I am now confident enough in my plans to make a reserve
this could be the last one before the deathpost
5 seconds to doomsday:
Benjamin Jetsam’s brain turned on to find itself stuck in emergency broadcast mode: bright colors in vertical bars. He looked up to see a military base up off in the distance. Fighting all around. He was bleeding. He rubbed some blood out of his eye and blinked to find the military base had been replaced by a bright flash of all-consuming white light...
46 minutes to doomsday:
The helicopter touched down and two soldiers stepped out. Tengeri didn’t recognize either of them, so she assumed they must be Tor and Jetsam. She nodded, and to her chagrin they ignored her, looking instead in Scofflaw’s direction.
“Tartan Tyrant,” said Tor, smirking.
“Gentlemen,” replied Scofflaw, doing a poor job of hiding his resentment. “So,” he said, addressing the group. “I’ve just signed off on this ludicrous plan that doesn’t involve simply killing someone and getting the hell out of here before we all die. I am doing this out of my long-term interests, and because, hell, look at us all together like this. I just wish my pet dinosaur were here to share in this moment.”
9 minutes 30 seconds to doomsday:
Kerak, commander of the rapidly-diminishing Chartreuse Company, made for the bubble of levitating water sticking out of a trench. “You’re terrible at being inconspicuous!” growled the Deinonychus, rolling awkwardly behind cover next to the Leviath.
“Yes, well, I seem to be terrible at a lot of things lately, Kerak!” shouted Tengeri over the sounds of gunfire. “I should have seen this coming.”
Kerak laughed, an uninviting and offputting sort of throaty cackle. “General Tengeri, I used to tell people that I knew the future. If anyone should have seen this coming, it’s me. Now, what do we do about it?”
The answer made Tengeri sick. “I’m immune to conversion by gunfire—mostly, anyway. I think I might be able to get past whatever he’s thrown up.”
Kerak nodded, his snout bobbing up and down excitedly. “Alright. This seems like a fair division of labor. My people team up with your people to fend off the Plaids. You go after Scofflaw.”
Tengeri took a deep breath of water and nearly choked. Despite her cybernetics’ best efforts, it was getting a bit muddy down here in the trenches.
25 minutes to doomsday
“Aaaaaaand that’s three. High five!”
TinTen had barely any idea what exactly it was that he had just put together. He was fairly sure that they weren’t bombs, but after that he just had to take Scofflaw’s word that they were “resonators” for the main nullifier, and would suffice to disable the nukes if placed in the three other bases. Being disgruntled with the idea of taking Scofflaw at his word, he opted not to indulge the villain’s high-five. “Huebert and self will take Green Base,” he volunteered. Huebert shrugged agreement. “Won’t be easy. Greens most powerful army by far with Kerak’s contingent.”
“Nah, it’ll be a picnic.” The Tartan Tyrant brought his hand out of high-five position in order to rub it together with the other one menacingly. “Thanks to you solving the color-neutralizer problem. Once I flick this switch, not only will no one in a hundred meters be able to shoot at you, they’ll lose the conditioning that makes them want to. While we save the world from annihilation, we’ll also be spreading free will. Cool, huh?” He seemed legitimately enthused.
“I’ll head to Yellow Base,” offered Velobo. “It’s farthest away and I can cover the ground fastest. Tor, that leaves you to take care of Blue Base.”
Tor shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here with the nullifier. Scofflaw’s going to Blue Base.”
“A, it’s the Tartan Tyrant,” retorted, y’know, that guy. “B, I bet you’d like that, but it’s my machinery and I need to be here in case something goes wrong with it.”
“Agreed,” said TinTen. “Captain Kajan, stay with Scofflaw. If resonators don’t work as said, something goes wrong, kill Scofflaw and start next round. Tengeri can take care of Blue. Right?”
“Oh, don’t be stupid,” piped in Jetsam. “I can’t tell if you’re all being deliberately insulting because I got left out of the fucking secret meetings for your supposed fucking... game... thing... Look. She’s got an army to run. I can put the disarmer thing on Blue Base for you. No problem.”
There was a moment of silence, broken by a sincere chuckle on the part of the Tartan Tyrant. “Check it out! They trust you less than they trust me!”
18 Minutes to Doomsday
“Alright,” said Scofflaw cheerily, looking at his wrist (he wasn’t wearing a watch). “All our birds are in the air and Tengeri’s army should be safely out of range by now, so we should be safe to set phasers to neutralize. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if this just didn’t work? I haven’t even tried this.”
Tor, choosing not to respond to that, scratched his head and cautiously watched Scofflaw fiddle with some dials. Then something blueredgreenyellow happened in his brain, making him feel momentarily nauseous. He panicked and lunged towards Scofflaw (the villain was betraying us/the Red Army/HER/Chartreuse Company/the Blue Army/the Plaid Platoon/me) but stopped short when the conflicting jumble of loyalties resolved itself into a soothing calm. The parts of his psyche that had been tainted Black had been stripped away. He was himself again.
Scofflaw, meanwhile, was clearly relieved to find his kilt still intact. “I was worried,” he confessed, “that neutralizing myself would put me back in my old Saint Scofflaw outfit. Ugly old thing.” He looked up at Tor. “You feeling alright? Need to use the bathroom, or the crematorium?”
Tor couldn’t think of anything to say except “Cu cordata.” It seemed to be enough to put the conversation on hold for a bit.
14 minutes til doomsday
Like being smothered by a dusty quilt, Jetsam felt plaid wash over him. It’s a hard sensation to describe. Bits of his brain bumped up against other bits of his brain and crackled and burned, only it wasn’t his brain, or there was something else there that was more real and permanent where the brain was just a squishy vessel he’d be vacating soon. Whatever that inner layer was—it still felt sort of reddish, but that wasn’t the truth of it either—this seemed to be the last straw. It removed itself from the process and let the poor Lieutenant Anzhi fend for himself.
In other words, while every other soldier in a radius of two hundred meters was enjoying a renewed sense of purpose and a nice breeze between their legs, Jetsam snapped.
The soldier next to him was dead before he hit the ground. When you’re out of your mind and want someone dead, it doesn’t matter whether or not your gun works. Your hands and feet and teeth just know what to do, as though guided by an unseen, unstoppable force.
17 minutes to doomsday
“Hey! You can actually talk now!”
“So I can.” The entirety of the Teal army outnumbered Chartreuse Company—very slightly—but Tengeri was no tactician. If this came to combat, she would lose her entire army. “Look, Kerak, is there any chance negotiations can wait twenty minutes? While you’ve been off playing war, the rest of us have been trying to avert the apocalypse.”
Kerak growled. “What, you haven’t taken care of that already? What do I pay you people for?”
“Don’t worry! We’re on it. Although if there’s any way you could get to TinTen and help him get into Green Base—“
“You need to infiltrate Green Base?”
“We need to infiltrate all the bases.”
The dinosaur’s tail twitched. “And if you can’t infiltrate all the bases, we all die?”
“Look, I know this looks bad, but I trust these people. Except Scofflaw. And Jetsam.”
“Jetsam!? Gods below, Tengeri, you—No. No, this is unacceptable. How’d you all talk each other into this? We need to kill someone and get to the next round.”
The Teal and Chartreuse soldiers started shifting back and forth nervously. If combat were to break out, the ones on the front lines could anticipate being converted several times before this was over, and that was never comfortable.
“That’s not going to happen, Kerak. There’s no need to panic—“
“Come on, Tengeri. Just radio Tor to take out one of the ones you don’t trust. Preferably Jetsam; Scofflaw and I go way back. For that matter, just tell me where he is, and I’ll take care of it.”
“Kerak. If we do what you say, and kill Scofflaw, and warp out of here—we’re the only thing standing between all these people and death. For their sake, we have to—“
“Last warning, snake.” Kerak’s voice took on a menacing, serious tone all of a sudden (privately, he called it his “oracle voice”). “Have one of the others killed, or I kill you.”
She had, what, fifteen minutes left before the nukes went off? Tengeri estimated she could probably hold him off until then, but it wouldn’t be pretty. She issued a silent prayer to her companions: Hurry up, guys. Then she turned her eyes back to Kerak. “Well then, I guess you’ll have to kill me.”
15 minutes til doomsday
“Fighting’s broken out between Teal and Chartreuse out on the battlefield,” reported Scofflaw. “I know this,” he confided, “Because I’ve tuned my dental fillings in to Kerak’s private radio frequency. Ever try turning a millimeter-wide dial using only your tongue? It’s awesome. Oh, but you’re not even listening, are you?” The Tartan Tyrant turned a disapproving eye upon the incandescent Tor-shaped mass writhing on the other end of the nullifier. “Can’t even make through one critically-important mission without needing to go out for a smoke. Christ. What do you think would happen if I peed on you right now?” Tor didn’t answer. “You’d probably enjoy it, you sick fuck. Alright, next question: what do you think would happen if I did... this?”
The nullifier was set to neutralize, broadcasting the energy frequencies of all four primary colors in perfect harmony and making it impossible for one color to dominate someone’s psyche. This struck the villain as terribly boring. He fiddled with the setting, cranking up red and green and staggering the broadcast in erratic pulses. “Come oooooooon work work work work work!” He cast an eye towards Tor, who was now stumbling to his feet as his body reshaped. The Telpori-Hal’s new skin looked... striped. “Captain Kajan,” Scofflaw said cautiously. “If you had a mind like mine, would you really waste it by trying to help people? Answer carefully now.”
Tor saluted, seeing no reason not to be honest. “Sir, absolutely I would, sir!”
18 minutes to doomsday
Jetsam almost, but didn’t quite, throw up. Something powerful and gray came out of the resonator and hit his brain, washing over the teal bits and bouncing up uncertainly against the red bits. He steadied himself against the Teal next to him—well, he wasn’t a Teal anymore. The white soldier shoved Jetsam off and looked down at his outfit uncertainly.
“What... what do I do now?” the White asked.
Jetsam’s head was still spinning. “Well,” he said. “If you want to help me save all your skins, come with me. If not, the war’s over for you. Go home.”
He stomped off, the nullifier tucked under his arm, hoping that whatever just happened wasn’t ever going to happen again.
13 minutes to doomsday
Sergeant Naamxe of the plaid platoon placed the resonator down on the floor in Green Base and remarked inwardly how small a thing it was, just a little metal cube without so much as an off button, and and how much it was going to change this war. Two hundred of his fellow Plaids were standing around in its defense and even if there had only been five of them they could have held off the entire Green Army, not to mention the nuclear holocaust it was staving off.
“Alright, half of you, you’re with us!” called Lieutenant Henderson. “We’ll be meeting up with the main force outside and attacking Kerak’s Chartreuse Company from the rear. The rest of you: if that box leaves that exact spot, I won’t even need to take your heads, cause they’ll be atomized, you hear?”
“Sir, yes, sir!” came the cry. It made Naamxe proud to be a part of this brave unit.
6 minutes to doomsday
Luckily for Tengeri, deprived of their guns these soldiers weren’t any better trained in melee combat than she was. Leaving her with the size advantage, and a lot of water, with which to fend off the superior numbers of the Plaid Platoon.
To her credit, she almost made it to the nullifier before the sight of a tartan-skinned Tor standing over the device knocked the tides out of her and she gave the enemy an opening. She took a riflebutt to the gills and another between the eyes and wound up flat on the dry floor wriggling in a pool of water.
“Tor,” Tengeri spat, struggling to reform her water supply. “Think for a minute. You’ve been brainwashed.”
Tor smirked. “Of course I’ve been brainwashed, Tengeri. I know that. But those are the rules. I’m wearing the colors, so I follow the orders. Don’t look down on me just because you’ve managed to counteract the effects.”
Tengeri attempted to move more than an inch off the floor and was warned against it by the several Plaids hovering over her. “Alright, fine. I suppose it’s too much to ask for a moment of self-awareness in which you break programming and set me free?”
“Nah. I made that work with a couple primary colors a while back, but they’d just been converted by gunfire. The nullifier’s stronger stuff, I think. I mean, my new purpose in life is written on my skin. See?”
“Yes, I see.” It occurred to her that there was more or less no way to get out of this unless she did what Kerak wanted and killed Scofflaw. It was a depressing thought. Either way: “I know your general, and he’ll want you to bring me to him. Where is he?”
“You’ll have to wait a little while,” yawned Tor. “The Tyrant’s out cleaning after a mess Jetsam made over in Blue Territory. He promised he’d be back by doomsday, so... five minutes?”
4 minutes to doomsday
The resonator was just sitting there in the middle of the mud. And it had been smashed to bits. The Tartan Tyrant almost tripped over it.
“Oh, God,” he moaned. “Guys!” he called out to his squadron, most of whom were too preoccupied fighting off Blues to pay any attention to their glorious leader. “We fucked up! Haul ass!”
A soldier dressed in blue approached. The Tyrant eventually caught on that it was Jetsam, not from the man’s utterly forgettable appearance, but from the way he was standing—some deranged combat stance that was rounding the bend from unmilitary to inhuman. Jetsam pointed, apparently no longer capable of speech.
The former Scofflaw countered Jetsam’s animality with a sort of sumo stance he’d perfected over years of trying to convince people that he had ever bothered to train himself in hand-to-hand combat. He had very large hands, and when he held them out in front of him in a certain way, it made whoever he was fighting imagine having their entire head grabbed all at once, their faces smothered in those sweaty palms. It would have given anyone in their right mind second thoughts about charging, but Jetsam wasn’t.
Luckily for the Tartan Tyrant, the wanderer found himself clotheslined by a very long, very plaid tongue. Velobo leapt down from seemingly nowhere to join his general, who would have hugged the little cube if he weren’t afraid of the sharp corners. “Velobo!” he called warmly over the sounds of warfare. “Or, uh, Major Calidad! What rank did I give you again?”
“Your orders didn’t specify,” replied Velobo, still a little glib beneath his formal servility. “Only that I be called ‘the Plaidzmuth.’”
“Right. Now, is Yellow Base secure, how the hell did you get here and can we get out of here the same way?”
“Yeah, about that.” The Plaidzmuth scratched his face (the face to the left of the face with his face on it). “The Benefactors told me they could drop me off wherever.”
8 minutes til doomsday
They’d just finished depositing the resonator in Yellow Base (easy as pie, because seriously, yellow? They aren’t even a real primary color!) when Velobo found himself teleported to a secluded location in the center of the battlefield.
“Honestly,” said the CEO, "we weren’t sure that was going to work."
“Our avatars go on the fritz when caught in your general’s conversion field,” explained the General. “Apparently we can still transport data in and out on a small scale, but we can’t interact with the generators themselves.”
“A ‘hi’ would suffice,” said Velobo, unimpressed by the Benefactors’ attempts to be enigmatic. “What gives? I thought you’d washed your hands of us.”
“Yes, well,” sighed the Politican. “Obviously the situation has changed.”
“We didn’t think you’d actually find a way to stop the reset,” said the General. “But by God, did you put a sledgehammer to that problem.”
“We’d just like to formally admit defeat,” the Scientist chimed in. “The smartest computer in the world has been rendered incapable of so much as long division by this invasion of... plaid... and it’s resisting all attempts to reset it. You know we can’t even cut off its power source?”
Velobo smiled. He’d did it. The Tartan Tyrant had saved the Battlefield. “So what now?” he asked the Four, confident to be on the winning side for once.
“Where we’re from, we’ve accumulated enough power to coast for a while without the aid of the system,” mused the CEO. “After which, we definitely all have enough money to retire. Go home, spend more time with our families.”
“That was our first thought,” added the General. “But it never really got past the drawing board phase. Now we’re thinking we can use you people, especially your Tartan Tyrant.”
“This guy—alongside the squid--shut down the world’s most complex computer on its own terms,” the Scientist stressed. “We don’t know what he did exactly—we don’t think he knows either—it’s like he created an entire branch of science that recoded the computer to make itself possible within the world of the battlefield.”
“And then he figured out a way to turn it into beer, which is brilliant marketing,” added the CEO.
“If we figure that out, we can use it,” said the Politician. “We can learn from the dinosaur’s tactics or the snake’s cybernetics.”
“Hell, I’d like a look at your anatomy,” joked the Scientist. “You’re a cube. Your mouth cavity takes up, like, thirty percent of your volume, and your tongue’s—“
“All we can do now is encourage you to stay the course,” interrupted the Politician. “Keep everyone alive. Stop the nukes. Conquer the Battlefield. Do whatever you want with it. Your job is to bring up to your general the idea of entering talks with us when the time is right. Can you do that, little cube buddy?”
“I don’t like you,” said Velobo, earnestly. “But I can’t account for the Tyrant. Of course I’ll relay everything I heard here.”
“You’re a real soldier,” said the general. “Company man to the last. I like that.”
“I like that too.” Before his conversion, Velobo would have hated himself for saying that and agreeing with it, which was why it was comforting and freeing to know that his thoughts were not his own. He couldn’t be held accountable for his actions, his desires, his every thought. What a wonderful way to live!
3 minutes to doomsday
In spite of everything, Chartreuse Company was still winning right up to the end.
Of course they were winning. The leader of Chartreuse Company wasn’t at all like Scofflaw. He was an everyman, a down-and-dirty type, willing to get in there and direct things from the ground. He inspired respect—no, love—from his men, not mere blind brainwashed obeisance. He was a goddamn dinosaur.
Kerak had personally torn out the throats of nearly fifty plaid soldiers and evaded conversion since the shit had hit the fan with Tengeri fifteen minutes ago. He was getting his confidence back. Of course they were going to all end up against him. He was different. He didn’t fit in with their technologized world. All he’d had to rely on—all his life—were his wits and his brother. They’d never understand that.
Since he’d caught sight of the squid from atop a hill a few minutes back, all dressed in plaid and fighting back-to-back with his friend, Kerak hadn’t been consciously aware that he was heading in that direction. But when he looked up from his latest meal he found himself staring down the barrel of what he had been led to understand was called a “plasma projector.” He’d seen what it did to people over the hill, and it wasn’t just a color change.
Kerak smiled. “I’d imagine your new general wouldn’t want me dead. That would undo all the progress we’ve done here.”
TinTen smacked the deinonychus on the temple with the big gun. “Correct,” said the meipi. “Similarly, illustrious commander of Chatreuse Company wouldn’t risk being labeled murderer next round, and would wait for Tengeri to kill Tartan Tyrant.” Kerak could almost see the squid smiling under his rebreather. “Which, in certain view, would be considered justified. So: no one dies; stalemate.”
That wasn’t precisely correct. Kerak glanced over at Huebert and wondered what would happen if he only killed one of the pair. “Alright,” he told TinTen. “Between the two of us, sure, it’s a stalemate. But here on the battlefield? My Chartreuse Company is unstoppable. Scofflaw’s little gambit, though I have a lot of respect for it, just isn’t going to work against me and my men. Let him send whoever.”
“Hmmph. One point of view. Huebert: show prisoner to Kerak.” Huebert whistled, and two Plaids emerged from behind a rock escorting a bound-and-gagged Green officer.
“You know the rules,” said Huebert, pointing his pistol at the general’s head. “If a plaid takes out the Green general, all the greens—every shade of green—are converted.”
Kerak growled. The brainwashed part of him—although, come to think of it, he had never explicitly been converted, only chosen to side with Green—felt an instinctive need to protect his commanding officer. And he didn’t want to become plaid. “If it’s as easy as that, then why haven’t you taken him out already?”
“Tyrant hypothesizes that conversion will lose effect without enemy to fight against. Until Plaid dictatorial rule fully established, wants to perpetuate wartime conditions to foster loyalty. Green, with most manpower, is obvious candidate. So, one-time offer: give self up, general is released to fight another day.”
“You’ll be one of us,” added Huebert, “Which, surprisingly, isn’t that bad. It’s not real mind control, we can still think and stuff, we just agree with everything he says now. You’ll be a high-ranking officer in charge of fighting this army you’ve just created. Sounds pretty fun to me.”
To Kerak it sounded like two rocks coming together on either side of his skull. What else could he do? He lunged at Huebert.
Just as he wrapped his teeth around those big, meaty shoulders, the first bolt of plasma hit him in the eye, rendering him half-blind. From the side he couldn’t see he heard the squid’s voice above the insistent whine of pain and the crackling noise of his scales burning. “Shouldn’t have attacked Huebert.”
Kerak rolled off Huebert—who cursed rather patronizingly—and laughed. “Haven’t we gone over this? Boss’s orders. You can’t kill me. Hurt me all you—aaaaaaagh—all you want. I’m not afraid.”
“As previously stated,” sighed TinTen. “Supposed ‘brainwashing’ left free will largely intact. Some things more important than orders. Shouldn’t. Have. Attacked. Huebert.”
The second bolt of plasma went right through his charred flesh and into his brain. The last thought that passed through his mind was the idea—or it was like a thousand ideas all at once—that everything he had ever lied about to everyone about himself and about the Gods and about everything might actually be true and he would never know it. The last image recorded on his remaining eye was of a bright, all-encompassing flash of light from the direction of Blue Base.
Last edited by Lord Paradise; 12-19-2011 at 01:54 AM.
The Fool stepped into his home dimension after taking care of some other business. He was completely unsurprised to find a floating screen waiting for him.
"Hello, Monitor," he said calmly. "What can I do for you?"
"You have taken my contestants," the robotic being on the screen said.
"So what? You have six more. Or has it gone down to five by now? Regardless, I can't believe you miss three of them that much."
"You are fortunate that I have matters of greater concern to attend to at the moment. That does not mean that I will turn a blind eye to your interference. This is your only warning."
The screen popped out of existence. The Fool smiled.
"Now, I suppose I should take another look at my own battle."
The surviving fighters found themselves high up in the air, with nothing beneath their feet. The Fool appeared before them.
"I'm impressed! I was hoping for an entertaining round in the Great Battlefield, and you surpassed my expectations. I can hardly wait to see what you do with this new round." He looked over his shoulder. "Oh, but it seems that we're a bit early; it hasn't arrived yet. I'll have to advance the clock, bear with me."
He snapped his fingers. The combatants remained frozen, but the clouds around them began to move.
And then there was a flash of light from below, followed by a loud noise. A massive mechanical fortress flew up to their level, and then stood still.
"This is Caelo Ruinam," the Fool said, gesturing to the fortress. "It's a flying fortress created by an ancient civilization, filled with wonders of both magic and technology. It's under new management as of about ten minutes ago, and what's more..."
The Fool's speech was interrupted as a massive beam of light shot out from the bottom of the fortress. The Fool turned everyone's eyes towards the ground below to witness the ensuing explosion.
"As I was saying, it possesses a fearsome weapon, which the fortress' new owners have just turned on their enemies down there." The Fool turned his combatants' eyes back towards himself. "Oh, don't worry, they'll survive; it wouldn't be a very exciting final battle between good and evil if the villains destroyed the heroes before they even got close. I'd wager they're already planning an assault on this place. Probably with an airship or a flying dragon or something. Business as usual for this sort of world, really."
The Fool snapped his fingers. The combatants reappeared within the corridors of Caelo Ruinam.
"Or at least, it was until you all arrived. Enjoy yourselves!"
"This is perfect! Just the type of challenge that SIR DORUKOMETS has been waiting for."
"Ja, monsters, und traps, und all sorts of dangers, are you sure that we are powerful enough for this?"
"What a ridiculous question, Gimeri! Dorky is ready for anything and everything that this mucky old fortress can bring him."
"Yes, it is as Tykidu says! ONWARD ENTOURAGE OF SIR DORUKOMETS, together we shall find the Gauntlet of Genko! Then, we will defeat those pesky adventurers and that villainous swine once and for all!"
In the moments after appearing in an odd corridor of the Caelo Ruinam, Velobo didn't know what to think. He had been betrayed. In all honesty, that wasn't surprising, he had been assigned to watch Tart-, Scofflaw for a reason after all. That wasn't really what had hurt him most. He was controlled.
True, he was just following orders, something that was mandatory on The Battlefield, but he still he felt like he should have done something to stop himself, like he tried to do with the groups of soldiers he met. But no. Ultimately, the thing that was eating him up was not what he did, but what he didn't do.
"I just followed along, without acting on my thoughts, just a tool, his Plaidsmuth," that last word was spit out, incomprehensible to anyone who would have heard, "It was like... like I was one of them..."
Velobo leaned his cubular body against a wall, thinking back on his race, the other Plazmuths left to fend for themselves in his absence. Where they successful? Could they have earned their freedom without him? As he thought of his short time on the Muer Moon, he couldn't help but dwell on the words of the Benefactors when they first showed themselves to him. They called him an anomaly. Is that what he truly was?
Before he could dwell on this further he was stirred from his meditation by a shout.
"Oh man Dorky that was amazing! You sure showed that golem who was boss!"
"Yus, yus that was mag-ni-fi-co."
Velobo looked out of his little outcropping to see what the sources of these words were. He was firstly surprised to see a large humanoid man with six arms clad in lavish armor that didn't look very protective. With the exception of the helmet, boots, and chest plate, it was mostly chains that emphasized his large biceps, muscles, and abs. On his back was an absurd amount of weapons held by a series of straps and scabbards.
Behind him, speaking in a flowery accent was an octopus, dark purple in color. She or at least Velobo supposed it was a she, floated a little as her tentacles swung around. She also had two golden eyes and a red flower on her head. Riding on top of her, was a small creature, though still reasonably taller than Velobo, with green feathered wings and claws instead of arms. He seemed very cheery and full of energy. As the large man began to celebrate their victory, he copied the poses made as well as his green feathers could manage.
He was the one who noticed Velobo.
"Who is that guy? Is he another monster? Dooooorky!"
"Hmmm, I don’t know, it doesn't seem very... monster material."
"Ja, it is a little on the small side. It must be lost or such, poor thing."
The feathered bird fluttered down from the octopus's head and stood over Velobo, who had begun to gauge the situation and figure out how he would take action, if he needed too.
"Would you please move farther away from my face?"
"It can speak!"
"So it can... I wonder what else it can do... Creature, do you think you can face, SIR DORUKUMETS in combat?"
The large man who Velobo now knew to refer to as Dorukumets drew a sword from his back and pointed it at him, also adding a dashing smile to the pose in the process.
"I suppose I would be willing to fight you, but I would prefer to save my efforts for others."
"If that is so then tell me your name, SIR DORUKOMETS demands it."
"I am Velobo Calidad," the cuboid stepped back as he calculated his first move, "and I accept your challenge."
Lady Midday usually saw fit to wear white, which, believe it or not, already signified death on some parts of the planet. She was working on the other parts. The people down below, by her thinking, had spent far too long fearing the darkness and all that they couldn’t see, and far too little time fearing what was right in front of them—namely, her. She’d rather they relish the quiet, dark moments they were able to find alone at their beds at night, and then see a flash of light...
Lady Midday seriously had thoughts like this all the time. She had long since come to terms with her pathological need to subjugate, terrify, murder and occasionally cook and eat everyone around her. If you enjoy something enough and you’re good enough and can make a fair amount of money in the process, there’s really no sense in questioning your own motives. Were she to, say, go into therapy, and learn, say, that her unending lust for violence resulted from being breastfed until the age of two while her mother dabbled in dark magic and hallucinogens, or that her aversion to modest, practical daywear probably had something to do with her father’s doll collection, her newfound self-awareness might cost her the moments like these: feeling the wind on her bare back/thighs/etc. from the observation deck of her newly-hijacked flying death fortress and surveying the damage.
And oh, such damage. Caelo Ruinam’s Sunstroke Device, when deployed against a civilian population, didn’t mess around with trivialities like radioactive fallout and pillars of smoke and survivors. It simply got the job done, wrapped it and tied it up for you with a bow. The land beneath was wiped clean and uniform, pounded so precisely into a flat expanse of rock that it shone brilliantly white, reflecting the light of the sun back into Lady Midday’s eyes. Like a diamond cut out of the Earth. It was wonderful. She grew bored of it almost immediately.
“Science Masochist!” she barked, turning back into the bowels of Caelo Ruinam. “Ray, I know you can hear me!” The lack of response from Ray, the Science Masochist, did not please Lady Midday. Her trusty submissive technologician was hunched over Caelo’s central computer in his customary black labcoat and compound goggles. The chain attached to the collar around his neck dangled tantalizingly on the floor within Lady Midday’s reach. Suspecting that Ray was doing this on purpose (he was, after all, a masochist), Lady Midday nonetheless gave into the urge to give the chain a good yank and throw her assistant to the floor.
The Science Masochist lay dreamily gurgling beside his chair, looking up at his mistress’s legs for a moment before rising unsteadily to his feet. “How are we?” asked Lady Midday patiently.
“We’re fine,” gasped Ray, massaging his airways. “Ruinam’s power supply wasn’t exactly built to withstand a max-power Sunstroke every day, but its original designers were certainly prepared for a worst-case scenario. We’re immobile for about six hours, but life support and basic artillery should be good.”
“Any way to track the heroes?”
“The competent ones.” Lady Midday cast an expectant glance back at the observation deck.
“They should be pressurized into their base components along with the rest of everything down there,” assured Ray. “But no, there’s no way to make sure. Unless they’re an ore deposit, the instruments here would have no way of tracking them on the ground.”
“Hmmm. I don’t like that.” This was a lie; she did, in fact, derive a bit of thrill out of the uncertainty. “And the incompetent ones?”
“No word from security except for a couple of odd deaths and injuries, so we can assume they’re still running around on the lower levels.”
Lady Midday liked that too. “Cute. Let me know when six hours are running out. We’ll be taking Sunstroke to Triple City as soon as we’re skyworthy again.”
“Yes, mistress.” The Science Masochist sat back down and resumed his ill-defined fiddling at the control center. Lady Midday took leave of him and entered the corridor outside, where the better part of her honor guard was loitering.
Lady Midday hated her honor guard. She selected them randomly and constantly bashed it into their heads that she had selected them randomly, but she could never liberate them of the idea that they formed some sort of elite cadre handpicked for the secret potential that only their Lady recognized. Dolts. The ego boost resulting from their selection from the honor guard led to a strong sense of camaraderie amongst the men balanced out by a predilection towards oddly homoerotic macho posturing. She could not stomach it, but today she had a use for it.
Storming out into the corridor, Lady Midday interrupted what appeared to be an arm wrestling tournament and suffered through the experience of twenty faces looking up at her expectantly, unsure whether they were about to die or get laid. Most of these men had claimed in private to have slept with her, which was only going to make this harder.
“Which of you has been secretly giving the others footrubs on your downtime?” she asked. Thirty-eight eyes flicked towards one soldier, a particularly self-assured Aryan type who Lady Midday had recently been considering sending out on a suicide mission just so she wouldn’t have to look at his face. She turned to the soldier who, having only half-heartedly terminated his arm wrestling match with the culprit, was now tenderly holding his hand, and asked, “how’s his technique?”
“Worthy of the honor guard, milady,” replied the soldier, giving the Aryan’s hand a gentle squeeze.
Lady Midday rolled her eyes. “You. My bedchamber. Now.” The masseur seemed to perk up at that, and several of his fellows were clearly suppressing catcalls, opting instead to merely pat the man on his back as he passed.
Lady Midday’s bedchambers had been hastily appropriated by the admiral or the foreman or the princess or whoever had been running this place a half hour ago. The mattress was a little soft for her taste, and the lady whose portrait hung on the wall opposite the bed had a weird chin, but it would do, if she ever felt compelled to sleep, which she hadn’t for the last three days. Lady Midday’s metabolism had been stuck in a hypertense world domination mode for a while now; hence, footrubs.
“It’s these heels,” said the guard, going to work on the elaborate structure of buckles and zippers that kept her footwear on. “I don’t know how I’d be able to deal walking like this.”
“Oh, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” retorted Lady Midday, lying back on the bed. “I’ve been walking in stilettos since Daddy first, um, since I was a child. Walking around in flat feet feels more awkward to me nowadays.”
“Uh-huh, well, that’s cause you’ve seriously—“ the soldier slipped her boot off very quickly, as though tearing off a band-aid “--fucked up your arches, if you’ll pardon my language.”
“I came here for a massage, not a lecture on my fashion choices,” snapped Lady Midday, wiggling her toes.
“Yeah, yeah, this impatience probably isn’t doing you any good either. You need to relax.” The mistress of evil was distantly shocked by the man’s impertinence and considered murdering him, but was forced to admit that he had her by the balls, or, more precisely, by the foot. His massage was a bit clunky and distinctly masculine, but better than anything else she could get in this gods-damned sky-fortress.
She reasserted her authority by mumbling “please stop talking now” and closing her eyes. She’d forgotten to close the blinds, and the blaring light reflecting off the land below seeped in everywhere. Lady Midday assured herself that the act of closing her eyes was by no means a precursor to any length of sleep.
Well, maybe just a micronap, she quickly rationalized, waking up a few minutes later. She took a quick tactile survey of her surroundings to report that her immediate circumstances had not gone horribly off the rails in the brief time she’d been out. Her hair was a bit disheveled, was all. In fact, the guard seemed to have gotten into the rhythm of things, and was delivering a truly impressive rubbing to her left foot. A sound that she refused to consciously believe sounded anything like “mmmm” escaped her lips, and she lazily hoped that the soldier hadn’t heard it.
“Ah, good,” came an unfamiliar voice from near her feet. “You’re awake. Listen to me closely. Your masseur is dead. If you make any sudden moves, I will stop doing this, and then I’ll break your ankle.”
“No!” hissed Lady Midday, startled into wakefulness. “Don’t stop doing that, please!” Trying not to be too sudden, she lifted herself into a seated position. Sitting by the edge of the bed was a middle-aged man dressed in an ill-fitting guard’s uniform, who was just going to town on her feet. He looked slightly too comical to be actually frightening but, yep, there was the guard lying dead on the floor. “Alright,” said Lady Midday, “What do you want?”
“A job,” answered the man. “If I understand the situation properly, it looks like we have a mutual distaste for heroes. And I happen to know of five heroes in this fortress alone—plus some other guy who’s just an asshole—who I can help you get rid of.”
“Uh-huh,” replied Lady Midday, realizing that she was still wearing her other boot and could stab this guy’s eyes out with the heel (seriously, thank the Gods for heels). She could also attack him with magic, but, not knowing his defenses, that was a bit riskier. She decided to negotiate, figuring that anyone who could sneak through her defenses and also make her feet feel this good could prove useful. Also, five heroes? She only knew of three, though that could be a bluff on his part. “A job, eh? What are your qualifications?”
“Science!” replied the man enthusiastically. “All of science. Pick a science. I am great at it. That’s the main thing.”
“You’ll have to—ooh, right there—you’ll have to do better than that, stranger. I already have an expert scientist on staff, and I trust him completely.”
“Is that so? You’ll have him working in the control room down the hall, then?”
“That’s none of your business!”
“Hold that thought.” The stranger gave her toes a quick squeeze and darted out of the bedchamber.
“Ack.” Lady Midday swung her feet over the side of the bed. “I warned him not to stop with the foot. Guards!” She attempted to stand but found that, only wearing heels on one side, she was rather unbalanced, and fell back onto the mattress. The lady in the portrait with the ugly chin was giving her a knowing look, and it took her about ten seconds to remember to call for the guards again, louder this time.
Three of the other assholes in her honor guard rushed in to find Lady Midday lying on a bed with her left boot sitting next to the broken and undressed corpse of one of their comrades, which, she reflected, was probably not very flattering for her. So instead of giving them any orders, she vaporized them with a lightning bolt spell and stewed in her misery for a bit. Inevitably, the stranger promptly reentered, now covered in blood and wearing a familiar labcoat and goggles. “Alright, problem solved,” he announced. “You don’t have a scientist anymore.”
“You killed Ray the Science Masochist!” accused Lady Midday, unbuckling her right shoe. “I demand recompense!”
“Uh-huh. How about I start by editing that program he was writing to get this fortress’ power cells optimized two hours sooner than his original timetable?”
“That’ll do.” Zip. “But first, get going on my right foot.”
“But of course.” Her new scientist’s delicate, pudgy hands slowly and sensually slid her remaining boot off.
“So what do I call you, new servant?” asked Lady Midday.
The stranger considered this for a while. “I had a name once,” he said eventually, “But it doesn’t seem to apply anymore. You shall call me: Ray (Sadist Forme).”
“Alrighty, New Ray,” agreed Lady Midday sleepily. “You know, the old Ray wasn’t really a masochist. I just told him I’d hurt him if he didn’t pretend that he was.”
“Ha!” Ray (Sadist Forme) proceeded to spend the next several minutes performing acts on her feet that honestly felt better than sex, which wasn’t saying much, since Lady Midday was psychologically incapable of enjoying sex. She mused to herself that, even if the Science Sadist worked out every knot and relieved all the tension, her feet would never truly feel satisfied until the entire continent was crushed beneath it.
Seriously, that was how her brain worked. She was an evil bitch.
Sergeant Orpington curled up at some presumed-deity's feet, his sobbing stifled less by shame and more at fear of something discovering him. Great sheets of some glittering, rust-coloured mineral - each panel probably more valuable than his worth as a human being – emblazoned the relief's claws and spines and vicious beak.
He wasn't sure what he'd done to raise the Lady's ire. Probably disagree, even a little bit, that Caelo Ruinam's dungeons were lousy with monsters. Or that it was now his job to go clear them out. That seemed about right, Orpington conceded.
The sergeant's vision slowly recovered (though Orpington didn't know it, the Sunstroke Device's ignition had coincided with the blinding flash issued simultaneously by all the gems inlaid in the dungeon walls), interrupting the careful review of his life choices as he gazed upon its snarling countenance. Orpington's eyes widened, and he scrambled backwards yelling hoarsely. The backs of his hands seared as he slung minespell after minespell at the carving, realising his mistake as his own blood splashed his face.
Ok, he'd panicked. Orpington admitted that much, wincing and wiping clear the symbols on his hands. That was fine; stumbling blind through a hithero-presumed-empty dungeon while your eyes readjusted to darkness, and into the den of an emaciated and pissed-off version of the creature Mother assured would toss you off a cliff into its nestlings' jaws if you didn't behave; that could set a man on edge. You've barely had these sygils for two weeks, Orpington reassured himself. You're lucky to be alive; at least you're not on adventurer watch. Now that's suicide. You can just bring this creature's head back – or what's left of it – and see if Lady Midday won't call it an honest day's work-
An irritable clack went off behind Orpington, the effect similar to a skyward gunshot. To say Jetsam needed no provocation was a lie – one raised, bloodied hand elicited enough of an unpleasant memory that didn't belong to him. Sure, it wasn't much provocation, but nobody present would've quibbled.
The sergeant gurgled along some lines of it not being fair. It didn't even register that his new form understood Local Human, but Jetsam was inclined to agree. He lowered Orpington gently to the floor, extricating his rust-coloured claw from the soldier's midriff, before kicking him across the hall.
Jetsam scooped him up, swung him by the ankle into another wall, before stabbing what was left through the middle a few more times. One final underarm fling and the wanderer slunk over to examine his handiwork. For a good couple of minutes, he just stared - some introspective, wounded part of him begging the rest to stop being so impassive.
It gave up, after a minute or so. Jetsam stalked back past the den in which he'd materialised, searching for a way up and out of the castle's catacombs.
Had New Ray known what he was about to do, he probably would've relished it a bit more. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly a forseeable set of events without near-omniscience, so he had no idea just what he was about to do to Tor.
After all, all he was doing was getting the station to power up sooner than otherwise. Even he didn't see how that could directly affect the other contestants.
Tor had been stalking down a hallway and trying to find something to take out his anger on when he came upon the greenhouse. It was an interestingly vertical room, its spiralling structure made of all sorts of glass and metal, and there were many, many plants that Tor couldn't possibly recognize.
More interestingly, though, there were a few that he could recognize.
When humans first found out about Telpori-Hal medicine, there was a bit of culture shock. Drugs in human culture had moved far, far away from the herbal remedies of old, concentrations of the active compounds being packaged up in efficient, time-release capsules that made administration easy and effective. The actual plant origins of many of them had been all but forgotten, and finding out that the Telpori-Han had gone in precisely the opposite direction was a bit of a shock.
Tor, having cultivated a Telpori-Hal's typical garden in his quarters on his old ship, was no stranger to the assorted botanicals his species used for various medical treatments, so he recognized the kalamritul right off the bat. It was kalamritul, no question; the scent, the flowers, the leaf shape, all were precisely right. He couldn't have asked for a better coincidence.
Just as he was wrapping a good amount of the plant around his arms, though, fate decided that luck needed a bit of balancing, and Scofflaw's efficiency changes kicked in. The frequency of core flux changed by a few millihertz, every light in the base became 10% dimmer, and several low-use and high-drain sections of the facility were detached.
Tor's first instinct was that there'd been a gravity failure. They weren't uncommon, and the thought didn't really panic him. Most artificial-gravity systems failed on a somewhat-regular basis, and he wasn't fazed by sudden weightlessness.
When he noticed the clouds whipping by, though, what was actually happening became apparent. The options available to him were fairly limited. Resignedly, he grabbed for a bit more kalamritul and looked around for something hard.
Skydiving was a bit of a niche sport among Telpori-Han. It was simple enough: jump from a height and regenerate on the way down, hitting the ground before it completed. Most of the time, the jumper just reformed and walked away. In a few rare cases, they'd mis-time and end up in their new body and still mid-air. The brochures always made sure to mention how rare that was. They always failed to reassure people like Tor.
Skybound Isle was a tiny island that had been in the center of a fairly large lake near Doubleton. Up until recently, it had only been inhabited by a half-sane, tinkering hermit whose greatest accomplishment was not burning off his beard. That had all changed when Lady Midday had begun her assault on all things not to her liking, however; a motley group of adventurers had come to the island, the tinkerer had burned off his beard, and the island had ceased to be in a lake. It had, in a last-ditch effort to reach the floating fortress of Caelo Ruinam, become airborne, propelled by an improbable combination of wooden helicopter blades and rocket boosters. Slowly, shrouded in an artificial cloud to mask it from anyone looking down from the fortess above, it ascended.
"Hard to port!", O'Keele bellowed from the crow's nest. The shout roused Kernitt from his standing nap at the island's wheel, and the old man whirled it around.
"What is it?", demanded Baghim. "O'Keele, what do you see?!"
The spry, wiry archer slid down the island's mast and leaped to the ground. "Parts of the fortress just started falling off, and one's coming down right near us!"
"Dear Lyna," Baghim breathed. "We could be crushed, or worse- revealed! We have to do something!"
"What, like turn hard to port?"
"Yes, exactly!" Evidently the big man had forgotten entirely about what had prompted the conversation.
Fortunately, O'Keele was spared having to explain it to him, as the metal-and-glass spire that was the greenhouse whooshed by, the force of the wind knocking both to the ground.
A second or two passed, and the two were just getting to their feet when a flaming projectile slammed into the ground close enough that the shockwave knocked them down again.
Alex, the group's leader, dashed out of the shack and over to the pair.
"Alex," Baghim exclaimed, "the fortress is falling apart!"
"It is not," O'Keele retorted. "It was pretty clearly intentional, and aside from the ones I saw, it doesn't look like they're planning to knock off any others."
"And what happened here?" Their leader pointed to the crater a short ways away.
"Not sure. Something came down with the part of Ruinam we dodged, that's all we know."
Tor felt great. He'd reformed in a nice, warm crater, and nothing seemed to be in a position to bother him. Scofflaw was up in the sky somewhere, and so were the rest of the other contestants. Tor could just wait it out down here on the ground and he'd be fine.
"I think it's a person!", someone said.
It really was nice to be in a big, hot crater like that. Humans used saunas to feel good, but there was more water in the air than was comfortable for a Tempori-Hal.
"Hello? Are you alright in there?"
Wait, what if he piped the excess heat from the Phoenix' engines into a single room? It's not like the energy would be missed; there was plenty of background radiation to go around, after all, all he'd have to do is open up the receptors a bit.
"O'Keele, go get Tock."
"Sure thing, Alex."
Why hadn't anyone done that before? Were there any inherent flaws in the system that would make it infeasible?
Something clanking and metal grabbed Tor's feet and started dragging him out of the crater. It was a shame, it was a nice, warm crater. He'd miss it.
"It appears to be conscious," a buzzy, mechanical voice said.
Tor found himself in front of a stern, authoritative face, which was asking him if he could hear it.
"Yeah, definitely," he replied, his mind still trying to figure out why there weren't hot-rooms on Telpori-Hal ships.
"Ah, good." The face got a bit less stern. "Are you alright?"
"Well, I don't think I've had any kalamritul this strong before, but I'm good, yeah. How are you?"
"...Fine. Do you know where you are?"
"A multiversal battle to the death."
There was an exasperated pause before the face started to talk again. "You just fell from Caelo Ruinam and landed on Skybound Isle."
"Oh, an island? That's interesting; I haven't been on an island in ages."
Alex sighed. "Look, my point is, we're going to be reaching the fortress in about half an hour. When we get there, you're welcome to either stay here or come with us, but if you get in our way, we'll have to assume you're working with Midday."
The news that he wasn't, in fact, going to be spending some nice, relaxing time on the surface would've fazed him if he didn't have quite so much kalamritul in his system. Instead, he just nodded his head a bit and went back to trying to figure out how to make a dry sauna for his ship.
Alex just sighed, turned away from the light-brown, metal-clad humanoid, and stared up at where the fortress was, past the cloud enclosing the flying island. She was going to stop Midday, no matter what the cost, and she wasn't about to worry just because some spaced-out guy had fallen into her party's midst.
Last edited by Pinary; 04-10-2012 at 07:55 PM.
Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?
Velobo, while full of knowledge on miscellaneous technology, science, and other general subjects, was not familiar with many of the sayings that are ever present in our lives. Had he been, perhaps he would have known not to judge books by their covers, especially when you find a large, muscular, yet virtually unarmored book, standing unscathed in the middle of Hell.
As Velobo and Dorukumets stared off, Velobo was plotting the best way to take the lummox down. He was certain that he was faster, and that while he didn't have a physical advantage, he did have an arsenal of tricks that could prevent his opponent from putting his strength to use. When Dorukumets threw the first blow, Velobo knew what he would do.
It started off with a leap and a spit, conjoining Dorukumets' heavy pole with his hands, preventing any weapon changing and hindering his arm movement. From there, the cuboid used the walls to build up speed, and to distract his opponent before swinging his metal armband down, aiming at Dorukumets' face.
Then, in a moment, Velobo was flying backwards, his arm squishing against his face. He was frozen in shock. What just happened? Dorukumets couldn't have moved fast enough to see his attack, but he did otherwise his arm would be stuck on the muscleman’s face and not his own.
Dorukumets took advantage of the pause of surprise to readjust his stance as best he could with the spit sticking his hands in place. His posse took advantage of the pause to mock Velobo.
"Hoo hoo hoo hoo, it seems that ze little one is floored."
"Yea, he sure wasn't expecting the Auto-Counter. Looks like Dorky has got this in the palm of his hand."
Auto-Counter? If he can automatically counter my attacks then that means that a head-on attack is impossible, no matter how much I try to hide it. Which means that I need to trip him up, attack indirectly like I did to get his hands stuck.
"Well Calidad? Has the counter of SIR DORUKUMETS left you without any fight at all? Or do you have something else up your sleeve?"
"I am ready whenever you are," Velobo stepped one foot back, not completely certain of how to progress but with enough of an idea to continue, "Come at me."
Not one to turn down an invitation, Dorukumets obliged, this time swinging his pole in a downward arc, which Velobo easily jumped over. He spit on the pole when it touched the floor and then shot another glob at one of Dorukumets' feet. Launching his tongue at the large mans shoulder, he tried to swing around and knock him in the back of the head only to be countered once more.
"Just give up cubey! Dorukumets is out of your league."
The Plazmuth put a valiant effort, locking Dorukumets' hands and feet in place and landing a few hits here and there. However, as long as he was able to move at all, Dorukumets was able to counter-attack. I certainly didn't help that Velobo was well versed in the way of heavy attack, and that the hits that did connect were not very effective. Eventually the cuboid tired and reluctantly gave in.
"Ha ha ha, another victory for SIR DORUKUMETS. Worry not Calidad, you are not the first to fall to my prowess. Gimeri! Heal him; I have a feeling that he would be a welcome addition to our entourage."
As the squid-lady produced a pencil out of some flap and floated to Velobo's side to draw a healing rune, Tykidu's face changed from one of smugness to one of dissatisfaction.
"What? This weakling? Why? What can he do? Look at him he's tiny!"
"Tykidu, watch your tongue! You did not fight Calidad, I did, and with my keen Warrior Senses, I felt that he had the heart!"
To drive the point home, he moved his hands as close as he could to his chest and gazed thoughtfully into the air. Tykidu frowned, but did not argue further.
Gimeri held Velobo still with two tentacles while using the other to draw on his face. While she didn't seem to have a good grip on the pencil, it was only slightly tangled in the appendage, it did not lose any forcefulness the entire way through. Velobo was impressed with her dexterity, and was further impressed when the completed rune glowed and he suddenly felt re-energized.
"What was that?"
"It was just a basic healing rune, although... I don't recall the spell glowing that much last time eet was used."
"Ancient characters? How does that work?"
"Eet is magic."
Magic was something else that Velobo was terribly familiar with, he knew that it was something that the late Miles Murdoch did, and that apparently the area they were in was full of it as well, but he hadn't really taken the time to ask anyone exactly what it was.
As he was about to inquire, Dorukumets had finally freed himself of the hardened sticky spit. Walking up to the cube and lifting him up, the muscleman smiled confidently at him and began his spiel.
"Calidad, I can feel great things are ahead for you. Great things involving me, SIR DORUKUMETS, and my entourage. You see, we are currently here on a quest, to find the Gauntlet of Genko, a powerful artifact that I require. With you on board I am sure that we will be able to reach it without much trouble," he placed Velobo on his shoulder and posed outward, "Well, Calidad, what do you say?"
Velobo thought for a moment. These three obviously knew something about what was going on in the Ruinam, and they did not seem like the new owners that The Fool had mentioned. Could they have been the so-called heroes? Even if they weren't, it was likely that sticking with them would lead to learning more about the area and also possibly help with finding the others in the battle.
Velobo nodded, "Let's go."
At last, Tengeri thought, a return to her natural terrain. No bounds, no battles to deal with, no imminent death. Just an endless expanse of less-than-clear water, and a smattering of fish. Very large fish, but fish nonetheless. Nothing to worry about for the current moment, at the very least.
And with nothing to worry about, she had plenty to worry about. What had even happened? Obviously they didn't all die from a nuclear detonation, although there certainly had been one. One of the combatants had been killed just in time, it seemed. But who? Tengeri searched through her logs, hoping to find a record of the termination of one "Saint Scofflaw", or whatever the hell he was calling himself these days. Even if it hadn't been a day since the whole thing started.
Tengeri sighed as the words showed up in her display: GB-006 terminated: cause unknown. She supposed it was for the best that Kerak hadn't survived. The dinosaur would just as soon have murdered all of them than cooperate. Nonetheless he was likely the lesser of two (or possibly three) evils, when compared to Scofflaw. If events had actually played out as he was hoping, Tengeri's hatred would soon melt away as the dashing rogue who also happened to be a complete bastard slowly won over her hearts and no that is idiotic!
Scofflaw deserved death. That was simple enough. She had told herself this since the battle's beginning, but could never truly realize it until now. He managed to enslave the minds of virtually everyone on the battlefield, including their fellow battlers, and ultimately use them to his own ends, depriving them of their own free will, using science that didn't make any logical sense! Had it not been for her superior implants, she would have been no different (or she might not have been entered in the first place, but there was little use dwelling on that). He was going to get his comeuppance, and he was going to get it as soon as she caught a glimpse of his vaguely-ugly face.
Multiple aquatic lifeforms approaching; likely predators.
Tengeri looked up. The very large fish had decided to converge on her position while she wasn't paying attention - huge gray ones with numerous rows of sharp teeth. Evidently, they had decided that she would make a nice meal, or something of the sort. Tengeri immediately drew out her manipulators, armed with plasma cutters, and waved them menacingly at the fish. Presumably this only made her appear to be some kind of enormous squid-eel, as the organisms only drew closer, their teeth bared.
Several moments later, a number of burned, unconscious fish slowly floated to the water's surface. As the sufficiently-shaken scientist disarmed her weapons, she took a moment to look at the scans of her current area, revealing it to be little more than a significantly-less-than-endless circular, stone-walled tank, something she might have picked up on sooner had she been paying attention, and had the water been less murky. Either way, there appeared to be a number of large glass windows on one end of the tank. Ostensibly they had at one point been used for viewing, but those days were long past. There was also some sort of large chute above the water's surface, much too high for Tengeri to gain access.
Deciding the windows were quite obviously her best chance for escape, Tengeri switched her manipulators to a flat, spearhead-esque configuration, charged toward the glass, and rammed several into it simultaneously. With a rush of water, she immediately found herself thrown at the very surprised quartet which had been walking past the window with comedically-appropriate timing.
"What?!" the large, six-armed one shouted as a stone shutter prevented the entire tank from emptying into the corridor.
The very-familiar cuboid stared at the aquatic scientist quizzically. "Um. Hello, Tengeri."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Maintenance Chief of the Day Martin Zimmerman leaned precariously over a narrow walkway over a long drop, tightening the screws on one of several cannons he had been ordered to inexplicably place over a 1000-foot chasm while actively avoiding a number of still-functioning, heavily-weaponized ancient robots that hadn't been informed that Caelo Ruinam was under new management. He also had to take care to avoid being in the wrong place when large sections of walkway randomly detached themselves and plummetted to the ground. Not that it was new for anyone working for Lady Midday - wherever her base was set up, "accidents" happened quite often (hence his title). Zimmerman, in fact, held the record for survival of a maintenance chief, at thirteen full days.
"Mr. Zimmerman, sir!" a voice suddenly called. Zimmerman lost his balance and slipped from the platform, catching hold of the turret and hanging in the air. With great effort he turned around to face one of his underlings, whose name he hadn't really bothered to learn. The faint sound of his wrench hitting the ground echoed throughout the chamber.
"What is it?" the chief spat.
"Sorry, am I interrupting?"
Zimmerman would have applied his palm to his forehead would that action not have been likely to result in his death. "Yes. You are. This had better be important."
"It is, sir. Shark tank one has been breached!"
"Damn it, we just finished transporting the sharks in! Is the breach contained?"
"Then why, exactly, did you feel the need to tell me now?"
"Well, there's more. The tank was broken from the inside."
Zimmerman raised an eyebrow. "Are you saying someone escaped? That's impossible. The sharks would've killed anyone who got inside."
"I don't know the details. The sharks were fought off. Burned or something."
"Burned. They were underwater. Fire spells don't work underwater. You know that."
"There might be something in the fortress we don't know about. Maybe a fault in some ancient mechanism."
"And you are?"
"Then take care of it, gods damn it! And tell security. And more importantly, get me down from here! There's a control console down the second walkway on the right, third door on the left. It's locked, so use your key there. It'll retract all of the turrets and I can get onto the catwalks. Hurry it up."
"I don't have the key to that room."
"All of you have the key to that room! They're all exactly the same!"
The mechanic scampered off without another word. Zimmerman sighed. It was going to be a long day.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"You know this creature, Calidad?" the big one asked.
"Eet looks a bit like a Leviathan," the tentacled creature muttered to the green thing.
"We have had dealings previously," Velobo told his muscle-bound companion, beforing turning to Tengeri, who had at this point gathered a field of water around herself and hovered a few feet in the air. "Tengeri, was there not a better exit than that one?"
"Sadly not. Sorry, I didn't see you there. Or your... friends? Who are they?"
"Oh. They are-"
The six-armed man shoved Velobo out of the way. "SIR DORUKUMETS! And co. Have you come to attempt to best ME in combat as well?"
Tengeri nearly laughed at the absurdity of the warrior's challenge. "Sorry, I'm not one for fighting. I assure you that your armor would not be especially protective anyway. May I ask what it is you're doing here?"
Maybe they're the heroes The Fool referred to, she silently mused.
"You couldn't take on Dorukumets if you tried, Levie! No one can!" the green one overexuberantly shouted.
"Alright, look. Before you start squabbling amongst yourselves, I just wanted to know if you know anything about this place. Anything unusual inside that I might want to know about? Or perhaps more importantly, a way out?"
Dorukumets laughed heartily. "Not unless you have an airship! Monsters would probably get to you first even if you did! Calidad trusts you, so I guess I'll forgo fighting you if you really don't think you can manage it. If you're looking for unusual things, you might try heading for the core of the fortress. It's that way," he said, pointing unhelpfully down the corridor.
Tengeri quite nearly offered to go along with Velobo, but ultimately decided against it, partly because Dorukumets could probably turn on her at any moment and partly because he and the green thing were both incredibly annoying. "Uh, thanks. Be careful out there." She floated blindly off through the stone corridors, scanning for signs of this "core" the warrior had mentioned, as well as for other signs of life. From the distance, she heard a very loud shouting of "DORUUUUUUUU" followed by a number of crashes.
The clack of her stilettos upon the tile somehow drowned up the marching patterns of her entire army. “What the hell is going on here?” demanded Lady Midday.
Ray (Sadist Forme) struggled with his restraints. “This mech won’t fit me,” he said, hanging uselessly out of the chest of a two-story-tall titanium samurai.
“That’s a woman’s mech,” sneered Lady Midday. “The neural interface seals right over left. See?”
“I didn’t fit into the other mechs either,” sulked the former Scofflaw.
“Those were the men’s mechs. If you want, I can direct you to the flabby baby-man mechs, or if you want to keep your Adam’s apple, you could get back to your work.”
“My code is compiling,” wheezed the new Ray, clambering down to the ground. “It would be going faster but—urgh—your pseudorandom number generators weren’t up to snuff, so I fixed up your entire system so that it can pull data out of any of a billion alternate universes.” He hit the floor of the Mech Deck and pulled a few stray electrodes off of his head. “It, uh, stresses the system a tad, but give it a couple years and that technology will have serious applications.”
Lady Midday was a good slapper. She balanced wrist movement with elbow movement while diminishing neither, and manage to draw blood with her fingernails on the follow-through, in three perfect lines across the cheek the like of which you never see in real life. Ray was impressed, but he was also reduced to a submissive childlike state by the maternal display of violence, so he lacked the words to express his admiration.
His new mistress didn’t seem too bothered by her Science Sadist’s silence; she simply said, “You’re welcome,” took him by the hand and dragged him back to his desk. “Let me make this clear,” she began, resting on the arm of his chair with her elbow tucked into his shoulder. “Just because you snuck into my room and killed a couple of my people doesn’t mean I consider you anything more than my new, slightly more annoying Science Masochist. That you even occupy that position is not a reflection of any leverage you have, but my reward to you for briefly striking me as clever and potentially useful. As long as you continue to work for me, you are not my pet, you are not my lover, you are not my right-hand man, and I have not yet broken you down into ashes and pain receptors. Doesn’t that seem mutually beneficial, Ray?”
Ray (Sadist Forme) gave a sullen nod. “’To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus.’ I got it.” That rather ambiguous Shakespeare quotation seemed to satisfy the Lady, who left him to his work.
“Alone at last,” soliloquized the mad—or at least miffed--scientist. “God dammit, man, you’ve let the bitch cage you!” A kick to the leg of his desk opened the door to a secret cooler built into the wall, from which the villain produced a beer. “’Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day.’” In the time it took the overthrown Tartan Tyrant to make these observations, he had Blogspot—his Blogspot, from his own universe, extracted via his random universe generator—up on the monitor and began a post:
Just as Macbeth’s quest for power made him the slave of forces above him, I’m worried I may have been too evil for once, and it’s beginning to seriously limit me.
Oh, let’s not be coy. I’ll start at the beginning. In case you’re wondering why you haven’t received any ransom demands, I’ve moved on to more important things. Here, let me prove it: the Duchess is currently running out the air conditioning bill on my base inside the sun, and is presumably just as confused as to my whereabouts as the rest of you losers. So, here’s the gist of it: unlike, hmm, let’s see, everyone else in the entire history of our universe, I’ve been selected for a grand multiversal game of sorts, with the winner of seven trials moving on to marry the All-Fool’s beautiful daughter, the Coquette. Okay, not as cool as that, but you get the gist, and no, this is not an invitation to come rescue me in a once-in-a-lifetime team-up, I know how you whoresons think.
Anyway, unfortunately I’m the only one here who seems to be in the spirit of things. I—well, okay, my pet dinosaur—took out the biggest threat, this ostentatiously magical vegetarian-looking motherfucker by the name of Miles. That was in a world of pure chaos, which, by the way, was totally cool and which I have yet to reverse-engineer. Things went sour in Round 2, where everyone sort of started forming this nice friendly science-team to stop what was admittedly a pretty lame war. Anyway, you know how I get when I’m on teams. Working towards a shared goal makes me nauseous, and there was this device that rewired the natives’ brains and their small arms at the same time, and, you know, it was right there. So I brainwashed everyone, and don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done otherwise.
Aaaaaaaaanywaaaaaaay the plan was for no one to die—it’s a non-lethal war and I can’t believe I just said that out loud, it was such horseshit—but someone must have kicked it, because I’m here now taking inventory: no allies, typecast as The Evil One and shoehorned in with The Evil Ones of whatever backward-ass universe I now occupy. Namely, I’m the Science Bitch of a distractingly-sexy arch-sorceress whose attitude towards life could use some work. I got myself into this position in the hopes that it would protect me from my former brainwashees, but I didn’t realize it would be such an office job, and I have more or less zero benefits. I don’t even get to play with the mechs!
Anyway, gentle reader, this puts me in a bit of a quandary: betraying everybody around me is what got me into this predicament in the first place—the sort of predicament that leads to me not only being afraid for my life, but downright bored during a multiversal battle to the death, which is really ridiculous—but from where I’m sitting, someone’s in serious need of a betrayal. What do you think? Reblog and comment. I’m running on forty-eight hours awake, haven’t been hydrating properly and my adrenalin-rush is hanging up its hat and headed down. I’m miserable and I’ll be more miserable in the morning and I’ll sure as hell be more miserable around Midday. That’s a joke that you don’t get. Talk to me.
Considering that last paragraph, the supervillain and minor Internet celebrity sighed and tried to lean his head on his desk, but succeeded only in chipping his tooth against his beer. He made a sound like “glrumf.” The problem about blogging from a different universe was that the fonts were slightly, imperceptibly different. He trawled through the list of available typefaces to find the closest simulacrum of his precious Comic Sans MS, certain that this would afford him some pleasure in life. What he found instead were several strange, runic-looking character sets clogging up a surprising amount of memory. Beset by a lazy, sleep-deprived, half-assed sense of scientific rigor, he switched to one of these and input a random rune to Google. The trusty search engine returned that “Best guess for” the rune was “the True Name for ‘Trout.’” Ray (Sadist Forme) seemed satisfied by this and was about to drop the matter when he heard the sound of something flopping. The trout was still alive and had been on the floor, but picking it up, the arch-criminal understood that it was his creation and he owed it to the world to eat at least part of it.
A smile on his face, bits of still-wriggling trout falling onto his labcoat, the treacherous pseudo-scientist pseudo-ethicist fiend brought up command prompt and typed until he fell asleep.
Last edited by Lord Paradise; 05-19-2012 at 12:01 PM.
"That son of a bitch!"
"I can't fucking believe he did that! That we let that happen!"
"I'd take a fucking psion over that stripy piece of shit! At least a psion doesn't make you enjoy it when he rapes your fucking mind!"
TinTen looked up from his perch on a pile of recently re-killed skeletons, marking his place in his book with one fingertendril. "Huebert, please keep emotional breakdown to dull roar. Trying to determine course of action."
Huebert whirled on the placid squid. "How the fuck are you sitting there like a stoned droyne acting like everything's just damned peachy? Maybe you thought it was nice having the Tartan Twat shove his braindick in your ear?"
"Scofflaw, not Tyrant. Don't play his game."
The utterly furious Huebert swung himself back around and landed another punch on the wall, sending a surprising amount of hairline fractures spiderwebbing across the stone and an unsurprising amount of split skin zig-zagging across his knuckles. It wasn't very satisfying. At least the skeletal warriors had had the decency to look affronted when you broke them; walls just hurt like a son of a bitch.
"Please, Huebert. Am incensed. Cannot imagine single other reality or situation in which am angrier. Betrayal, mental violation, directly causing deaths of uncountable sophonts... Man is disgusting, vile. Must die for sake of everyone, must die for personal affronts. But have internalized anger; cannot let it cloud judgement. You must internalize as well."
"Well exkah-yuuuuuse the fuck out of me, Saint Naamxe the first! Some of us silly meatheads can't just turn it all off like you. It must be nice to be a fuckin' squidbot wh–"
"Huebert." There was a dangerous edge to the scientist's voice; those two syllables hummed like tensile wire stretched to its breaking point then roughly plucked. "Please."
The Huebert in question closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. It wasn't fair or helpful, he figured, to lash out against his friend. Even if the little bastard had no idea how to talk to people. And was as warm and comforting as, well, a squid. He probably was just as angry as Huebert himself was. Who could ever tell?
"Advise you stop bullying wall for a few moments," TinTen quipped in what was his idea of a tension-relieving joke. "Allow suit's medical systems to repair sauropod damage and likely fractures to knuckles."
It was the wise thing to do, of course. It also served to remind Huebert of the alternately searing and throbbing pain in his shoulder where Kerak had managed to get a bite in, which he didn't really appreciate much. Hopefully the anaesthetic gel would take effect soon and the suit's nanobots would get him fighting fit in no time. For the moment, he simply slid down against the wall and folded his arms on his knees after batting a leering skull across the floor. It narrowed its eye-sockets at him. He ignored it and watched TinTen read.
It wasn't very exciting.
Some minutes later, TinTen had a handful of datapads spread around himself and had berated a few skeletal arms into holding them up for him; he was furiously rifling through his holy book and taking notes across several of the holographic screens at once. Whatever he was looking for and whatever plan he was formulating, it didn't seem like he was going to find it or finish it anytime soon. Huebert was getting bored and was still a simmering pot of raged; he didn't like just sitting around when Scofflaw was out there, probably building a machine that turned orphans into diet soda or something. Without warning, he stood up and made for one of the two doors out of the room.
TinTen didn't look up, but muttered "Don't. Use other door."
He gestured at the datapads surrounding him. "Could explain, but would take time. Trust me, omens point that direction."
Huebert shrugged. Sometimes it bothered him that TinTen trusted some vague bunch of weird correlations so much as to guide pretty much their every action with them, but things tended to turn out well. Well enough. It wasn't like he had any particular reason to go through this door over that one anyway. He crossed the room and poked at the wall until the stone slab slid back into the wall.
"Reconnoiter nearby. Will catch up soon hopefully. Please do not proceed far."
"Look, TinTen, I get that you're the brains of this operation," Huebert said through gritted teeth, "But you really don't have to treat me like I'm a kid or an idiot. It's really starting to piss me off."
"Am sorry. Has been stressful since kidnapping. Will try to be less authoritative, meddlesome."
The door closed behind Huebert with a rocky thud. Honestly, the fact that some kind of flying superweapon was made of stone really grated on TinTen, but he had bigger things to worry about. He went back to his research.
With the serpentine scientist gone on her own way, Dorukumets and Co. continued their exploration of the Caelo Ruinam. While Velobo would have liked to speak more with Tengeri, about what to do next, and what to do about Scofflaw and the others, he supposed that there would be time later, and that it would be far more dangerous for her to go with him.
At some point, Dorukumets had perched Velobo on his shoulder, much to Tykidu's silent ire. "So tell me Calidad, what brings you to these ruins? I initially thought you another monster, but obviously you are more than that."
Velobo mused for a moment, wondering what should be the proper course of action. He could just flatly tell them exactly what was going on, like he had been doing to virtually everyone, but thinking about it, that caused some trouble in the last round. On the other hand, it turned out okay in the end, and he couldn't really think of anything that would be convincing enough (not to say that the truth was very convincing in the first place), so he just told Dorukumets and co all about his origins, then the events in Vio's Unity Plant, and the events on the Great Battlefield.
After Velobo had finished, Dorukumets was uncharacteristically silent and still. He gave a contemplative 'hmmmm', before going "Yes... Yes I was right about you Calidad! In fact, now that you've shared your story, and that we seem to have a shortage of enemies about, I, SIR DORUKUMETS, shall share some of mine."
"You see, I am from the ancient past! I was(and of course still am) a fearsome warrior, travelling and looking for more powerful opponents. Challenge after challenge, learning more and more techniques, I was a legend, thought unbeatable in combat. There were some who did not like this, so, while tricking me into thinking that I could find new challengers, they froze me in time."
"In one way, they did fulfill their promise, for when I awoke I was thrust into a battle with a group of heroes. As I had just gotten out of that magical stupor, of course I lost. It was not a loss without some positive value, as in the aftermath, I found Gimeri!"
Dorukumets would prattle on and on about his battle at the coliseum where his armory once stood, and how he was defeated there as well, and then how he had found Tykidu on Monster Island while trying to find out where his Gauntlet of Genko had gone over all of the years. Velobo was engrossed in the man's story, oblivious to the slight exaggerations and skewered view of events. He was convinced that Dorukumets and his allies were the heroes who would save this world, and that the Gauntlet would be pivotal in their victory...
The four continued onward, some much more pleased than others, when they started to hear a growl, or maybe it was a snarl. Dorukumets clenched his fists in excitement of another monster to fight, and stopped while he waited for this creature to show.
Tengeri froze. According to her scanner, there were signs of life just fifteen meters off, though what these signs indicated was ambiguous at best, possibly due to some sort of interference. She floated through the corridor as quietly as possible, though water tends to not be the quietest of things to surround oneself with at all times. This probably wasn't a good idea, but then again, it could have been another of her fellow battlers (hopefully someone like Tor rather than Scofflaw). And maybe, just maybe, she'd be able to find a way out.
At three meters, Tengeri stopped. The life form was apparently directly behind a stone wall, though no door was immediately visible. Scanning for a method of entry, Tengeri eventually gave up on her scanner and extended a manipulator to tap on the wall.
She ended up going through.
An extremely nondescript man in equally generic clothing stood behind a counter, a number of items lining the shelves behind him. Tengeri couldn't discern what most of the items were beyond weapons with highly unusual properties and vials filled with unknown liquids, among other things. It was probably all overpriced though, given the exorbitant amounts of what seemed to be gold coins required for the purchase of any and all items.
"...Uh. Are you... are you a hero?" the man questioned, obviously extremely confused.
"...What do you mean by hero?" It was an awfully vague term.
"You know, hero of legend? Come here to defeat the bad guy, save the world, etc.? You're saying you're not one?"
"Um, sorry. I'm not sure exactly why you would think that. Is this a common thing?"
The man sighed. "Yeah... It only happens basically every year. That's how I stay in business, you know. How'd you get in here, anyway? You're supposed to have to use an artifact like the Lens of Revelation to find the entrance."
"I guess I just stumbled in? What do you do if the 'bad guy' happens to show up instead of these heroes you're going on about?"
"It's one of the perks of being a shopkeeper, you know. You get to set up shop in the most remote and dangerous places and no one will stop you."
"That's another thing. How did you get a shop into a flying fortress in the first place? Doesn't seem like you'd get much business here."
"Look, I told you, shopkeep. I can go anywhere that heroes are likely to be, and I can sell them things at overinflated prices to earn a profit. It's not like they can go to any other shops before they've brought down the fortress, after all!" The shopkeep laughed, although Tengeri wasn't exactly sure what was funny about all of this. It didn't make all that much sense, honestly.
She then came to a realization. "So you have some kind of teleportation device that lets you do this?"
"I suppose you could call it that. Kind of a vague term, but it's basically the same. Why?"
"I'm trying to find a way off of the fortress. Actually I'm looking for a way back home, but home isn't even in this universe. I don't suppose you have anything that could help me with that."
"Another universe, eh? Tell me, how did you end up here?"
"Some kind of interdimensional godlike being sent me here with eight others. Only seven of us left now, though. Each time one of us dies, we're sent off somewhere else."
"Sounds pretty standard. But you're in luck! Killing gods and demons alike happens to be the purpose of this equipment here! I can even enchant a weapon you already possess, but it'll cost you quite a few gilderupees for that."
"...Right, gilderupees. I don't suppose I can just find those lying around."
"Actually, sometimes you can! Or, if you find something else interesting, you can sell it to me, no questions asked. And by the way, if you meet the real legendary heroes, tell them that Lancelot Mortimer Veritas Garland is offering deals on magical weapons, potions, and more!"
Tengeri phased back through the wall. Well, this was just great. She now had to search a massive fortress for items of value or for random money lying around in order to buy something that had a very slim chance of actually damaging the Fool. It seemed kind of unlikely, but at this point she really didn't have much to lose.
"Ah! Zat ees none uzzer zan a dracodactyl – a beast of legend! Not ztrange, per'aps, to find eet een Ruinam's halls…"
Gimera's exclamations kept hwhizping into a register slightly too high for Jetsam to hear, not that he was especially curious about the socio-political ramifications of his new form. He was a goddamn dragon, and he let the goddamn dragon autonomously respond to Dorukomet's drawing of a sword; limbs tensing, crests rising and neck arched back to strike. A noise like a never-oiled door slid from his throat, and something corrosive bubbled in there a little more literally.
Neither dragonslayer nor dragon seemed willing to make the first move, and only a lull in Tykidu's sycophant chatter finally broke the tension.
"Sir Dorukomets, one moment…"
With a flagrant disregard for the etiquette of tense standoffs, Velobo sprung off the meatshield's shoulder and trotted across the no-man's land. Jetsam, too busy silently flipping a shit trying to remember whether or not he'd already burnt bridges with this co-victim, let him approach. And stare the wanderer down (well, up, technically, but it's hard to do much otherwise in a literal sense when your tongue's longer than your legs). And leap on his back, all uncontested save for a final angry screech and squawk, the latter of which had more to do with Jetsam forgetting he was currently quadrupedal, and that rearing up on his back legs to swat the Plazmuth off with the front ones just gave him a faceful of ceiling.
A flash of metal in the corner of his eye was warning enough, and the dracodactyl spat a great globule of something nasty in Dorukomets' direction before turning tail back up the corridor. Velobo just kind of clutched feathers and did his best to stay atop something which clearly was not built for running on four legs.
Jetsam ran until his dragon-senses stopped tingling, loping to a halt somewhereabouts the old but still-manmade walls eroded into more natural rock. He loped to a halt, saving the gritting of teeth (what the hell, this beak had teeth) at somehow wandering down a few floors again. This wasn't escape at all.
Velobo, moments later, dismounted, turned around, and got punched in the face by a dragon.
"You don't even know what I'm asking for!"
"Only made sense that you want something from me. Answer is no."
"Urs, listen, I'm not like those trigger-happy Rünslingers, at least I know what I'm asking for-"
Ursus grunted, unimpressed, and more than a little insulted the twerp saw fit to start tossing pet names around. The idiot probably wanted some scantily-clad trollop mincing around on the small of his back to show off to his bunkmates, or else some ludicrous full-arm Inking normally reserved for the eldest warrior-priests of Clan Njordbludgeon. He finished touching up the sigils of Clarity he'd Inked behind his patient's ears, and wiped the charcoal Sleep off the soldier's forehead.
"Get up. You're done. You," he growled to the lieutenant, "out."
The wheedler only made motions doorward; he snorted under his breath as the other man left. "Pssht, the pansy needs a Sleep sigil for a couple Inks?"
"I heard that," yelled the Slinger, some ways away. Ursus growled, a noise which made it a lot clearer how much would be left of the soldier's face if he was still around by the time the bear was finished tidying up. He shook an emptied tin of blue-elm charcoal, sighed,
"Get me another tin of this from the Orchard - and cook the wood right this time, then we talk-"
"I don't want something in cheap soot and fish-fat!"
"Then get me better ink," snarled Ursus, too bored with the discussion to correct the lieutenant's racism. "Either way, get out of my theatre. I have words on the hour with Lady Midday."
"Listen carefully," growled Jetsam, words slowed less for emphasis and more for a throat unsuited to human speech. "I will let you up when you agree to shut. the. hell. up. unless I ask a question."
Velobo flailed his limbs, and glared at the dracodactyl with his three eyes not squashed up against the floor.
"Keep me in striking distance, or give yourself room, I don't care. All I want are answers."
"Mmmng," managed the Plazmuth. Jetsam shifted his weight a little more firmly upon his pinning arm.
"Left arm up if you agree to this."
A pause, and both parties sprang apart. Velobo immediately said "What do you-" before the bird-monster interrupted with a unpleasant gurgle.
"Glurgh," protested Jetsam, who had just realised he couldn't talk and hold a resevoir of spit-venom. He spat it out, ruffled his crests, and locked the cuboid in his sights.
"Right. Who are you, and why have you and your friends been chasing me?"
Velobo had been completely confused by the creature's behaviour up to this point, considering he'd only first approached it on some vagrant whim, wherein he was reminded of the pangolin from Vio. It still had that skittishness about it, but its recent treatment of him was painfully inconsistent with what the Plazmuth remembered.
The question, on the other hand, was an easy one, despite the courteous cube feeling a bit awkward about disagreeing with a flying bird-lizard.
"Oh! No, I think we crossed paths by accident, we certainly were not looking for dragons! I am Velobo Calidad-"
"What? No, not that sword-flailing idiot!" Jetsam pranced irately, crests rising and falling with the snap of pennants in a changing breeze. "The dinosaur. That evil little squidman and his dumb muscle. That bastard sea-snake with the robot parts. That son of a goddamn whore who figured he could waltz on into my fucking mind-"
"Wait-" Jetsam pointedly refused, hissing instead and lobbing another globbet of acid-spit in no real direction- "are - are you that spikebeast?"
"Uh." And eventually: "Why would you-" And then, after several moments with Velobo only politely waitingfor an answer: "Who do you think I am?"
It was to Jetsam's credit that he didn't misinterpret Velobo's expectant smile as a shit-eating grin. The dracodactyl snorted with frustration, and sagged against a wall. He tried to run a hand through his hair, but just kind of raised a wing and rattled his beak when gritting his teeth didn't exactly work either.
"Yes, it's me. And fucked if I know what's going on seeing as I can't trust any goddamn one of you. Except for you, maybe." His eyes narrowed. "But only because you're a fucking moron."
Velobo didn't really know how to respond to that. The bird-dragon glared at him for a while, before sighing and letting his neck slump down beside the rest of its feathery self. The Plazmuth scratched a side absent-mindedly, then just sat down some distance from Jetsam.
He simply listened for a few heartbeats, closing his eyes and trying to better understand the situation - the tension in the air, trying to filter or factor out all the little discrepancies of this situation and a past one. With no finer ability than to feel whatever emotions his companion gave off, Velobo opened his assorted eyes to Jetsam staring incredulously back.
"What are you doing?" he asked, with a helping of "why are you still here" in the subtext.
"I am thinking. Would you like to trust me?"
"I-" Jetsam was about to spit out an automated "no", but something stopped him. "I want to know what's happening. You can tell me that much. There's nothing any of you can do that I'll mistrust you less, but I'll hear your story. That's it. I want to know what's happened to you. To me as well I guess, if you've got any goddamn idea. Those other asshats, too."
The dracodactyl stood in a fluid movement, an untangling stretch flowing down his neck, through the spine, and out the tip of its whiplike tail. "Get on. You've got no problems with finding a way out of here?"
Velobo couldn't say he did, and spikebeast or birdbeast he'd prefer any mount over none. "Good! So, a strange man who called himself the Fool..."
Beneath him, Jetsam twitched a bit, but let him continue. He resolved to not say anything until the Plazmuth was done.
Huebert liked the skeletons, zombies, and rats. They didn't question his intelligence, belittle him, or act like he was some sort of second-class subspecies. They treated him like any other intruder and just tried to kill him, straight up, with no insinuations or subtext.
He was a bit confused by the dock, though. He'd just been wandering the Ruinam's halls, and after a few minutes of walking and monster-beating, he'd come to a cavern that opened down into nothing. If there'd been a pond in the middle, then maybe a little dock leading out into it might've made at least some sense, but as it was, the wooden structure just hung out over open space, looking down onto clouds and slowly-moving landscape far below. It just didn't make any sense to him.
Of course, that didn't stop him from throwing a giant rat off of it, sending the creature sailing down and away. Nothing else he'd seen so far led him to expect much sense to be made by things, so he just focused on some nice, relaxing monster-fighting. Unfortunately, there weren't many more enemies in the little cavern, so once he'd exhausted the monster supply, he moved on. The path he'd been making his way along continued on through the fortress, and the sounds of scurrying and shuffling encouraged him to keep going ahead.
Alex, meanwhile, was pacing around what amounted to her quarters on the little island-ship. It wasn't much more than a bed, an end table, and few square feet of floor space, but it was all she had to work with at the moment. She could only do two steps or so before having to turn around, but she was technically pacing, so she made do.
Back home, she'd had plenty of space to pace around in. There were the halls of the manor, the pastures outside, the paths through the graveyard... Space and gravel enough to pace for years and not even leave a mark.
It was hard to believe it had only been about half a day since she'd left all that behind; it seemed like a lifetime ago, really, like someone else's life, only tangentially related to her own. She'd gone out... what was it for, to find O'Keele and bring him back to the town?
From there, of course, everything had gone to hell. The road home had been blocked by a rockslide once she got to the next town over, and she and O'Keele had had to help the local miners deal with some marauders before they were willing to help clear the road. Things had just continued from there, one thing leading to another, until somehow, beyond all sense of reason, the task of stopping Midday's plan to polish the world (or whatever it was she'd wanted to do) had fallen to a teenager from some nowhere village and a group of allies she'd somehow managed to gather around herself.
She sighed. Going on about how absurd it was that she, she, was supposed to lead the charge against an absolutely insane woman and her plethora of troops wasn't going to do her any good. They were going to be arriving at the madwoman's hijacked flying fortress soon, and there wasn't time to worry about things like absurdity. All there was time for was preparation.
"She's just in here," Baghim said, walking a little past the door so that Tor could actually get to it. The hall, much like the rest of the little building, was cramped enough that the cleric had to slouch a bit to walk around.
Tor, fortunately, wasn't at his tallest, so he didn't have to worry about that. It was for the best, really; the kalamritul was making it a bit difficult to focus on more than one thing, and carrying on a conversation and keeping from hitting his head might've proven too much for the Telpori-Hal just at that moment.
There was a pause for a few moments while Baghim waited for Tor to knock and Tor waited for Baghim to do... something, probably.
Eventually, the cleric took the initiative and actually knocked on the door. Something banged into something else inside the tiny room and a voice practically shouted, "Just a minute!"
Baghim wasn't exactly known among the little group for being perceptive, and Tor's perceptions were busy perceiving that Baghim really was tall, wasn't he. Neither person really gave what Alex could be doing much thought.
She did open the door after a minute, and when she saw Tor outside, she managed to use her forceful will to not roll her eyes. She didn't exactly invite him in; she just stuck with a curt "What do you want?"
"You're the leader of this group of people, yes?"
Well done, Tor thought to himself, so far so good.
"That's how things have turned out, yes."
"I was wondering if we could have a chat, then, captain to captain." That's good, that's good.
Alex still didn't move to let him in, but she shifted her body a bit, standing a bit more casually. "Alright. Go ahead, what did you have in mind?"
"Well, I just thought..." Just thought what? Where was this going, again? Come on, what was it... "Given that we might have common interests..." Train of thought, train of thought... The fortress? The battle? "I thought we should consider discussing, ah..." The Fool? Tengeri? Scoff- Yes! "Scofflaw, that's it!"
Alex stared at him. "Scofflaw?"
"Yes, Scofflaw!" Tor was quite glad he'd worked out what it was he'd meant to talk about. "Scofflaw, you should look out for him."
"Look out for him? Who even is he?"
Right, right. Get it together. "Right, yes. He's, ah... He's a squattish sort of guy, human, likes to change up his outfit. He schemes, he plots, he... He doesn't do anything good, is my point."
By the time Skybound Isle was ready to arrive, Tor had managed to explain things to Alex and make his proposal. Alex and her party had a general idea of the layout of Caelo Ruinam and thanks to a crude map they'd picked up in their travels, so Tor would travel with them and help them out when he could. In exchange, when they dealt with Midday, they'd take care of Scofflaw. (It was a win-win, assuming Tor proved himself to be actually useful; the party's leader still had her doubts about him.)
All that was left was the actual act of getting there.
"What do you mean, we can't get above them?"
The group was standing around on the roof of the island's building. They were close enough to the bottom of the Ruinam that they'd had to turn off the fog machine, but by now, they were close enough that the station's detectors shouldn't have been able to see them. Rock outcroppings and bits of extended metal or equipment drifted past as they talked, close enough that a piloting error might take someone's head off.
Kernitt shrugged, the wheel jerking a bit under his hands as he did. "Tersaches wodinnumactic unnartressed."
"There are problems with aerodynamics and our thrust," Baghim provided, translating for the old man.
"Problems?! How are we supposed to board them if we can't get above them?!" Alex didn't need this. They'd come this far, but now they suddenly couldn't even get on top of the fortress?
"Darny, jasnitter fannwaenandersud."
"Don't worry, we just need to find a way in on the underside."
O'Keele spoke up. "What, like a little hole about the size of this shack, maybe with a dock?"
Alex rolled her eyes. "Fine, that's a nice idea, but a flying death-fortress isn't just going to have a convenient little dock and a welcoming party."
Crossing his arms, the archer leaned back against the low railing that surrounded the shack's roof. "Whatever you say."
"She knows, Kernitt. She was being sarcastic."
"We will." The cleric turned to his leader. "Well? What do you want him to do?"
Alex sighed. "I guess we keep a lookout for any sort of access down here. Kernitt, can you start circling us around the underside of the Ruinam? We'll just have to cover the thing systematically until we find something we can use."
"What," O'Keele repeated, "like a little hole about the size of this shack, maybe with a dock?"
"Yes," Alex replied, "just like-"
"Because we passed one of those a little while back, but you weren't listening."
Alex didn't so much say something to O'Keele as sputter, half-say a few different words, then just wave an arm and stalk over to the stairs.
"...Even now, he ees likely telling Midday of your exploits!"
Dorukomets and his entourage were doing what they did best: wandering the halls and dispatching minor monsters. At the moment, things were quiet; the only monsters around were thoroughly defeated already.
"Well, if she has any sense, she'll hear one word and simply give up. Even the she must must know she stands no chance against the likes of SIR DORU-"
The end of the warrior's boasting was cut short by a resounding thud, a noise that echoed down the hall and shook the floor.
"What was that, what was that?! Did you-"
"Silence!", Dorukomets snapped, eyes narrowing as he glared down the hall ahead of them. "I hear voices."
Tor and Tock were just tying off the ropes to keep Skybound Isle thoroughly attached to the dock when the six-armed figure appeared in the door.
"So," the person shouted, "you've come to try and stop me, SIR DORUKOMETS, once again!"
Alex gasped and whirled to face the newcomer. "You! How did you get up here?"
Dorukomets laughed, putting his whole body into it. "You really think I would tell you something like that? You're even more foolish than I'd thought! No, I've only one thing to say to you."
The adventurers' leader took a rebellious pose, raising her chin at the warrior. "And what's that?"
Dorukomets took a pose of his own. "Prepare to face defeat at the hands of me, SIR DORUKOMETS!"
Things I currently dislike: Life. Why's it got to take so much time away from my precious internetting?
The hermit, as well as the rest of Alex's group, were still in the flying island shack when Dorukumets decided to show his stupid, musclebound face again. It was always something, wasn't it? She had long since given up being frustrated that things always worked out to be a three-on-three bout with these ridiculous idiots. It was probably fate, or something. She'd heard a lot about fate in the last week. Instead, she spent her frustration on more important things, like the fact that this time her three was herself, with very limited and unskilled magic; Tock, who wasn't good for much more than punching things really hard; and the new metal-clad daydreamer, who didn't seem to be carrying a bow and was hard to imagine being much good at throwing lightning or anything as spacey as he was. It was going to be another long grind of a battle that would take a huge chunk out of her etherdust supply as she gradually wore Dorukomets and his auto-counter down.
Fuck's sake, she had so much better shit to be doing.
No sense wasting time grumbling, though. She was a leader, and it was time to lead. "Tock," she barked, "get in front, soak up whatever those two throw at you. Tor, you and I need to focus on taking down the octopus first."
Tor blinked hard and tried to shake the lingering effects of the kalamritul out of his eyes and brain. Focus on the octopus. Right. He could probably keep focused on that, it wasn't too complicated. Octopus. Ock. Toe. Pussss.
"Right. Uh, right. Yeah, okay."
Alex grimaced. It was going to be a long fight.
A really long fight.
Tykidu tittered. "Are you sure about this, Dorky? I don't think they're even ready for us!"
"Ja," offered Gimeri. "Maybe we should wait until they learn to fight again!"
Dorukomets laughed a hearty, offputting laugh. "Ordinarily SIR DORUKOMETS would never dream of combating such a weak group of stragglers, but this time he will make an exception!" He glared at Alex. "Too long has this little girl stood in the way of obtaining the gauntlet, and that ends now!"
Alex simply unshouldered her pack and tossed it to Tor while unsheathing her sword with the other hand. "Just find some firebat capsules or poison pouches or something, and use them when you're not keeping me supplied with etherdust." How long can it take them to gather things up from a hut that has, what, three rooms?
"Ah ha, so she does have some fight left in her after all! Well, companions, no need to hold back!"
With no more preamble than that, he lunged. With speed that seemed out of place even to those who had seen him fight before, Dorukomets whipped a spear off his back and leveled the point at Alex's throat even as he thundered across the floor towards her. With a speed that seemed like it should literally have been impossible, Tock interposed himself between them, deflecting the spear blow with his shoulder and taking only superficial damage to his brassy frame for the trouble.
The mechanical man ducked back out of the way as Dorukomets reeled, and Alex took the opening to mutter to herself a bit and swing her sword around; after a moment, a volley of sharp and jagged chunks of ice materialized behind the arc of her blade. They launched themselves towards the temporally-displaced knight's group, peppering them with freezing razors before weakly exploding into puffs of cold fire. Gimeri squealed unpleasantly and hurried to scribble some minor healing glyphs on Dorukomets's back; he was completely cured, but at least she and the bird weren't unharmed. Alex briefly wished she'd invested in some runespells at some point; she was just so mediocre with natural magic.
She didn't have much time to spend on that train of thought, though, since Tor had finally found something in the bag that seemed promisingly weaponizable even through the haze of pleasant befuddlement that was filling him top to bottom. He idly wondered why none of these bottles and bags and weird squirmy things weren't labeled – or frankly how so many of them fit in a little leather backpack – but set all that aside as he flung a sinister-looking vial of bubbling black sludge at... Who was it supposed– right, the octopus! At the octopus.
The glass shattered like sugar and the dark spirits inside burst out with a sound that was a cross between an explosion and a scream. They clawed and bit at Gimeri for several seconds as she flailed ineffectually at their incorporeal bodies, then fled and faded into nothingness, leaving her covered in lacerations and what looked like acid burns.
"Thees ees unbearable! Don't let zem hurt me, Sir Dokuromets!"
"I will aid you, fair Gimeri!"
The little bird-man did an awkward, fluttering dance, clicking his beak and squaking loudly, then pointed straight at Tor. Tock blurred into motion again, putting himself in the path of the spell everyone expected to materialize; when nothing seemed to happen, he relaaxed slightly, which sent Tykidu into gales of raucous chirp-laughter.
"Your golem could not outsmart the mighty entourage of SIR DORUKOMETS forever! Not after the last time we met, little girl."
As Dorukomets himself attacked again with an obnoxious cry of "DORUUUUUUU!" and was locked in a grapple with Tock, Alex's eyes were darting all around the little dock-room. What could he possibly be– and then she saw it. A ball of molten rock and metal wreathed with black-tinged flame was forming over Tor. Before she could speak, it began streaking towards him, too fast to dodge even if he had been aware of its presence.
Huebert, in spite of or because of TinTen's request that he not go far, had continued on his way since leaving the dock, pummeling monsters and occasionally vaporizing the ones that looked too big to punch effectively. His plasma cannister was just whirring down as it cooled from being fired when he heard the thundering boom that he had no way of knowing signalled the arrival of Alex and her crew; he considered going back to check it out, but was distracted by an approaching lizard beast. When several voices followed the crash, however, whatever had happened behind him became much more interesting than some easily-dispatched reptile; with an excited grin, he doubled back, thankful for the one voice that seemed to like DRAMATIC EXCLAMATIONS the most for making it easy to find the way.
Curiously, despite the fact that he'd definitively and lethally cleared the halls as he'd passed, there were more rats and lizards and so forth littering the gloomy darkness. He didn't give it much thought – who cared where vermin came from, right? – and just barelled past, intent on reaching whatever was causing such a ruckus. It wasn't hard; the monsters would growl or scream or bark or whatever they did and try to attack him, but as he moved past they'd inevitably just... let him go. None of them made an effort to pursue him, and that suited him just fine. He had bigger fish to fry. Or punch or laser.
By the time he reached the dock again, the arrogant monologue contest was over and fighting had begun in earnest. Two groups of three weird-looking beings were lined up and duking it out; Huebert arrived just in time to see the avian one launch some kind of firey attack on... Was that Tor?
Huebert's excitement quickly withered to anger and worry. Tor was an arrogant prick, and probably a racist judging by the way he'd always looked at Huebert and even his own troops, but he still didn't need to die. Especially not before they'd had a chance to explore this weird place and especially not before Scofflaw. Without stopping to think or draw a weapon, Huebert dashed into the room, fists swinging. His intervention couldn't have really made much of a difference regardless of how it played out, though, since it was about at that moment that the spell, now a spike of lethal heat and steel, slammed into Tor's back. The shocked alien's eyes widened and he screamed as he was immolated and impaled.
Of course, no-one could have seen what had actually happened without the aid of a high-speed camera with impressive zooming capabilities. Though he'd burned off his toxins as recently as his freefall from Caelo Ruinam, the intervening waiting on the shipshack and fight had been long enough to build a healthy supply back up. Or, rather, an unhealthy one. The intense heat from Gimeri's missile was enough to spontaneously ignite the unaware telpori-hal, sending his body crumbling into a biological ash slurry before the metal bolt could do it any real harm. He collapsed, the spell embedded in what could only be called his flesh by dint of its current shape, and disintegrated.
Huebert, who hadn't been exposed to Tor's species's more combustive quirks and didn't remember much of what the Fool had told them about him, only saw the captain killed and burnt.
His shout devolved from expletive to wordless howl of rage, and he charged into the fray, not bothering to wonder why the round hadn't ended yet. Despite Tykidu having been the one who'd actually killed Tor as far as Huebert was aware, Dorukomets was closer; he swung as hard as he could, muscles rivalling the monster's in size even if they were outmatched in quantity, confident that he could knock its smug, unarmored head in with one blow. What he hadn't expected was to be struck himself in the gut and tossed backwards, unable even to see what had hit him. As Huebert collided with the wall behind him, Dorukomets shoved Tock aside and turned to face him, laughing.
"Ha HA! So, another challenger seeks to tackle SIR DORUKOMETS, even as his moment of final victory approaches. At least this one looks like it can handle itself in combat. Perhaps it will not die quite so embarrassingly!"
Huebert spat on the ground, not even bothering to stand up. "Go fuck yourself, you caricature."
He drew out his carbine and sent a burst of laserfire straight at the showboating warrior. Gimeri screamed, Alex shouted at Tock to take advantage of the situation, and Tykidu was clearly panicking as his hero took a volley of weaponized light to the chest and arms. Nobody seemed to notice Tor calmly reform, still looking dazed, or pick up the pack by its now-scorched straps.
TinTen stood up. He had... Well, it was less of a plan than he'd like it to be. Hardly a plan at all, really. For all his research and divining, for all his time and effort... He was simply in a place and in a situation there wasn't much precedent for, no matter how far he stretched interpretations. On the one limb, he was pretty confident about how to find Scofflaw, and almost certainly overconfident about his own safety. On the other, there was no guarantee of how the encounter with his quarry would play out. If he considered one set of writ in a certain way, Scofflaw might even end up benefiting from it; another way saw them mutually stymied, and a third forecast both playing into the hands of a third party. Still, he had to try if there was any chance of finishing the bastard off, and there certainly was that much.
He sighed, and gathered up his book and pulled datapads from the clenching hands of some very passive-aggressive defeated skeletons. Without a backwards glance, he headed out the way he'd sent Huebert. With a truncated list of directions he intended to take gripped on one side and his weapon drawn on the other, he headed out through the labyrinthine dungeon ahead of him.
After several minutes of confident wandering, eyes fixed on a datapad and almost absentmindedly taking potshots at whatever assorted monsters accosted him, he came to yet another fork. Along one path, scorches on the wall and sections of stone that had been sublimated indicated Huebert had gone that way; along the other undisturbed corridor there wasn't much at all worth mentioning, save for the fact that it was the one TinTen wanted to go down.
"Hmph. Expected to meet Huebert before now," he muttered to a tentacular abomination as he blasted its myriad eyes out. "Reminded him to stay close."
He waffled for several seconds, debating going after Huebert or simply continuing along his way. Eventually, he came to the conclusion that Huebert was faster than he, so catching up would probably be futile, and would eat up a lot of time even if it wasn't. With an annoyed squelch, he slithered his way through the darkness.
Anyone with a map of Caelo Ruinam would have been able to see that his meanderings were an extemely redundant and nearly random spiderweb of twists and turns; despite being extremely inefficient, though, they were bringing him closer to a stairwell that would bring him out of the depths of the citadel's dungeons and straight into the hangar filled with Lady Midday's mechs, aircraft, and soldiers. By coincidence or by providence, he was approaching what could loosely be called his goal, despite doing so in the most dangerous and roundabout way possible.
Dorukomets fell, an expression of pained surprise plastered across his face; Huebert rose, a grimly retributive one on his. It was about this time that he realized that despite Tor's death, the round hadn't moved on, and about this time that Tor himself piped up cheerfully in spite of being dead and a battle raging around him.
"Hey, it's that guy!"
'That guy' looked over, eyebrows raised. "Wait, bu–"
His question was cut off as a ballistic octopus collided with him and knocked him back down, doing its level best to throttle him.
"How could you do that to him! He didn't even hurt you!"
It took all of Huebert's considerable strength and dexterity to wrangle the murderous cephalopod and cast her aside; as he did, he caught sight of Tock hammering Tykidu into the ground with his fists. Alex calmly strode over to the writhing Gimeri, slashing her several times until she was still. Her body was still floating, but she seemed to have been dealt a deathblow.
Huebert stood back up. Again. He massaged the suckermarks on his wrists and neck, and coughed out "What the hell is going on here?"
Tor looked at the bodies of his defeated foes. "They... That one's still breathing. Aren't you going to kill them?"
Alex took his resurrection in much greater stride than Huebert had, despite knowing him for less time, not even bothering to give the near-unrecognizable alien a second glance.
"No," she said, giving Dorukomets a kick in the side and grinning understatedly as he did his best not to groan or shift away from the blow. "They always do this when they're beaten, and I'm not about to go around stabbing a bunch of idiots who have surrendered."
That seemed just fine to Tor. Lots of things did. Alex turned to Huebert as the rest of her crew finally started filing out of their craft and had better have one heck of a reason it took them that long.
"Thanks, you really have no idea how much time you just saved us, and how important that is. What kind of weapon is that? I've never seen something that can dish out that much damage, or channel magic that effectively. Best manapistol I've ever seen could only get a burst out every seven seconds or so, and that got, what, ten in a shot?"
Huebert's brow furrowed.
Albert Einstein, who of all the geniuses in history was the one whose hairdo the former Scofflaw admired the most, used to rest at his desk while clutching a pencil in his hand. When he finally dozed off into unconsciousness, he would release the pencil and its clattering would awaken him. It was the sort of elegant, understated solution for which Einstein was known and for which Ray (Sadist Forme) had nothing but contempt. So it was that when the villain (and whipping-boy for the greater villainess) fell asleep, there was no clack but a whoosh as neither one nor two but three new scofflaws warped into being.
The first of the scofflaws was leaner and perhaps a hair taller than the others, and pranced around the room with a childlike abandon. He wore a blue suit. ”What’s going on here?” he exclaimed. ”Why, there are four of me! How wonderful! I do very much love myself.”
The scofflaw in the red suit was about two feet tall and dangerously pale. He had been brought into the world weeping and saw no reason to stop. He wheezed as he spoke. ”Why would anyone do this?” he mewed. ”There don’t need to be more of me. There shouldn’t even be one. I hate myself.”
”I take that as an insult, you know,” snapped the blue scofflaw, too manic to be legitimately angry.
”Quiet, you too,” grunted the bloated, grim green scofflaw, examining the computer terminal over the shoulder of his progenitor. ”I’m reading.”
”The last thing I remember was coming up with the plan to code three backup versions of myself to carry out my malevolent schemes while I slept,” announced the blue scofflaw. ”So be it, then!”
”Yes, well,” mused the green scofflaw. ”We may have overestimated our mystical runic programming ability. The prime Science Sadist forgot to give us any memories after that.”
”Why are you still… calling him that?” breathed the red scofflaw. ”It’s just us here. Our name is—“
”We don’t speak that name here,” interrupted the blue scofflaw. ”Ray Green, clearly Ray Red is deficient. And I’m having difficulty thinking of reasons why he would be. What’s going on here?”
”The code wouldn’t reconcile all of his most valuable attributes, so he could only give one of them to each of us. I am his intellect. Though cold and unfeeling, I hold the secrets of the code and a great mental capacity to realize our plans. Ray Blue, you are his soul.”
”I should have guessed! I can feel myself surging with creativity, whimsy and a lust for life!”
”Yes. Between your ideas and my scientific rigor, we should be able to accomplish anything. Red Ray, I’m sorry to have to be the one to give you this news, but you are his heart.”
”Oh, please, God, no!” The red scofflaw redoubled his incessant weeping.
”Yes. I cannot fathom why he chose to include you.”
”You wouldn’t. You don’t know him the way I do.”
”We need a plan,” insisted the blue scofflaw. ”I assume the prime Ray has been monitoring the other contestants while he works?”
”Yes he has,” confirmed the intellect. ”Velobo and something that is likely Jetsam are bonding far below, in the dungeons. They provide a minimal threat. Tor and Huebert have joined with a group of terrorists who are attempting to fight their way through to Lady Midday, though they will not arrive before Tinten, who is alone.”
”Does Midday know they’re coming?” asked the soul.
”We have a feed on her, too. She is washing herself in a shower of tears, and does not seem worried.”
”Is she naked?” asked the heart.
”Very. Have a look, if you so wish.”
The three scofflaws took a minute to ogle their boss before continuing with their schemes. ”We,” suggested the blue scofflaw, Should warn Midday of the arrival of the others, so she can kill them. Alternatively, we should not, so they can kill her!”
”That is unwise in either case. If they kill her, they will find us—and the prime—and kill all of us. If she is warned of them, she will send us out first, and they will kill us, leaving us unable to conclude the prime’s schemes. Only one of us should go.”
”Aha! If one of us dies, it will leave the others in doubt as to whether their much-loathed ‘Scofflaw’ still lives! Buying us time to concoct even more dastardly plots of vengeance and conquest! I volunteer the heart.”
The red scofflaw sobbed into his hands. “Oh, please, no,” he cried. ”I want to live. Please. I don’t want to die. I’m more real than either of you.”
”And I am more valuable than either of you,” added the green scofflaw. ”Besides, no one could mistake Ray Red for the prime. The deception would be obvious. Therefore, soul, it must be you who goes to die.”
”I accept this charge gladly!” laughed the soul. ”But only under the condition that I be allowed to make a genuine attempt to seduce Midday!”
”That should not interfere with our plans, but know that your chances of success are less than twenty percent.”
”We beat those odds on prom night. God bless you, men.” The blue scofflaw strode out of the lab in the direction of Lady Midday’s private bathroom.
”Hey, what about Tengeri?” asked the red scofflaw. ”She’s our favorite.”
”Ah, yes. She’s trying to work up the money to buy a weapon that could destroy the Fool. I’ve been embezzling money from Midday and will have it before she can so much as—“
”No,” demanded the red scofflaw. ”We buy it for her as a gift.”
The intellect was puzzled. ”But why?” he demanded.
”Because she’s our favorite and… and maybe she’d trust us a little and… and… help me out here.”
The green scofflaw considered this for some seconds. At last he said: ”Perhaps a plan against the Fool would be more likely to succeed if we weren’t the face of it. Tengeri is well-liked. Yes… yes, perhaps there is some wisdom to your plan. Very well, heart. Perhaps there was a reason the prime created you after all.”
”How will we get in touch with her?”
”I’ve already created a program linking her bionic eye to our webcam. You do the talking. I don’t think she’d like me.”
”Okay.” Ray (Sadist Forme)’s heart dried its tears and stood in front of the computer while his brain made a few keystrokes.
A video feed of a cave full of giant bats (with the red Scofflaw’s reflection inset on the upper corner) came up on the screen. The green scofflaw whispered: ”You’re live.”
”Okay. Hello. Tengeri? Are you there? I just wanted to say, first of all, that I’m really so, so sorry about everything that I’ve done to you…”
Last edited by Lord Paradise; 07-27-2012 at 10:05 PM.
"Good! So, a strange man who called himself the Fool abducted myself and eight others for what his 'social circle' calls a 'Grand Battle.' In this event, multiple beings are taken from their homes and trust into other places around the cosmos, very similar to what you apparently do, only without the transformations. Actually... he mentioned that a being much like himself causes your shifts.
Anyway, starting with you, he informed us about each other. Second was Tengeri, then Murdoch Miles, Tor, Scofflaw, Kerak, myself, TinTen Naamxe, and lastly, Huebert Henderson. So far the information seems like it was accurate, it was at least for me. After the explanations, we all spawned in the so-called Unity Plant, in the world of Vio.
As he let the cube go on with his explanation, Jetsam wondered which of Velobo's words were fact, and which were fiction. While obviously a being capable of forcing someone else to traverse the multiverse was not unknown to him, this Fool character seemed too different from his bastard initiator. From the second hand descriptions, he seemed too flimsy, too predictable, and too personal. If he were to believe them, he would have to accept not only that a second higher being was fucking with him, but that he was exclusively fucking with him as Jetsam was the only one who hadn't seen this Fool. To the paranoid shifter, it seemed much more reasonable that this was still the doing of the first asshole who had been messing with him.
Velobo was oblivious to Jetsam's mistrust. From his perspective, the growly grumpy act was entirely legitimate given what he knew. Jetsam was out of the loop. He hadn't seen The Fool, he hadn't felt the energy, and he hadn't been told about the intricacies of the battle. From Jetsam's perspective, the only thing that had changed was that he had tag-a-longs. And Velobo imagined that with how long Jetsam has been jumping, tag-a-longs did not seem like a very good thing.
"Now, after I split off from you, I met Tengeri and the two of us beat up Scofflaw and decided to work together. Tremors began to shake the room, and we went toward the source. A large wave of chaos beasts descended down and attacked the two of us, and then Tor found us as well. We continued to fight them until the tremors caused the crystals above to shatter, decimating many of the chaos beasts, but awakening a much more formidable foe in the process.
It was the most indescribably large creature I've ever seen, it had tentacles and claws and eyes and mouths everywhere. It was just weird. It probably would have defeated us all, had I not noticed that there was some sand coming down from the roof. I leaped upward, propelled by Tor, in an attempt to cause a cave in, however the creature intercepted and ate me. Luckily, I was able to escape with my tongue," Velobo stretched out his tongue in demonstration.
"I succeeded in reaching the top, but the creature rose with me, foolishly breaking through the top of the cavern and eating all of the sediment above! I am a little fuzzy on what happened next, but I remember being carried by Tor and receiving a message from an Eric T. Reinhardt, telling me that this was not the only battle that existed and that there would be another one for whoever survived this one. Then I accidentally licked Scofflaw's face. After that most of us remained in a bunker before Murdoch died and we were transported to another round. I wonder what killed him..."
Jetsam was somewhat taken aback at Velobo's casual mention of the battle and it's pairing with the comment on Scofflaw's face. Everything that the cube was saying felt weird. He obviously knew that some bits were true, and he didn't find other things that hard to believe, but something about his tone of voice in regards to the battle and this second battle only aided in his belief that the cube was bullshitting him.
Still, he was proving to be a somewhat useful reference on the other so-called contestants, who Fool or no, were following him. At the same time, there was something about Velobo's frankness and obliviousness that made it hard for Jetsam to think that his intentions were bad.
Still moving forward, neither of them noticed that the rock and stone was slowly becoming more metallic.
Lady Midday's bathroom was a new addition to the Caelo Ruinam. For ages, she had to deal with making a camp near some important cave, without any normal facilities. It was utterly barbaric, which is why she had her minions work on this marvel of a portable room. Everything in her living quarters in the area was created with her magic superior and technology except for the tears that she was showering in. The magic made stuff just didn't have the same feeling as a few tears from some little kid that she had just destroyed the home town of. It felt really good.
Finishing with her shower, she dried herself off and put on another luxurious robe, this one skinned from the last Maximi Bear alive. THe thing deserved it too, considering that it was helping that ragtag group of fools who thought that they could defeat her. Unlike them, Lady Midday was not a fool. She didn't have delusions of grandeur, she wasn't cocky, she was not in over her head. She didn't have a secret agenda, she wasn't aiming to absorb a higher power, and she was firmly at the top of the food chain. No, Lady Midday knew exactly what she was doing, exactly how she would do it, and exactly why she was doing it, no ifs ands or buts. True, there were a few unexpected interruptions like her new scientist, and the reports of far too many of the local monsters being destroyed, but she didn't really need the Ruinam to win, it just saved time.
"-at which point I learned that the Great Battlefield was actually a computer simulation, and that the Benefactors would reset the entire battlefield, killing us and everyone in it!"
Jetsam had to admit one thing about the cube, truth or not, he was pretty good at not shutting up. Up until now, Jetsam didn't think much about the cube that he had perched on top of him, sure he had helped him before and seemed to want to help him now, but besides a few tricks what could he do? Apparently he could take out a Secret Agent, infiltrate a military base, defeat giant monsters, and effectively take command. One Velobo was a fool whereas the other was a warrior. Which of the two was the truth?
"With the threat this serious and the opponent with as much control as they had, we had no choice but to enlist Scofflaw. Along with TinTen and Huebert, the five of us made our way to the center of the battlefield, where TinTen and Tengeri infiltrated the base of the Benefactors while you we tried to boost the signal of the converter nullifier and waited for you and Tor.
When they returned, they informed us of the nuke locations and we made a plan. I believe that you joined the group shortly after I began to make my way to the yellow base to implant one of Scofflaw's resonators on the nuke there. After what I thought was our success, but was truly a vile betrayal by Scofflaw, the Benefactors abducted me and surrendered. While his machinations disrupted my thoughts, changed the way my mind worked, and left me under Scofflaws control, they told me of a desire to work with us, to improve their world. Though at the time, I couldn't express anything, I wonder, even though The Fool has taken us for his own purposes, and wishes our death, has taken us from our homes and destinies, I wonder... could we aid the worlds that we are thrust into?
What do you think Jetsam?"
Jetsam twitched for a little as he thought about the question that Velobo asked. It just wasn't something that made sense to ask, not to him. Eventually, Jetsam let out a low "I don't know," but absentmindedly followed it up with, "Ask me later."
A bit dejected, but not enough to pursue it further, Velobo only replied with an, "I see."
The two remained in their silence until Velobo opted to continue his story.
"After that, they deposited me in front of Scofflaw, where he was fighting a renegade soldier, under his control, I instinctively dispatched of him, a-" Velobo ceased speaking so that he could hold on to Jetsam tighter.
Unlike the previous stops by the dragonoid, this one had more of an oomph. Jetsam jerked as two dots connected into one angry line. Swirling in his mind was the thought, a single one, about how close he was to offing that wretched bastard that had the gall to invade and fuck with his mind.
Velobo looked down at the obviously distressed Jetsam and connected similar dots. "Oh no... Jetsam, you were the soldier who tried to kill Scofflaw, weren't you? I am sorry, I had no cho-"
Jetsam raised his claw and after bucking him off, grabbed Velobo and pinned him to one of the grey walls. "I almost had that bastard and then you stopped me! I knew that you were just like them. That all of your are out here for a hidden agenda. What do you want with me? Who sent you?"
"Jetsam..." Velobo was shaking a little as the wanderer kept him clutched him against the wall. He probably could have used his tongue or band to stop Jetsam's escape or grip, but then what would happen in the long run? Jetsam was an angry ball of confusion and hatred, not some villainous force who wanted to end everyone's lives.
"SHUT UP! Stop talking!" His words came out in half snarls and growls. "Why do you keep doing that? Why do you keep doing that, apologizing and smiling and treating me lik-"
"Like what? Like a friend? Like a fellow living being? You may look like a monster right now, but that isn't who you are."
"And what do you know about me? You don't know what it's like, to lose everything you had, to constantly lose everything you build! To try to make the best of things only to have it all crumbling down! To not even have a sense of privacy, knowing that you are being constantly watched by something that you'll never be able to beat. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, YOU DON'T KNOW WHO I AM!"
Struggling against Jetsam’s clawed grip, Velobo tried to speak but failed. After a few tries, the two silently staring at each other, Velobo finally let out a hoarse, "N-n-no." Heavily breathing for a while longer, the grip around Velobo’s body slightly loosened and the Plazmuth saw it fit to begin.
"No. I will not pretend that I have any, or even a fraction, of the experiences that you have been forced through. But I know what it is like to be trapped, to be out of control. When a man subjugates you and your brothers and sisters and forces them to do whatever he wants. When a monster decides that you are a lesser being, a toy to bend and break and dispose of en masse! To finally free your people and promise to lead them to a better life, a new life, free from living with the knowledge that only death lies ahead, and then to have it ripped away from you in the final moment of glory."
Velobo started to cry as he thought of the other Plazmuths, back on Muer Moon, likely waiting for him to return, if that wretched host hadn't killed them all. He needed to live, to get back to them, and free them for real. Velobo didn't even know he could cry, but he didn't know a lot of things. He didn't know why he was different, why he had to be the one to save his race. What had happened to the man in black's promise? Why he was chosen to be in this Grand Battle or why he was here, trying to convince Jetsam to stand down and let him go or if anything he was saying would do anything.
But even if he didn't know any of these things, he was determined to make the best of it. Whether he would admit it or not, Jetsam was a good person, an angry one, yes, but still fundamentally good, just in need of help. "I don't want to hurt you and I don't think you want to hurt me. I just want to help you. I want to help all of us."
The sight of multiple eyes letting out the green(?) tears was not something that Jetsam really enjoyed. What was he doing? As far as he had seen, Velobo didn't want to harm him, the cube was barley capable of identifying him. Even if he didn't seem like much, Velobo words and actions matched up. Did he really mean it? Did Velobo really want to help everyone that he could, to help him. Velobo wasn't scared of him, was it because he secretly had an edge or because the alien really did think that he was a good person?
Velobo had finished talking. As Jetsam contemplated his words he didn't hope, he knew that it would be the right thing. He was breathing heavily, still pinned and still crying. The claw gripping him let loose he slid down into a puddle of his own tears.
"I don't know who you really are, and maybe you are right. Maybe you do want to help me, out of some kinship and shared past of manipulation and failure. Maybe you're right about everything you've said. But I don't know."
Jetsam turned around and faced the floor. He looked to his claw, wet from Plazmuth tears and then turned to the source, full of resolve and smiling once more. Jetsam had to admit another thing. If Velobo had anything, he had hope.
"I still don't trust you completely... but I don't think we're enemies. Let's go."
Velobo stood straight and perched himself upon Jetsam once more, content that even if he hadn't earned Jetsam's trust, he had made a small step in breaking through to what he knew was a shining interior. Velobo nodded and said, "Let's."
"Lady Midday does not wish to be disturbed. If you have anything important to tell her, I will send word."
"Oh come on boy, that would ruin the surprise." I like surprises, do you?
That is quite the shame, because my monster back there really does.
As the two guards turned around to the empty corridor, Soul Scofflaw knocked the two of them out and continued on his merry way.
"Never fails to work, that trick." He let out a cackle as he continued on his way.
While the Scofflaw probably shouldn't have been taking down Midday's protectors willy-nilly, it wasn't like she really needed them. And even so, he wasn't killing them, so he didn't see any downside to it! All it meant is that maybe a few sleeping guards would be mauled by monsters, but it wasn't like his other thirds would let the likes of TinTen or Tor this far without doing anything. No, he was firmly safe from everything that wasn't the crazy sorceress that he was about to breif-slash-seduce.
Creeping closer to Midday's bedchamber and full of bravado and glee, along with a few dirty thoughts (Oh, what if she isn't done showering yet?). The Soul Scofflaw cleared the hallway of guards) This meant that Lady Midday was helpless, but that didn't mean much as she didn't really need it when it came to protection.
What it did mean, that the unlikely pair of a cube and a dragon, both emotionally confused and very willing to smash Scofflaw shaped targets, had nothing stopping them from rounding the corner and making their way very close to the Lady's bedchamber. They were smoothly walking and ignoring the unconscious guards and were in the middle of wondering what caused their untimely slumber when they found the blue source cheerfully entering Lady Midday's bedchamber.
At the same time, but with very different feelings behind it, the two of them let out his name and charged forward.
Tengeri detested fighting.
The endless, twisting, identical halls of Caelo Ruinam were absolutely full of unusual creatures, creatures which seemed interested in nothing but killing anyone who came into their sight. She tried to escape them when she could. Oversized rodents attempted to sink their teeth into her, but were stopped by the field of water surrounding her body. More problematic was just about every other being in the place. Robots weren't much of a problem - she had plenty of implements she could use to deactivate or outright destroy them, and she had no qualms about doing so. It was the same with other non-organic beings - creatures made of rock or even fire weren't especially difficult to take down.
The issue came with fighting living things. Non-intelligent as they were, Tengeri couldn't stand to end their lives. She avoided them whenever possible - driving them off or knocking them unconscious with an especially powerful spray of water. This wasn't always possible. She took a wrong turn at one point and ended up facing a being vaguely resembling the Kryesan of Typhra, except much larger and with many more fire-spewing heads. She was essentially powerless against something of that scale - its spiked tail had left a painful blue-green gash in her side as she turned to leave.
She could do nothing but run (figuratively) as the halls of Caelo grew more and more perilous. Her supply of water had dwindled significantly, and her map hadn't given any clear indication of either anything of monetary value or an exit to the fortress.
Finally, it seemed her luck had taken a severe turn. A massive open area gradually appeared on her map, complete not onlywith indications of strange energy fluctuations within, but also with confirmation of the presence of water. Even the presence of a large number of life signs didn't discourage her - she shot through the corridors with earnest toward her target.
Tengeri's target turned out to be a massive, open cave, complete with an inexplicable waterfall pouring down at the side. A maze of apparently-natural walkways twisted and turned in random directions above the water flowing below. Enormous flying rodents plagued the area, hanging from the stalactites, waiting to swoop down and devour anything unlucky enough to be spotted, as demonstrated by a hapless human who, for some reason, thought it a good idea to wander around with nothing but a primitive firearm to protect him.
Fortunately for Tengeri, the rodents also appeared to hate water, judging by the lack of action against the human's friends, who had decided to bail into the river below. Tengeri wasted absolutely no time in diving from the walkway herself, splashing down in the surprisingly monster-free subterranean waterway. She immediately began following the walkways overhead, having no trouble in navigating the already fully-scanned maze. Whatever joy she might have felt from the rapidly-flowing river was immediately marred when she surfaced, though, as a video feed of Scofflaw, dressed in flamboyant red, inexplicably appeared in the corner of her eye.
"You're live," someone whispered from offscreen. Tengeri could have sworn it was also Scofflaw, but she must have been mistaken.
”Okay. Hello. Tengeri? Are you there? I just wanted to say, first of all, that I’m really so, so sorry about everything that I’ve done to you,” Scofflaw began. Something about his tone of voice was off, but Tengeri couldn't exactly tell what.
Tengeri stayed silent for a few moments. "Scofflaw. I don't know what you're after, but you're not getting it. You have exactly ten nanocycles to tell me why I shouldn't block this transmission," she spat.
The abnormally pale Scofflaw looked extremely distressed by her response, an emotion she didn't realize he was even capable of expressing. Futhermore, on close examination, he appeared to be standing on... some sort of chair? It wasn't easy to make out.
"No, no, I mean it. Please, you just need to listen to me. I was wrong."
It was almost certainly just another ruse. A new round, a new disguise, a new piss-poor attempt at an alternative identity. He was probably secretly trying to get her in bed or something. The thought disgusted Tengeri, but she was simultaneously tempted to burst out in laughter at the utter absurdity of it. Was he really this stupid? He must have had another motive.
"Really, you were wrong. I never would have guessed that after you took over everyone's minds and forced them to kill anyone who might have threatened you."
"I don't know how to tell you how sorry I am about that, Tengeri. Even if you weren't converted, there's no way to justify what I did to everyone else."
"You would have converted me if you were able! You're the lowest scum I've ever had the displeasure of meeting, Scofflaw. This transmission is over."
"Wait for you? There is nothing you can say, Scofflaw, that can convince me that you're anything more than a lowlife, a murderer, and an outright bastard. We're done." In spite of her hostility, Tengeri noted what might have been a tinge of sincerity in Scofflaw's chubby, detestable face. At least, it might have been sincerity. She couldn't read the emotions of humans very well.
"You're trying to get a weapon, aren't you?"
Tengeri stopped fighting the current momentarily, being swept back briefly before she began hurriedly swimming forward once more. She didn't bother to ask how Scofflaw knew that - for all she knew, he could see anything her cybernetic eyes picked up, or at least had the entire fortress monitored somehow.
"What about it?"
"We, er, I can get you the money you need. I want out of this battle just as much as you do, but the Fool would never let me get close to him. It needs to be you."
Tengeri found herself at the side of a huge, cylindrical rock formation, apparently perfectly flat on top, connected to a small walkway leading to a door with a large chain on it. On top of the formation dwelt some sort of enormous creature, threat level registering near the peak of the scale (though still comfortably under the Fool).
"So you're willing to give me a bunch of 'gilderupees' so I can buy the weapon. How are you planning on getting them to me?"
Scofflaw responded by discontinuing the feed. Typical. Tengeri rolled her eyes at the massive waste of time and began climbing the cave wall, taking care to not make herself known to the creature. The creature, in this case, was certainly not a giant bat - it was instead some sort of metal-plated reptilian creature, at least five times Tengeri's size. It lay curled on the ground, enormous wings of fire folded inward, but didn't seem to notice the water-covered serpent sneaking past it. Evidently it hadn't expected someone to come through the quickly-flowing river below.
Tengeri reached the padlock unnoticed, and silently shifted one of her manipulators to a sort of lockpick. Tengeri quickly caught it as it fell from its place, unlocked, and silently forced the unusually lightweight door open. Beyond lay a very small, circular room, the only object of note being a wooden chest in the middle of the room. Tengeri threw it open without great difficulty, revealing...
Numerous bags of money, each with a cartoonish green dollar sign painted on them.
A mostly-unwelcome face appeared again in the corner of Tengeri's vision. "That's all you'll need, Tengeri. Please, forgive me for everything I've done. I was wrong, but I've learned from it now."
A quick scan revealed that the money bags had definitely been at some point handled by Scofflaw, if only briefly. In spite of apparently being full of gold coins, the bags weighed virtually nothing, and Tengeri found no problems in carrying them.
"Thanks, I guess. I don't know what you're up to, and I'm just going to make this clear. I still don't trust you, Scofflaw. But you've helped me, so I'll consider what you've said to me. I'm going to block whatever signal you're using to control my cybernetics like this now. Goodbye, Scofflaw."
All foreign frequencies jammed. Chance of failure: minimal.
Ready to take the money and hurry back to the shady salesman, Tengeri noticed something else at the bottom of the chest. Some kind of gauntlet, glowing faintly and covered with deep purple, unrecognizable runes. It didn't look especially useful to her, but it was the source of the energy fluctuations in the cave. Almost as an afterthought, she shoved the gauntlet into her storage unit (a very tight fit) before turning back to face the merchant again.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Ah, you've returned! Have you brought me any treasures? I see that you're carrying quite a few things with you."
Tengeri floated the soaking-wet money bags over the counter and dropped them in front of the merchant with the annoyingly long name.
"Ah, you've been quite busy! Let's see here..."
Tengeri waited several minutes as the man dumped out all of the bags and counted up their contents.
"One million, three hundred and eighty-five thousand, one hundred and twenty nine gilderupees! A very impressive amount, indeed!"
"Will you give me what I need, then?"
"Well... There is one more thing."
"What is it this time?"
"Well, I've heard that this fortress contains a creature known as a 'Dracodactyl', a very rare find! And you see, as it happens, I've been trying for a very long time to acquire a feather from one of these creatures, and it's not often that such an opportunity arises. Bring me one, and you get the weapon."
"What? That... wasn't part of the deal."
"It is now. Do you want a demon-slaying weapon or not?"
Tengeri sighed. "Fine. Do you know where I might find one of these 'Dracodactyls'?"
"Certainly. I recently saw one heading toward the lodgings of one Lady Midday while I was scrying the corridors of the fortress. If I recall, she's the psychopath who runs this place. Try to make sure that neither you nor the Dracodactyl gets vaporized. Especially the Dracodactyl. Just follow the corridor to the left and take the stairs up. I'm sure you'll be able to find it."
Tengeri didn't feel entirely comfortable responding to the man's last statement, and left without a word. As if things hadn't already gotten bad enough.
"Woah woah woah woah hey!" Blue Ray managed, before Velobo anticipated his sidestep and leapt off Jetsam's back, braining the man with his tongue.
"This is not good form! I am not Scarf Law, or whatever you called me!"
Velobo sprung atop his prone form, grabbing him by the collar and winding up for a punch to the jaw, but for a dracodactyl's growl as Jetsam shouldered his way in. Blue Ray couldn't really help himself, if only because the identity of a grizzled-pelted monster with an attitude problem and a trained attack cube wasn't really the mystery it used to be.
"Jetsaaaam! I've got to say, feathers look great on you-"
"Mgggruv," gargled the dracodactyl, which nobody except Jetsam himself correctly interpreted as "move." Blue Ray smacked Velobo off him, then yelled more in surprise than pain as his arm shielded his face from a mouthful of dracodactyl acid. He found his feet faster than his progenitor and attached bulk ever would've been capable, shedding his spontaneously de-armed suit jacket as fast as his fingers could undo the buttons. Blue Ray winced, wishing he'd thought to bring the labcoat and goggles.
"Listen, there is an extremely ravishing and megalomaniacal lady the next room over, and wrecking her room and my chances with her totally violates the bro code-"
There was quite a bit lost in translation there, as Jetsam a) had some template to his trainwreck self that harked from a generation too early, b) was mostly reminded of Skorn, who could outperform Scofflaw in all matters brotastic, semi-quadrupedalism or no, and c) couldn't give a flying feathered fuck about anyone's problems right now save his own. Hell, even the thought of a whole bunch of real people around him with real problems only instilled a kind of existential vertigo, and when their problems made no fucking sense it just upset him harder.
Explaining any of that to Blue Ray was clearly below him, and a leaping lunge appended by a kick with a stray back leg sent the blue menace sailing across the bedchamber. A something-skin rug stopped Blue Ray skidding the rest of the way on his face, but ground him to a halt right at Velobo's feet. The cube slapped him, while Jetsam disentangled himself from a broken five-poster bed and flapped-glided awkwardly over.
"Spineless, brainless, gutless, and heartless." Jetsam flicked his beak to one side, flecks of spit sizzling the carpet. "Faceless in short order, too. If you've got anything left to say for yourself, be sure it's nothing that aggravates me."
The feathered fucker grabbed Blue Ray by an ankle, who was figuring whether telling Jetsam he was half-right was worth it. He sucked a breath in between his teeth. "Well, now that you mention it-"
Jetsam spat in his face.
The acid congealed for a second in a slimy death mask, before whatever was underneath had its features rapidly corroded off it. Blue Ray managed one wet scream before it chewed its way through his throat. Jetsam watched the proceedings impassively; Velobo in shock. The dracodactyl lifted its foot from the corpse with delicate distaste, and turned for the door.
The monster stopped, looked over his shoulder, and growled. He regretted this diversion of attention in short order, when a heavily-tattooed bear blind-sided him.
Ursus wasn't a traitor to Clan Njordbludgeon because he'd sold the secrets of the Sigilists. "Selling" secrets was rather commonplace amongst the various bear clans, and letting clans of different schools of Sigilry play around with your simpler symbols was key to advancing the discipline as a whole. It all worked out in the end, because bears never wrote anything down and went by an honour system when it came to teaching things you didn't come up with yourself.
Bears, unlike humans, were inherently selfless creatures. It was a damn shame Jetsam hadn't been a bear this time round; the experience would've mellowed him out a bit.
Unfortunately, Ursus was the only bear on Ruinam at the time, and Lady Midday had no plans for him to be a corpse when the battlers showed up.
Also unfortunately, Ursus wasn't inherently selfless. He was a self-serving dick, to be frank.
Perhaps most unfortunately of all: he was a self-serving dick of a bear who'd broken tradition, taken sides in a conflict that didn't concern the bears, and (more pertinently) tossed his rather invaluable lot with the madwoman raising relics of civilisations that had been the bane of bearkind.
The madwoman in question was trying to take over the world with said relic, sure, but that didn't bother Clan Njordbludgeon so much as the fact damn Caelo Ruinam was flying again, and that Ursus had had a paw in it. Bears have strange priorities like that.
Velobo, meanwhile, had no clue about any of that, more concerned with a couple tons of angry - patchily covered in fur and glowing symbols, less of the former and more of the latter - that barrelled in with no noise and less preamble, grabbed Jetsam by the face and ran him into a wall. The cuboid sprung backwards, bounced of the wall, and launched his tongue at the back of the bear's head. The behemoth barked something that didn't sound like a language, then whipped around with impossible speed and grabbed Velobo by the tongue.
Two seconds later, Velobo was flying out a freshly-broken window.
Ursus took a breath, turned, and was greeted by a tyrant in a white silk bathrobe. She had already put her shoes back on.
"You are safe, then, Milady."
"I was showering, I heard screaming, then your body paint tripped my wards and stopped worrying." Lady Midday wrapped her robe around her a little tighter, burningly curious about the unconscious dracodactyl in her bedchamber but too annoyed to show it. "Did you have to throw something through the window?"
”ERR 58008-2: BACKUP RAY DESIGNATE SOLDIER BOY TERMINATED”
”It’s done,” declared the green scofflaw, clicking out of the error notice. ”As far as anyone knows, the Prime is dead. This gives us a certain amount of leeway to further our goals, but not much. The more time passes without a round transition, the more the others will suspect a ruse.”
”Does that mean I can’t talk to Tengeri again?” asked the red scofflaw.
”For the time being, no. Until such time as I have need of you, you may occupy your time by slowly withering away in peace.”
The prime scofflaw snorted loudly and drooled. ”I wonder what he’s dreaming about,” stammered the red scofflaw, attempting to change the subject.
The green scofflaw shrugged. ”Hmm. The dead one probably could have told us. Alas! On to the next part of the plan!”
”There’s a next part of the plan?” The red scofflaw looked a bit nervous about this. ”We can’t do much without letting people know the prime’s still alive, can we?”
”We can’t contact Doctor Nyoka again, it’s true. But the prime had become aware of some other players who might be used to our advantage. One of them is a master of runes, and with a simple code I can form a crude telepathic link.”
”Oh, you mean, um... Sir La-Rue-de-France. The knight. I don’t like him.”
”I fail to see how that’s relevant,” dismissed the green scofflaw, already typing away. ”Contact in three... two...”
* * * * *
”Eencoming!” cried Gimeri suddenly, putting down her bandage-scrolls to adjust the flower-receiver atop her head. “Thought-transmission from... eet eez scrambled, but eet eez inside Ruinam.”
“Hmmmm,” said Dir Dorukomets, as he often does when he is pretending to have complicated thoughts. “In all probability, the mistress of this fortress has come to beg for our help in staving off Alex and her new friends! Well, we will give her no such thing, isn’t that right, team?”
“That’s right, Dorky!” cackled Tykidu. “When we put the pounding to those do-gooders, it’ll be on our own steam!”
“Let her through, Gimeri,” said Dorukomets. “We’ll break the news to Midday in person.”
Gimeri blinked, and her face transformed slightly, its characteristic squishy charm replaced by a grim, calculating indifference. “Attention Sir Dorukomets and company,” she said in a clearly masculine voice. “This is...” there was a pause as though the person on the other end were attempting to tap into a familiar creative reserve, only to find it absent. “...Green...man. This is Greenman. That is an alias.”
“You can save your aliases, Lady Midday,” Dorukomets yelled in Gimeri’s ear. “We know it’s you, and we just wanted to tell you that we’re not interested in what you’re selling.”
“You are mistaken as usual, knight errant... or should I say ‘knight-erroneous?’” Gimeri laughed emotionlessly for precisely three seconds, then continued. “Greenman does not represent Lady Midday. In fact, Greenman was wondering whether you would be able to murder her.”
“Able?” roared Dorukomets. “Sir Greenman, you speak to Sir Dorukomets! Strongest in all the world!”
“Bah!” replied Gimeri. “By my estimation, you are but the fifth-strongest in this fortress. Still, I believe your team may play a crucial role in Midday’s defeat should you align with the lady Alex and my own associates and—“
“Align? I’d sooner align with the Anti-Knights of Daze than those weaklings! Sir Greenman, you have thrice insulted me and not once offered anything of value in exchange for my services! I know you’re somewhere in this castle, and if I ever find out who you are you’re going to have a sword in each lung, one in each eye and two in your guts! I’m going to—“
“Sir Dorukomets, he eez gone,” interrupted Gimeri weakly. “Could you please ztop thees shouting?”
Dorukomets released the octopus. “My apologies. In the future, Gimeri, decline all transmissions from this ‘Greenman.’ Now, the Gauntlet of Genko aw—”
“Eencoming!” squeaked Gimeri again.
The knight grabbed his healer by the headbulge and shook her. “Decline, decline!”
“He eez breaking through!” cried Gimeri. “I don’t know how to—
“Sorry about that,” she continued in a different voice. “Hi, it’s um, it’s me again, sort of.” Greenman looked different this time. Gimeri’s face looked softer, almost timid. “And you can’t shut me out without killing your friend, so, you know. Put her down.”
Dorukomets sighed and put the octopus down. “Thank you,” said Greenman. “We got off on the wrong foot, I think. I didn’t mean to suggest you weren’t strong.”
“Obviously,” snapped Dorukomets. “Because... because if you’d said that, that would have been stupid.”
“You’re a big strong man, we can all see that,” said Greenman through Gimeri. “It’s just that sometimes, no matter how strong we are, we aren’t strong enough.”
“That’s never a problem with Dorky!” chided Tykidu.
The knight nodded. “If anything, sometimes I’m too strong,” he boasted. “I break things. It’s embarrassing.”
Gimeri nodded. “Then why aren’t you strong enough to hold on to her?”
Dorukomets withered. “I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.”
“Sir... Do-Ru-Ko-Mets... Sir Dorukomets, I’ve done a lot of crazy things to get people’s attention,” admitted Greenman. “And I’ve learned from experience how tempting it is to just let the woman you love beat you up all the time, just so you get to spend a little time with her. But it’ll never be enough. And you can’t auto-counter the sadness away.”
“I don’t know what you’re implying,” choked Dorukomets stubbornly.
“I’m saying that I know you like to barge into things fists-first, but sometimes you have to put your heart out there, even if you have six fists to spare and only one heart. You have to think of what she wants. And what does she want?”
Dorukomets sulked. “She wants to defeat Lady Midday.”
“And so do you. That’s something you have in common. But maybe you could both stand to learn to accept a little help, hmmm? Help from friends, Dorukomets, not from some gauntlet. Which, by the way, we know where it is, but we can only give it to you after Midday is dead.”
Dorukomets took a deep breath. “Thank you, Greenman. We will... consider your words. Now, please, leave us.”
“Of course,” said Gimeri. “And don’t tell anyone you had this conversation, okay?”
“Oh, I won’t.” Dorukomets took a glance at Tykidu and blushed. Then he looked back at Gimeri. “Gimeri, is that you?”
“Ja. Sir Dorukomets, are we really going to—“
“Just follow me, Gods dammit.” The knight stormed off. Tykidu and Gimeri exchanged a bewildered glance.
* * * * *
”She’s going to reject him,” moaned the red scofflaw, ”And it’s going to be the worst moment of his life.” Then he smiled. ”I really don’t like him.”
”I could have done that,” snapped the green scofflaw.
”It’s okay,” said the other. ”We’re helping each other. It’s what the prime wants.”
The green scofflaw looked at the unconscious Science Sadist snoring in an office chair. ”I hate the prime,” he said.
”Yeah,” agreed the red scofflaw. ”Me too.”
* * * * *
Tengeri nudged the door open just a crack.
There was the dracodactyl. It was even unconscious, which was suspicious, but meant the doctor might be able to get out of here without a fight.
It was the other body lying on the floor that surprised her. Her eye confirmed an 84% certainty: one 'Saint Scofflaw,' deceased.
Tengeri, for a moment, was a bit giddier than she probably should have been, and she opened the door the rest of the way and swam in. Then reason set in. That can't be right, she thought. If he's dead, why are we still here?
And then she got punched in the head by a bear.
Getting hit by Ursus was like getting hit by a truck, except that the truck was more likely to say sorry. As Velobo was flung out of Midday's quarters and into the sky, he once more felt his mind slip away. Just as before, he began to see blackness, only this time it was met by a calling out. As if a familiar voice was calling him. For that moment, despite his situation, he felt... drawn to whatever it was.
And then he hit an outcropped part of the Ruinam and he was snapped back into reality.
Velobo shook himself as best he could, trying to gather his thoughts on what had happened. First, Jetsam killed Scofflaw. Velobo didn't really know how he felt about that.
It was true, that Scofflaw was kind of a dick, and that he definitely deserved it, but even so, Velobo couldn't help but feel that there was something wrong about it. It wasn't just that Jetsam did it, or even how, it was just something in the back of Velobo's mind that made him feel betrayed by what had happened.
And maybe he had a point, after all, Jetsam had been in contact with Chaos, he had been brainwashed twice over, and he now he was in the body of some animal. Is there something he could have done? Would he have done it? At any rate, there was a more immediate problem, that being that he was still falling.
"Wait a minute, I'm still falling even thouh-" Velobo;s reasoning was cut short by another collision with the Ruinam. Deciding that there wasn't going to be a third time, Velobo launched his tongue downward and used the momentum of his fall to swing back upward, launching himself up into the air.
He didn't know where he would end up, but he hoped it would be closer to someone who could help.
Fortunately for Tengeri, the field of water surrounding her head cushioned the bear's clawed fist enough to prevent especially serious damage.
Unfortunately for Tengeri, she was still punched in the head by a goddamned bear.
The right side of the stone-walled bedchamber became an ambiguous blur as the aquatic scientist did the airborne equivalent of stumbling backwards. The blue-green blood flowing from a fresh set of bear claw gashes started to cloud up around her head as her left set of eyes vomited a bunch of warnings all over the room. Trying to keep track of her assailant in spite of the head injury, Tengeri unsteadily floated to the ceiling, still well within reach of the bear. She would've written it off as just another random monster if it weren't for the fact that it was covered in tattoos that probably didn't just grow there naturally. There was also the fact that the bedchamber hadn't been completely demolished, and was in fact fairly spotless other than the freshly de-faced body of what may or may not have been Scofflaw.
Tengeri's response to the creature was a lot like one might respond to a misbehaving housecat. The misbehaving housecat, in this case, was an aggressive one-ton mass of hair, teeth, and claws, while the spray bottle was instead an extremely high-pressure burst of water.
She immediately took advantage of her disciplinary action to check the room for a method of knocking out the downed creature. Bringing down the ceiling would probably just piss it off even more. She could have thrown it out the window, but it goes without saying that it wouldn't survive. Also, it was probably going to be getting up any second and there really wasn't much time to be looking around, dammit.
Tengeri's multitude of eyes then fell upon the five-poster bed at the other end of the room, and without thinking, she sprang into action. A pair of metallic claws gripped one of the posts as two more cleanly severed its connection to the bed. The post was promptly smashed to splinters by the bear's claw rather than the back of its head. Tengeri did the sensible thing and swam away very quickly, cursing her decision not to include a stun function in any of her implants. What she did have was the ability to identify structural weaknesses, and, perhaps, to exploit them.
Judging from the look on its face as the ground crumbled beneath its feet, the bear didn't expect a jet of water to be enough to weaken the millenia-old stone floor to the point of breaking under its weight. Tengeri cautiously peered into the meters-wide hole in the ground, finding that several floors beneath were only sturdy enough to slow the bear down. Apparently whoever had taken over the fortress hadn't bothered to reinforce most of the structure, at least yet.
But it was hardly the time to muse about architecturally incompetent supervillains. The nanites in her bloodstream had mostly stopped the bleeding, although the fact that she was breathing her own heavily diluted blood was a bit disconcerting and probably unhealthy.
Right now, though, that wasn't important. Tengeri had a task to focus on, and by all rights, she should have focused on it. She should have rushed to the dracodactyl, grabbed the feather, and gotten the hell out. She should have just ignored Scofflaw - if he were really dead, they wouldn't still be here right now. In fact, the longer she waited, the higher the chance of someone else dying and the chance at escape being lost.
But she didn't. Instead, she took the time to hover over the corpse of what may or may not have been Scofflaw. Maybe her judgment was as clouded as the water around her. But instead of running, she tried to figure out what was going on. Not for very long - maybe fifteen, twenty seconds, rerunning scans that didn't glean any new information. 84% certainty, death by acid spit, apparently from the dracodactyl.
The sound of an opening door signalled to Tengeri that she had just made a grave error. A lightning bolt fired from the hand of the robe-clad figure emerging from the doorway barely missed hitting her square in the face, although in spite of that she was entirely unscathed.
Without a second thought, Tengeri wrenched the now brightly-glowing gauntlet from her storage unit and flung it at the attacker. Lady Midday's slightly bored expression turned to slightly surprised as the Gauntlet of Genko slammed into her face, throwing her straight through the wall behind her with a crash. A second crash, more like glass shattering, came from behind the Midday-shaped hole in the wall.
GB-007, "Velobo Calidad", detected, engaging hostile. Distance: 5m.
i suppose that if no one has an objection i'll go here