The Monitor was ready.
His contestants had been selected. He had prepared a special room for this occasion, as it was also to serve as a demonstration of his newly-completed device.
He held out a book he had just printed out. It was called, "The Waiting Room". A large claw-arm crawled across the ceiling, and placed it on a table in the center of the auditorium.
Then he pressed a button.
In an instant, seven beings appeared around the auditorium, all facing the center. The Monitor's voice spoke.
"Greetings, combatants. Welcome to the second Intense Struggle. Eight fighters from around the multiverse will be sent to arenas of my choosing in a battle to the death."
He paused, as a large device emerged from the ceiling.
"Now, those of you who possess the ability to count may have noticed that only seven contestants are present. That is because there is another reason I have brought you here. You will be the first beings to witness my latest creation."
A small sphere on the end of the device started glowing. A blue beam of light emerged from it, and struck the book.
The light shifted, and moved to an empty portion of the auditorium floor.
Slowly, an image of a man began to form in the light. After one minute, the blue beam vanished and the device retreated into its compartment in the ceiling. A spotlight turned on, highlighting the new arrival. He looked around, rather confused. It was as though something didn't feel quite right.
The Monitor spoke once more.
"This is Lloyd Conrad, also known as the Escapee. He learned he was in a book, and sought to escape. However, up until now, all of his escapes have been into other books, where he disguised himself as other characters. My device has allowed him to exist in the real world. His primary ability manifests when he is in a book - he is able to take on all skills and knowledge of the character he is portraying. However, he is also able to retain any knowledge he specifically commits to memory. It will be interesting to see if that aids him here."
The spotlight moved around the auditorium. A small girl of ten was now visible.
"Of course, you must all be introduced to your other competitors, as Mr. Conrad is not the only entrant in this battle. This young lady is Lillian Finch. The talisman on her wrist houses a kindred spirit which seeks to protect her from harm."
The spotlight shifted, and a young woman in a black dress with short black hair and a large sword on her back was standing beneath.
"This is Karen. She plays a game called Legends of Fate, in which her mind is transferred into the body of a computerized avatar, which closely resembles her real body. I discovered how to bring such an avatar here in the process of creating the device that has allowed Mr. Conrad to join us, and so I decided to enter one of the most skilled players of the game into this battle."
As the spotlight moved on, Karen reflected on her introduction. I guess it could be a fun scenario, she thought, but did they have to use that stupid meta joke?
The next combatant was a tall girl, who looked mostly human, but the black-and-white tone of her body, the exoskeleton she wore, and the six dragonfly wings on her back suggested there was more to the story.
"This is Dekowin. She is a Volkhanbet - they are a self-evolving artificial race. That exoskeleton has powerful retractable claws, and of course the wings allow her to fly. She can also make her spit acidic if she so desires. She is a very skilled warrior, you would do well to observe her with caution."
The light moved to a winged girl wearing goggles and a mask in the shape of a hawk, holding a staff with the aid of thin metal arms attached to her wings.
"Next, Sarika, a prophetess and former officer of the law. Despite what her appearance may suggest, she cannot fly, but she has exceptional jumping abilities. She has also been granted immunity to such petty concerns as hunger and aging by her gods. In addition, she has the power to see the future. When she blinks, she can switch between viewing the future and viewing the present. That staff is also an effective blunt weapon."
The spotlight moved to a strange robot, which looked almost like a heavily-armed three-legged chair.
"This is a hunterbot, serial number CH4-12-L13. Also known as 'Charlie'. In addition to its range of weaponry and armored exterior, it is capable of camouflaging itself and of walking across magnetic surfaces. It should be noted that Charlie's top priority at the moment is assassinating someone who is currently in another dimension, and it takes its missions very seriously. Who can say what it will do?"
The spotlight moved to a pale, muscular man in an armored suit. He almost looked like a neanderthal.
"This is Marcus White, a mercenary. He has been cybernetically enhanced, and so can push the human body to its limits. Do not be fooled by his near-primitive appearance - he is actually quite intelligent."
The spotlight then moved to the final combatant. It appeared to be an enormous floating rose bush.
"Finally, this odd-looking creature is Reudic Otsaceae, a viridioflorian. It has developed two mutations which make it unusual even for its own species - it can create illusions and has the capacity for mind control. As for the abilities more natural for its species, it can tangle you in its thick vines and slowly digest you, although it appears to me that some of you will be harder to digest than others."
The spotlight vanished entirely.
"Now that you have been introduced to your opponents in this battle, it is time to begin the first round."
There was a strange sensation, and soon, all the contestants found themselves alone, in small rooms with empty glass tanks. There were spots of green fluid on the floor.
The Monitor's voice spoke.
"Welcome to Training Facility ONX-5. Here, artificial life forms are created, and able to control their own evolution. This facility then tests their capacity to survive, often by pitting them against each other in battle. I felt it was suitable to use it to test you, as well. The doors in front of you will lead to a series of corridors filled with obstacles. You may also encounter each other as you advance. I believe it would be optimal for entertainment and gathering data if you made it to the point where you will all meet before killing anyone, but that choice is ultimately yours."
There was a brief pause.
"I should note that there are already creatures being tested in this facility, hence why the containment tanks near you are all empty. You might encounter them along the way. This facility is controlled by a computer, but it is a trivial task for me to keep its attention away from you for the duration of this round."
The Monitor did not mention that he would not necessarily continue to do so for the entire round. He had to leave some surprises, after all.
Leftmost corridors: Lillian and Sarika
Middle-left corridors: Marcus and Dekowin
Middle-right corridors: Reudic and Charlie
Rightmost corridors: Lloyd and Karen