The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]

The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Errat's toxin was strong enough to keep a human unconscious for a little over five minutes. As far as the thieves were concerned, those five minutes were "just enough time to get out of here with the statue".

For the other taverngoers, those five minutes would be more accurately described as "plenty of time to start a brawl".

And for Augustus, they were an inexplicable gap during which his God had completely vanished. He had little time to wonder if Azungrada had forsaken him before a three-foot tall purple creature with bat wings was flung into his table, smashing it to pieces.

The Divine Arbiter grabbed the small alien by the throat.

"Where is Azungrada?"

"I got no clue what a Zungrada is! Unless you mean that big grey guy smashin' everything up, in which case, he's right over there in the middle of the bar, smashin' everything up."

Augustus glared at his captive for a moment.

"Grey, or silver?"

"Damned if I know. You humans have too many names for colors - ack!"

The creature was useless. Augustus simply slammed it into the nearest wall before dropping it to the floor unceremoniously. He would simply have to investigate the source of this brawl himself.

Much to his disappointment, however, the "big grey guy" in question was not a metallic snake, but a large werewolf. He had a vague recollection of the beast fighting the heretic lizard.

Were the Divine Arbiter in a better mood, he might have considered making common cause with Redclaw, at least until Triumphian had been dealt with. But the loss of his God - again - had fouled Augustus' mood too much to allow clear thinking.

"You there, beast!" he shouted. "I am Augustus, the Divine Arbiter. I have been chosen by Azungrada to judge the sinful."

The former space pirate drew his sword. He smiled slightly; he remembered enough of his life before Azungrada that a bar brawl was hardly an unfamiliar or unwelcome sight.

"Are you worthy of His divine mercy, beast?"


Ion groaned, and quietly slipped towards the exit. He disliked bar brawls; not so much for the violence, he was usually good enough at avoiding that, and decently capable of handling it when he couldn't.

No, the problem was all the half-empty mugs that ended up broken in bits on the floor. Sooner or later, Ion always ended up changing to his least favorite shade of purple.

Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Solaris.

For what was the fifth or so time in the last hour, Vernon was kicked out of one of the many stores that he was loitering in. Normally, this wouldn't really be that big of a deal on Oh Two Oh, but Vernon had unfortunately garnered a reputation on that district of the large ship, one that was as unwanted as a few of his nicknames. The Rat, the Weasel, Vermin, and something that when translated meant "Soon-To-Have-A-Nose-Shoved-Up-Your-Ass" were all nicknames that the furry brown, six legged, Information and Possession Collector had gained in his time on Oh Two Oh. The reason that no one wanted him around wasn't that he would probably steal from them, but because his ears had the hearing of a bat, his nose could literally smell information, and because he had a knack of getting into trouble.

However, Vernon couldn't smell trouble like he suddenly got a wiff what smelled like an entire universe's worth of information. He had no idea where it had come from, but it was certainly there, and he had to have it. The vermin creature scurried to the source of the smell, breathing heavily as he imagined what it would be like to have so much information in his perfectly kept little hands.

However, as he neared the source, his anticipatory joy soured a little.
"Here? Really? Oi." Vernon sniffed the air, just to be sure, "Yearp, dat's comin from in dere. Oh nelly, whatever source of info this is it better be worth it."

Taking in a deep smell of the information that was in the air, Vernon entered the headquarters of Oh Two Oh's resident Information Brokers. To Vernon's unique sense of smell, the IB's HQ was always a large ping on his radar. That whatever information source caused this significant of a wiff meant that it was big.

"Oh, it's you again. Didn't I make it clear last time?"

Of course, that the HQ made a large ping meant that Vernon had paid multiple visits, the most recent of which did not end very well. Like many other places, he was kicked out. However, the prize was what was on his mind, and he wasn't willing to give up without a fight.

"Oi oi, Mizz, I don't want no trouble. I just left somethin here da last time I came in here, is all."

As the vermin creature stepped forward a bit, the bug-lady at the counter skeptically responded with an "Oh, really?"

"Yea, yea, dat's all. Just gotta find it." He started sniffing the air, hoping to pinpoint the source only to have black fingers cover it up.

"I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that. Boss' orders. If it's really yours, you don't need this, right?"

Vernon gave off the biggest, and most fake smile he could and said "Force of habit."

Still smelling the goldmine of information, only quietly, Vernon eventually found his prize, which to his confusion was a dark blue book that read "ἐγκυκλοπαιδεία" on the cover. Trusting his nose far more than his eyes, the vermin creature carefully took the book and started to leave the Information Broker Headquarters.

"Didn't your mother teach you not to steal?"

Vernon and the lady at the counter looked around the store for the source of the voice, only to find that they were the only ones in the front of the building. Still, Vernon found this worrying and wanted to leave as quickly as possible, rushing to the exit without saying a word when he was effortlessly kicked into the air dropping the book on the counter.

The mighty foot that had kicked the vermin creature back was none other than Pope Triumphian, closely followed by the newest member of his religion, the former Captain Jessica Blaus.

"Greetings to you, I am His Holiness the Glorious Pope Triumphian the First of the Holy Empire of Lagran. My escort tells me that you have information about the universe, star charts, navigation records, and that sort of thing. I require an accurate route to get from this ship to the planet Lagren."

After working with Information Brokers for a while, you get desensitized to things. Your reaction to things that happen is giving away information that could give your opponent an advantage, and when people wanted to know something that they didn't want to know, you didn't want to be standing on lower ground. As such, the bug-lady at the counter paused for a bit, but did not lose her poker face at the sight of the giant red dinosaur in a silly hat.

"Could you please give me some star coordinates, that makes this all a lot easier." She produced a small notebook and pencil and she handed it to Triumphian, who wrote down a series of numbers and locations and then handed it back. "I will see what I can do, your Holiness."

As she turned to the back, to consult with her co-wokers on the location of this Planet Lagren, Triumphian and the captain observed the headquarters.

"It's been a while since I've been in here, warning you now though, they won't give you the information without a price."

Triumphian however, was focused on the counter, where an unconscious brown thing seemed to be covering another object. Shoving Vernon away, he saw a familiar sight.

"Oh finally someone gets that rat off of me. I'm almost glad that I haven't worked out smelling on this thing because there's no way that thing's clean."

"The book!" Triumphian smiled at the sight of the supposed Universal Encyclopedia, sure that with it on his side, he would be able to get away from this stupid competition.

Vex's reaction on the other hand, was a bit less ecstatic. "Oh, you are the Pope aren't you? Good to see a familiar face, though not quite the one I want."

"Is that book talking?"

Triumphian nodded at the captain and continued to make small talk with Vex, hoping to use him to further his goals. "Oh? Which one?"

"The mannequin."

Before they could continue, the bug-lady returned from the back, "Uhm, I'm sorry, it seems that there isn't any Planet Lagran in the star coordinates that you've given us, or... anywhere in our records."

"What?" His voice had a tone of deep and vile anger.

The bug-lady did her best to keep her face straight in the face of the obviously pissed off dinosaur, "Y-Yes, according to our records, it seems that there is nothing in that area other than a barren planet of wild animals and nothing else."

Forgoing any shred of courtesy in his anger, Triumphian slammed his claw on the counter, ordering Vex to tell him about the location of his planet.

Fearing the worst, and not quite sure of the consequences of a dinosaur pope angrily ripping the book he was inside apart, Vex responded as calmly as he could. "Hey buddy, calm down, no need to do anything we would regret," Vex said as he noticed Triumphian's eyes slowly glow bright, "I still haven't got a full handle on this thing, so just wait a minute while I try to find it alright?"
Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Please hold...]
Originally posted on MSPA by Akumu.

The creatures whose drinks Redclaw had interrupted had come after him alone, but in the close quarters of the bar, thrown furniture and drunkenly misaimed punches had quickly led to an all-out brawl. Most of those fighting saw this as a form of entertainment and were looking only to keep their pride intact and have some stories to tell over the next round of drinks. There might be some broken noses, but that was the price of admission.

Unfortunately for them, Redclaw didn’t see things that way.

His fur was splattered now in a rainbow of ichors and vital fluids, and the bar around him was scattered with limbs, entrails, and the various alien bodies they had come from. Booze-addled challengers still came at him, thinking that they might take him down where the others had failed, securing bragging rights for the foreseeable future. Even those were beginning to thin out, leaving Redclaw in the eye of the storm as more civilized brawling raged around him. That was, until Augustus woke up.

“Are you worthy of His divine mercy, beast?”

Redclaw turned his attention from the bipedal armadillo he was holding in the air by its throat and saw a ridiculously clad man advancing on him, sword drawn. This was another one of the “competitors,” Augustus, he recalled.

“Mercy is a gift the strong bestow upon the weak; I have no need of it.”

“All are weak before Azungrada! Kneel or be Judged unworthy!”

Even as he was delivering this ultimatum, Augustus was moving forward, bringing his sword up into fighting position. Redclaw threw the weakly struggling alien shell-first at the Divine Arbiter, who danced deftly aside. As it flew by, Redclaw was already thundering forward to press his assault. Augustus’s robes of black and gold swirled voluminously, disguising the motions of his body underneath. Redclaw’s first strike caught only cloth, rending parallel gashes through the robes of office. Augustus was yanked off-balance by the tug of the werewolf’s claws, and his sword strike went wide, slicing cleanly through an overturned table.

Ion, working his way cautiously towards the rear exit of the bar, caught the silvery flash of the sword out of the corner of his eye. He turned to watch the ongoing struggle, nostrils flaring. Zanite! The human Errat had dosed was barely keeping ahead of the large furry one’s strikes. He was clearly a talented and agile swordsman, quick and light on his feet, but his lupine opponent was unbelievably fast given its size. Ion inched closer to the struggle, his eyes tracking the glimmering zanite blade. The fight could be ended with a single good strike of that sword, but it was all the human could do to stay ahead of the crushing blows aimed at him. Finally, he was a split-second too slow and caught a back-handed swipe to the chest. He tumbled backwards through the wooden debris and spilled ale, catching up against the bar with an impact that rattled the glasses still upon it. Ion sprang into action, chasing down the sword that was skittering across the floor. It came to rest in a pool of beer which Ion’s hand splashed into as he grasped the handle. A wave of color swept up his arm and across his body, changing his skin from a lime green to a lemon yellow. As he straightened up with the sword, his newly yellow face went ashen as the blood drained out of it. His greed had gotten the better of him, and he had just inserted himself between two insanely deadly fighters.

“Oh, shit.”

Augustus pushed himself into a sitting position against the bar, and raised an accusatory finger at the yellow alien that was making a beeline for the door with his sword.

“Lord Azungrada, smite the infidel!”
Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

Cepra was lost. But she wasn’t really going to admit that to anybody, least of all herself.

She had certainly been on ships before, for both work and for relaxation, but none of those ships were ever close to being space-worthy and besides, she had never taken the time to learn the names for stuff on a ship. Even if she had bothered to learn, it wouldn’t have helped her – boats don’t have bridges. So she found herself looking for something that looked like the wrong sort of bridge. There didn’t seem to be any, which convinced her that there was one really big bridge somewhere, and that was where she was supposed to find the Adwhatever and then spacebots.

Her aimless wanderings took her to the outskirts of the bazaar, with no bridge in sight. It meant that she would have to double-back and try another direction, or perhaps just travel along the edge and hope for a bridge of some sort, though finding a bridge on the edge of a huge-ass room was very unlikely.

So, when she came across a tavern, she felt somewhat relieved. Taverns were places she was definitely comfortable and familiar with. And more importantly, unofficial hubs of information. If she could just pop in and ask for directions, then everything would be hunky-dory.

It turned out, though, that someone was in a rush on their way out and very rudely bumped into Cepra. With a sword, too! That was absolutely dangerous. Though so was Cepra, as she unintentionally demonstrated when she flailed her many arms in a manner that indicated that she had been bumped into. With one of those arms being one saturated with dangerous poison, it was unfortunate, but unsurprising, what happened next.

Cepra hadn’t even realized the accident until the strange thing started screaming. That was the start of it, always, the screaming. And then the conversion.

She hadn’t intended this. But constables did not usually care about intentions. Cepra hadn’t seen anything that looked like constables, admittedly, but there were always some lurking about in places like these, right? And being on the foul side of constables would…certainly hinder her. Not to mention that she didn’t know the background of this alien, or his allies. She didn’t know anything about anything, and that was dangerous.

Cepra smoothly blended into the growing crowd and pretended as hard as she could that she was also an innocent bystander who had just arrived to the gruesome scene of someone inexplicably turning into silver.

People from inside the tavern were now either peering out the windows or halfway-spilling out the door, witnessing the scene with solemn silence until the screaming died and the twitches ceased and Ion was completely silver.

A man strode out and took back his sword with some difficulty, but even then he managed the task with a triumphant air. Cepra vaguely recognized him because of his clothes. He made a speech that Cepra didn’t really care about, but the crowds both outside and inside the tavern were listening quite intently. Cepra could hear something about a god or whatever. “See how the infidels fall blah blah those who do not follow blah the one true god blubbity bluh.” It was nothing she hadn’t heard before.

But grandiloquent speeches about gods usually led to something fun, she supposed. And then maybe she could finally get directions.

Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

"I don't like this thing," Ab grumbled. "Can't wait until we've sold it so I never have to lay eyes on it again."
"Oh, relax," Errat said with a smirk. "It's not as if a statue is that hard to take care of."
"I'll still feel a good deal better once it's gone and my wallet's overflowing," Ab growled. "It makes me uncomfortable."
"Don't be absurd, Ab. It's just a statue! What's there to worry about?"
Suddenly, the serpent's gemstone eyes lit up. The Arbiter had issued a prayer. Before either thief knew what was happening, Azungrada had torn off Ab's upper-left arm and was slithering away at a surprising speed, back towards the bar.
"You just had to open your big mouth, didn't you?" Ab shouted. "That was my favorite arm, no less!""
"If we catch that thing again, we can get you ten new arms!" Errat retorted. "Hurry up, before somebody else gets their grubby paws on it!"
They chased the serpent down the corridor. It moved with surprising speed, easily keeping ahead of them even with pauses to bite, strangle, or crush the occasional unfortunate passerby.
"That thing's a monster!" Ab exclaimed. "How are we going to catch it now?"
"By not wasting our breath nattering instead of chasing it!" Errat yelled back. "Just keep moving!"
And then, suddenly... it stopped.
The infidel had been taken care of. Its intervention was no longer necessary.
It stood still, and waited.
Ab stared at it.
"I'm not lifting that thing again," he grumbled.
"Bah! Fine, then. You keep an eye on it, and I'll find a crew to move it. Of course, their pay will come out of your share of the sale..."
Ab sighed.
"Fine, but if I lose any more arms, you owe me."


The bar fell into silence, then quiet murmurings. Most of the customers had seen someone die in a brawl before, of course, but a man suddenly turning to silver was more than a little unexpected.
Augustus was initially taken aback as well. Was this Azungrada's work? In the past, his god's smitings had all been more direct in nature... but then, in the past, Azungrada had always been physically present.
He had already expressed His anger at Augustus; had He left the physical plane, only to return once the Divine Arbiter proved worthy?
And if Augustus proved unworthy, would he share this heretic's fate?
It was a chilling thought, but Augusutus had already sworn to reclaim his god's favor. The implied threat changed nothing. He calmed down, and then the reality of the situation dawned on him.
The entire bar had seen him order the wrath of his god upon this infidel. They had all turned their eyes on him.
They were curious. Confused. Afraid.
In short, it was a crowd ripe for conversion, and he already had their full attention. He smiled, walked over to Ion's silvery form, and retrieved his sword from the statue's hand.
This would be his chance to prove himself.
"Behold, the might of Azungrada the Great Destroyer!" Augustus shouted. "With but a word, I can call His divine power and smite the unworthy. See how the infidels fall before Him! You will all be judged, every one of you! Those who do not follow the one true God shall be destroyed! A fate even worse than his awaits you!" He scanned the crowd, and saw several frightened faces among them; he knew they would soon be his. "But there is another way. Join me, join Azungrada, and you shall find salvation! Devote yourselves to Him, and... Urk!"
Redclaw, unimpressed by Augustus' speech, had decided to put on a show of his own. He had grabbed the Arbiter by the neck, and lifted him as high off the ground as he could.
"I fear no god," Redclaw snarled, pulling the sword from Augustus' hands and tossing it to the floor. "Let alone such a weakling as you. Go ahead, human. Call your God again. Let him try to strike me."
Redclaw was not as brazen as he seemed; he knew Augustus was bluffing. He had seen the spider sneaking into the crowd, and knew this was her doing, not some God's. Augustus was no threat to him.
And it was such a delight to watch the Arbiter squirm in his grop.
Augustus' mind raced. He was still being tested. And would Azungrada deem him worthy if he called for help again so soon?
Then inspiration struck. Why was he the only one who should be tested?
"Azungrada has no need to dirty His hands with the likes of you, beast," Augustus croaked weakly, struggling to free his neck. Redclaw laughed, and released his grip on the former pirate's throat ever so slightly.
"What was that? I couldn't hear you. Speak up a bit."
Augustus did not waste the opportunity.
"I said, you are beneath Azungrada's notice!" he shouted. "Hear me, all who follow Azungrada! This is your chance for salvation! Destroy this heretic in the name of your God!"
A murmur swept through the crowd. Most of the onlookers were considering the choice between "a deity who can change people into silver" and "a large wolf who is standing right over there". For many, in the end, proximity was the deciding factor.
But four stepped forward. One was a small apelike creature, another resembled a large starfish. The third could have passed for human were it not for the bizarre plants growing out of her head, and the last was a robot, with one of its hands evidently torn off and a hook sticking out of the remaining circuitry. They walked towards the wolf, who simply glared at them in return. He was not impressed.
"Unhand the prophet," the starfish said angrily.
"Gladly," Redclaw sneered. He flung Augustus in the direction of the bar. "I prefer to have two free hands in a fight. Which of you fools wishes to die first?"
The ape suddenly screeched and leapt at Redclaw's face. The wolf was startled, but hardly harmed; when he recovered from the initial shock, he simply raised a claw towards his attacker...
And found that claw bound by what felt like a starfish's arm. He was undeterred. He was stronger than these fools. He raised his other claw...
And found he couldn't move it. It was numb; if the ape were not blocking his sight, he would have seen the plant-woman releasing a blue pollen over it.
No matter, he would simply have to be more direct. He slashed the starfish with the claw it was holding back, slicing its arm off. It screamed in pain, but soon after it was binding him with another arm.
Redclaw prepared to strike again. The creature only had five arms, and he could feel his paralyzed limb recovering. He would win soon.
And then he heard a strange mechanical noise.
"Calculating odds of successfully subduing target with current tactics. Low. Processing... target's lower body relatively unprotected."
Then he felt a heavy mass of metal tackling him in the legs, and a moment later, something pricked him.
That something was a silver hook.

Augustus picked himself up just as he saw a large wolf turn into a naked human and fall to the ground with a small ape clinging to his face.
The ape stared at his victim and hopped off his face.
"Huh. Must be some new drug on the market." He shrugged, then turned to the Arbiter, and awkwardly saluted.
"Er, I'm not sure how exactly to join a religion," he said apologetically. "Do I call you Sir? Your Holiness?"
Augustus stood as tall as he could. He had never actually had a congregation before, but he did know how to project authority.
"I am Augustus, the Divine Arbiter!" he declared. "You may address me by my title." He turned to the starfish, carefully reattaching its severed arm.
"You, there. Hand me my sword."
"Er... I'm a bit busy..."
"Would you have the Divine Arbiter lower himself to the ground?"
"...No, sir." The starfish sighed, picked up the sword with one of his lower legs, and passed it to his new prophet.
"Excellent! Now then, all of you, speak your names and I shall anoint you as followers of Azungrada. We shall pass judgement upon the wicked in His divine name!"
The four lined up awkwardly, the starfish still trying to reattach his arm.
"Er, can I go last?" he asked apologetically. "I'm a little busy."
Augustus sighed.
"Very well. The rest of you, speak your names."
"Munke," said the ape, saluting again. "Formerly Colonel Franklin Munke, before the whole discharge thing."
The hook-handed robot stared at Augustus for a while before finally speaking.
"Processing request. Acknowledged. Identity of self. Unit V3-278 has not yet been assigned a nomenclature. Unit was discarded after attacking assembly line worker. Unable to provide further identifying information. Unit V3-278 may be assigned nomenclature at Divine Arbiter's convenience."
Augustus considered this.
"Very well, then. You shall be Worm, until such time that you prove yourself worthy of a better name. Understand, Worm?"
"Acknowledged. Worm shall serve the glory of Azungrada with pride."
The woman simply stared.
"Will you not speak?" Augustus said. "I gave you a directive."
Our apologies. Our host's vocal chords are under our control, but we do not fully understand their operation. We further apologize for intruding on the Divine Arbiter's mind.
Augustus blinked.
"And your name?"
We are Orchard. We are intrigued by Azungrada and the power He grants you. We wish to learn more.
"Does Azungrada have your loyalty?"
He does. So we swear.
"Good. And I believe it is your turn now."
The starfish grunted as he finally snapped his arm back in place.
"They call me Nova," he grunted. "You need to know anything more?"
"I believe not." Augustus smiled, and held out his sword.
"By Azungrada's blessing, I declare you, Munke, Worm, Orchard, and Nova to be acolytes of the Great Destroyer. We shall pass judgement upon this sinful world, and Azungrada shall reward us for our faith."
"Sure," Munke muttered. "So what do we do with this fellow?" He pointed to the unconscious naked man.
Augustus mused on the matter. Under normal circumstances, he would have simply fed Redclaw to his god. But Azungrada was absent. Augustus thought back to his days as a pirate, and what he did with prisoners before then.
He smiled.
"That is a simple enough matter, Acolyte Munke. Where is the nearest airlock?"

Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Solaris.

Calm down Vex, this isn't the worst spot you've ever been in.

While that was true, the situation was probably higher on the scale than he would care to admit. His unfamiliarity with the Encyclopedia's inner workings, the intense glare of Triumphian, and the demand to locate his planet all together was a bit tough to deal with, but nothing that he couldn't handle.

Alright book, you've got the coordinates, you've got the name of the place, just tell me what the giant lizard wants to know so that he stops.

After some effort and concentration, he succeeded in pulling out the relevant part of space. At the coordinates that had been screamed at him was... nothing. In that entire section of space, there was no life, no planets, only empty space.

What the hell?

This report was contrary to what the clerk had said, wasn't it? She had said something about a planet with nothing but wild animals, so why did he see something different? Though this trip through the books information was a bit taxing, Vex just couldn't help but wonder, what did the book say about the ship they were on, the Oh Two Oh?

Like the home of the Lagran Empire, there was nothing in the book, as far as he knew, on Oh Two Oh, it was as if it didn't exist. As Vex pulled away from the Encyclopedia, he noted that things like this Lagran Empire that the dinosaur had just not shut up about, and a seedy nexus like the Oh Two Oh just couldn’t go unnoticed in the universal news network. So what did it all mean?


Triumphian's disturbance at the Information Brokers' Head Quarters, from his barging in with complete disrespect to negotiations to his rather bombastic rants at a book, was not one that had gone unnoticed. As the space pope preoccupied himself with Vex, various informants, analysts, spies, and other information gatherers began to do everything they could learn what the hell was up with this ridiculously dressed reptile that was making such a large scene.

They had information on his companion, Captain Jessica Blaus of The Moirai, but there seemed to be absolutely nothing on him. They didn't know where he came from, who he was, how he even got here, it just didn't make sense. He had to get on the ship somehow, right?

Still, they were the Information Brokers. It was their job to be up to date with the happenings of the universe, and that meant that they'd have get to the bottom of this, even if they had to do it personally.


"And another thing!"

As Vex once more tuned in to Triumphian, he realized that Wow, he did not know how to shut up. If the growing crowd's wide open mouths and blank stares, made up of both people who wished to use the IB's services and those who had heard of the crazy dude yelling at a book was any indication, the dinosaur hadn't shut up the entire time that he was looking up the information.

This probably was going to be more difficult to convey than he'd hoped.

"Alright your... er, Holiness, I've got some interesting news for you. I'll be straight, you might not like what you hear, but I'd like it if you let me finish, kapiche?"

To the astonishment of almost everyone present, Triumphian closed his mouth, lowered the glow on his eyes, and listened.

Well, that was easier than I thought it would be.

Vex began. "So if you remember, the lovely lady over there said that your planet and empire don't exist how you remember them. Well, my data says that they don't exist at all, in fact, it says that this ship doesn't exist either. I thought about it, and our whole situation, and I started to wonder what would happen if we talked universal history or geography; I doubt that we’d agree on everything. Now, I know that this is going to sound a bit odd, but I’ve got one explanation explains this all. I think that we are in an alternate universe."

Despite his cool delivery, Vex had feared that sometime during his somewhat hasty conclusion, the pope would decide to enact his vengeance, luckily, it seemed that he had gone in the other direction.

An alternate universe?

While Triumphian never really had what anyone would consider an open mind with regards to things that didn't relate to complete victory over heathens, this was asking for a bit much. Every choice he had made during this situation was done with the thought that somewhere out there, his empire was searching, and would soon find him and leave him free to lead a revenge assault on this Apprentice that had so rudely abducted him.

But if the book was to be believed, that revenge assault was looking a lot less likely.

It was as he was lost in thought that the Information Brokers opted to make their move. Like most of their actions, the investigation on this Pope Triumphian was started with a very subtle touch. Mizz, the bug-lady clerk, tapped Triumphian's shoulder, releasing him from his thought, "I'm sorry to interrupt your Holiness, but you are requested upstairs."

Those in the audience who were aware of the implication of such a thing began to murmur amongst themselves. They weren't quite sure what to think about this giant landslide of information that had been given to them. First there is a preaching reptile who some of the audience, despite their initial desire to laugh, actually believed in. Then there was the apparent revelation that both he and the talking(!!!) book were from a different universe. Lastly, he was called to the higher floors of the IB's HQ. No one was called there except the most important people.

As Triumphian, Jessica, and Vex followed Mizz, the pope, despite his shock, couldn't help but notice that among the audience were people who were looking at him, and who believed in him.


"I've made a huge mistake."

Though Viscount's hunger had unknowingly aided things along in the forest, he had neither seen any fruits nor felt any labor. In his eyes, he had failed to do the only thing expected of him. What would The Controller think?

"Come on Viscount, get yourself together!"

Viscount shifted himself a little and then started to make note of his surroundings, he seemed to be covered... in smoke? He was thankful to not have lungs, but still-was part of him just inhaled-he had to focus. He may have failed in his mission last round, but this time he would ensure that there was nothing but discord and paranoia between the remaining contestants. But first he'd have to keep himself in one piece. I know something sucked me in, but where?

Lower in the room, swimming in a lavish tank, surrounded in loot, and wearing a mish-mash of a space captain’s uniform and some sort of synthetic form-fitting armor was a shark, but not just any shark. The grey skinned, red eyed, and smoking (as her head was on the outside of the tank) shark was lounging about and getting her hourly report on the status of her ship. Her water, imported from the freshest and cleanest planets and laced with various chemicals, kept her vitalized and healthy; it was the closest thing to a fountain of youth you could get. And Admiral was planning on sticking around for a long time.

"And the last thing is that there seems to be various disturbances going around."

The young man reporting the news of the hour to her was a human, well tanned, brown straight hair, meat on his bones, mentally boring, but that wasn't what Admiral liked in her servants anyway. She giggled to herself and slyly smirked before giving a scoff. "Tell me exactly how a bunch of criminals rioting and making a mess is news?"

"Well Admiral, according to the reports, at the center of each of these disturbances there has been someone or someones who no one has seen before. We can't find any information about them."

Viscount, watching from the smoky ceiling, began to plot. They were making disturbances, were they? Though inherently disorganized, the outcome of a disturbance could lead to organization and revolt, depending on who's at the center... He could swoop down and offer his services and knowledge to this Admiral, but he instead opted to wait and see what else the minion and his master had to say.

"So if you can't get any information, why don't you get some from the Information Brokers?"

"Well, uhm... that's where one of the disturbances is at. They've closed things off, but stragglers say that there was a preaching reptile, saying something about some Empire. The other main disturbance also seems to have resulted in a following of one of these... new people."

Admiral was skeptic that in the hour since she last heard from one of her servants, that some people showed up out of nowhere, and that they somehow started to gain followers among the scum that lived on the ship. "Really?"

Viscount noted her smug skepticism, and opted to make his move.

"Yes, really. In fact, I think that there are a few more things about. Greetings Admiral, I hope you forgive my inability to bow. My name is Viscount, and I know something you want to know."


"We just want to know who you are."

Triumphian and his crew were sitting in a nice, but rather crowded office, filled to the brim with papers and files, all facing the man apparently in charge of the building they were in. The tusked, large eared man, wearing a nice, but messy suit adjusted his lenses and kept his wrinkly hands clasped together on his desk.

On the way up, the captain had gossiped to Triumphian about this man, the supposed leader of the Information Brokers. He was an intelligent man, neutral, and focused only on the collection and sale of information. This was someone he could relate to, someone he could understand.

Though he wasn't quite over his existential issue, Triumphian wanted to engage this man more than he wanted to slump over his situation. After all, even if he wasn't home, he still had an image of a cool and collected leader to keep.

"I believe that your employee has told you this already, but I suppose that just this once I will repeat myself, for you. I am His Holiness the Glorious Pope Triumphian the First of the Holy Empire of Lagran. Not that I wish to interrupt your procedures, but I doubt that satisfies your thirst for knowledge. Let’s not waste each other’s time."

The tusked man nodded and smiled. "I see... then it is a pleasure to meet you, I am Wallace Zanna, I am the second leader of the Information Brokers on this ship." He extended his hand to the pope, who firmly grasped and shook it. "You are very astute Your Holiness, you see, your appearance has left my people in a bit of a situation. Downstairs, there are a large number of people who want to know what is going on with you along with a number of other, similar unknowns. Tell me, did you come in a group?"

"While I understand the sentiment, I hope that you don't mind me not answering without a bit of incentive."

"So you are a negotiator as well are you?"

"One does not rule over an empire without the ability to dictate well."

"Just as one does not get to the top of an information exchange service without a few ways to get what he wants."

Oh boy, here we go again.

As if being on the opposite end of one of Triumphian's long rants wasn't enough, now Vex was in the middle of two windbags.

The Pope didn't even let me finish what I was saying... but maybe that's for the best. Wouldn't want to let him know my full hand now, would I?

Vex decided to shut out the world around him, at least until the two blowhards shut up, and started to get back to work on dealing with his new home. Getting the two tidbits of information before was hard, but if he wanted to expand, he'd need to go over the basics first.

"Let's get to work."


The various employees could only stare in wonder as Triumphian and Wallace went at it. Since starting their discourse proper, the two hadn't wasted a single word nor given in anything truly useful to the other. They almost seemed to be a stalemate.

Eventually, Wallace gave in. "I tire of this, we are making no progress. Let us settle this... another way, with a game."

Triumphian, who also tired of going in circles, tentatively agreed. "What sort of game? I imagine that it won't be something easy to pick up and play."

Wallace smugly smirked, "Well, it depends. I could allow you to select which, for a price."

"Tempting, tempting, but that would make the victory less satisfying. How about a middle ground, you select the game, I am given the instruction materials and fifteen minutes."

"Hmm, that sounds acceptable. So, you know what I want from you, what do you want if you win?"

"When I win, I want control of your facility, your resources, and your personnel."

Wallace once more extended his arm, "I accept."
Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Schazer.

The galleries were all atwitter. And a titter. And a squawk or two of derision. Ms. Archer had no damned clue how they'd reconfigured things, but Bal was busy banging his head against what the secretary had tentatively decided was the door to the Onanist Harlot Wizard Cesspit (as she'd so totally-not-furious-that-they'd-pulled-this-stunt-on-her put it).

"KISA," shrieked the AI, struggling to make herself heard over the ever-growing audience of bored birds heckling her goon with 'advice', "LET BAL IN."

Bal (damnable backwater troglodyte) just kind of waved his head around like the dough-brained flail it was arguably built to be. Ms. Archer had, for few better ideas, picked a spot at random, assuming she could convince everyone (the wizards included) that the door was there and by Avery they were going to open it for her. There was no way in hell she was taking this personally, not when she definitely hadn't explicitly claimed that Parliament was hers to run with an iron fist. Wing. Endless supply of giant robotic limbs that descended from the ceiling and tore the limbs off anyone who disagreed with her. You got the picture.

Kisa had not let Bal in. The stilt-witch had made herself scarce, presumably where all the other architect-thinkers had gone and decided their little bolthole was inaccessible with a similar amount of effort to deciding a room was "cosy". Or "imposing". The possibility remained that Witch Matila wasn't actually a turncoat and a little bitch and a traitor and out to ruin Ms. Archer's credibility like that little slimeball Chordeilis, but charitability had proved a rather worthless piece of bundleware even before Avery had got his tendrils in the secretary's business.

She still had the logs from when she'd deleted it off her operating system. The recollection was unpleasant, mostly because Ms. Archer recognised introspection as a sign she was malfunctioning. She blamed Kisa, paced her office, then snatched the intercom off her desk.

"MONTAGUE," Ms. Archer screamed, somehow still managing to sound sexy and dangerous rather than demented and dangerous, "MY OFFICE . NOW."

Montague was a nervous-looking little creature, a village weaver who managed somehow to look even more nervous and littler when the AI went all histrionic on her public service announcement. He was smart enough to know who the real power brokers were, smart enough to negotiate himself a tidy little bit of diplomatic protection under their wing in exchange for the clerical tedium at which he was so skilled, but he wasn't smart enough to realise the diiplomats were maniacs. Safe only in the knowledge that he hadn't pissed off enough wizardtypes to be tossed into Ms. Archer's waiting jaws, he still managed to exude enough misery that his benchmate noticed.

"What's your problem, gorgeous?"

Montague glanced at the cocky little chicken beside him, a complementary shade of silver-white to his canary gold. "Um,"

"Ooh, I get it. You're that poor bastard Montague our fair lady's getting all riled up to audience, aren't you?"

The village weaver had kind of frozen up; the bantam snickered quietly as he ran a sensual beak-tip up Montague's neck. "Don't be shy, now."

Fortunately for Montague, Kittybrewster chose that moment to kick some dude in the face. At least they all got back on topic once the news filtered through from the Dross to the Caucus - the more squeamish didn't appreciate the the topic was "the best way to dispose of a dude with a cassowary's talons stuck in its face", but it was progress. Of a kind.

Then, out of the woodwork, came more bodyguards than you could sick a cassowary onto. Which wasn't all that surprising.


Mr. Saturday, meanwhile, was enjoying a spot of strip searching. The twenty-handed thing doing the searching, meanwhile, wasn't, which mostly had to do with the saucy commentary. In Saturday's defence, the whole concept of a police state was too entirely alien to set his alarm bells ringing, and he'd never been frisked on the occasions the sherrif had slung the old him punch-drunk face first into the cells for a night to sober up. His black cheek quietly leached heat out into the metal floor, where the enforcer had none-too-gently shoved it after Saturday had (with a wink) subtly shifted a searching hand further down his waist. The floor smelt faintly of blood. Didn't most metals do that, though, come to think of it?

A second... whatever the hell was sorting through the pockets of his burgundy coat, humming with disapproval at the assorted pistols and ammo. It looked human, but a rather unholy golden light shone through its pores and a robust metal mask was clamped around the lower half of its face. A screen on the mask flickered with sentence fragments no longer than a polysyllabic word, which nobody was bothering to read.


The Conphotorence motioned for its partner to get a better hold of their detainee's various limbs. He (?) then raised Saturday's chin by the goatee, a motion as distasteful as grabbing a squirming rat by the tail. Its eyes were gold like Saturday's, but better-resembled the sun in the way it hurt to stare into them too long. The Baron opted to pay good attention to the words on the mask instead.


The rationale for his warm welcome thus finally made clear, Saturday figured this all a bit pointless. The only real mystery remaining (other than why he was still tolerating this treatment when he could probably kill these dudes without even thinking) was this Scorpi.ocore character, and whether killing his henchmen would bite the Baron in his dual-tone butt faster than screwing up his mission for the other guy. Saturday was really struggling to take this whole competition business or whatever seriously, if only because the coin business implied he was just being fucked with. Not that that was a problem, Saturday was a man who could take it. In more ways than one, paid to mention.

Oh, and also whether old Mask-Chops was confusing charming young courtesans like the dame Saturday had been enjoying a conversation with, with whatever the hells a "bitch partner" was. How could you even get those confused?

Mr. Hands hauled the painted man up with three hands clamped on a shoulder, dragging a worryingly compliant Saturday through a bunch of steel corridors. The Conphotorence stalked ahead, making it clear to the beggars and vagrants and hired muscle that littered the halls messing with it was messing with Scorpiocore. Saturday was content to be hauled along, still not seeing these guys as much of a threat. He was frogmarched through a door, through a bar so dank and smoky even the Conphotoerence's glow couldn't pierce it, out the back, through a cavern he failed to recognise as a cargo hold, and beaten round the head again when they stopped and he asked what the hold-up was.

"Shut your face," growled Mr. Hands.


Mask-Chops wasn't talking (?) to him, instead glaring down a corridor where a commotion was underway. One of his underlings was tossed into view, before an enormous penguin charged out of nowhere and slugged the poor bastard across the face.

A racket-tailed drongo flew out of the doorway, cackling like a maniac and screaming about how Lucy or someone should "just try stop [him] now, you self-righteous fuzzball!"

Saturday idly watched it pinwheel above, before it divebombed out of the sky and perched on his head. Damn, he thought. He'd need a fresh hat, which to the freely intangible and formless was more of a mild inconvenience than an actual problem. The drongo seemed unsympathetic to his plight, and utterly heedless of the many-handed thing still appearing to have a hold on Saturday. It instead hollered back in the direction of the hallway, which had since been cleared of the penguin but was sporting a screaming man with an eagle stuck to his face.

"Oi, dudes! I found that there voodoo fucker! What's my prize!?"
Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Akumu.

Redclaw came back to consciousness being carried through the streets of the slum. Each of Augustus’s four acolytes held one of his limbs, their differing sizes resulting in him being canted at an odd angle, which was no help for his disoriented state. He felt cold and small and weak... he felt human. He retched, splattering the sawdust underfoot and the small ape holding his right arm with half-digested rabbit.

“Aw, fer the love’a!” Munke cried as he jumped back, dropping Redclaw’s arm. “I just got this cleaned and pressed.”

“Acolyte Munke! Lord Azungrada expects much and has little patience for those who fail Him.”

Munke straightened up and snapped off a salute before taking up his portion of the prisoner’s weight again. Redclaw arched his head backwards to see Augustus following behind and overseeing the procession.

“You!” Redclaw snarled, “Face me, you curr!”

Augustus sniffed imperiously. “There is no need to dirty my hands with you further. There would be no glory to Azungrada in fighting a broken-down foe. It is only left to dispose of you.”

Redclaw began to struggle in earnest, lifting Munke easily off the ground and kicking Orchard aside. He ranted as he swung between the tighter grips of Worm and Nova. “I could still crush your throat, and I would watch joyfully as you choked on your own blood, you cowardly—”

“Acolyte Nova,” the arbiter said simply.

The starfish was carrying Redclaw with a tentacle wrapped around his upper arm. At Augustus’s instruction, he constricted that tentacle, upping the pressure until the humerus beneath a thick layer of muscle gave way with a crack. Redclaw’s invective cut off with a wet gargle of pain. It was all he could do not to scream out, but he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. So he hung there panting, his arm at a grotesque angle, as the procession resumed.

Soon enough they reached the edge of the slums, where a metal door stood waiting. The robot Worm tapped on a keypad with his hook, and the door swung silently open to reveal a small room. The four acolytes prepared to toss Redclaw inside.


Augustus stepped forward and grabbed the copper ornament clipped onto Redclaw’s hair.

“Something to remember you by, infidel.”

He tore it away along with the hank of hair it was attached to and saw that the Apprentice’s coin was tucked away under the clip.

“Ah, even better! I was wondering where you could be keeping that.”

“I will come for you,” Redclaw managed to growl, “and I will take back what is mine.”

“Oh, I doubt that very much. Acolytes, continue.”

Redclaw was tossed unceremoniously through the open doorway, and with a few more taps on the keypad, the inner door closed, the outer one opened, and the broken and shamed warchief was ejected into the vacuum of space.

- - -
“...and finally there is I, the Viscount Hethwell.”

“So I am supposed to believe that a god-like being sent eight ne’er-do-wells here on some kind of involuntary shopping trip slash deathmatch?”

“That’s about the size of it, Admiral.”

“Now is an incredibly subopt time for unusual disturbances, being in the middle of negotiations as I am.”


“Yes, negotiations. Why do you think we’re parked behind this moon? The IAU’s delicate understanding with the Luvians would be immensely complicated by being in view of planetside laser arrays.”

Hethwell’s rhythmic contractions slowed as he digested this new information. Swimming in lazy circles in her tank, watching the cloud of gas with first one eye and then the other as she turned, the Admiral was inwardly amused at how bad a poker face one could have even when they had no face at all.

“Well, Admiral, then we could certainly help each other. The one called Parliament has something of mine. I can tell you how best to deal with it, I could retrieve my property, and then we would all be on our way.”

“Instead of that, why don’t I kill you right now, and get rid of the lot of you all the sooner?”

Viscount surged forward, mingling into the smoke from the Admiral’s cigar. She rolled to the side, pointing a fin at him and discharging her weapon. A crackling bolt of electricity phased through his vaporous body with little more than a tingle before being absorbed into the bulkhead behind him. Then he was around her head, swirling and eating away the memories of this encounter. He rose up, back between the ribs of the ceiling supports, and looked ruefully at the body of the subordinate stashed behind a pile of crates.

Well, that didn’t go any better than the first attempt... maybe the third time’s the charm.

“Admiral! I believe I can be of service!”

- - -
A naked body tumbled out into space, puffing up slightly from internal pressure. Blood and sweat and tears boiled away into the emptiness before freezing into a nimbus of glittering ice crystals. A diaphragm worked uselessly, with nothing to inhale or exhale.

Though the rapidly dying body was that of Warchief Redclaw, he felt utterly divorced from it, his mind working to take in what he was seeing. Receding from him was a construction more massive than he had ever seen. Its dull metal walls stretched out in all directions from the door he had exited, ending without support in the blackness of space. It was an entire system separate from nature, of life spurning the embrace of its mother planet and claiming total dominion over its own environment.

It was an abomination.

That might have been Redclaw’s last thought before he passed out from oxygen deprivation, had it not been for the Admiral’s strategic considerations. As he pulled away from the airlock, the moon of Luvia peeked out from around the edges of the Oh-Two-Oh, bathing him in its light. He felt the power filling him, and he changed.

The change was a trauma so intense that it could only kill any man who went through it, distending bones and rending flesh before knitting it back together. While this little death was an inconvenience that was part of why Redclaw preferred to stay in lupine form whenever possible, in this case being dead saved his life. There was no need to maintain vitals in the precious seconds while his body was tearing itself apart, as the changing vector of the orbiting Oh-Two-Oh brought the welded-on Jewel sweeping towards him.

As the last bone slotted into its joint, he came back into life in his true form. A wall of glass filled his view, brightly lit figures moving parallel to it beneath silken banners. He spread out his limbs and braced for impact. The wall hit him, and he dug in with his regained claws. He accordioned into the glass, then bounced away. At the end of his arms’ extension, he stopped with a jerk, his claws caught in the narrow furrows they had cut into the glass. He pulled one arm back and punched the glass as hard as he could.

A spiderweb of cracks spread out from his fist. Inside, people stopped and looked up as a hollow thoom reverberated through the promenade. Redclaw saw them pointing upwards towards him as he struck again at the glass. Sprinkles of glass fell away from him into the interior of the ship. He could feel his strength draining away, his body throwing off its heat into the vacuum and the lack of oxygen cutting through the magical kickstart of the change. He pulled his arm back again, his muscles screaming and stiffening, and he put everything he could into the next strike, roaring silently into space.

The window shattered, blowing outwards as the air inside rushed into the vacuum. Redclaw followed it out, buffeted by a tornado of glass shards, then fell back inwards as the artificial gravity field caught him. He barely cleared the automatic shutter that slammed across the compromised pane, and fell downwards into the Jewel.

Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

It took a particular type of entrepeneuring scoundrel to visit the Oh Two Oh, observe its harsh punishment for thievery, and decide that what it needed was a fencing operation.
That individual called himself "Mister Found". He discovered quickly that, as far as the locals were concerned, there was no real difference between stealing property and selling stolen property. The penalty was the same either way.
But Mister Found was unconcerned. It was only death, after all, and after a few dozen execution attempts it became clear that trying to kill him was going to be more expensive than just letting him continue to operate. Besides, he still had to get his hands on the stolen mechandise, and anyone idiotic enough to sell directly to "Lost and Found's" would be quickly caught and punished.
That was where Mister Lost came in. He was the middleman. Unlike Found, he had no official immunity; but this was of little concern to him, because he was very good at not being caught.
Of course, this also made him difficult to track down when you had stolen merchandise to unload.

"Where's Ion?" Ab grumbled. "He's the one who knows how to contact Lost. Clever bastard, making sure we give him his cut of the sale."
"I'll check on him," Errat said. "You watch the statue."
"Oh, good idea. Maybe I can feed it another arm if it starts moving again! Got plenty to spare, don't I?"
"Quit complaining! Just put it down and keep your distance if you're so scared. I'll be back with Ion before you know it, and then this thing is Found's problem."
Ab sighed, then put Azungrada down in the corner.
"Be quick about it. I hate this thing."
Errat scurried out of the alley and through the main corridor, nimbly running under dozens of feet unnoticed as he made his way back to the bar.
When he arrived, it was closed.
"Closed? That brawl must have gotten even nastier than it looked," Errat mused. "Hope Ion's okay."
Suddenly the door opened. The bartender smiled as he stepped out.
"Come on, boys. This piece is bound to be worth good money."
Errat watched as two assistants followed the bartender out, carrying a large silver statue.
Errat recognized its shape, and the horrified features frozen on its face.
"Goddammit, Ion," he muttered. "You must've taken some real hard liquor there."


The infidel had been taken care of. Now there were other matters to deal with.
"Azungrada is pleased with you all," Augustus explained. "He has entrusted us with several tasks; of course, prime among them is that of judging this sinful world."
"You mean the ship, or Luvia?" Munke asked. "We're right by it, could see it goin' either way."
Augustus paused. He had not yet considered this, but it was clear that such decisions were within his authority as Arbiter.
"We shall cleanse the sinful from this ship," he declared authoritively, "and claim it as our own vessel. Then we shall turn our attention to the world below."
"Ooh, good. Been meanin' to get back at them since the discharge, lookin' forward to that."
"But first, there are other tasks awaiting us!" Augustus continued. "To begin with, we must find Azungrada's avatar on this plane. He has travelled with me to this point, but now He is in hiding, waiting for His loyal servants to locate Him. This is a test for us all."
"What's he look like, boss... I mean, Your Holiness?" Nova asked. "Don't mean to be disrespectful, but I only just learned about him."
"His form is that of a great silver serpent. He has mighty arms, with which to rend apart the sinful."
"Big metal snake with arms, got it," Nova replied. "Er, and I mean that very respectfully, Your Holiness."
"Incomplete data. Does Azungrada resemble a particular species of snake?" asked Worm. "This information may clarify an ambiguous situation if we are separated from you."
"He takes on the form of a mighty cobra. I trust you will commit His appearance to memory once you have laid eyes on His form for yourselves."
"Yes, Arbiter," the acolytes repeated.
"Good." Augustus smiled.
Then he recalled Azungrada's last orders. He had to partake in this useless competition, didn't he.
Well, he didn't have to describe it as it was to the acolytes. He only needed their loyalty.
"One final matter. For reasons that Azungrada has not even shared with me, we have been entered in a competition with a number of heretics. No doubt He wishes to demonstrate the superiority of His followers. The coin I claimed from the wolf-man is a part of this contest; its purpose is unclear as of yet."
What does this competition ential?
"We are to find a certain item. A petrified Roagarian Slugmonkey."
Munke grumbled.
"Gonna be tough. Can't be many of those off Roagar, and we can't go there, obviously."
"Lack of transportation?" Augustus asked.
"Try lack of a planet," Munke snorted. "They deserved it, of course, but the damned tribunal didn't see it that way."
"Arbiter, I have a suggestion," Worm spoke. "Permission to speak?"
"There is a group known as the Information Brokers. As the name suggests, they specialize in information retrieval. They would likely be able to locate both items, although they would have a price."
Augustus smirked.
"An excellent suggestion, Worm. Where might we find them?"

Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Solaris.

From the very start it was obvious that neither Triumphian nor Wallace was planning on playing their game and adhering to the agreement of a "fair game". The Pachydrim would indeed give his guest the instructional materials to their game, but he would "accidentally" forget to include an all important advanced play booklet. At the same time, the Lagran had his own plans for the game, and though he had great confidence in his wits, was set on making his victory certain. The end result was that not only had the two plan to keep with their informational tug-of-war, they had also made it even more complicated. To the two, the game would be another medium with which to discover more about the other.

And Wallace chose the perfect game for the occasion. Casket, in theory was a simple two player card game that takes less than five minutes to set up and about twenty-to-thirty minutes to play. In practice, due to a few factors that added complexity in ways that the original creators never could have foreseen, the average game came to begin some days prior to the two players sitting down and shuffling the cards, with both sides doing intense research on each and every habit of the other player for the sole purpose of having the edge on the other. It was rather ridiculous. In fact, it had gotten to the point where the in last Casket Championship Tournament to take place before its banning seven years ago took a staggering thirty hours of play to finish. Wallace looked at his trophy with a smug satisfaction.


"No offense Captain, but are you mad?" Jessica Blaus was left dumbstruck at what had just happened. Triumphian had just challenged Wallace to his own game. While she admired his confidence, there was no way she could see him actually winning this. "No one's beaten Wallace at Casket, no one!"

Triumphian's reaction to Wallace's status was one of nonchalance, "I will forgive you for your impudence now, but in the future I would like you to have more confidence in your leader. I had already assumed that something like that was the case. Why would he offer his livelihood if his victory was not certain?"

Jessica meekly sunk into the couch in the room that they had been given to prepare for the game while Triumphian picked up the instruction booklet for Casket and fingered through it. "That man falsely believes that he can best me at his game, but he underestimates me and my power, a power given to me by my god." Upon finishing his look through, he turned to the silent form of the Encyclopedia, "Of course, it never hurts to have a little extra help on your side."

Vex had, for better or for worse, not made a lot of progress with his plans. He wasn't sure why either. The Scholar had commented on his ability, and he was getting a knack for getting information, but... no!

Come on Vex, the sooner you figure this out, the sooner you can get that giant lizard out of your hair and get on with the rest of this ordeal.

As the man returned to delve into the secrets of his new home, he was interrupted by a metaphorical knock by his companion.


Vex rolled his eyes and returned to inspecting the Pope. "Yes, your holiness?" He snidely responded.

"I require your services once more. Hopefully this will be something you are actually capable of." Triumphian smirked.


The rotund leader of the Information Brokers idly sat, fingering his personal deck of Casket cards and wistfully thinking about his past victories. It was not often that he got to play this game as, by now, everyone knew better than to try. The appearance of this fool filled him with excitement, even if it would only last for a small amount of time.

Triumphian entered with his small posse behind him back into Wallace's room, where the cards were already waiting and the man himself was sitting patiently, rubbing his tusk. Triumphian handed his staff to Jessica, and sat on the table. Wallace took off his coat, leaving behind his grey vest and undershirt, and cut the deck.

The deck of cards was your common fifty Casket cards, each card had two aspects, a value and an ability. There were multiple copies of both throughout the deck, with some values appearing more commonly than others. Five of these cards are drawn and then the two players aim for one of the multiple win conditions that Casket has. The creators had intended the various win conditions to be a way to make the game faster, allow you to play with more of your friends or to make it a best two out of three or whatever suited you best. Instead, it became most of the game, as it didn't matter how good your hand was if it didn't do anything for the win condition you wanted. In the advanced play, the game was less about the cards and more about paying attention to the various actions your opponent was performing and reacting in a way that would stop them from achieving the victory you thought they were aiming for.

Wallace was well aware that despite all his skill, Triumphian, as someone who had never played the game, had the advantage of knowing what his favorite tricks were, while he had no such luxury. To him, this meant nothing, as even if the pope had planned ways to stop his victory, he saw no possible scenario in which the dinosaur could successfully go for a win condition without him seeing it, and stopping it first. All it would do is stop the game from being instantly over.

Both players acted with confidence, setting down their cards and keeping their motives secret from the other. The game started as most do, with a few turns of small, neutral plays, without any indication of what win condition was intended. Then, Triumphian took the lead, making a few good plays that countered Walllace's, but revealed his desired win. The boss of the Brokers was not worried, easily halting Triumphian's attempts to advance until Triumphian eventually made a mistake. The error was a small one, likely unnoticed to the beginner, but Wallace knew that it was the perfect opening into his quickest and fastest victory.

Which... was exactly what Triumphian had intended! Just as Wallace was about to make his final, winning move, Triumphian won. The entire room was silent, questioning the events that had occurred. With the exception of Triumphian (and Vex), everyone seemed to be completely dumbstruck by the results. Wallace replayed the events, trying to figure out what had gone wrong... "Your mistake!"

Triumphian rose, grabbing back his staff and extremely content with himself. "If nothing, that will teach you not to underestimate others."

Wallace was sweating, trying to figure out just how this had happened. "But... but..."

"There are times when ones skill in a profession, game, or other action is not a boon, but a disadvantage. A simple mistake, one that of course a newcomer would make, is of course seen as an opening for you, instead of what it truly was. One must keep an eye open to various options, not only the one that fits with your perspective. Now, there is the matter of our deal. You were a worthy opponent Wallace, but it will take more than that to best me."

Wallace sighed, but accepted it. "You are right, my resources are now yours."

"Excellent, no-"

Suddenly, the door slammed open, with one of the Information Broker's clerks panting, "We have... a situation... downstairs."

Wallace walked to the employee and shook him steady, "What is wrong, calm down man!"

"A group of people led by this human wearing black and gold wanted some information and when I told them to wait they reacted... er, badly."

Triumphian's ears pricked at the description, "Black and gold you say? Was he accompanied by a large metallic snake perchance?"

The clerk looked confused, but still answered, "Uhmm, no, but there were a lot of other people with him."

Triumphian rubbed his chin, wondering what could have happened to the false god, "Curious... at any rate, I will deal these peons, come."
Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

Cepra was utterly confused.

She didn’t come from a scientifically-advanced land. She didn’t come from a place that even understood space, never mind space travel. So she certainly didn’t understand anything like ‘vacuums.’

She had followed the train of religious guys worshipping the whatever-the-shit. It was surprisingly easy. At one point, she had heard the word ‘airlock,’ something that didn’t even seem to make sense because you couldn’t lock air, could you? She watched them do a thing that looked remarkably like locking someone in a jail cell. Was that supposed to be a prison? Just placed at the edge of the inside-town? And anybody could just toss someone in a cell if they wanted to? But after the group had left and she went closer in an attempt to understand, there didn’t seem to be anybody in the room at all.

Things had always spiraled out of reach of her understanding, and she was fine with that. Other men were learned in mathematics and philosophy, which were all things she didn’t understand, but it had nothing to do with her and her expertise. She was just someone who accepted that she would never understand a lot of things because they were just things outside her scope of knowledge.

But all…all this was starting to strain the limits of her acceptance. She could handle a few weird aliens, especially since many of them had at least familiar features. She could handle a black market and taverns, even if they seemed to be made out of metal, more metal than she had ever even seen, and she was someone who could make silver out of living beings. Behind the unfamiliar apparatus, there was a distinctly familiar thing. But it was now that she was starting to be completely and utterly alienated. It made her feel lost. It made her feel small. It made her feel….

…not confident.

This was unacceptable.

What should she do?


She should…

She should find someone who understood all this shit. It’ll be a trade. Protection for information. She was a mercenary, after all.

This will probably mean asking around in a lot of taverns for a job. At least that would be familiar.


This was a ridiculous amount of birds. The air was absolutely saturated with feathers. Saturday would rather have it saturated with air. But there were some things you couldn’t help when there were birds flapping about in places that weren’t necessarily in your face, but certainly very near. There was also a lot of screeching and yelling and all sorts of unpleasant noise. Saturday was mostly concerned about his hat.

The handsy guy was swatting away several birds, a task made easier with his inordinate number of arms. There was another guy lying on the floor. He was most certainly alive, so perhaps he was just hoping that the birds would leave a still body alone.

Although this was a wonderful distraction, Saturday still had a very large hand tightly wrapped around his shoulder. Despite all the goddamn birds, Mr. Hands wasn’t going to let go any time soon. That was just fine with him.

Saturday’s shadow swirled and churned, unnoticed, before shooting upwards and through the restraining wrist with a shluk. Mr. Hands recoiled and opened his mouth to scream, but then a bird accidentally flew straight into it, which must have been unpleasant for everybody involved. The hand still had a tight grip on his shoulder. Saturday considered leaving it there for a while. It would make a good conversation starter.

“A’ight, yuh bastards, th’ell d’ya want?” he called out to the feathery abyss.

Another bird tried to land on his hat and he waved it away. So it landed on his shoulder instead. Saturday squinted, trying to figure out what sort of bird it was, but all he could tell was that it was a bird. He was no ornithologist.

“We’ve been looking for you,” said the bird in a manner that would make many feel that they didn’t want it looking for them. “Let’s have a chat, eh? Maybe somewhere quieter.”

Saturday looked around the cargo hold that recently became an aviary. “Iunno, I don’ mind this place.” Outside, there rose a cry of someone getting his ass kicked by an ostrich.

“Nevertheless,” said the bird, flexing his claws or talons or whatever you call bird feet. In Saturday’s experience, ‘nevertheless’ always meant ‘shut up and get moving.’ So he might as well, really. In any case, this had the exciting smell of a deal and he was always interested in those.

They weren’t a particularly inconspicuous group, a man and a flock of bloody birds, but nobody was willing to stop them. Saturday arrived in a bar with a flurry of feathers and saw another damn bird that probably was supposed to be the negotiator. The bar paid him no mind as he settled down to talk with the bird, even as the other birds settled down around them.

“Looks like I’m surrounded,” said Saturday with a smirk and both hands folded behind his head. “Y’all wanted t’ talk?”

“We have your coin.” Ah, direct. How refreshing.

Saturday gave a lazy roll of the shoulders. “I see.”

“As long as you are willing to cooperate with us, we will be willing to hold on to it – “

He let out a disconcerting bark of a laugh. “What makes ya think I care ‘bout that lil thing?”

This seemed to surprise the bird somewhat, though Saturday never really saw what a surprised bird looked like before. “W-well, because you would lose without it…? And…whether this coin is ‘taken away’ or ‘being kept safe’ depends on, ah, your relationship to us as either an enemy or an ally…?”

Saturday discreetly glanced around for anything that looked like a coin clutched by any of the numerous birds. “Ya really took that ol’ bastard seriously? C’mon. ‘This ‘un’s a super important coin so y’all better have it by th’ end o’ th’ whatever-th’-shit.’ First thing I did, I lost th’ thing, never got it back, honestly, an’ I’m still fine. These coins don’ matter.”

“He…mentioned consequences,” said the bird, almost turning the statement into a question.

“Yeh? Tha’s jus’ what he said. That guy’s all bark an’ no bite.”

The bird was silent for a moment. “But he teleported all of us together. He’s able to make us unable to attack him and he’s seemingly transporting us across entire universes.”

Saturday waved a hand. “I dunno ‘bout any a’ that shit. But I know a bluffer when I see one. So ‘m callin’ his bluff.”

“I…see. So in your view, we have no leverage to bargain for your alliance.”

“Eh,” said Saturday noncommittally.

“What a shame,” said the bird in a manner that was so resigned that it was suspicious. “By the way, you said you lost your coin immediately?”

“Uh,” said Saturday, not willing to get into that particular story.

“Does that mean you did not get a chance to see the bit of personal information on your coin?”

“Uh,” said Saturday, for a slightly different reason.

“It’s certainly very interesting,” said the bird. “Very revealing.”

After a moment, Saturday forced himself to laugh again. “Aw, c’mon. ‘Sonly supposed t’ be shit like a house address or whatever.”


“You’re bluffing,” he said with a lighthearted chuckle. “An’ I’ve got nothin’ on me that’s prime blackmail material.”

“Well…I never said blackmail. It doesn’t necessarily have to come to that if we can reach a deal.”

“Ya still got nothin’ t’ put on th’ table. ‘Cause yer fulla shit.”

“Calling one’s bluff doesn’t work if there is no bluff to call.”

And just when the negotiations looked as though it would fall apart, a very agitated spider burst onto the scene.

Re: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

"Right, everyone," Munke declared, holding his pistol to a nervous young Broker's head. "His Holiness the Divine Arbiter's in a hurry. Now, judgin' by the guns you're aiming our way, you don't much care about that, but really, all you have to do is point us to a Roagarian Slugmonkey and a big metal snake. The sooner you do that, the sooner everyone gets to go home happy."

"And should you delay too long, not only will the lives of these sinners be forfeit, but Azungrada's wrath shall be visited upon you," Augustus added. He wasn't thrilled about letting a mere acolyte do most of the talking, but Munke did have considerable experience with hostage situations.

"Now, I know some of you are thinkin' very hard about pulling those triggers anyway," Munke continued. "But you know, these Brokers we got here were on their way back to report in. And who knows just how valuable the info they've got is? Maybe it's worth more than a dozen Roagarian Slugmonkeys and twenty snakes."

The guards were silent. Munke knew well that if they had been hired from the ship, he'd be shot full of holes by now along with the hostages; but the Information Brokers weren't stupid enough to hire the average thug on the Oh-Two-Oh to guard the most valuable information archive in the known universe. These were professionals, and Munke had known their type well back in his military days. The type who always told him to stop, the type who tried to hold him back.

None of them had ever made Colonel, of course. What did they know?

"It's a waste of time talking to these fools," Munke whispered, leaning closer to Augustus. "They've got no authority, they just have weapons they're too afraid to use. Now's the time to show you're serious, make sure they bring someone in who can make assurances."

The Arbiter stepped away.

"I tire of this delay!" Augustus declared, throwing his hostage to the ground. The frightened broker considered crawling away, but the Zanite blade pressed to his throat settled his mind quickly. "If I do not have the information I require in two minutes, I will slay this heretic in the name of Azungrada!"

"You heard His Holiness!" Munke snarled. "We're not just putting on a show here. We're wastin' too much time as it is, and somebody's going to pay a price for that."

"Can I just bash their heads together yet?" Nova asked quietly. "I've got two of 'em right here, it'd be fun..."

"Not yet!" Munke snapped. "Once we actually kill someone, we lose leverage. Six hostages are better than five. Just rough 'em up a little for now."

Munke stole a quick glance at their last two partners. Worm was obediently silent as he held his hook to a Broker's neck, and Orchard was unnerving as always. He couldn't even tell what she was doing to the poor sap in her grasp. She just had one finger on his neck, but he looked more frightened than the rest of the hostages put together.

Finally, a door at the back of the room opened up. Munke smiled.

"We've got their attention," he whispered to Augustus. "Some bigwig's coming out. We should have this settled soon."

"You've done well, Acolyte Munke," Augustus replied. "Your service to Azungrada will be remembered."

Munke said nothing. He was too shocked at the figure of a large reptile stepping out of the back room, barely even noticing the Tsote at his side.

And Munke lost his composure.

"They sent a goddamn lizard to negotiate with us?" Munke snarled. "And here I thought I was done seeing mockeries of the natural order."

"Calm yourself, Acolyte Munke," Augustus said. "I will deal with this particular blasphemer." He lifted his sword from the hostage, who wasted no time in fleeing. He had managed to move nearly an entire foot before Nova grabbed him with a spare arm.

Triumphian sneered at the Divine Arbiter.

"Just as I had heard. You're here, but the snake isn't. Where is your false god, Augustus? Have you renounced him in favor of the true faith? Or has he merely abandoned you?"

"How dare you speak of the Great Destroyer so lightly!" Augustus shot back. "He has entrusted me with a task, and I will faithfully carry it out. I do not need His direct aid, for He is with me always!"

Trimphian merely laughed.

"I should have known you would cling to such delusions. Regardless, I need to make one thing clear. The Information Brokers now work for me." He narrowed his eyes. "That means you are threatening my subjects."

Not needing an additional cue, Jessica Blaus drew her sword and held it to Augustus' neck.

"So if you release them now," he continued calmly, "I will permit you and your new followers to continue living your blasphemous lives for at least a few more hours."

Augustus merely glared at him.

"Azungrada will show you no mercy, heretic," he growled. "Your judgement shall be the slowest and most painful of all."

"That is not a reply to my offer."

Clenching his teeth, Augustus spoke.

"Acolytes. Release the hostages."

"What? After all this work?" Munke protested. "With all due respect, Your Holiness..."

"Release them!" he repeated. "It is the will of Azungrada!"

Reluctantly, Munke lowered his pistol, Nova emptied his arms, Worm released his hostage, and Orchard did nothing. The man simply walked away from her, frightened as ever.

Triumphian grinned. He motioned to Jessica, who withdrew her blade.

"You're a more reasonable man than I expected," Triumphian said.

Augustus simply smiled.

"My acolytes can hardly be expected to fight properly with their hands full," he replied, raising his sword. "Azungrada! Show this heretic no mercy! He shall know the full fury of your wrath!"


"GODDAMN THIS THING!" Ab shouted, desperately trying to fight the statue off with his severed arm. "We should have just left it alone! No amount of zanite can be worth this much trouble!"

Unbeknownst to the thief, his struggle did not go unnoticed. But the two figures watching from the shadows had no interest in helping him.

They were more interested in which of the two came out the winner.

The answer came soon enough. Azungrada tore off a leg and another arm, and a few strategic bites later, Ab was lying on the ground in excruciating pain, his vital organs damaged but still barely functional.

"Urgh," he grumbled. He no longer had the strength to move. He could only stare impotently as the snake flung his detached limbs away. Then it stood silently over him, a wicked grin on its metal face.

It was taunting him.

The taunting only ended as two figures dressed head to toe in black emerged from the shadows. One of them raised his arm, and a beam of light emerged from it and lifted up Azungrada.

"I believe this one may prove very capable," he said to his partner. "Dispose of the other, will you?"

The other shadow, this one female, stared down at Ab's figure.

"He will die in two hours if undisturbed," she said in a dull voice. "It will be exceedingly painful."

"Two hours?" Ab groaned. "Two minutes like this is more than I can imagine!"

"I can end your suffering now," the stranger offered. "Or I can bring you to our employer. He may be able to give you life, in exchange for service."

Ab reflected on this.

"Deal," he said. "Just as long as I don't have to see that damn statue ever again!"

"Your kindness is unwarranted" the male stranger said, as he placed a small device on the ground. "Our employer will be displeased with you if he cannot use this one. It distresses him to handle disposal personally."

"Our employer is a creative man," the female replied. The device blinked, and they vanished.

Errat slapped his forehead as he watched the duo, Ab, and a fortune in Zanite disappear before his eyes.

"Well, this is a fine mess," he grumbled. "I suppose I'll just have to find myself another gang."


Jessica hadn't even bothered to sheathe her sword. She had seen a fair number of pirate captains just like Augustus, although without the religious trappings, and had known he was going to start a fight if they let him.

Of course, now that his guard was up, it was harder for her to strike him. He parried most of her blows, and she parried most of his. By all appearances, it was a stalemate.

But it wasn't, she realized. Augustus had a more durable blade, and eventually hers would give way. And even without that, Augustus had backup. The guards were allegedly on her side, or at least Triumphians, but most were busy with taking the hostages to safety. Only three guards were focused on the battle itself, and all three had their hands full with Nova.

Meanwhile, Munke had flown into a rage. He had barely restrained himself from firing on Triumphian when he had a hostage to watch; now that the fighting had begun, he made the pope his primary target.

Triumphian had barely raised his shield when Munke started firing on him rapidly. His pistol soon overheated, at which point he simply flung it towards the dinosaur, whose shield was barely holding up to the assault. Then he charged forward and started pounding on Triumphian with his bare hands, screaming with rage all the while.


Triumphian didn't have time to reflect on Munke's words. His shield soon failed from the pressure, and Munke's wild punches were coming too quickly for him to raise another. He had to settle for blocking the blows with his staff and the book in his hands, waiting for a chance to at least pull the monkey away.

Worm and Orchard, meanwhile, had moved themselves to the outer edges of the room. They watched both battles, as well as Nova's fight with the three guards - which quickly became two guards, as he swatted one into a desk. They were both waiting for the best chance to make a surprise attack.

It might have worked had a booming voice not knocked them to the ground.

"YOU WILL NOT HARM THE CAPTAIN!" Dolur announced, before lifting them up with one of his three arms. "AND YOU WILL ALL SURRENDER!" he shouted into the middle of the battlefield. All of the combatants were knocked to the ground, including those on his side.

Before anyone could regain their balance, Dolur had picked up Munke and Augustus with a second hand, and Nova with a third. He faced Triumphian as the lizard struggled to his feet, aided by Jessica after she regained her bearings.

"I APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE, CAPTAIN," the Alvum said, in a slightly quieter voice that still echoed through the room. "WHAT SHALL I DO WITH YOUR ENEMIES?"

"I thought he stayed on the ship," Triumphian muttered.

"Forgive me, Captain. When I heard of the situation, I thought we might need some additional help. I called Dolur and asked for his help."

Triumphian was too proud to let a chance to claim some credit pass him by.

"Well done. I knew you would both serve me well. First, we will deal with these heretics. Then, we must speak to the brokers about... AHH!"

He screamed suddenly, and dropped the Encyclopedia. It was surrounded with a bright red glow.

Evidently, Vex was less than pleased with his book-prison being used as an impromptu shield.

RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Redclaw was floating. For a desperate moment he thought himself back in the void, his efforts to re-enter the massive construct in vain. But while that floating had been the emptiness of death, this felt warm and safe. He opened his eyes.

He was in some sort of glass enclosure. The way images from outside of it were warped, it seemed like he must be underwater, but whatever fluid he was in felt like it wasn’t even there, was an extension of himself. There were tubes going into his arm and he was muzzled with a device feeding him air. He thought this should make him furious, but he could only work himself up to mild annoyance. There were things moving around outside the glass, bobbing along below him and pulsing with color. Looking at them, he could hear them speak.

“ show, and no word from our handler. Something’s going on.”

“Obviously. There’s no way we’d have been able to grab this thing under normal circumstances. If there’s a gap in surveillance, we need to take advantage.”

“Sir, neural activity is on the rise. It’s awake.”

“Life signs are stable?”

“Yes sir.”

“Then empty the tank, and let’s see if we can get any use out of it while we have the chance.”

The tubes withdrew from him with a small squirt of blood twisting away into the water, which then began to drain away as vents opened up beneath him. The things outside kept talking, but their speech became garbled as turbulent water distorted their images. Once the last of it had flowed out and Redclaw settled to the bottom of the tank, the glass walls around him rose up and he had his first clear look at his rescuers and captors.

There were three of them. Redclaw noted their positions and settled on a plan of attack, should it come to that, as he observed them. They floated, buoyed by a central round mass the size of a sheep, covered in bony plates in a dark tan. Vertical lines of matte black ran between the plates, sparking now and then with color. The plates shifted across each other as the central body expanded and contracted, bobbing in place or lazily moving through the air. From their bottom edge, a curtain of hairlike tendrils surrounded three thicker tentacles. Each of these split at the end into three; Redclaw took these to be their fingers as the subservient one was using them to poke at a terminal display.

The one Redclaw had pegged as the pack leader floated up in front of him, settling two of its tentacles on the floor and proffering the last. Rainbow hues flashed down the black stripes on its central body.

“You took a real tumble there, not to mention the damage from smashing through that window. It’s a good thing we found you and patched you up quick as we did.”

Redclaw winced. The speech was doubled up on top of itself, coming from the thing and very slightly later from a small black orb affixed to one of its bony plates. On top of that, even through machine or color, it managed to sound unctuous. Redclaw got to his feet, ignoring the outstretched tentacle, and pointed to the device.

“Translation is not necessary.”

The outstretched tentacle withdrew, reaching up to manipulate the translator as the leader rose back into the air.

“Ah, excellent. It is very rare to meet one who can understand Luvian. I am Ambassador Entaund.”

“I am Redclaw, son of Redtooth, Warchief of the Lakes People. I am in your debt.”

“It was no—”

“It is not a state I asked to be in,” Redclaw continued, stepping off the raised base of the tank and forcing the Ambassador to bob back. Its tentacles drew upwards and the fine tendrils surrounding them bristled. The middle Luvian, whom Redclaw had first heard, came towards them to float besides Entaund.

“Ah,” Entaund said with a pulse of purple, “yet here we are. Tell me, Warchief, were you making war on the Jewel when you smashed a single pane of glass and almost died in the process?”

“I would gladly die if it meant destroying this affront against nature.”

“How fortunate. Perhaps you can repay your debt in a way that is satisfactory to all of us.”

- - -

Scant minutes later, Redclaw slipped from the Luvian suite. Despite the grand scale, the situation was as mundane and petty as the day was long. The Luvians were being extorted by the IAU, who ran this ship. Entaund’s delegation were both negotiators and hostages, though the real hostage was Luva itself. They wished the extortion ended, with extreme prejudice. Redclaw was more than happy to assist.

The Jewel, where the Luvians were housed/imprisoned, was a stark contrast to the slums in which Redclaw had first been deposited. It was all open spaces and flowing water, vaulted by swooping arches of white and gold. Like in the Oh Two Oh, all manner of beings were in evidence, but these moved down the wide avenues with a self-possessed leisure, rather than the general tenor being one of scurrying. Redclaw watched them briefly from the elevated walkway the suite exited on to, taking in the layout of the ship. To one side, the warm tones of the Jewel abruptly ended in a crude mating with the gunmetal angularity of the Oh Two Oh. Traffic didn’t flow across the boundary. At this distance, Redclaw could just make out the arrayed IAU soldiers who kept the riff-raff out and the beautiful people in.

Luckily, his quarry was on this side of the cordon. Properly oriented, and with payment in hand, Redclaw set off for an appointment with Mr. Found.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Triumphian, Augustus, and their followers all found their gaze drawn to the glowing Encyclopedia. No one was sure just what it was about to do.

Neither was Vex.

He'd managed to figure out that the process he'd triggered was called "Defensive Countermeasures", but he had no idea exactly what that entailed. For all he knew, all he had done was flip a metaphorical switch labeled "Glow Ominously".

After a minute of glowing and nothing else, Triumphian concluded that the book wasn't going to do anything. He turned back to Dolur.

"No need to waste any more time. Kill--"

Before he could finish the order, he found himself lifted in the air. So was everyone around him, along with most of the objects in the room. Augustus and his followers took the opportunity to break free of Dolur's grip.

"Did someone mess with the artificial gravity?" one of the Broker security guards asked. "Get a technician in here!"

"It's that disloyal book!" Triumphian snarled, turning back to it. "He must be doing this! Someone, destroy the book!"

Vex took that to mean his alliance with Triumphian was over. Luckily, he'd figured out how to fly away already, and rocketed off.

He soon discovered, however, that he hadn't figured how to fly away without dragging along everyone and everything the Encyclopedia was carrying. He slammed Dolur through a wall, and flew out after him, bringing along his entire collection, and adding to it as he flew through a corridor of shops.

Naturally, the sight of a dozen or so people, a glowing book, and an assortment of valuable merchandise flying down the hallways did not go unnoticed by Oh Two Oh's surveillance crews.

It was exactly the sort of disturbance that demanded the Admiral's attention.


Viscount had lost count of how many appeals he had made to the Admiral now. He suspected that it was fifteen or sixteen at the least.

The last few attempts had gone slightly better; after a while, he'd realized that explaining the battle only gave the Admiral the idea that killing him would solve all her problems. Once he stopped doing that and implied the others were just his "competitors", she had gone from trying to kill him to merely trying to call her men in to detain him.

Now he had been reduced to repeating one of his past offers word-for-word, in a desperate effort to stall for time while he tried to devise a better cover story.

"But you see, if my competitors were out of the way, I would be in an excellent position to repay you..."

"Sure. And maybe one of them will have a better offer than you," the Admiral sneered. "Right now, I don't see any reason why I should..."

"let you run free on my ship", Viscount thought, just as she finished the sentence. And now she tries to call in the guards.

Except she didn't. Largely because something on the other side of the room was beeping loudly.

"That's a priority communication," the Admiral growled, wheeling her tank over to a console. "I don't have time to waste listening to whatever you're trying to offer me. In fact, if you haven't left by the time I've dealt with this matter, I'll have you escorted out. Or killed, either way works for me."

Viscount was about to protest, but the Admiral was already talking to someone else. The console lowered a microphone into her tank.

"What the hell's wrong?" she asked into it. "This had better not be another stupid problem."

"We've got a nasty disturbance, Admiral. Something just flew out of the Information Brokers' place. We aren't sure what it is, but it seems to be generating some kind of gravitational anomaly. It's pulling people and merchandise around, and just flying wherever it wants."

The Admiral scowled.

"Are there any VIPs in that mess?"

"Er, no, ma'am. Well, two of them are rather ornately dressed, one's a human and one's reptilian. They look like religious types, but we can't actually identify them..."

"Then send some men down there to just shoot everything until the anomaly stops. Those are your orders."

"Are you sure--"

"No VIPs means nobody's going to be after us. Nobody we can't deal with if need be. Admiral out."

The communication cut out, and the Admiral turned to her uninvited guest.

"You're still here? I thought I told you to leave, I've got enough problems to deal with. For instance, I need to tell the Brokers to take better care of their things..."

A look of shock slowly dawned across the Admiral's face.

"Oh hells, the Brokers! They'll be furious if my men shoot their personnel again!" She glared at Viscount. "This is your damn fault, if you weren't distracting me with your worthless banter I would have thought of that sooner. Now I have to call them back and..."

Before she could say anything further, there was a whirl around her head as her memories were consumed. In moments, she had forgotten the priority communication, the orders she needed to retract, and the fact that the deaths of an ornately-dressed human and reptilian were of particular benefit to the being who had materialized in front of her.

"Admiral! I believe I can be of service!"


Mr. Found was a dimunitive creature, perhaps a quarter of Redclaw's size. Nonetheless, he was not intimidated in the slightest by his customer's attitude.

"I'm afraid we aren't quite ready to part with that particular piece of merchandise, Mr. Redclaw."

Redclaw growled.

"I have your payment, and a signature from the the Luvian delegation identifying me as their representative in this sale. What exactly is the problem?"

Mr. Found peered over the top of his glasses, which Redclaw supposed was an attempt to look imposing. It might have worked if Found were taller.

"The problem, Mr. Redclaw, is that there are questions I find myself unable to answer. I am very well-informed as to new arrivals on the Oh-Two-Oh, yet this is the first I have heard of your presence. Before I approve the purchase of this valuable item, I would like to know, at a minimum, how you arrived here without my knowledge."

Redclaw picked up the tiny Mr. Found, who was thoroughly unperturbed.

"I do not have time for that."

Found sighed.

"Unfamiliar with my reputation, I see. Go ahead, then. Try and harm me."

Redclaw slashed across Found's face, but much to his surprise, the merchant didn't have a scratch on him. Found adjusted his glasses and spoke up again.

"Mr. Redclaw, I have been threatened by many customers dissatisfied with my policies, and they have all been unable to carry through on their threats. You cannot effectively harm me, and if you damage any of my merchandise, I will have you expelled from the Oh Two Oh."

Redclaw growled in frustration, and hurled Found to the floor. The little man picked himself up, and looked expectantly at his client.

"I was brought here against my will," Redclaw snarled.

"An escaped slave, then? And of an unidentified species, no less."

"Redclaw is no man's slave!" he shouted. "The wretch who brought me here never spoke his name. He sent me here with several others for some form of competition. I care nothing for his contest, and know nothing of him beyond that."

Mr. Found smiled.

"Others, you say? Tell me about them, Mr. Redclaw. This sounds quite interesting."

Redclaw snarled.

"I have told you what you asked. Why do you insist on wasting my time?"

"Because, Mr. Redclaw, I imagine you will have a hard time finding another merchant around here willing to sell you an antimatter torpedo at any price." Mr. Found grinned. "A few simple words are hardly a great deal to ask in exchange for such a rare opportunity."

Redclaw suspected that Mr. Found intended to ask for quite a bit more before allowing the sale, but for the moment, he had little choice but to agree.

He did not, however, suspect that Mr. Found was trying to stall for time as much as he was trying to gather information. The torpedo, as it happened, was not in the shop at all, and Mr. Found was silently cursing his associate's tendency to get sidetracked.


For his part, Mr. Lost would not have described it as "getting sidetracked", but rather "seeking profitable opportunities".

After all, it was hardly every day that someone marched through the corridors of Oh Two Oh with a remarkably lifelike silver statue of one of your contacts. A little eavesdropping told him they were headed to the auction house, which was a convenient coincidence; that was already part of his route.

Granted, it hadn't been part of his route when Found had sent him out this morning, but as far as Lost was concerned, Found's plans were merely suggestions.

Lost slipped down a side corridor, unnoticed by all, as he mentally rearranged his to-do list. Scorpiocore's main cargo ship wasn't docked far from the auction house, as the bastard was usually in a hurry to unload sensitive merchandise, or in some cases to leave with it. And there was a bar not far away; not the dump owned by the man with the silver statue, of course, but an actual good bar, with proper drinks.

So the order was simple enough. First, grab some nice trinkets from the auction, preferably after they were sold. Then head over to Scorpiocore's ship to have some fun with his henchmen, and while he was in the area, grab that torpedo Found had been going on about, as well as anything else of note. After that, he'd just check in on the rest of his contacts, snatch a drink or two from the bar, then stop by the Brokers to look over new information, and of course dispose of anything they might have uncovered on him or Found. Then he could return to the shop to drop everything off.

And Found thought he couldn't stay focused.


Errat had found himself out of options. He'd considered chasing down Ion, but why bother? He had no chance of buying Ion's statue, and had no intention of invoking the theft penalty; hell, even if his guess was right and a good stiff drink would snap Ion out of it, they'd probably still get in trouble.

And there was no way he was going after Ab and the snake statue. Hell, he wasn't even going to tell anyone he'd seen a thing; that was just inviting trouble from whoever had snatched the pair of them away.

No, he decided there was only one thing for it, and that was a good stiff bath. Of course, his usual bar was closed thanks to its owner's good fortune, and most of the others were either out of his price range, or raised some objection when he stripped down and hopped in a glass. That left only one bar in reasonable walking distance.

He simply slunk inside, ignoring everyone else. He didn't notice the spider who had gotten into an argument over something-or-other with a naked human, nor did he notice the assortment of birds roosting near them (several of which were eyeing him hungrily). He simply ordered his drink and asked for a large cloth napkin, slipped off his cloak, jumped into the mug, and let out a sigh of relief.

He'd figure out something to do. Ab and Ion were just associates, after all. He'd find new ones. Granted, it might be difficult to find associates who didn't try to eat him and actually watched to make sure they weren't sitting on him again, but it was hardly impossible.

He dove below the surface of his drink, letting his worries melt away, paying no attention to anything going on outside his own little world.

He felt perfectly relaxed. He probably wouldn't even notice if a fight broke out around him.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
"Ah, Ms. Samedi," sang a banded pitta. "What a delight to have you join our company!"

The bird flew irritating circles in front of Cepra's goggles. The Lycarid said nothing as she plotted its course, then plucked it from the air with her silver claw, precise enough with her movements to not pierce its delicately-striped breast. As best as she could remember, she couldn't do any real damage to these birds, right? That just meant she'd have to work extra hard to maintain the gaggle's respect. The little bird gasped with shock and fainted, and Cepra pretended not to notice the little monochrome chicken darting between the tables and heading straight for her.

It flew even more awkwardly than it ran, wings crashing through the air and barely sticking the landing on Cepra's thumb. It ripped out its colleague's jugular with an almost-casual sideways kick, and took a bow.

"It's unbecoming, Cepra dear, that I ask a favour of you having barely met, but I beg you forget what that poltroon just said. This," the bantam sighed, "is why you leave scripts to the actors. Yinanyma was supposed to say-" - Monty cleared his throat, or his beak, at least - "-'Lovely of you to join us.'"

"Isn't that, uh, basically what he said?" (Was this bird trying to show her its bedroom eyes?)

Monty Faith looked intensely disappointed, or intensely like a bird trying to pout. One or the other. He leapt off Cepra's hand, and bobbed his way back toward his entourage's table. "I suppose it doesn't matter, no. Phillistine. It's a classic bit of villainous posturing, nothing more. Now come! We are in negotiations, and the more the merrier."

The scene was kind of messy, but that was probably because there were quite a few different-coloured birds and none of them looked to have considered coordinating dress for the proceedings. There was a junglefowl perched on the mannequin's shoulder, whose attention was singly upon the various other birds. A cassowary loomed over the other shoulder, and two falcons stood point on the table and monitored the rest of the bar. The table had a sun conure and a nicobar pigeon sitting on it, the conure in some kind of intense discussion with the Baron. Saturday and the wooden doll itself were dressed in burgundy, and an emperor penguin was rather clumsily trying to pull up a third chair for Cepra.

"Oh, hell no," was Saturday's response, when the conure (Boswell) perched on the negotiating table kindly directed his attention to the giant spider. "So the whole lot of yeh were conspirin' against me, huh?"

"We like the way you think," pre-empted Boswell, trying to get his stride again. "We the Interior would be delighted-"

"The damnable spider dropped that one already, darling, this is why I wanted someone competent to greet her-"

The junglefowl leapt from its perch, stabbed Monty in the eye with its beak, then would've split him open like an overripe fruit with its kick if he were made of proper flesh and not magical mist. " arrange terms of an alliance with Ms. Samedi. Please, take a seat." said the conure, as if nothing happened.

Cepra looked at the penguin, who seemed pretty sympathetic to her seating problems. That, or he was just pissed off with hauling soon-to-be-redundant chair without the use of thumbs.
"I'd rather stand."

"I'd rather leave," said Saturday.

"No," said the conure, putting an inflection in its voice that didn't suit it in the slightest. "You're leaving this table as our ally, or you're not leaving at all."

"Listen here, you feathery little shit. You and yer friends ain't got anythin' to twist me arm, and listenin' to you squawking on and on about all yer grand plans yeh've got seems like a damn worse use of me time than getting as far as I can from her."


"Yeah, rude, dude," added a bird sitting on his Cepra-ward finger. Saturday swatted it off.

"I'm asking you, Baron-" bullshit this rosy-cheeked little bird was, Saturday thought to himself "-to take our offer slightly more seriously. To take us seriously. The Interior is dissatisfied with our current negotiating position amongst the contestants, and we're willing to prove we're capable of drastic. Action."

Saturday sneered and stood slowly, one hand on the table and one at his hip.
"Try sayin' that again with someone who ain't fruit-coloured, then yeah. I'd consider it."

Boswell the conure sighed, and turned his imploring little parrot-gaze on Cepra instead. "Ms. Samedi, would you like to know the information on this man's coin?"

Cepra had just about been ready to leave this asinine argument and find someone who could actually help her negotiate this spaceship, but this actually sounded interesting. She smirked.
"What's the catch?"

"You let us kill him, and help us deal with the immediate aftermath. Simple as that."

Saturday backed away sharpish from the table, managing a bark of a laugh.
"Yeh've got some nerve, clementine."

"Ms. Samedi?"

Cepra drummed her fingers, then grinned.
"Don't know what your deal is, birds, but I'll warn you. He's tricky."

Boswell bobbed his head, even as something big and angry swooped across the table and got its talons into Saturday. "Thank you, Ms. Samedi."

A couple of flintlocks went off, and what was left of the bird caught on fire. Saturday threw it at the mannequin, but the corpse vanished in a shower of silver and mostly ended up in Boswell's eyes. Saturday had just enough time to shift his fingers into shadowy claws, before all fifty kilos of Charles Kittybrewster hurtled through the table and kicked him to the floor. The cassowary made some kind of ugly fucking honking that may or may not have been a British accent right in his face. Saturday snarled, pushed it off, and rolled over, only to see a woodpecker staring down its beak at him.

Cripes. That was a big bird. Some old memory stirred at the glint of its beak, a deadly-beautiful pale like a broken bone sticking out of some foolhardy child's shin.

One of those ivory-bills, thought Bo, not really paying attention to someone nearby hissing
"surprise, bitch". He hadn't seen one in years-

It stabbed him in the eye. It stabbed him in the other eye. It cackled like no sane bird should as he swore and clutched his face and struggled to his knees, laughed like no sane man should as Kittybrewster kicked Saturday twice open - once through the stomach, once for spite to split his face into black and white and red.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Mr. Lost smiled as he glanced at the tiny disc in his hand. He'd been using the thing for years now, and he still couldn't get over how handy it was.

He didn't have a damned clue how such a small piece of metal could hold a silver statue, a whole bolt of nanofiber cloth, a petrified Roagarian Slugmonkey, and an entire crate of processed trontite ore, but that didn't stop him from appreciating the fact that it could.

It was a good haul, good enough that it would keep Found off his back under most circumstances. Not today, though - nothing would satisfy that stick-in-the-mud if Lost didn't return with the torpedo.

Not that there was any risk Lost would skip this theft. After all, quite aside from how much the merchandise was worth, he could never pass up a chance to make a deal go sour for Scorpiocore.


For his part, Scorpiocore was having a bad day. Some lowlife had been pestering Phannie, and his men still hadn't caught the bastard. It wouldn't do his reputation any good if he let scoundrels have their way with his women even once.

But simple reputation wasn't his only problem. The arena had been losing money for some time, and Lhaine was threatening to cut all ties with him if he didn't find some way to turn that around. He was essentially left to hope that his recruiters found someone who could draw a crowd.

The worst of it, however, was that he still had an AM torpedo to deliver, and somehow he needed to set up the whole exchange without the Admiral discovering his involvement. It wouldn't matter if the mutiny worked out, of course, but Scorpiocore preferred to hedge his bets.

He didn't even trust anyone else with the cargo. He was carrying it aboard his personal ship, and had kept an eye on it himself ever since his arrival. Only a few underlings knew he was even on the Oh Two Oh today, and even fewer were authorized to see him.

His recruiters, Jaakan and Nessa, were among those few. And they had just called in.

"So who've you got for me?" Scorpiocore muttered as they walked aboard, carrying two stasis crates. "Lhaine doesn't accept just any fighter, you know."

"We witnessed a most impressive battle, sir, and brought you both participants," Jaakan said, opening his crate. "Though I suspect that only this one will be suitable."

There was a large silver statue in there. Scorpiocore gave his senior recruiter a skeptical glare.

"I pay you to bring me fighters, Jaakan, not art."

"I assure you, Mr. Scorpiocore, this specimen is indeed a fighter. Nessa, would you care to show our employer the losing combatant?"

Nessa opened up her crate. The body inside was badly mangled, though Scorpiocore could tell there was a good deal of muscle on him.

"If anyone but you had shown me this, Jaakan, I'd call him a liar. So this statue's alive?"

"It appears to be. However, we are not sure what causes it to move."

"Lhaine's not going to be happy if she can't figure it out, either."

"There is an alternative option, sir," Nessa said. "Before we prepared him for delivery, the wounded one told us that the statue is made entirely of zanite."

Scorpicore's eyes widened.

"Zanite? That much? Might be worthwhile to just melt that down and pay Lhaine off directly," he mused. "Right, just leave those crates here, I'll figure out what to do with 'em later. After I've unloaded the merchandise and secured that spacebot."

The recruiters nodded, closed the crates, and walked out before concealing themselves again. Scorpiocore retracted the ramp, then headed to the cockpit to get a scanner that could confirm the statue's composition, and also calculate just how much it was worth if it really was zanite.

The moment he left, Mr. Lost emerged from his hiding place. Seeing three crates out, and not being immediately sure which one held the merchandise, Lost simply stored them all. The disc had plenty of room on it.

By the time Scorpiocore discovered his items were missing, Mr. Lost was already at the bar.


Lost chuckled. There hadn't been as many goons around the ship as he'd hoped, but he'd still had his fun. Now it was time for business - namely drinking.

The Blind Eye was, in his opinion, the best tavern on Oh Two Oh. It wasn't just that the regular patrons were known for not caring in the slightest who else wandered in, or even that they tended to forget who'd bought which drink and rarely noticed which table you were grabbing one from.

Lost appreciated that atmosphere, but at the end of the day, he just liked the booze.

When he walked in, aside from the regulars, there were some birds talking to a large spider, and a body on the ground. Not that the latter was unusual.

The former was, however. There was only one reason why anyone would actually hold a conversation at the Blind Eye, and that was to avoid being noticed. They were likely talking about something of interest. Lost grabbed a full tankard off an empty table and sat down just far enough away that no one would think he was trying to listen in.

A little eavesdropping told him the spider was after a spacebot, and the birds were trying to get their talons on some ambergalactris. Neither of them seemed to know much about their respective targets, despite the high value of both; they were probably new to the criminal underworld.

That would be worth reporting to Found later. Satisfied that he'd heard enough, Lost finally raised his drink.

"Everybody stand up and show us your hands! We saw the bastard come in here!"

Lost was startled. He recognized the voice, it was one of Scorpiocore's men. Had they actually recognized him?

Impossible. No one besides Found knew what he looked like, not even his contacts.

Unless Found had sold him out. Sent him here into a trap. There hadn't been that many goons in the hangar, after all...

Damn. Just how much money had Scorpiocore offered his partner?

"Hey! You! I said stand up and show us your hands!"

Lost stood up, still clutching his mug - he wasn't about to pass up a good drink, after all. He raised his arms.

Then he dropped the smoke bomb.


"That's everything I know," Redclaw growled. "I don't see why you should care so much about it, though."

"I'm simply looking for last-minute profit opportunities before you make use of the merchandise," Mr. Found replied. "It's nothing that you need to concern yourself with."

"Speaking of the merchandise..."

"Ah, of course. It's in the back room, I'll fetch it immediately."

"About time."

Found knew, of course, that it almost certainly wasn't in the back room. He could buy some time by saying the back room was a mess, but the customer's patience was already wearing thin. He would simply have to hope that Lost arrived sooner rather than later.

His hopes were answered when his associate held a knife to his throat.

"So, thought you could get rid of your old pal Lost that easy, did you?"

Found sighed.

"Mr. Lost, first of all I have no idea what you are talking about, and second, may I remind you that your little toy there will do me no lasting harm, and third, if you don't have the antimatter torpedo I'm throwing you to our customer out there."

Lost paused, groaned, and put the knife away.

"I knew there was a reason I hadn't taken care of you a long time ago," he mumbled. "And I got the stupid torpedo, hang on."

Lost fiddled with the disc. Several crates appeared in the storeroom, along with a small drink and a silver statue. A full mug of beer also materialized on one of the crates.

"You just can't stay on one job, can you?"

"Hey, I got some good stuff!"

"No doubt." Found pointed to the mug. "I suppose that once belonged to the Bloody Empress of Therius VII?"

"Look, I was in a rush and I wasn't going to give up my drink! But the rest of the stuff's good... well, maybe not the statue, just it looks like one of my contacts. I was going to ask him about it."

"Except then you had this strange idea that I was trying to get rid of you. I won't even ask how that happened..."

"Scorpiocore's men came barging into the bar looking for someone," Lost said. "Right after I'd paid his ship a visit. And even if they saw me on the way, there was no way in hell they'd know it was me unless someone told them. What was I supposed to think?"

Found glared at him.

"I'd sooner go bankrupt than make any deal with Scorpiocore. But we can talk about that later. Which of these crates has the torpedo?"

"Ah. Er. One of 'em does, I'm sure."

Found sighed, and opened a crate. Inside was a snakelike statue. He smiled.

"I believe I know of someone who will be very interested in this," he said, opening the second crate. "Go find a human male in ornate clothing, he's got a sword, looks like a religious leader. Tell him you know where his god is."

"Ugh, another job? I haven't even had a drink!"

"This is time to shape up. We're going to be on the clock once I hand that torpedo over." Found merely glanced at the mangled and unconscious body of Ab in the second crate before moving on to the third. "Unless you'd like to still be around when it goes off."

"Don't see what we're going to get out of this guy if there's that little time left," Lost grumbled.

"I believe in maximizing opportunities. If we are able to negotiate a favor out of him, excellent; if not, we lose little by making the attempt." Found smiled as he saw the torpedo in the third crate. He closed it up again and began pushing it towards the main store. "Now get moving."

"Fine, fine."

Lost left silently, so irritated that he didn't even bother taking the storage disc with him. Found finished dragging the crate along soon after.

Both were gone by the time a very relaxed Errat climbed out of his beer.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 2: Oh Two Oh]
Vex wasn't really feeling this situation. What should have been his grand getaway ended up being more of a carnival ride, with an entire group of circus freaks trailing behind. Still, he supposed it wasn't too bad, maybe they were with him, but that didn't mean that they would have to stay that way.

People from all over the Oh Two Oh looked to the sky to see a flying patchwork Alvum, which was already pretty odd, followed by a book, which happened more often than you would think, followed in turn by a mash-up of characters who all seemed to be bickering at and/or trying to kill each other. As if that wasn't enough of a spectacle, it seemed that rather than go in an arc, like most flying things in Oh Two Oh do unless they have some sort of propulsion system, the Alvum seemed to be flying around in circles, navigating around the ships various buildings, although sometimes it scraped into them instead.

Vex, for his part, was doing his best to shake off his unwanted cargo, but they seemed to be a bit stuck. It looked like he would have to do a lot more than just make sharp turns and try to ram some of them into buildings. At the same time though, he was afraid to just ram through a building due to the large suit of armor that was taking point. After all, he had just crashed through the building when he lifted off, and he wasn't even going that fast then! While Vex wanted to hope that ramming through a building or two wouldn't result in one of the many weapons firing directly at him, most people built like that didn't usually have the brain power to realize that shooting a thing that is making you fly could make you fall.

It was at this moment in time that Oh Two Oh's security goons started to fly after the scene, adding in the laser fire that Vex was just dreading. While Vex knew that he was probably safe for now, as the various miscreants behind him were larger, likelier-to-be-the-cause-of-this targets, he had already been hit pretty hard, and he wasn't sure how much more he could take. In addition, if people started firing at his friend in front of him, he wasn't sure if he could dodge that as well.

All in all, Vex was getting a little stressed. Which led to his steering becoming a bit more sloppy. Which happened to work to his advantage. With the increase in speed, the various laser fire, increased movement from the passengers in light of their pursuers, and the more wild turns, people were finally starting to flop off of his wild ride or die.

Unfortunately for Vex, neither Triumphan nor Augustus had flown off, nor had Dolur. By now a lot of Augustus' followers and employees of the information brokers had been kicked off, and there were two security goons left. One of them was wearing rocketboots, and the other was on a hovering platform. Due to Vex's maneuvers, the latter of the two was father behind, as the former was smaller and more maneuverable. Triumphian, ignoring the weaker and smaller peons that were floating along with him decided to deal with the laser shooting thread in front of him.

Rocketboots, in concept, are an easy and favorable way to gain flight. Less bulky and hard on your back than a jetpack, more maneuverable than hoverboards or similar technology, and they looked cool. The problem though, that most people missed, was that they required a lot more focus than any other option. If you lost focus and messed up how your legs were positioned, you'd start flailing around. From the look of this security goon, it seemed like they were blocking out sound based distractions, but that was only one of two easy ways to make someone lose focus.

The security goon never thought that someone could produce that bright a flash in midair and neither did all of the people watching the scene, who were suddenly blinded by Triumphian's shining flash of light.

However, blinding everyone was not the only effect that Triumphian's beam had.

"What have you done to my book!?!"

The old man's arms were flailing wildly, and he looked pretty angry. Vex didn't know where the old man had come back from but he really wished that he hadn't.

"Well? Are you just going to sit there and silently drive us into laser fire or are you going to tell me what is going on?"

Vex started to sweat, as the last security goon had caught up and the suit of battlearmor had starting firing. "Look old man, this is not the time for this."

"Oh and when will it be time, when we are some ashes and paper all around this station?"

"Look. I didn't ask for this, I'm not the one who just dropped me into a book!"

"Well, maybe someone shouldn't have picked up a magic book without checking for traps first."

"I did! Turns out, magic is kind of hard to detect!"

Anaminendes mocked Vex's voice the best he could, "Oh noo, magic is hard to detect, but I'm going to just try to read a book with literally all knowledge in the universe, I'm sure that won't have any problems at all."


Vex slammed his fists down, which made the book point downwards. Leading the group to crash down, coincidentally, onto a crate carrying werewolf.

When the dust cleared, what remained of the flying book adventure got up and instantly went on the offensive. The security goon, Triumphian, Redclaw, and Augustus stood, facing each other, a knocked out, half buried Alvum, a crate with a torpedo half sticking out, and the cause of the entire scene, The Encyclopedia.

"Why can't we move, why can't we move?"

"You need to calm down for a second, all panic is going to do is mess things up even more, just calm down so that we can get out of here."

It was a stand-off, with each party waiting for the other to strike. The security goon had his hand on his gun, and he was thinking about his options. He seemed to be the only one of the three with a long range weapon, but two of the others were much larger than he was. Straight across from him was the reptilian one, who he noticed was getting some choice stares from the other two... he could shoot that one, and hope that the other two would go for him, allowing him to deal with all three and report back to security.

"What's going on? Why aren't they moving?"

"Who cares? We need to get out of here before we die, why don't you be useful instead of just standing around? Augh... wait... here we go, we're getting out of here!"

"No, wait!"

As The Encyclopedia, piloted by Vex, started to float up, the security goon grabbed his gun and shot towards Triumphian, who raised his staff and blocked the beam with his magic. As the book floated into the collision of magic and laser death, a lot of things happened in The Encyclopedia and to Vex. The first is, that once again, Anaminendes disappeared. The second is that The Encyclopedia blasted open, knocking the security goon backwards. Then, finally, Vex started to feel pain.

"Well this sure i-"

With the security goon down, and the book no longer flying, the many bystanders watching on thought that the show was over. As the book remained open and floating in the air, they were about to realize that this wouldn't be the case. The open book suddenly started flipping through its many pages, and as they flipped more and more, pages started to tear off. After a while, more and more pages flowed out and started to explode out in bursts. The spectacle of The Encyclopedia exploding out all of the knowledge of its universe was so odd and engrossing, that no one noticed the other standing figures disappear, nor that after all was said and done, the dark blue binding that produced the now floating pages just disappeared.


Later, alone at last, Admiral had a massive headache. She looked at her clock and realized that a lot more time seemed to have passed than she thought should have. Did she just zone out? Why did she have this awful headache?

"Guards, I need a fucking aspirin right now."

"M'am, what abo-"


After a bit of thought, which led to more headache, Admiral decided to add another order, "Also, fuck clouds. If I ever see another cloud in my life, ever again, it will be too soon. Turn off all of the clouds."


"In thirty seconds. I am going to open my window. And if I see a single cloud out there I will eat you."

Admiral counted to thirty and then opened the shutters on her window. Outside, floating all over the Oh Two Oh were clouds of white pages, falling and floating all throughout the sky.

For a single, brief moment, there was silence. Then, there was only the loud and angry scream of one very loud and angry shark.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
When the contestants reappeared in their rings, facing the Controller's chair, things were a bit different. The last time they were there, the pocket dimension had had a very careful and deliberate look. There was the flat, steel floor that stretched out into pitch-black shadow, the nine golden rings embedded into the floor's surface, the big, dramatic chair that sat at the focal point of the rings' arc, and nothing else. It was a cold, minimalistic setup that the Controller had very carefully designed to instil a particular notion into the contestants' minds: that the person they were dealing with was a harsh and meticulous individual.

This time, though, things had changed. Intermingled with the identical bunches of cable that stretched up from the chair into the darkness above, there was now also a peppering of other cables, an assortment of wires of varying types and colours. Some of the screens surrounding the seat had been taken down and strewn carelessly on the ground nearby, wires haphazardly disconnected and, in places, severed altogether. There were several new machines sitting next to the whole arrangement, ugly, jerry-rigged things with flashing lights and loud, grinding components, each wired into the main chair by a morass of mismatched cabling. There were smells, too, the stink of solder and burnt electronics making things none too pleasant for the contestants with noses.

In the middle of it all, the Apprentice sat, glaring down at the contestants with disapproval written all over his face.

"So," he snapped. "Let's see. Which of you managed to obtain your designated item?" He made a show of glancing down at a piece of paper, then at each contestant in turn. "No, no, no, no... Why, if I'm not mistaken... not a single worthless one of you managed to get me what I need!"

Redclaw glared at him. He'd had the torpedo within his grasp, and it wasn't his fault he hadn't been given a chance to finish the job.

"Not only that," the Apprentice continued, "but the whole task had to be aborted, because one of you was careless enough to get yourself killed!" He glared at the ring that the Encyclopedia had occupied previously. (Viscount's opinion of the Apprentice managed to drop another few pegs. Two contestants had died up in the last round, not one, but apparently the battle's grandmaster couldn't tell the difference between a living humanoid and a thoroughly-pecked corpse.)

"In addition, out of all of you, only four of you still have your coins!" The rings around Augustus and Azungrada, Parliament, Cepra, and Pope Triumphian briefly lit up. "The rest of you, having failed to keep ahold of yours, are going to have to deal with the consequences in this next round."

With that, the Apprentice reached out and flipped the switch responsible for queuing up the next round and displaying a holographic representation to the contestants.

Briefly, an image of an isolated island appeared midair. There was a dock on one shore, with what appeared to be a sunken ship moored at it, and an observatory capped off a hill on one of the island's ends- but before the contestants could really observe anything more, the image suddenly jolted out of existence. There was an electrical-sounding snap somewhere in the knotted wiring surrounding the Controller's chair, and more than half of the screens just went dead.

Cursing, the Apprentice hammered away at a set of controls. After several seconds, one of the screens came back on, and with sharp, angry motions, the Apprentice fiddled with a few dials at its base until a different hologram appeared.

This time, the contestants found themselves looking at a ship.

"This," the Apprentice explained, doing his best to maintain some level of authority in his voice (and not make it obvious he was skimming over a description of the round as he spoke), "is the SS Northern Currents, known better to its inhabitants as the Ark of Hope. A terrible war has devastated this world, leaving the lands entirely uninhabitable. Radiation and fallout should have killed every living thing on the planet.

"Somehow, though, the occupants of this cargo ship have survived. It's not known why the people aboard don't succumb to the fact that the atmosphere itself should be toxic; all anyone does know is that, thus far, every attempt at going ashore has lead to symptoms within minutes and, if they remain off the ship, death within hours."

The Apprentice flipped a switch, and the illusion changed, showing instead the image of a bearded, robe-wearing man.

"Apparently, this man, known solely as Alvarez, is responsible for the survival of everyone aboard the Ark. He purchased the cargo ship from a shipping company months before the war came to an end and spent that time outfitting it for self-sufficiency in complete isolation. Originally, the only people aboard were the cult-like following he'd gathered around himself to assist him in preparing the ship, but when an airplane made a water landing near his ship, he very generously allowed its passengers and crew to come aboard- provided they pledge their allegiance to him and submit to the belief that he is a messenger of the gods, sent to save humanity from destruction at its own hand.

"Bolstering his claims of prophet-hood is this device." The image changed again, this time displaying what appeared to be a golden chest, inscribed with hieroglyphics and symbols. "The 'Ark of the Gods', as Alvarez calls it, is said to open only for those with the power of a deity behind them. No one on the Ark (that is, the Ark of Hope, the ship, not the Ark of the Gods, the magic box) can say for sure what happens when the box is opened, however. Everyone could tell you that Alvarez has opened it before, to be sure. They personally didn't see it, but they're sure they know someone who did."

Finished, the Apprentice leaned back, flicking one more switch to make the image disappear altogether.

"So there you have it," he concluded. "The Ark of Hope, the last vestiges of a whole planet's population." He paused for a moment, not sure what sort of goal he was going to assign. He'd had a big plan for the other place, including goals for everyone to distract themselves with and handicaps for those without their coins, but this other place was, as far as he could tell, just some world the Controller had stored away.

"Impress me," he decided upon, doing his best to make it sound lofty and superior before sending his contestants- including the two corpses- off to various locations aboard the ship.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
The Apprentice did not fully appreciate the consequences of his sudden change of venue.

He did not realize, for example, that the Controller had placed this particular world in storage for a particular reason - to render it inaccessible and undetectable to outsiders.

Because of this, he could not have realized that he had just removed those carefully-placed defenses, and dimensional passages that once lead to that world would now function again.

And even if he had realized that, it was highly unlikely he would have realized that a transdimensional probe had entered one such passage microseconds before the other end closed, and had been wandering for what would have been eternity if the exit hadn't suddenly reopened.

Of course, the probe was largely redundant. By the time it transmitted its results, the recipient had already seen the Apprentice's introduction, and taken particular note of the man calling himself 'Alvarez'.


Another thing the Apprentice did not fully appreciate was the physical position contestants might be in at the end of a round. Augustus had been unable to move, and as such had found neither the time to pick himself up off the ground, nor to clean up the pages of the Encyclopedia scattered around him.

Neither matter, however, concerned him as much as the disapproving face of Azungrada glaring down at him. He did not even need mental contact from his god to know the reason why - simply put, he had failed. Augustus scrambled to his feet only long enough to kneel properly and then grovel.

"O Great Destroyer, I beg of you! Give me another chance to serve your glory!"

Augustus looked upwards for a reply, his terrified expression reflected in Azungrada's gemstone eyes. The god made no move, simply glaring back at him for several minutes before its words finally echoed into Augustus' head.

You are pathetic. Cowardly. Incompetent. And yet, you served me well before this contest. It is in light of that service, Augustus Grey, that I grant you one final chance to serve me.

"I will not fail you, O Azungrada!"

Our host spoke of an "Ark of the Gods". The item within is undeserved in any hands other than mine - including yours, wretch. You will find this Ark, and either bring it to me or guide me to it. Succeed, and you may continue to serve as my Arbiter. Fail, and there will be no second chances.

Augustus nodded weakly.

"I understand. I shall not fail."

You had better not. And do not dare to open the Ark yourself. Even if you still had my favor, you would be a mere unworthy mortal.

"Yes, O Great Destroyer." Augustus bowed as deeply as he could upon the floor. "I will bring you the Ark, prove my worth to you, and then I shall call your judgement down upon this world."

Azungrada was silent. It had said all it needed to.

When it became clear there was no more conversation to be had, Augustus rose, slowly, and then noticed his miter on the ground before him - no doubt fallen off while he was groveling. Instinctively, he reached for it.

He heard the faintest hissing, and pulled his arm away. Azungrada's intent was clear - Augustus was no longer the Divine Arbiter.

Dejecting, Augustus turned away, fervently hoping he could regain his god's favor before that accursed reptile found out he had lost it.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
Triumphian's head ached.

Oh my that's a problem isn't it, must be all that head trauma.

Triumphian scowled and growled, still groggy from the sudden head ache, "Your words don't help, but it would take more than some brick and metal to penetrate the skull of..."

Triumphian paused for a moment, and looked around the room he had spawned in, tightening his grip on his staff. There was no one near him.

Hmm? You were saying something about a specimen as great and powerful as you? No?

"Where are you! Show yourself! Are you allied with one of the heathens?"

A heathen? I'm afraid that I'm a bit out of your simple labeling system, sir, or would you prefer Your Holiness? Or The full, Your Holiness the Glorious Pope Triumphian the First of the Holy Empire of Lagran?

Triumphian's staff lit up as he sent out a small pulse around him, hoping to reveal the invisible man that was harassing him. Was he psychic as well? But that didn't make sense with what he knew of the round or the other contestants.

I'm afraid that won't work, but I suppose that it is in my best interests to prevent you from making a fool of yourself. The reason why you can't see me, is because I am in you, or to be more accurate, inside your mind. I must say, it is very well organized, made it much easier for me to get accommodated. Oh, and I'm not psychic in nature, we both know that you have trained against that.

"I will ask again, who are you and how did you do this?"

Well, I do suppose if this is going to be a long term arrangement I should introduce myself, I am Anaminendes the Scholar. And honestly I don't know why I'm inside your brain, but I suppose it has something to do with the fireworks that blew up my book. I'm still miffed about that, by the way.

"Your book... the Encyclopedia? That traitor?"

I suppose those things are accurate, but I'm not the type to speak ill of or for the dead, so I'd prefer it if you didn't judge me on my... rather foolish successor.

The two of them were silent for a bit, with Anaminendes waiting for Triumphian to respond and Triumphian attempting to gather his thoughts and recover from what he supposed was a book-magic inflicted head ache.

Triumphian supposed that if the scholar could do anything to harm him, then he would have done so. It seemed that while he could see his memories and thoughts, and speak to him within his mind, there was little else he could do. And as neither of them seemed to be sure of how the union came to be, as far as they knew, both of them currently relied on the one of them with a body being alive to continue existing.

"Alright Scholar, I suppose that I'm stuck with you for now, but it is in our best interests that we co-operate."

Which, is to say that it is in your best interests that I help you get home? Or just with various facts and tricks I suppose?


I suppose there isn't really anything I can do besides agree though. What an absurd union. You can't hide anything from me, but I can't do anything at all! It's almost funny.

"Well scholar, if it is any consolation, I dislike you less than the others I've met on this adventure. You don't have that streak of impudence that I've seen all the others."

That's young people for you, nothing but trouble.

Just then, there was a flurry of pitter-pats coming down from one of the halls. Triumphian turned around and saw a small child running very quickly, with something in their hands, as they came closer, he also heard a voice shout, "I think she went that way! We must find the heathen!"


I believe that a child is running towards us, and away from a group who, if they are anything like you, plan to hurt her.

Triumphian scowled once more, thinking about what course of action to take. There was nowhere that someone as large as him could hide, so that left running or fighting...

We probably should try to keep a low profile.

Triumphian nodded, and with a swing of his staff, magically propelled the child towards him, while they were surprised, they somehow manged not to scream as a giant reptilian creature took hold of them and started to run faster than they ever had or likely ever could.

After a while, when it seemed like they had lost the search group, Triumphian stopped and gently placed the child on the floor. The child did not move, and only stared at Triumphian. The child had long, black, curly hair that reached to their shoulders, some of it was covering their face. The clothes they were wearing were nice, if a bit used, a long sleeved white shirt with yellow buttons going down. It wasn't tucked in to the similarly white pants, which seemed to open up to their white shoes.

After a while, he coughed and whispered to himself, "What's wrong with it..."

Er... I think, they, are startled, and for good reason, from what that er, blowhard, said, I don't think your species is quite common. It isn't every day that you see a completely new species appear out of no where. And it doesn't help that you are quite intimidating.

"So what do I do?"

I would start with reassuring the child that they are safe, maybe introducing yourself? Try to seem less harmful, smile!

Triumphian attempted to move his mouth so that the child could see his powerful, shiny and sharp jaws, and he attempted to move his eyelids and eyebrows so that they seemed more open and were not scowling. The child continued to not move.

"Hello there child," Triumphian began, trying not to move away from this unfamiliar expression, "My name is P-, Triumphian. I want to help you, what is your name?"

After that awkward attempt, the child began to giggle.

Still keeping his face as it was, Triumphian whispered, "What is it doing?"


"Is that good???"

Assuming that there aren't any great differences in culture, yes! We are making progress. Ask them how they feel or if they are hurt.

"Child, how are you? Did I hurt you?"

The child continued laughing, but managed to shake its head.

Alright I think that you can cut the smile, maybe talk a bit more serious to get their name out and such.

"Alright child, look, uhm... that's enough. Please stop?"

The child stopped laughing and then smiled before looking to the side and saying, "Uhm... I'm Cate... Trymfun... are you really not going to hurt me?"

Triumphian flinched at the mispronunciation of his name, but powered through it, "Yes, I am. Do you know why they were chasing after you?"

Cate frowned and grasped the small object tighter. She made an odd low screeching noise.

"What is she doing..."

I think she might cry, I feel like it has to do with that thing in her hand... we might need to calm her down...

"Cate, please keep calm! I'm want to help you! But you need to tell me what happened."

Cate stopped, but she was obviously still upset. Still, she managed to respond, "I... took this..."

Cate released her grip on the object she had been holding and with her palms open, revealed an ornate key with a long chain.

Triumphian could tell that it was important, and something about it felt off, but he wasn't sure what... "What is that?"

"It... its... the key... the key to the ark..."
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
Cepra lurched under the weight of Saturday's body once more. Being temporarily frozen had a way of not exactly preparing your muscles for certain tasks, such as moving a body. Not that Cepra had muscles, but you get the idea.

She was no longer in an alleyway, about to dump a body in a dark place where nobody would find it or care even if they did. She was also no longer surrounded by birds, which was not exactly ideal. They hadn't gotten around to actually telling her about Saturday's coin or anything.

Ah, well. Really, the most pressing matter on her mind was how she was once again trapped in a cramped space.

All of her legs were folded at odd angles in order to fit in the narrow box she was in and, considering that at least two of her arms were occupied with a body that was starting to smell like the dumpster she was about to put it in, all she could do was brace two elbows on the walls around her and start pressing against them. One of them seemed to give, and so she juggled herself and the compliant Saturday around until she had most of her appendages facing what she guessed was the door. And as she kicked it off its hinges and tumbled out like a graceless ocean of limbs and dead bodies, she had the sobering thought that this might be her future for a long, long time.

But this wasn't the best moment to think about the future. In her experience, lying on the floor with a dead body wasn't the best of time to do anything besides get as far away from the dead body as possible. Still, she did promise all those flying whatchits that she'd help them deal with all the messy details that killing a man entailed and she lived by the principle of Keep Your Deals. That's how you get recommended. That's also how you get backstabbed, sometimes, but Cepra also lived by the principle of Don't Be a Goddamn Moron. True, she was stupid about plenty of things, but she wasn't stupid about things like surviving 'til the next day. She wouldn't be in this business if she was.

The thing she had just busted out of like a cocoon was a rather large locker, not that Cepra knew what a locker was. She did know what a hiding place was, though, and proceeded to prop the ex-Saturday inside her recent, uncomfortable home. She took a moment to admire the work done on him, the way his stomach looked like an explosion just ending and his face looked like one just beginning. She wished she could keep it from decaying, but unfortunately, poison needed some sort of life fluids pumping around to work. With some of her other hands, she carefully set the door back the way it was before, placing what remained of the hinges back into what remained of the corresponding holes.

The result was...a battered mess. She really hadn't been kind at all to that door. But it was good enough, really, nobody was in here at the moment for whatever reason. So now it was just time to slip out and continue that conversation from before, something about 'alliance,' which Cepra was rather certain translated to 'job,' a word that never failed to intrigue her.

The hallway outside was narrow and, somewhat distressingly, bright. There weren't a lot of shadows to hide herself in, nor a lot of space even if there were. The ceiling was much too low to feasibly hope that she could just crawl up there and have the people passing below not see her. You didn't even need two eyes to have the peripheral vision required to spot her immediately.

At least she should be able to hear anybody coming, but by extension that probably meant that anybody could hear her leaving. This was a recipe for a lot of bodies.

But the longer she tiptoed around, the more the place seemed deserted. At the very least, everybody seemed to be milling about somewhere else. Which was convenient. It's very time-consuming trying to tiptoe around with four legs.

As Cepra relaxed into her more natural state of derisively dismissing the ability of her surroundings to harm her, she couldn't help but let her mind wander back to thoughts of deals and the future.

That short conversation with the strangely erudite birds combined with the Apprentice's level of sheer condescension mixed with an unhealthy dose of blatant incompetence was starting to remind her of her principles regarding deals in general. And regarding deals that weren't even made in the first place.

She had never liked this whole whatever-this-is in the first place. It stunk of self-important clients already planning ways to kill you as though nobody had thought of that angle before. But this was even worse because at least those clients knew to at least give the pretense of following the unspoken rules of hiring mercenaries. And that was no. Fucking. Freebies.

And even if you somehow managed to rope a merc into doing a freebie through stupid freaky magic shit so they couldn't even back out, you don't. Fucking. Complain. That they didn't do it. What the fuck did you expect when you don't fucking pay?

You don't make mercs play some sort of stupid game just for the chance to do your oh-so-special job. Mercenaries are freelancers. You just find one that's seasoned and alive and then pay them and hope you'd never see them again. You don't make some big show out of it, and even if you do, at least command respect.

Cepra didn't know how she ever tolerated the situation before. Well, the whole “teleported out of her home world and faced with foreign and sometimes interesting beings and situations” probably had something to do with it. Mostly the fact that she couldn't even go to a bar and shoot the shit with merc acquaintances, or even attract any clients, not when people didn't even know her here, leaving her not many options besides playing along and pretending that she had a choice in the matter so that she didn't fly into a rage like she was doing now.

The wall didn't buckle under her fist, which was about as frustrating as the hollow echo that resulted down the halls. The noise would likely attract someone, but y'know, it would really be nice to rend something as yielding as flesh right about now.

Un/fortunately, the noise attracted two birds who weren't at all familiar but immediately recognizable as part of the people she was supposed to be allies with, at least in the near future, maybe, hopefully. “Oh good, that was you,” said one through a beak that seemed oddly unaligned. It looked like it would be hard to talk through. Mostly, it just added clacks within her sentences.

The other one, small, darty, bright blue, cackled. “Ex'lent! We found ya!”

Cepra sighed and buried her aggression for later. “You're pretty excited. This alliance talk really that important to you?”

“Naw,” the bluebird replied, hovering nearby as though uncertain whether social protocol prevented him from politely landing on one of Cepra's horns. “'S jus' I thought we'd be flyin' ages tryin'a find ya! But then ya went ahead and jus' drew 'ttention t' yerself like a – ”

What he means is,” the other one cut in, clacking her beak harshly, “we're glad t' meet'cha, hun.”

“I wasn't 'bout t' say anythin' awful,” the bluebird shot back. “Anyways, we'll be yer illustr'us nego'shators, continuin' conversations and such. Names're Blackjack and Hookers.”

Hookers nodded rather modestly for someone of her moniker. “If ya don't mind sittin' a spell, we can get down t' business, hash out what we were doin' 'fore, yanno?”

As she opted to simply lean against a wall, Cepra couldn't help but ask, “'Hookers?' Why plural?”

“I mean, th' joke wouldn' work with jus' 'Hooker,' yanno?”

Cepra had no behavioral equivalent of blinking blankly, and so had to force all of that energy into the word instead. “'Joke?'”

“Yanno,” Blackjack chimed in between the beats of his wings, “'blackjack and hookers?' So's we're 'Blackjack' and 'Hookers.'”

“What the hell do clubs have to do with hookers?”

“No no no,” Blackjack said in a manner that seemed to imply that it was her fault she wasn't getting it. “Blackjack. Like th' card game?”

Cepra tried to make her confused silence as polite as possible.

“Gamblin'?” he tried again, his voice a hopeful lilt.

Behind her goggles, Cepra's eyes lit up. “Oh! Like craps?”

The silence afterward was less confused and polite, more tense with choking anger. As in, Blackjack quite suddenly (and, Cepra couldn't help but add, most ineffectively) tried to strangle her.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
"I'll talk m' brother down later," was Hookers' only comment as Cepra batted ex-bluebird mist away from her goggles. "Right-ho! We were lookin' for ya, those Interior folkses had a propper-zition for yer sweet self."

"He's your brother?"

"Yeh, whatever. Anyway, I think our'genda's to blast the Trump wannabe, seeing's, y'know, he's got no idea what e'en he's actual doing. Leastways that's what the Interior's reckonin'. We ended up inna cargo hold, so you should follow me there if'n you're lookin' fer a bit of work'n lucre."

If the best employer given the circumstances was a flock of birds, Cepra conceded, well, she'd dealt with weirder. And certainly dealt with worse.
"I'm not signing up to anything until we've made a deal."

"Good," said Hookers the skimmer. "I'd've been right disappointed in yer if you did, hun."


A spider and a skimmer walked into a bar, which was really more of a cozy space between a bunch of crates and underneath a stairwell. (Cepra complained about the stairs, to which Hookers agreed that having that many legs must be a pain. She hadn't had any before she met Avery!)

"The Afterparty heartilly welcomes yer patronage," intoned Hookers, puffing up her chest feathers and doing the best she could to sound pompous with her accent, before immediately breaking character and giving Cepra the side-eye. "I'm told by th' nautical folks it's a pun, but I d'nreckon I'd want it even if I got it. Yo! Mixi!"

"Mixi" ("Mixatonic" "Die-Hard" "Does anybody actually know this guy's real name") was a Siamese Fireback, strutting about the bar and having a hell of a time trying to serve the two or three patrons. They stared at Cepra with a dull passivity that bordered on disturbing, while Hookers hopped up onto the counter beside the bigger bird, and was summarily ignored. Mixi bowed to Cepra as best as his physiology allowed it, raising a wing to her silver claw.

"Ms. Samedi," he drawled. "It's a pleasure. I swear. No, really. I'm Mixatonic. Barkeeping duty, though how the hell I'm supposed to do business without thumbs is Avery's fucking guess." He proffered his wing as if in a handshake, but shook his head. "No, if you would, pass me the other one." Cepra frowned, but extended her silver claw for the pheasant's perusal. Mixatonic's eyes narrowed, and he hissed a satisfied little note as she turned her hand over and let him get an eye right next to the claw.

He shot up again, barked to a horned parakeet who had been wrestling with a few unlabelled jars and medicine bottles and toothpaste(?) tubes, who fell off the counter and reappeared with a stoppered vial of something sluggish and cherry-red.

"It's fresh?"

"Fresh as this guy could be after you pickled the fucker," deadpanned the parakeet, bobbing his head toward one of the dazed patrons.

"Alright," nodded Mixatonic. "Ok, so, Cepra, I can call you Cepra, yeah? Half the reason I volunteered for this barkeeping post was so I could viddy this pretty claw of yours. Just, trust me, right? I know my poisons. Heck, I was spitballing with dosages for these lewds-" Mixi pointed with a foot at one of the gormless bargoers- "but human physiology's much the same, much the same, yeah? Anyway. I wanted to see this for myself, so could you, uh-"

Mixi motioned to the vial of blood. Hookers rolled her eyes. "Sorry, hun. Our ressin' poisoner here was the only one who 'spressed interest in runnin' th' bar. I figger you'da fancied talkin' shop in a place like this, 'n we were wanting one anyway, so here y'are!"

"Wait, you lot made this lousy excuse of a tavern-"

"Hey, now," growled Mixatonic, "For less than half an hour's work, with no fucking thumbs, I think you can cut us some slack-"

"For me?" Cepra marvelled at the three birds, momentarily forgetting they were people just as dangerous as she was in the bodies of cute, non-threatening birds. The penguin or that Kittybrewster guy she might've had to worry about, but Hookers, Mixi (what kind of wannabe lets people call them Mixi?), and the parakeet here? Pfft. "No, listen," she snickered. "It's kind of adorable. I appreciate it." She looked around for a table, found the table, and gave the slack-jawed patron sitting there a critical look before shrugging and settling her many elbows across from him.

"Alright," shrugged Cepra. "What's your offer?"

"Grshtskrhrhrhgstrg?" queried the parakeet, who apparently could not be behooved to stop speaking Abyssal for the provided company. Mixatonic just rolled his eyes, and shoved the vial of blood at Hookers. "Stuff off," she said, before taking flight and landing on the man opposite Cepra.

"Right 'squizzit," said Hookers. "So, th'party line goes tha' we don' wanna go toe to toe wither the Zannit Zealot or Popeasaurus lookin' for that Arkmajigger. Our intel's blinkered, but prolly still trumps those two - so we don't reckon 's worth our while to fetch that there ark-tifact. Lookin' at the ship-tuation-"

Mixi groaned without moving from his hunched-up sulking position, and even the Arkfolk that Hookers was perched upon frowned a bit. Hookers just cackled to herself.

"Sorry, hun. My point being, th' Ark's magic's prolly all politics-like. So we're gonna make our own magic down in this cargo hold!"

"With a shitty bar?"

"With a monopoly, hun. This bathtub were right cryin' out to us fer some entertainment, so that's part of Parley's gift to th' people. We'll be operatin' all quatermasterly-like too, make sure we're gettin' a cut of the currencies when Old Papa Commerce's wheels get to spinning."

"So, that's your big plan? Money-laundering?"

Hookers winked. "We gotta compensate you somehow, hun! 'fraid we can't cough up more'n drudgery and box-hauling 'til we're better-established, but I'm sure we'll need trouble disposed of later if that's more your thing!" Cepra appeared less than convinced, so Hookers made what might've been a grandiose motion with her wings. "You take the profits! Yours to spend as y'like - us'n Parley just need the political foothold."

Yeah, that lit her greedy spidercreepface up. Hooker's perch seemed to notice her for the first time, and looked at the shoulder-bird with confusion. Hookers pecked him gently on the cheek to reassure him, and Cepra finished drumming her fingers on the table.

"No deal. Too good a deal," she said. "Plus, these guys don't look rich, they probably trade with paper money or something. I can't use that if one of those other guys fuck up and we all get moved to the next place."

Hookers opened her beak, and closed it. "Hrm. Fair guff, hun. Hang a tic though, we knew you were too smart fer th' easy swindle, so there's gotta be a good reason-"

"-Not gonna ookadeet," Mixi cut in. "We make damn sure those trigger-happy god-fellators and the wolf either cooperate, or get distracted. Then we seize control of the Ark, arc, arks, whatever; figure out that otchkied asshole's deal, then we whisper into those aforementioned ears. They can risk life and limb and deal with the Mr. Johnson for us more discerning types." The fireback barkeep flew over and landed on the table between them. "We stay until we feel like leaving, no point gathering resources we can't keep. Idiot," he added to Hookers. She batted him in the face with a wing.

"What th' big grump said!"

Cepra had to concede that it sounded like a more concrete plan than what anyone else had proposed so far, including the Mr. Johnson, if she understood Mixi's weird figures of speech right.
"Hang on, you mentioned three, and there's us, but wasn't there that other guy-"

Hookers chose that moment to lose her balance and topple off the doped-up guy's shoulder. Mixatonic, also, seemed to get a sudden case of the Gravities. From behind the bar came a string of laboured Abyssal, then a soft pop as the parakeet couldn't take the strain and disintegrated.

"Haha, Viscount?" Hookers laughed from the floor, with effort. "Yeah, I'm guessin' this'd be our negotiating him right now..."
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
Triumphian momentarily paused, raising a single claw in the air and deciding to confer with his guest.

After a quick back and forth on how much they wanted to lie to the small child, Triumphian spoke up, "The ark? You mean this boat?"

Cate shook her head, "No... its the key to The Ark. The one that... he... always has." The girl seemed to shrink a little with every word, as if she was waiting for some sort of retaliation.

Triumphian lowered himself and put his hand on her shoulder.

As he silently stared at the small girl, he felt conflicted. Never, in all of his life had he had to deal with a situation like this. While there had been plenty of people dealing with tragedy and situations out of their control in his long history both before and after becoming pope, most of it was impersonal, and it was never with someone so small and fragile.

It was obvious that this line of questioning was uncomfortable to Cate, Triumphian knew that something was amiss here, that there was something more to the story, and if he was going to get anywhere, he needed to figure out what that was.

This is a rather unpleasant situation, but I don't think it can get any worse, maybe you should reassure little Cate here before asking her anything else.

Triumphian took a deep breath and then looked at Cate in the eye. "Listen Cate, I wish to help you. There is nothing that you can say which will cause me to hurt you. It is obvious that you have been through an unpleasant time, but I am here to help. I am going to ask you one more thing, do you think you can do that?"

Cate nodded slowly, looking a tiny bit less scared.

"Thank you." Triumphian once again took a deep breath and then asked, "Just how did you get the key?"

Cate made a small whiny noise and looked down at her feet.

After a bit of coaching, Triumphian responded with, "It is OK Cate, take your time, take a deep breath."

Cate closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, and then calmly exhaled. After a few breaths, she looked up at Triumphian and started to say, "Okay."

However, after letting that word out, Triumphian heard a small squeak, followed by a pop.

Triumphian put his hand over Cate's mouth and whispered, "Be quiet," and then observed the room very carefully.

There was only one door, the one they had entered, and it was still shut. The room was small, with only a table, a chair, and a light source. No windows, the light was part of the ceiling and... "There!"

Triumphian spotted an air vent, where he could see a small shadow with two beady eyes staring at him. "Oh. It's just a rat." Triumphian motioned towards the rat, releasing Cate, who proceeded to yell, "Stop!"

Triumphian looked back at the child midstep, asking, "What?" as something sprung up from the ground, sticking to his foot and then recoiling backwards. Triumphian helplessly lost his balance and fell down, his foot now awkwardly placed a bit closer to the vent than the rest of his body. He could not move it.

"What sorcery is this?" Triumphian said with some of the anger he had been repressing.

Hmmm, Triumphian do you feel something, a presence in the air that was not there before?

Triumphian once again quelled his anger and looked around the room, the rat was still there, but he felt something different about it. Triumphian closed his eyes and focused.

"Rat... you hide something from me... unfortunately for you... the eyes of god see ALL!" Triumphian's eyes glowed and after a moment, he saw that the rat was not alone.

Floating a ways above the rat was a small saucer shaped thing, with fur all around it and a small glowing bottom. It was spinning around lopping to the side as it began to move forward, as did the rat. Triumphian acted quickly, tossing his staff a bit upwards and catching it on its end, then thrusting it towards the saucer.

The rat screeched, causing Triumphian to lower his staff. The saucer lowered closer to the rat, Triumphian watched silently as the saucer disappeared and the rat returned into the vents.

"Blast! We need to move, and be on our guard. Cate, are you harmed?"

Triumphian held his staff back towards the top, as it should be, and then turned towards the young girl. He then dropped his staff to the floor, screaming, "What?" and taking a step back.

Cate was standing in a corner of the room, where Triumphian had left her, but she was not alone. Above the little girl was an eyeless wolf-like creature, glowing in a similar way to the saucer. Then it disappeared and having noticed Triumphian's reaction, Cate began to cry.

Triumphian flinched even more, his large gaping maw frozen in utter shock and panic at the crying child before him.

Don't just stand there like a fool, go and comfort her!

With as little movement as possible, Triumphian whispered, "How?"

Anaminendes was momentarily silent as he tried to pin down just what was wrong with this species. R...really? Uhm... okay... how about you try to laugh?

Triumphian paused for a moment.

You... you've laughed before right?

"Uhm... not like this?"

Look, the point is if we don't act quickly, someone might come, or worse, that rat might get some friends. We need to move out! Bite your pride! A child won't think lesser of you for comforting them.

Triumphian gurgled with some disappointment, took a deep, deep breath, and then let out his best, "WOO HWA HWA HWA!"

Cate opened her eyes, but there were still tears and a frown on her small face.

Come on now Triumphian! Take it a step further! Make a silly face!

Not wanting to make this torture last any longer than it had to, Triumphian raised his arms into the air, arched his head to the side, and loudly proclaimed, "WOO HWA HWA HWA!!!!"

"Hee hee hee," Cate giggled at the display, her hands trying and failing to cover her laughter at the absurdity in front of her.

Triumphian lowered his head, picked up his staff, and then kneeled down in front of her. "Alright Cate, we need to go now."

Wait! Triumphian, you should apologize for your reaction!

While Triumphian did think that was a good idea, and that it would potentially lead to the answering of at least one of the many questions he now had, he couldn't help but feel like Anaminendes was having a bit of fun at his expense. That said, as Triumphian put out a claw to Cate's hand, he said, "I apologize for my surprised reaction, after the saucer attacked me... seeing another creature similar to it was startling... could you tell me more about yours? Perhaps that will help me be more... comfortable with it."

"Wait, you can see them?"

"Ye.. yes, why?"

"Well... mmmn..."

Once again Cate went to her silence. Internally, Triumphian sighed, "It is alright child, we can talk more later. Come."

Uhm, Triumphian.

Wordlessly, Triumphian turned around. He was already at the door and behind him, Cate had hardly left her corner. The Pope let out another internal sigh.

"Cate, let me carry you."

Triumphian left the room, cradling Cate in one arm and holding his staff in the other. The world leader turned impromptu father figure looked across the halls, wondering if anyone had heard them and come to investigate. After making sure the coast was clear, he began to walk towards an empty hallway, hoping that he would find clarity soon, be it via the somewhat awkward child or through someone, anyone, else.
RE: The Fearsome Encounter (GBS3G8) [Round 3: Ark of Hope]
Augustus had lost everything. He had been stripped of rank, and his followers were back on the Oh Two Oh. He couldn't even take solace in the thought of judging this world once he succeeded; from what their captor had said, that work was largely already done.

All he could do was focus on his task. If he could only retrieve the Ark, he would regain his status and Azungrada's favor. No doubt it would be well-guarded, but surely he could overcome the followers of a false prophet.

His first plan was to find a cultist's room and claim their robes, eliminating the body if necessary. However, his search was cut short when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

He turned around to find a woman dressed in what seemed to be a more ornate version of his own robes.

"Where are you going, Junior Acolyte?" she asked. "The ceremony's beginning soon. We've got enough problems tracking down stragglers from the new converts without our own wasting time wandering around."

Augustus was taken aback, but he was also quick to recognize an opportunity.

"My deepest apologies," he said. "I took a wrong turn, and was trying to find my room so I could reorient myself."

The woman shook her head.

"Pathetic. You'd best shape up quick, Junior Acolyte. How do you expect to make it through the Ascenscion if you can't even find your way to the deck?"

Augustus hung his head in shame.

"I will prove myself worthy," he said. It sounded sincere, largely because he wasn't really directing it at his interrogator.

"Hmmph. Whatever, come on. The Savior doesn't want to put off his speech much longer."


It was unusual for the Ark's passengers to go above deck - it was perfectly safe, Alvarez had assured them, but they could still see the thick gas surrounding the ship. There didn't seem much point in going outside just to witness that dreariness.

But today was a special day, or so Alvarez had declared. Today was the Last Confession.

Nobody was sure exactly what that was, not even Alvarez' closest followers. More than a few of the plane's passengers suspected that this was the part where it turned out that yes, they had been forced into a death cult after all. The more optimistic thought that perhaps this would involve Alvarez opening the Ark. One contrarian figured that this was just a fancy way of Alvarez admitting he'd made the whole thing up.

Only Alvarez himself knew the true reason. And he was growing impatient.

"I said I wanted everyone here," he said.

"We apologize, O Savior," said High Acolyte Agri. He was easily twice Alvarez' size, but it was clear which of the two was more intimidating. "We could not find all of the new converts. We have gathered as many as we could find, and all of the acolytes of course."

"Then I suppose I must settle for that, for time grows short. The absentees shall simply have to suffer the consequences of their heresy."

He walked up to the pulpit, and waved Agri away. He looked over the assembled crowd; he could see some whispering to each other.

He grabbed the microphone from its stand.

"Be silent!"

Everyone stopped talking. Augustus was startled by the authority in the man's voice; even despite his own strong faith, he felt compelled to listen.

"As I have made clear these last few days, this is the Last Confession. Sadly, not all of you have made it here for this final chance to cleanse your sins, but it cannot be helped. For the Ascension is coming very soon, and you must be prepared for it."

Alvarez turned his eyes upwards to the sky.

"You cannot see the moon through this thick smoke, but let me assure you it is nearly full. In but one more night, we shall see the seventh full moon since the end descended upon us. That shall be the time of the Ascenscion. I have spoken of it much, but it is only now that I can tell you what it truly entails."

He looked over the crowd again.

"I have told you time and again that this horrible fate came about because of the sins of man. Man challenged nature, and nearly destroyed both with his own hubris. We on this ship are the last of humanity, and we still bear its sins. I have told you this all many times. What I have not told you is the true cost of purifying ourselves."

Some in the crowd started to murmur, but they stopped before Alvarez spoke again. He did not even need to make another admonishment.

"No, I am not asking you to kill yourselves. But what I do ask will be no easier. For the truth is, the world shall be reborn, and there will be no place for humanity in it."

He turned his eyes to the sky once again.

"Tomorrow night, under the full moon, we must renounce our humanity and ascend into beings of nature. This will require absolute faith. To those of you who we rescued - I did not ask you to convert because I sought authority over you. I asked you to convert because it was your only chance. Anyone who does not pass through the Ascenscion will not survive into the new world."

He paused, and looked at the crowd. There were looks of surprise, even among his own acolytes. He had known it would not be easy for them to accept, but they had to know.

For his part, Augustus was unsure to make of all that, save that he had only until the next night to find where Alvarez kept the Ark.

By contrast, the other contestant in the crowd found the speech had given him considerably more to think about.