at Lloyd. “Yes, I noticed the high quality and superior thread count when you were using it to blind me. Just what were you hoping to accomplish with that, anyway?”
“Hmm? Oh, nothing. I just wanted to distract you while she got behind you with the knife!”
“You didn’t actually think that would work, did you?”
“Eh, it was worth a shot.”
A loud screeching from behind Marcus interrupted. His turned his head to see the worm rushing down at Karen, while she stood stock still. Her muscles seemed to be straining, and her face was set in a determined grimace. At the last possible second, she swung her blade around with a visible, herculean effort, and the air seemed to ripple in an arc towards the beast. Her blade sheared right through the creature’s neck, killing it almost instantly. Karen fell over backwards, seemingly exhausted and muttering to herself.
Marcus was knocked over from behind. What was this, the second or third time today? Jeeze. He and Lloyd struggled on the ground. Marcus had the upper hand in the area of strength, but Lloyd was surprisingly quick and hard to get a grip on. Finally, Lloyd sprang away, holding something in his hand. One of Marcus’s pistols. He held it firmly, his stance the perfect text-book example.
“So! What now, Mr. White?”
Marcus stood slowly, drawing one of his other pistols and leveling it at Lloyd’s head.
Marcus had gotten turned around during their scuffle, and was now in the perfect position to see the halves of the worm-creature shifting and moving.
“A very, very good question.”
Last edited by GreyGabe; 09-15-2010 at 07:12 PM.
Not knowing about the worms, Lloyd was left with just Marcus to think about. He could do it, here and now- one squeeze and the mercenary would drop, sending the rest of them on their way. Of course, Marcus would probably be able to shoot back before he died. Maybe if he dodged to one side or something, Lloyd could avoid being killed as well.
Marcus had been in this situation before, but that didn't help him much. He knew next to nothing about Lloyd, and he had no idea whether he'd actually even be able to pull the trigger. Would he kill a man just to save his own neck? Would he do it for the sake of the others?
He's a mercenary, killing is his business. If I give him the chance, he'd shoot me dead just to stay alive a little longer. No, wait- if he'd been solely interested in survival, he would've just started killing when he arrived. He can't be all bad.
Hang on, though- I don't have to kill him. Maybe I could just shoot him in the leg or something, then kill one of the others. Not Karen, probably, and not that bird-woman either. The girl's right out, and I probably couldn't even do anything to that bush or the robot. That leaves Dekowin, then- assuming I can take her out.
Marcus could tell Lloyd had made a decision. The bookworm had straightened his shoulders and shifted his feet a bit, clearly preparing for some action or another. Marcus just held his stance, waiting.
It was over in a split second. Lloyd fired, grazing Marcus' thigh. Marcus responded, sending a shot straight through the other man's chest.
There was no subtle feeling of remorse as Lloyd's soul faded from existence, no moment when time seemed to slow as he breathed his last, shuddering breath. He just... died.
Sarika blinked. They would survive, then. As it was, Lloyd would die, and they would be safe. This was a good result. The smart thing to do would be to stand here for another minute or so and let things play out. The smart thing.
That didn't mean it was right. It hadn't been five minutes since he'd stopped her from throwing her life away, and she wasn't sure she'd be able to live with herself if she didn't do the same.
The girl's right out, Lloyd thought, and I probably couldn't even do anything to that bush or the robot. That leaves-
"Lloyd, Marcus, stop!"
Lloyd whipped his head around to see Sarika striding towards them, Lillian in tow. A split second later, he realized that looking away was exactly the sort of thing not to do when you've got a gun pointed at you. Fortunately, Marcus hadn't fired. Lloyd supposed he was either surprised by Sarika's interruption or willing to listen to her advice.
"We don't have time for this," she continued, "if someone doesn't do something, we're not going to make it!"
"We were just doing something," Lloyd pointed out.
"It wasn't an effective something," she snapped.
Lloyd frowned. "But you said-"
"She's right," Marcus said, lowering his gun a bit and stepping forward. "A standoff isn't exactly a quick way to end things, and we don't have much time left." He turned to Sarika. "Did you have any particular plan in mind?"
"No," she replied, "but I'm sure you have a few ideas."
"That's true," he replied. "At this point, Charlie and Reudic would probably be too difficult to easily dispatch, leaving Karen and Dekowin. Karen's proven herself extremely useful, but Dekowin is too unpredictable for my liking."
After a few moments' silence, Sarika nodded. "There's no explosion," she said. "But whether it's her or you, I can't tell."
"That's a risk we have to take," Marcus said, starting off. "Come on, Conrad, make yourself useful."
Lloyd moved after him, giving Sarika a sideways look as he went, leaving her and Lillian standing there.
If you can't do something smart, she thought to herself, you should at least do something right.
She put a wing around Lillian and held her close.
I just wish I could tell what right was.
Another monster dropped dead, and another, and another. Dekowin's claws dug into chunk after chunk of flesh, as the parasite-possessed experiments swarmed over her. Some were squishy, some were crunchy, a few had even exploded moments after dropping dead. She didn't even care.
If she could just kill enough of these, the scene would change. If just enough of these monsters would die, that explosion would stop, right?! If she could just kill enough of them, they could hold off on playing that asshole's game a little bit longer!
She let out an animalistic cry as one of the experiments sank its teeth into her arm. Her whole body thrashed around, and smashed the the exoskeletoned creature into the ground.
I just have to kill all of them. All of you just DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Her claws swung around wildly, each swipe slicing deep into two or three of the experiments.
That was when she saw them. The other contestants- at least some of them- rushing down the hallway.
That was right... she was never really supposed to kill these things. Her teeth were gritted, as she began stepping towards the group. One of them even looked like he was ready to use his weapon- Lloyd was it? Perfect. No more pretending to be allies. Someone had to die now, and Dekowin's targets were right in front of her.
No one had to say a thing. In an instant Dekowin was off the ground, flying at full speed straight towards Lloyd. With a loud BANG, Dekowin felt a sharp pain in her right wing. The flow of the wind changed, and she could feel her flight path begin to curve, but it was no real threat.
The pain suppressed by pure adrenaline, Dekowin touched down, and immediately kicked off the ground using only her feet, her claws bared straight at Lloyd. But Lloyd wasn't alone. There was another loud BANG, and a sharp pain in Dekowin's side. The sheer concussive force of the weapon knocked her to the ground, but she could bear it. As she struck the ground, she immediately rolled into a low stance, and pounced towards the source of the second gunshot- Marcus? This time however, she fluttered her wings slightly midflight, and doged the third BANG- wherever it had originated from.
Tackling Marcus, she grabbed the arm he had fired from, and began to wrestle the gun from him. Marcus's own strength was a match for hers however, and the two began a tug-of-war for the weapon.
Lloyd aimed carefully with the pistol again. He probably wouldn't be able to shoot one without hitting the other... but he'd probably have to end up killing both of them eventually wouldn't he? He shook his head, thinking like that wouldn't do him any good.
Then, it happened. The swarm of creatures rushed towards the pair- their enemies from before now fought each other, and they would be at an advantage. A single reptile creature leapt at Dekowin and Marcus. Dekowin released her grip, and spun around to defend herself, and Lloyd, seeing his chance, pulled the trigger once more.
The group didn't even completely hear the sound of the last BANG- so much softer than the antimatter explosion moments later.
The Monitor was quick to react upon Dekowin's death. He had already prepared the transportation sequence, and so with the press of a single button, the survivors vanished. Seconds later, he watched the detached facility explode spectacularly.
He also detected another transport, one he had not initiated. It appeared that some other Grandmaster had decided that something should be spared from the explosion.
Or perhaps, removed from the scene on the off-chance it survived the explosion intact.
That concern would have to be investigated later, however. The Monitor was supposed to be running a battle, after all, and had to at least go through the motions.
He brought up a screen of the new arena. Amidst an endless void, railroad tracks stretched across the sky, twisting and turning in multiple directions.
A train was traversing those tracks - or would be, if the Monitor hadn't stopped it for now, along with the combatants he had just placed aboard it, spread throughout the various cars.
"Greetings. I must congratulate you all on managing to survive the first round - for a moment, it seemed as though I would have to gather another eight candidates. Fortunately, you managed to spare me that inconvenience. But without further ado, let me introduce you to the next arena - the Infinity Express."
There was a pause, as the Monitor gave the combatants time to take in their surroundings. The furnishings on the train seemed somewhat luxurious, but this fact was barely noticeable next to the sight of the passengers themselves - they glowed a strange shade of blue and were not moving either. They also did not seem limited to any one species; among them were humans, elves, small dragons, gigantic insectoids, robots, and other assorted creatures.
"This train travels between dimensions, and carries passengers from a wide variety of worlds. However, these passengers, as well as the train's crew, have been frozen in time, and will continue to be once I allow you to move again. You need not worry about them, only your competitors. Please note, however, that the train itself will start moving, and its path is... somewhat unorthodox. You may need to brace yourselves every so often."
The Monitor pressed a button, and the contestants found themselves able to move once more. Most were knocked off their feet by the train's sudden start, however. The Monitor's voice spoke one last time.
"I should also warn you that leaving the train would be ill-advised. If you look out the windows, you will see there is literally nothing out there, merely an unending void and the track you are travelling along."
His duties performed, the Monitor turned his attention to his next task. He activated another screen, and the image of the Controller appeared on it.
"Ah, Monitor. To what do I owe this pleasure?"
"I have been reviewing my data on the contestants in your Gradual Massacre. I am curious about something."
"And what would that be?"
"Based on the abilities of your combatants, I see at least two relatively straightforward methods by which escape is possible. What is your contingency plan to prevent this?"
The Controller laughed. "Where's the fun in giving that away? You'll find out if it comes to pass. Since I know you'll be watching."
"This is no trivial matter. The Director was nearly destroyed due to insufficient preparations. We should all be wary of repeating his mistakes."
The Monitor watched the Controller's face carefully. If his suspicions were correct, the Controller would, for the briefest of moments, show signs of preparing a sarcastic response. Presumably something similar to "So it's better to kill all your entrants in the first round?", though as the lines would never actually be spoken, it hardly mattered. The realization that he might give something away would strike microseconds later, however, and the Controller would feign ignorance instead.
The response was so perfectly in line with the Monitor's predictions that it almost seemed to be taunting him.
"Perhaps so. But rest assured, I am being careful. I simply prefer to leave a few suprises for my 'audience', as it were. How is your new battle proceeding, by the way? I imagine it's well underway by now."
"Indeed. The first round has just concluded. I am still reviewing the data. It was somewhat unexpected that Dekowin was the first death, but the situation was rather chaotic. As to the remaining fighters, I am pleased that the Hunterbot is performing its function admirably. It should keep the others preoccupied. I must note that Lloyd seems outclassed so far, but he has shown some resourcefulness. Karen is..."
The Controller interrupted suddenly. "Pardon me. Did you say 'Lloyd'?"
"Correct. Lloyd Conrad. You recommended him to me."
"I see." The Controller raised a hand to his mouth thoughtfully. "Very interesting. I'd ask you more, but something has just come up in the Gradual Massacre. Perhaps we can continue this conversation some other time."
"Of course," the Monitor replied. "You are perfectly welcome to contact me at your convenience." He deactivated the communications device, and turned his attention back to the unfolding battle.
Sarika managed to keep her balance, but after a moment, she decided to sit down anyways and stared out the window. They were definitely moving, but with a literally non-existant scenery, it was rather hard to tell. The train turned sharply as if to remind her they were.
Her ears were still ringing from the recent explosion. That had been much too close. And to her shame, she found herself relieved to be alive. Even with her shame, she couldn't help but think 'at least it's her and not me.' What was wrong with her? Wasn't she determined to kill herself only a moment ago? For the good of everybody else? Wasn't she self-sacrificing? Wasn't she a hero?
Or...was it false determination? Would she have chickened out when it actually came to throwing herself onto jagged metal? Was she just a disillusioned child pretending to do good? Would she really back down so easily when her life was immediately threatened? Were her morals actually...no better than the average person's...?"
Sarika pulled off the hefty headdress and ran a wing through her hair and sighed and rubbed her eyes. This battle was making her question her very purpose.
She hated it.
Yes...it was all the Monitor's fault. That emotionless machine. The one who started the whole thing and the one who thus should be punished. Preferably before any more casualties.
The train could apparently travel between dimensions. Perhaps she could somehow steer it...maybe it was possible to turn the train back to the Monitor...
But first she had to find Lillian.
Actually, where was she right now?
Sarika stood up again and, after testing out her newly healed leg and arm, looked around. She had been sitting on a very soft bed. Obviously one of the rooms. It was a very luxurious bedroom, to say the least. She had never seen many trains, but the ones she did see had a simple bunkbed - the bottom would fold up into a couch and the other folded up into the wall. Here, it looked as though they dragged a queen-sized bed in here. It was surprising that the bed didn't shake or move around while the train went along. But she wasn't thinking too much about that. Her attention was focused on the two figures in bed. One was on top of the other.
Sarika could feel herself flushing and loudly stuttered out a 'Sorry!' even though it was quite obvious that they couldn't hear her. She felt behind her for a door and quickly ran out, trying to banish all thought of what she had just seen out of her mind. It was very difficult.
Okay. Okay. What was she doing? Oh right. Lillian. Must find Lillian. Especially if this sort of activity was going on in this stupid train...
Last edited by MalkyTop; 09-19-2010 at 06:47 PM.
Welp thanks to predictable follies I will not be able to finish tonight! You other peeps can still post though!
(I'm only messing with Lillian for this one)
Last edited by bobthepen; 09-21-2010 at 08:26 PM.
The battle in the training facility had finally reached its climax and ended without hesitation. Charlie recalled the last few moments in its databanks; the twin worms attempting to tackle the Hunterbot, only for it to jump away and the two bash their heads together and being knocked out; the standoff between Lloyd and Marcus with Sarika in the middle; Karen’s dispatching of the last few parasite organisms; Lillian’s crying; Reudic’s indifference; and Dekowin’s enraged last charge culminating in her death. Charlie’s processor could only replay the few moments between the bullet’s entry and blood splatter before everything else became fuzzy. The machine knew it had once again been snatched up from one dimensional reality and pulled across the universal boundaries beyond comprehensive logic only to be deposited someplace else.
Charlie once again found itself in a mechanical lock as some strange force prevented the machine from moving. All the machine was aware of was where it had been dumped, that a familiar voice was echoing throughout the area, and that one target had been eliminated. The Monitor’s information was recorded and stored in the Hunterbot’s databanks, although not all of it made sense, particularly the bit about nothing existing outside the train. There had been holo-rails and other ‘express’ type vehicles developed to transport all sorts of matter across planets and galaxies, but nothing named the Infinity Express registered with the machine.
The Hunterbot lurched with the sudden jolt of the train starting to move once again. Reveling in its freedom to move once again, Charlie set about identifying its surroundings. It seemed to have been deposited in a ballroom locked in a sort of meta-stasis as all the other occupants were frozen in place. The robot meandered casually up to a female clad in a fancy black dress with a red symbol emblazoned on it, long raven hair, and…spindly arms, eight eyes, and vicious fangs. Charlie’s sensors ran several scans over the woman and despite the humanoid shape; it was coming up as an arachnid. It seemed the spider-woman had her eyes; all eight of them, set on suited male figure with beady black eyes, two antennae, and intricately shaped legs.Charlie’s sensors classified the ‘man’ as a caelifera, more commonly known as a grasshopper.
The machine went to touch the arachnid humanoid with a metal pincer, but was confused as to how its claw could pass through the form without any resistance. Charlie studied the figure carefully and ran several processes that came up with the only logical answer, at least as far as the robot was capable of understanding. The train passengers were caught in a kind of meta-stasis phase field. Strange that all but Charlie, and it presumed the remaining contestants, looked to be frozen in this same manner. Resigning to this factor, Charlie returned its central focus to the termination of the remaining contestants. The seven portraits the robot had taken during the first encounter lined up in a chart arranged by threat level.
The machine reorganized the list to have Marcus and Karen as the highest threats while Lillian, Sarika, and Lloyd remained at the bottom. Dekowin’s image was grayed out as her elimination completed the first of many secondary objectives. Charlie turned around and waltzed to the large doorway to explore the Infinity Express some more. A sudden jolt that felt like the train was going down a drain sent the robot tumbling and quickly activating its magnetic feet to retain balance. The machine was surprised that nothing in the room seemed to have fallen out of place, even the fancy table décor. With a mechanical buzz, Charlie turned its back on the ballroom and exited the car and found itself on a rather accommodating albeit enclosed bridge between the ballroom car and next car. Charlie craned its optics out the window and was baffled by the sight. It seemed the Monitor was not lying when he stated that there was absolutely nothing outside of the train. This was good…very, very good. No place to run made termination all that much easier. It was time to finish these secondary objectives.
Marcus somehow managed to keep his balance as the train lurched into motion, hissing as his bad leg took some of his weight. He holstered his pistol, and ran one hand over his head, as if to make sure it was still firmly attached to his neck. It still was, for now. Though he could think of at least one or two people… uh… entities that would probably be happy to rectify that particular oversight, given the chance. Hell, he probably deserved it. He hadn’t fired that last shot, but that didn’t mean that Dekowin’s death wasn’t on his head.
He was pissed, now. Well... more so. He didn’t have any problem with killing people, at least those that deserved it. Or those that tried to kill him. But typically he was getting paid, and typically he was choosing what jobs he took. He left the Armada so that he wouldn’t have to kill on the whims and follies of some ill-defined authority figure.
If he ever met the Monitor, he was going to pull the pin on a concussive grenade and shove it right up his/her/its favorite orifice. Dekowin would have liked that, probably.
Feeling better now that he had confronted his touchy-feely emotional bits, he took a moment to observe his surroundings. It looked like a pretty typical passenger jumper, albeit more cramped. Seats all facing what he assumed to be the front, very small overhead compartments for luggage, and of course the whole shebang smelled just like a brand new shower-curtain. Plasticy! He glanced over some of the passengers, seeing an even more motley assortment of travelers than usually flew on one of these kinds of things. There was the typical small family on vacation, Mommy, Daddy, Boy and Girl. Boy was pulling Girl’s hair while Girl was twisting Boy’s nose. Mommy looked like she was about to have some kind of attack while Daddy looked like he wanted to jump out the window. An all-around charming family tableau. They were the only humans in this car. Marcus took a little bit to stare. He had seen plenty of aliens in his time, mind, but none of them had been sentient. The Imperium’s eggheads had always said that there were probably sentient life-forms out in the galaxy, but Marcus had always thought it was a load of nonsense. Oh well, can’t be right about everything.
His curiosity about non-humans sated for the time being, he looked out a nearby window, unabashedly leaning over a young, amorous couple to see better. Not that there was much to see, mind. Just nothing, nothing, and more nothing. He leaned farther trying to see the train’s tracks. Nope. He leaned forward more, still not seeing anything. He put his hand down on an arm-rest, intending to use the leverage to lean farther. Instead, he jerked his hand back. It felt like he had just stuck his hand in a freezer! Looking down, he saw lover-boy’s arm… er… tentacle. Marcus tentatively touched it again, watching as his finger went right through it, with an unpleasant slithery, cold sensation. Ew. Marcus backed off, limping to the front of the carriage. Ahead of him was the door out, and to his left were three doors. They had little panels on the front, two reading OCCUPIED and one marked as VACANT. Marcus stopped for a second, considering, and then pushed open the door to the vacant restroom. Well, not entirely vacant after all. There was a young woman applying makeup at the mirror. Well, it was probably a woman. It was hard to tell, her being a reptile and all, but the tank-top and short skirt kind of made Marcus lean in that direction. He shrugged, pulled the door behind him closed and locked it (if someone killed him while he was taking a leak, well, gosh, would he be embarrassed!), then slipped past the lizard lady.
A moment later he emerged, feeling greatly relieved. Securely strapping the Retribution to his back, he un-holstered his shotgun, unfolding it and locking it into its operational configuration. He searched through his ammo pouches until he found his packs of “Party Crasher” cartridges. Party Crashers were cartridges packed with depleted uranium flechettes. They were marketed through the MilTek Network for use against lightly armored vehicles, combat drones, and anything else you wanted to put a whole lot of holes in. The ads never mentioned that at close range the things could pretty much vaporize organic targets in a particularly loud and messy fashion. Marcus hated the things, but always had some with him in case he needed to take care of something nasty. Like Charlie. Maybe… it was also completely possible that these things would ricochet off of Charlie like slingshot pellets. That thing was just a little more advanced than the standard-issue combat drones Marcus was familiar with. Still, worth a shot, and in these tight quarters Marcus wouldn’t even have to aim. He loaded several of the cartridges, putting some more in one of his ammo belts for easy access, and configured the shotgun for its tightest spread. It occurred to him, too, that Lloyd still had one of his pistols. Marcus wasn’t entirely sure whether this was a good thing or not. He'd just have to hope for the best.
Carefully, Marcus pushed open the front door. As he did, he put his weight on his bad leg again, which throbbed as if to say, "I'm still here!" Marcus grunted and shifted his weight off of it as much as he could. He still needed to do something about that. He could turn on the pain suppressor again after it had been off for a few minutes, but that wasn't really a solution. Maybe this train had a medical car? Probably just wishful thinking, but it was something to look for.
With a grimace, Marcus moved on to the next car, his weapon held up before him.
Last edited by GreyGabe; 09-23-2010 at 12:01 AM.
As the train lurched into motion, Lloyd fell to the floor, and he just stayed there for a few moments, getting his thoughts in order. Having a whole new set of memories and skills jammed into his head was always a bit disorienting, and it was made that much more so when he didn't expect it. In the last round, he hadn't been given any sort of information about the setting, so he had thought it restricted to his movement between books, but apparently that round had been an anomaly. Here he was, still in a real-looking world, but with a whole history and background at his disposal. He was Lloyd Conrad the escaped fictional character, but at the same time, he was Lloyd Conrad the electrician, on his way from his home on Rendell to a job a few universes away.
He was fairly relieved to have the second set of memories- there were strategic advantages, of course, but it was really just more comfortable for him. He'd spent most of his life with one set of extra memories or another in his head, and he'd missed it more than he'd realized during the last round.
So after a few seconds of relishing the feeling, he sat up. He knew where he was- the tables, chairs, and frozen diners were a dead giveaway. Thinking back, he'd met a few of them over meals on the train earlier. They were an interesting and diverse bunch of people, all brought together in a single meal. It was vaguely inspiring, and it gave him something to think about other than his recent act of murder.
His temporary set of memories were actually quite useful to delve around in for the moment. He knew vaguely how the freezing system worked, and he had a general idea of how things were laid out. At the moment, he was near the middle of the train, in one of the dining cars. The classier cars were near the front, with most of the service areas between there and him, positioned for the fastest response times for those people who paid more.
Lloyd opted to go towards the front of the train- the service areas were the most likely to have any sort of useful tools or weapons, and even though he had the gun he'd used to shoot and kill Dekowin, he wasn't keen on thinking much about it. He concerned himself more with the others- having them get ahold of weapons and things wouldn't be good, so he should, he reasoned, try to stop them.
Besides, he hadn't had a chance to pick up his towel before the end of the last round, and even though he'd originally stolen it to ruin a plot, he'd come to recognize their usefulness.
Karen's last few seconds of memory seemed to blur together, but not metaphorically. Just as she ploughed her sword through the abdomen of an unfortunate specimen, something connected with her face. All she could see was an odd crème blur surrounding her face. Her first thoughts were to burn it, burn it, and burn it. Her second thoughts were worried it was on of the infection forms trying to kill her. Her third thoughts were telling her... that something smelled like strawberry and watermelon.
And then she couldn't move. Her skin tingled as if a wave of static had made her hair stand on end, and for Goosebumps to pop up everywhere.
So, someone died then?
After hearing the announcement, Karen slammed sideways into a wall. She instantly tore the blinding object from her face, and didn't even realise she was throwing her third fireball towards it before she noticed it had been Lloyd's towel. She looked around, not for the scenery, just to make sure nobody had seen her embarrass herself. She picked the towel from the floor, noting the small brown hole and the singed corners, and stashed it into a pouch. She might have to give it back to Lloyd, but maybe not. She wasn't especially fond of him at the best of times. She let down with herself, knowing that someone had died even though she had promised. But deep down she knew that the bigger picture had to come first. She never understood the one versus many argument. Eventually there wouldn't be a many to compare to, then what decides who lives and who dies? In here it was skill and the urge to survive.
Her urge just didn't exist for herself was all.
She finally noticed she was in a fancy looking train car. A soirée was the best word to describe what had been going on before these upper class... creatures had been frozen. They all looked like things Karen was used to in her game. Strange mixes of things she could recognise, with the odd unidentifiable thing thrown in. What looked like a human actually had small lines at certain parts, so Karen assumed it was some sort of android.
They were all dressed what she assumed was their own tastes for fancy. She couldn't really compare her tastes with alien creatures after all. She was more into "practicality" than style. She moved between the crowds, seemingly shrinking to get past the clustered patrons. Years of living tucked away from society really came in handy for these kinds of situations. She was sure nobody else in the battle could get out of a party faster than her. On the bright side, her arm felt a lot better now. It still stung, so as soon as she found a larger opening in the crowd, she tool a roll of bandaging out from on of her miscellaneous pouches and started bandaging herself. They had a healing effect in-game, something she could explain as "It feels like how cherries taste", and assumed it would at least take some pain away. When she reached her wrist with the roll, she decided to bandage her knuckles with several layers laid flat onto each others, in case she ever needed to punch something without breaking her hand. Satisfied, she stored the remainder of the roll and reached the exit to the next car. She stared out of a side window into the nothingness, wondering, "Why build a realm of nothing, just for something to happen there?"
Last edited by Drakenforge; 09-24-2010 at 03:26 PM.
Last edited by bobthepen; 10-27-2010 at 11:53 PM.
Walking through the cars was eerie. Not because of how quiet and empty the hallways were as the train clacked on, apparently unaware that there was probably nobody to steer it, but because of those few times Sarika would actually run into a passenger, who were more often than not extremely bizarre and usually taking up more than half of the passage so that there was no choice but to push through them. The first time she had to do that, she was completely surprised she could pass through them and extremely disturbed. By the fifth time, she still couldn't get used to it. It really didn't help that they kept so still.
The bird woman passed quickly by all the side doors, not exactly wanting to walk into any more awkward situations. The doors were probably all locked anyways and even if they weren't, there was probably nothing useful at all. A hefty suitcase perhaps, full of strange clothing that could fit the odd proportions of the various aliens.
Then she reached the end of the car and her first obstacle. Yet another vaguely humanoid being was leaning against the door, engaging in an activity which Sarika assumed to be the equivalent of yawning. In fact, it may have been asleep. It was hard to tell under all the fur. She eyed the claws nervously even though they couldn't possibly hurt her.
Taking a deep breath as though she were diving under water, Sarika walked right through and grabbed the door. That was when she found out it was locked.
She jumped out of the frozen alien, shivering and coughing, wondering why the hell the door would be locked. Still feeling lightly like she had just gone through a cold slime bath, she tried to peer out the window. She couldn't see much at the awkward angle, but she could definitely see that the train continued on in this direction. Weren't passengers allowed to go between cars? Or was this a restricted one?
Whatever was behind the door, she had to get through.
She stared nervously at the door. She wasn't keen on breaking any more bones, and obviously just charging at it was just asking for just that. And she didn't have enough confidence in her staff to use it to knock the door down. She glanced around, hoping to find something that could possibly work as a battering ram, but she was quite sure that most anything that was large would be bolted down.
She stared at the lock. It sure looked breakable.
Standing off to the side, avoiding the alien as much as she could, Sarika aimed carefully and swung. She swung again. And again.
Apparently it wasn't quite breakable.
With a sigh, Sarika rested and shook her arm before kicking the door in frustration. She was completely caught off guard when the door swung open and she stumbled out, through the alien again (ugh) and onto the walkway between cars.
She suddenly remembered the fact that there was literally nothing outside the train and panicked a little before she realized that she was still well and alive. Apparently the train's creators had the forethought to protect their passengers as they walked between cars and had surrounded the walkway with a transparent, airtight, flexible tarp-sort-of thing. She had no idea why they made it transparent if there was nothing to see. She stared out and shivered again for a completely different reason before moving on to the next car. It was also locked, but a few knocks with her staff managed to force it open. Somehow.
She walked right through another person. Why were there all these people near doors. That's just annoying. Sarika shivered again and looked around at this supposedly restricted car. If she was hoping to find some dirty secrets, she was sorely disappointed. The room was fancy-looking, yes, but it seemed it was only a meeting room for a bunch of businessmen. Or, rather, businessthings. They were discussing something or another. Sarika tried peering over their shoulders at the table that was covered in paper but couldn't understand anything it said. So she moved on to the next door but suddenly paused and turned around again.
She thought she heard ticking. But listening now, she couldn't hear anything. It was just as silent as you would expect. She wondered if she was really being much too paranoid and walked through yet another alien (uuuugh). The door shut behind her so that she couldn't notice a briefcase that sat beside a horned alien sitting in a tub of goo. The briefcase was particularly interesting because, after a few long seconds, it ticked.
But that is something to talk about later on. For now, Sarika entered the next car (passing through a giant dog-alien thing, to her irritation). This car wasn't too interesting as well. There was at least one interesting thing about it, though. And that was Karen, who had been startled enough by the movement that she had whipped around, hands raised. Sarika had been startled enough to raise her staff (which, she couldn't help but notice, was woefully inadequate for this situation, that is, going against a person with a very sharp sword and fire magic).
The two stared at each other for a moment before slowly lowering their weapons of choice, recognizing the other as an ally. This didn't lighten the tension one bit. Both found it a little hard to think of some sort of conversation starter.
"Hi," Karen said.
"Hi," Sarika replied.
Marcus passed through a short connecting hallway to the next car. He found himself in what looked to be a dining car, complete with a lightly stocked bar. There were only a few patrons, eating greasy food and drinking beverages that Marcus assumed to be beer equivalents. Their attention was directed to a small view screen mounted on the wall. It seemed to be showing some sort of sport involving a number of large persons chasing a ball around a large spherical stadium, riding some sort of small, floating platforms and swinging what looked to be large clubs at one another. Marcus stopped to watch for a moment, reflecting that the bar patrons might be somewhat upset when they awakened to find they had missed a large portion of the game. He couldn’t really tell, but he thought the ones in the blue shirts were winning. Marcus returned to his examination of the room.
At one end of the bar, a smallish creature with one-too-many teeth was frozen in mid-bite, eating something that looked… not very thoroughly cooked, to say the least. The bartender/cook was standing next to some sort of cooking implement, watching through the small window at something that had already finished cooking, from the looks of things. Marcus also noted with distaste that the bartender was using his fourth arm to scratch himself. I don’t think I’ll be eating here…
Away from the others sat a young woman with no discernable facial features aside from a mouth. Marcus stepped a little closer, feeling a mixture of curiosity and unease. On the table before her stood a spherical glass of water, secured to the table somehow and sealed with a lid. Her posture was ramrod straight, one arm extended stiffly to scribble on a napkin with a pen. Leaning forward a bit, Marcus found that she was writing. “Free me kill me free me kill me free me kill me…” Over and over again it repeated, in tiny, perfectly neat lettering. Hmm. That’s cheerful.
Marcus turned and began moving towards the exit. He’d had quite enough of this particular location. He limped to the door, listening for a second before opening it. He opened it, aiming his shotgun down the corridor. The door on the opposite end was probably very intimidated. He moved on, cautiously entering the next car. Aha! This looked useful. At first glance it looked to be a regular passenger car, until he noticed the displays embedded in the back of each chair at about torso-height. Most of the chairs were filled, and the passengers were almost all manipulating the displays in some way, be it with claws, hands, tentacles, or… um… whatever that was. Marcus wasn’t quite sure, and wasn’t going to take a closer look.
He limped over to one open seat bordering the aisle, and sat down. Glad to have the weight off of his leg, he took a closer look at the screen. Currently it displayed a list of what looked to be languages. Most of the symbols on the screen were completely incomprehensible. Touching the screen, he found he could scroll up and down. Finally, he found some languages printed in letters that looked vaguely familiar, which he thought were old-earth languages. He scrolled down through them until he found something he could actually read. “Galactic common?” Well, they got the name wrong, but that’s definitely ImpCom. Let’s take a look.
He tapped it, and the screen showed a welcome screen.
“Welcome, BUSINESS CLASS PREMIUM traveler! Thank you for choosing Infinity Express, the only choice for trans-dimensional transportation! We hope you are enjoying your trip today, whether it’s a regular commute or a well-earned vacation!
The tip of the day is: Don’t forget to buckle your seat-belt!
Please select an option from the following list:
1) Stop Schedule
2) Infinity Express Map
4) Call Attendant
5) Comments and Criticism
7) Log Out”
Marcus examined his options for a moment, ignoring the overly cheery tone of the greeting. On a whim, he tapped OverNet. Nothing. Call attendant. Negative. Stop Schedule? The screen displayed a blank table. He went back to the main menu and selected map. He had been expecting a map of the route, but was instead treated to a layout of the train. Hmm. According to the little “You Are Here!” dot, he was still fairly far back on the train. Some of the labels were somewhat surprising, with cars such as “Ballroom” and “Library” and “The Void Lounge” being just a few. He looked for anything really fun, like a security room or perhaps an armory. If there were any on the train, they weren’t listed on the map. He didn’t see anything that looked like a medical car or what have you, though a few cars were labeled as having first-aid stations (which seemed prudent, considering the sharp turns the train seemed to make occasionally.)
Marcus logged out, reluctantly standing up once more. His leg wasn’t getting any better, and that chair was really comfortable. Grumbling under his breath he began moving towards the exit, Marcus was caught off guard as the train made a sharp turn upward. He was knocked off of his feet, which did nothing to improve his demeanor. He got up, grimacing as he used his bad leg. He moved to the door, opened it, and moved on.
Last edited by GreyGabe; 10-28-2010 at 11:37 PM.
Lillian’s eyes darted from side to side, not wishing to lock onto the creature before her. However, from the moment they had first met, a question begged to be asked. She had put it off long enough, though, and curiosity finally got the better of her.
“Excuse me, but…are...” Lillian stammered, “Are you a fairy?”
“What?” the disdain present in Dekowin’s snarled reply would have coerced an apology out of a more timid child, but Lillian had already broken through apprehension and began blurting out as rapid an explanation as her nervous lips could muster.
“Well you see,” she spouted, “I’ve heard a lot of stories about girls like myself…well not quite like myself, who go out into the world and face lots of dangers…though not quite like these…and sometimes they are helped by these friendly creatures called fairies who remind me of you…though not quite.”
The insult, though unintentional, was too much for Dekowin to bear. Instantly, her carapaced hand snatched the young girl’s wrist as she brought her glaring face in line with Lillian’s startled gaze.
“Listen very carefully child,” Dekowin hissed, “I am a VOL-KHAN-BET, not some ‘friendly creature’ to help you on your little journey. I am a warrior and royalty and I’d destroy you for such an insult if you weren’t so beneath me.”
She paused. Tears were welling up in Lillian’s eyes. Disgusted, Dekowin threw off her hold on the girl’s arm and turned back to face the computer console.
“If I had known you were as stupid as you were a coward, I’d have let you fall into that pit.”
“But you didn’t!” Dekowin snapped around to see the teary Lillian’s face flushed red. “You didn’t let me fall, you saved me! And the spirit says that you don’t really want to hurt me which is why it didn’t strike at you! So you are friendly in your own way and you do have very lovely wings just like a fairy so it’s not stupid for me to think that maybe you might be one! Especially since so many things here are not at all what I’ve expected them to be and…” Lillian clamped her mouth shut, doing her best to stay the flood of tears.
The Volkahnbet studied Lillian, the stubborn little girl, clenching her small fists, holding back her tears. It occurred to Dekowin that in a strange way this girl was not entirely unlike herself many years ago. She tilted her head towards the young girl, and with a single word she sighed:
She turned once more to the computer console and began working on solving whatever puzzle it presented, all the while ignoring the tiny sobs behind her.
Lillian continued crying. She had not stopped since the others had started fighting back in that final room. The terrible sounds of hundreds of gnashing, squirming creatures all intent on devouring those eight intruders had terrified Lillian but not to the point of tears. Even in the midst of that convulsing chaos, the blaring sirens, the wretched smells, the monsters flooding in from all directions, a calm remained over the small girl. She knew the situation was dire, but she had trust in those with her. Sarika’s comforting embrace and Dekowin’s focused fury as she slashed through countless creatures filled Lillian with the confidence that all would be well in the end. Even the others, Lloyd, Marcus, Karen, though Lillian did not know their names had each shown that they were trustworthy in their own way. (Charlie and Roderic, though present at the battle, were too alien for Lillian to recognize them as any different from the automated drones or furious natives of that terrible complex.) With all of these friends and allies, Lillian knew that somehow, they would all stay safe.
Then there was the gunshot. There had been many of them but this one carried with it a different weight. Something about the direction, the quality, or the intent, told Lillian that something very wrong had just occurred. Dekowin had ceased fighting the hoard before her and turned to face Marcus. They charged one another and with a sickening crack, one of Dekowin’s wings shattered like glass. Shocked, Lillian cried out for them to stop, but her small voice was drowned out by the turbulence of the room. She watched as a second shot, fired by Lloyd, decimated another of the Volkhanbet’s wings. Fear flooded Lillian, a fear she could not understand. The blanket of security and comfort which she had cloaked herself in was torn to tatters as further shots rendered Dekowin helpless.
She yelled out again and again, tears streaming down her face, but the only response was more terrible shots, the final, beautiful wings shattering. Tears blurring her vision, Lillian clenched her eyes shut and curled up against her knees. She stayed there as the final shot took Dekowin’s life, and as the world warped and changed about her, placing her on the train, alone.
Eventually, Lillian’s disbelief at what had happened faded away, and the fear which plagued her took shape.
“Why, Spirit?” Lillian asked between sobs, “Why did they have to do that? She wasn’t a mean person. You told me she wasn’t a mean person. Neither were the others. She didn’t deserve for that to happen to her, Spirit! Why did that have to happen to her? I don’t understand, please Spirit…”
But the Spirit said nothing.
Death was not a concept with which Lillian was unfamiliar, but it had always a very quiet, private occurrence. Lillian had attended a few funerals in her eight years, always some relative or family friend who she had never quite gotten to know and who, in their private quarters of their own home had passed away under unspoken circumstances.
Lillian had once given a eulogy at a funeral, a fact which she had previously been quite proud of. A neighbor’s cat, one ‘Mr. Wumbles’, who had been an excellent mouser in his day, had been found, deceased, outside of the family’s shed and promptly put into a small box for burial. Lillian’s friend, Allison, had never been one for words, and, appropriately devastated at the loss of her dear ‘Wumble-bumble’, asked Lillian to guide the ceremony.
The event proceeded as planned. Lillian’s demeanor was as grave and solemn as the occasion demanded. The eulogy was read directly from a large volume taken from the family study. None of the children present at the event really understood the work, but the language was verbose enough and Lillian’s tone serious enough that they all believed no adult could have performed much better.
Yet despite all of the seriousness and ceremony around the funeral, Lillian had always pictured the actual death of Mr. Wumbles as a quiet, voluntary event where the plump pet, having grown so full of catching mice decided it was time for it to move on to whatever world awaited it beyond. It had been a peaceful event, a fulfilling event, nothing at all like what she had just witnessed.
Dekowin was not taken quietly. She was not taken willingly. She did not fade peacefully. Her death was a gruesome, frightening, terrible betrayal of how the world should work.
“Is this the world, Spirit?” Lillian sniffled behind gritted teeth, “Full of terrible and hideous things? Where people die in awful ways when they never deserved it? I can’t…I hate this place spirit. I wish I had never left the township. I just want to go back. I…”
The young girl’s sobs returned, drowning out her words as she clutched her knees closer to her small body.
All the while, the spirit said nothing.
When the contestants were deposited onto the Infinity Express, Lillian, by either unseen guidance or unseen fortune, was snugly placed against the wall of one of the train’s many storage cars. Pressed against her left was a large, well secured wooden crate, and on her right sat a cold, metallic plate, supported over a pair of tiny wheels with small latches locking them into place. In the same car, standing slightly to her left, an immobile cargo hand grimaced with strained muscles and outstretched arms. On the floor behind him sat a wooden container whose contents had spilled out when the cargo-hand, lifting the heavy load, suddenly contracted a severe case of intangibility. Due to whatever timeline this epidemic followed, the gravity of the train then brashly pulled the container to the floor, scattering its contents, a variety of silverware, across the room. As the train jerked from side to side, the silverware tinkled and clattered about while Lillian remained snug and oblivious to the rocking of her new interuniversal transport.
She would have, most likely, remained oblivious for some time and would have, most likely, having grown tired of crying and tired of worrying and tired of questioning, sought out that respite of dreamless sleep and would have slept for quite a while had it not been for the curious sound that then emanated from the metal panel sitting next to her.
The sound was low and drawn and could have easily been mistaken for one of the many rumbling sounds one hears on a train, but something about its quality, its fullness, caught Lillian’s attention as she peeked her head up from behind her arms and turned it toward the metal board.
“Are you crying, child?”
Lillian jerked. The question was asked in the same deep and sluggish tone as the noise before it, but the very fact that it was a question, and thereby came from a person, and thereby a stranger, was enough to startle Lillian out of her tear-flooded sorrow. She glanced about a bit before answering, briefly noticing the frozen cargo-boy, the smattering of silver, and the small locked wheels which supported the large metal plate from which the stranger had addressed her behind. Had Lillian not been so upset at the time, she would have attempted to be more polite in her response. She had always been taught that it was very rude to blubber in front of stranger and for someone to catch her at her blubberingest was highly embarrassing. Instead, she spoke as frankly as she could.
“Yes I am! I am crying!” She shouted at the metal board, “but it’s for a very good reason and I don’t wish to talk about it!”
“Hmmmm,” the stranger responded, “That’s nice…”
Lillian waited for the stranger to continue, because, as you may have noticed, whenever someone says they ‘don’t wish to talk’ about something, they oftentimes mean quite the opposite. To Lillian’s surprise, however, the stranger never ventured to inquire any further. All Lillian heard was the clatter of silverware on the floor, occasionally accompanied by a low, satisfied “hmmmm” of the stranger, a sound, Lillian thought, very similar to the type of sound one makes after just waking up from a pleasant dream.
At this point, all Lillian really wanted to do was return to her blubbering, but now that she knew that someone was listening, regardless of how ambivalent they seemed, there was no way that she could ever bring herself to a good and proper cry. So, reluctantly and half-heartedly, Lillian rose from her tiny nook and walked around to the other side of the metal plank, in order to greet the stranger.
The creature Lillian saw before her was nothing at all like what she had expected. If she had to describe its appearance, she would have likened it to a bullfrog who, upon learning to move and speak like a human, decided to eat like a human, and ended up swallowing an orange much too large for it’s belly. Indeed the creature had a very frog-like face, with small, shut eyes resting on the top of its head and a wide slit of a mouth that stretched from one corner of the creature’s face to the other. The mouth, closed, and slightly upturned towards the ends, gave the creature a look of perpetual contentedness. The creature was sitting in what seemed like a very uncomfortable metal chair with tiny wheels on the base, and did in fact have a large orange gut, nearly spherical in shape which jutted out from the rather scrawny back. Even while sitting, the creature was about half a foot taller than Lillian, and while its legs were obscured by a drab blanket, Lillian supposed it would have a rather imposing stature should it decide to stand up.
Despite the creature’s foreign appearance and intimidating size, Lillian hardly felt afraid while facing it, partly because the young girl had been draining her emotions but primarily because there was not a hint of a threatening nature in the creature’s somber grin, nor did the Spirit give Lillian any warnings. For a while, Lillian waited awkwardly for the creature to notice her, but the creature seemed to remain as oblivious of her has she had of it when she first arrived. Eventually she decided that if she was ever going to get back to curling up and sobbing herself to sleep, she would have to get acquainted with this stranger so that at the very least it might take courtesy enough to leave, or at least somewhat understand why such an emotional display was necessary. In any case, her greeting, despite the extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary company, was relatively ordinary.
“Hello,” she spoke, “I’m Lillian. What is your name?”
The creature inhaled slowly and deeply in response to her question. Its eyes opened gradually, revealing dark, black circles which reflected Lillian’s tired visage.
“Hmmmmmm…” the creature spoke with the same slow, paced, tone, “My name is Burden. At least that is what they call me. So it must be my name.”
The creature’s grin grew even wider, as if it had just made a very clever joke, and was quite proud of itself.
“‘Burden’?” Lillian asked, “That doesn’t sound like very a encouraging name. Why would anyone call you that?”
The creature responded. Every syllable was long and low with the end of each statement trailing off as if at the end of a yawn.
“I have a disease.”
Instinctively, Lillian covered her mouth and nose with her hands and said with a worried, muffled tone, “I do hope you cover your mouth when you cough.”
“Not that kind of disease,” Burden smiled as Lillian slowly lowered her hands, “The kind you’re born with. You see…I dream.”
Lillian tilted her head, “Are you not supposed to dream?”
“I am supposed to dream. That is why I dream. The others dream too, but their dreams are different from mine.”
“How so?” Lillian asked, her curiosity temporarily pushing aside her weariness, “What do you dream about?”
“Wonderful things. Wonderful Places. The others dream about them as well, but mine are far more real.”
“I can hardly see how having nice dreams is a disease.”
At this the creature let out a long sigh, so long that it made Lillian wonder if her comment had offended it, and it simply chose not to respond.
“Hmmmmmmm,” it finally continued, “I dream well, but I do not live well. I am never fully here, always somewhere else. When the dreams become more real, I become less real. The world passes right through me. I cannot speak. I cannot move. I can only dream.”
“You seem to be speaking and moving quite well from what I can see,” Lillian stated, “though you do seem awfully drowsy. Maybe you could use a good nap.”
“Nap?” replied Burden, “but I’ve never had so much energy.”
Burden’s gaze shifted from Lillian and towards the other places in the room. In its eyes, Lillian noticed, sat a lucid reflection of whatever the creature chose to focus on, first, Lillian, then the box and silverware, eventually resting on the immobile cargoboy.
“Hmmmmm, he is dreaming too.”
Lillian, uncertain as to Burden’s meaning, decided that now was as good a time as any to ask the seemingly friendly creature to allow her some privacy for a few moments.
“Excuse me but…”
“Hmmmmm,” Burden interrupted, “Are you on a journey, child?”
“Ah, I,” the unexpected question took Lillian aback, “I suppose that I am yes.”
She had not given much thought to the idea of the adventure and journey since facing the death of Dekowin. In reality, she simply wished to push the entire ordeal behind her, and all the memories and people tied with it. There was one she did wish to see again, the kind Sarika, whose eyes never quite looked at you, but always at something beyond, but Lillian did not even know where Sarika was, or where she was herself for that matter. She knew, she had gotten here, however, by falling asleep and supposed she could return the same way.
But then there was Dekowin. Dekowin would never return to her home, never get to see the other volkhanbets or fairies or whatever was familiar to her. Lillian would never get to speak with her again, never have the chance to get to know her more, to learn about her home and life and lessons. If only she could have said goodbye, or had spoken one more time. If only.
“You have lost something, child,” Burden said, a tinge of sadness in its tone as the dark reflective eyes took in the weary girl.
“Then I will help you find it.”
Before Lillian could protest or explain to the large, drowsy creature how such a thing was impossible, Burden smoothly rose up from his seat. The blanket covering his lap dropped to the ground, as his legs, long and spindly raised his head up to just a foot below the ceiling of the cabin. A long, three-fingered hand extended outwards towards Lillian. She glanced back at her small nook and the overly dull room and then up at the tall frog-like creature named Burden who talked of dreams and seemed very kind, too kind, perhaps to possibly understand what this small child had gone through. Something about the creature’s smile, however, was far more comforting than the idea of falling asleep with nothing but tears for company. The Spirit made no objections and as it seemed the natural thing to do, Lillian took the hand, and walked with Burden, out through the cargo room door.
Last edited by bobthepen; 11-03-2010 at 11:09 AM.