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

Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Drakenforge.

The visions Karen endured during the toxic invasion of her mind and body were no daydream. She was forced to visualise everyone dying in front of her eyes hundreds of times over. Sometimes her parents died too, screaming to her for help. Each time her body would weigh more than concrete, and she would move as if walking through treacle. Not once did she succeed in saving anyone.

When the toxin faded and she saw Lillian's death in reality, her mind simply refused to believe it at first. She told herself she was still under the effects of the toxin as she saw the life drain from the fragile girl's eyes. She told herself that she was making up the change of round scenario. Karen watched through hollow eyes as the setting for the horrible games new round depicted in itself an equally horrible game. No, she corrected that comparison. Even that brutal game would not force a young girl like Lillian to die horribly, just to make way for the one winner.

When she was finally deposited on her own, she slumped to the ground, finding herself unable to support her own weight. She told herself over and over that this could not be happening. That she was going to see another horrible toxic horror and start the process all over again. She finally snapped, and tried to cure the toxins from her body with magic.

But afterwards, she found herself still in the new round, on a cold street and without Lillian.
Realising that the girl was dead Karen quickly broke down into tears. Lillian had been a sweet, scared little girl who didn't deserve anything that had happened. She clenched her fists, the urge to scream rising in her chest threatening to break free she wept for the fallen child. The tears escalated into streams, and wails. Why couldn't she have died instead? Why wasn't she able to protect anything? For years she had thought herself to be 'strong', but in reality she was the weakest among the remaining humanoids. She didn't notice the stares she was getting from passers by, most if not all noticing the large sword on her back, the smell of burning coming from her clothes and the ragged state she was in. -”maybe she got free from the last game, I heard it was a volatile last ten minutes!” -”Dude, she's kinda cute. I bet she knows all kinds of ways to kill you!” -”You always liked the creepy ones, but that sword is huge! I bet she can't even swing that thing.”

As the group of strangers decided her fate against her will, Karen simply cried into her arms.
Her mind was getting desperate, and she found her wishing Sarika was there. She would have failed to comfort Karen in the least, but she just wanted someone to console her, to tell her everything was going to be all right again. She wanted the lies, the sugar coating that every child would have been given.

Even the vile, battle lusting part of herself was silent in the matter. It wanted cold hard revenge, just to destroy Reudic and not think about anything until it was vanquished. She was too emotionally unstable to do anything to the plant, she would get careless, dangerously so. She tried wiping away her tears, noting far too late how dry her eyes were getting and how blurry her vision had become. Regaining her composure took longer than she wanted as she kept crying further each time she wiped her face. She would stop that with magic. It was necessary for her to survive, and for her to destroy Reudic. The berserk spell would suffice, but in her mind she thought of the spell as it currently was. It was self destructive, limiting and uncontrollable. So she decided to cast it differently. She willed it to change, giving herself complete reign on her strength and emotions. She would blot out the sadness and despair, and force herself to target Reudic with cold precision. Her body would not undertake the same change as she would in extreme circumstances, it was too tiring and caused too much strain.

With one final moment dedicated to hoping Sarika would stay safe, Karen cast the spell on herself.

She felt her mind become clearer bit by bit. The concept of loss, pain or even Lillian were wiped from her brain, soon replaced by the burning desire to kill Reudic. The tears had finally stopped.

Finding herself sufficiently composed, Karen finally noticed the spectators. They had been watching her for quite some time so the sudden movement took them by surprise. She strode up to them, allowing them to finally glance at her dark red eyes, almost hidden by her witch hat and hair.
One of them attempted to greet her, but he was shot by a piercing glare. It was unintentionally cold, devoid of emotion or contempt.

“The stadium. Where is it.”

It was not a question, as they recognised from her voice. It was a command. They would tell her where it was, and they wouldn't dare thinking of doing otherwise. One pointed to the street to their left, towards the traffic. A brief indication that if she travelled a mile in that direction would allow her to see it followed, and she turned to leave.

But one last thing kept her from walking away. She turned back and faced them again.

“How are contestants entered into that game”, she once again forced them to speak.

“Honestly, that's...” He tried not answering the dark topic, made taboo for all the fans lest a sense of morals finally crop up once again in the general public. Karen's icy stare eventually broke him.
“Kidnapping. Some people get rewards for finding people suitable, others are whisked off the street randomly. Look, just who the hell are you?” He asked her, finally snapping out of the spell her demeanour, not her magic, had cast on him

She smiled, in a way they found quite unsettling, “I'm a warrior. Plain and simple. I'll reward you. Somewhere in this city is a monster. I saw animals in the game, so they will be interested to know of a flying forest beast, capable of snapping necks and poisoning anything it touches. Alert them to it and they should pay you handsomely.”

Once again she turned her back on them, but quickly uttered, “And of course, you wouldn't tell them about me”, before she began running towards the Stadium.

'I will kill him. If they don't find him, I will. It'll just make things quicker for both of us. And I'll avenge... Avenge everything.' She thought to herself, not realising she had already forced the knowledge of Lillian to be completely locked away.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

She was in an alley.

Was it bad that her first thought was one of relief?

There’s nobody she felt obligated to protect anymore, no helpless child to dote over. In fact, she would probably have to be protected herself. She was missing an arm. She was missing her weapon. She hadn’t been all that strong in the first place, but now she felt incredibly not strong and the only thing she could think about was how it would be nice to take a break and let someone else protect her.

She should probably stop hanging around in this dark alley.

Peering into the street, Sarika watched the residents pass by. There were humans (there were always humans), but there were also…other things she couldn’t put a name to. That meant non-human residents, which in turn meant that she didn’t have to cover up everything about her. Good.

Withdrawing back into the alley, she started looking around for some clothes. It was a little optimistic of her, sure, but she was pretty certain going out with a bloody shirt would not be that smart.

Suddenly, she tripped and bruised her jaw against the ground. At the same time, she realized she smelled blood. Not her own, but someone else’s. Warily, she felt around and found a dead body.

She quickly forced down the feeling that threatened to well up from her stomach and tried to get a good look at the clothes. The wound was on the unfortunate’s head, and so the blood was mostly spilled on the ground rather than on the clothes. The body was also humanoid, so the clothes should fit her well enough.

She began the process of changing clothes in the dark. Whatever these clothes were, they probably would help her fit in, right? The last thing she did before walking out was to remove her goggles from her eyes. This was Normal Civilian mode. Normal civilians don’t go around wearing goggles all the time, that would be more of a vigilante sort of thing. Besides, she wasn’t much of a good vigilante.

She walked around.

It seemed an average place, really. One wouldn’t have guessed that there was some sort of socially important sport game happening that revolved around kidnapping and killing people, well, if it weren’t for the banners and such touting said event. People were milling around, passing the time. She suspected that there were many already lining up to get seats, or maybe settling in their houses with the TV on. Getting a ticket to the game struck her as the safest thing to do. Surely, people didn’t kidnap players right out of the stands, right?

Sarika finally noticed something. The thronging public, with their silly foam hands and their ridiculous sports souvenirwear, were most definitely thronging away from her. Was it something she was wearing?

She finally looked down at the outfit she picked up. It was a bit grungy from laying around in an alley, though not much because futuristic alleys weren’t all that dirty to begin with. It was rather dark and there seemed to be some sort of stripe-star-ranking thing on the shoulder. And below that was some sort of label with a name…

Oh no. She had no idea what this outfit was for, but she had a sneaking suspicion that she didn’t want to be found in it very soon so maybe it was time to duck into another alleyway and get scarce –

She nearly squealed when an unseen figure in the alley laid a hand on her, but the figure didn’t give her time at all and swung the breath right out of her. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” the figure hissed. “Waltzing right in plain sight!”

Well, she didn’t seem to be getting knocked out and dragged somewhere into a cage or something. Sarika thought very quickly. “I, um, wanted to buy a drink.”

“You can do that on break, out of uniform! Christ, are you dense?” The figure hadn’t let go of her yet. It was dragging her deeper into the alley and the darkness.

“Sorry,” Sarika mumbled, her eyes struggling to adjust. She could only see shadows. But it sounded like the figure was also a woman. She could see her shadow examining her closely.

“Hey, it’s alright. You’re a rookie, aren’t you? Just don’t do it again. You’ll scare away the prey!”

Prey. Oh no. “Um. Maybe I should go back to where I was before, then. I don’t want to bother you.”

Sarika felt a heavy slap on her back and stumbled forward. “Hey, no, it’s okay. Stick around! You could learn a thing or two from me. And then you won’t make any more mess-ups. I’m Turaine.”

“Sarika,” the bird-woman coughed before thinking that maybe she should have given a fake name. It didn’t seem to matter because Turaine didn’t seem to pay any attention.

“Hey, Rookie, don’t look so glum! Being a Deathball recruiter ain’t so hard at all. Especially if you learn from me!”

Yup. Just as she thought. “Thank you,” she replied morosely.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by GreyGabe.

Marcus slouched against the wall, staring at nothing, seeing nothing. He had seen people die. He had caused people to be killed through his actions. He had killed people before. But this felt… worse. He had laid by and done nothing as that goddamn shrub had killed that little girl, with his gun.
It didn’t matter that he was immobilized by visions of war and death. It didn’t matter that that… whatever the hell it was had forced him to see himself murdering everyone he had ever known or cared about… it… none of it mattered…

He needed to stop thinking. He was going to have nightmares about this day for years to come if he lived that long but for now he needed to get a hold of himself. He wasn’t sure it would be that easy, though, especially with the throbbing headache which had taken residence up somewhere behind his left temple… He did know one thing for certain though, and that was that it was time to prune a certain shrub. Permanently. His last incendiary grenade should serve the purpose nicely…

Marcus gradually realized that he was sitting in a small, enclosed space, surrounded by shelves which were stacked with various odds and ends. A single door seemed to be the only way out. He stood up and began to move forward when the door whisked open of its own accord.

Marcus’s weapon was up in a flash, leveled at the figure standing in the doorway. The man was a portly fellow in an unflattering salmon pink dress shirt and slacks, and his tie was black, emblazoned with a lime green symbol that resembled a fist clutching a dagger. Upon seeing Marcus’s gun pointed at him, his arms shot up in the air, his eyes wide with fear. “Please! I’m sorry! Don’t kill me! I… I won’t tell the recruiters you’re here, honest!”

Marcus quirked an eyebrow. The man stood trembling in the doorway.

“Please, please, please don’t kill me! I just wanted some more paper for the copier!”

Marcus blinked, and reached over slowly towards the shelf on his left. He snagged a package of paper and handed it to the man. The man snatched it from his hand with a sudden burst of motion (very nearly getting himself shot in the process) and ran away, glancing nervously over his shoulder. Marcus shook his head and exited the storage closet, looking around curiously. He seemed to be in some sort of office. Cubicles filled a large space, lit by bright white lights from above. It looked about like every other office space Marcus had ever seen, except for one thing. Every wall, and every cubicle separator thingy, was adorned with posters, pennants, and stickers, each one representing a different sports team. Marcus assumed they were all Deathball teams.

“Immensely popular, this Deathball, huh? I’ll say it is…”

A few heads were poking out from their cubicles. All of them were watching curiously, but some also looked somewhat… covetous. Several muttered amongst themselves. Marcus didn’t like this at all. It was time to leave.

He craned his neck, looking for the door. The important thing right now was to track down Reudic and take care of him. The others would have to fend for themselves for the time being. He spotted the door and began moving towards it, scowling threateningly at anyone who got too close. He was about halfway across the office when something hit his shoulder. Not hard, just barely enough for him to notice. He turned his head to look back.

A small, black, button sized object adhered almost invisibly to the back of his shoulder, attached to his armor with a barely noticeable seam. He reached over and tried to pull it off, but it was no good. He turned further and saw the tubby fellow from earlier holding some sort of small firearm. He grinned nervously at Marcus.

“S-sorry! I had to! My team isn’t doing well this cycle, but a guy like you could really turn the tables! I… I… um. Please, no--!”

Marcus yanked the man up by his collar and pulled back a fist. The man cringed. Marcus snarled and tossed him aside before rushing out the door. He didn’t have time for this. He found himself in a long hallway, leading off to the left and right. He arbitrarily chose left and headed off at a brisk jog.

“CONGRATULATIONS!” Marcus nearly tripped as a voice rang out, seemingly from behind him. He spun around, finding nobody following him.

“You, UNKNOWN CITIZEN, have been selected to be recruited to compete in the international sports sensation, Deathball! You will be playing on behalf of the CUTTING RUNNERS. ” The cheery voice, Marcus quickly noticed, emanated from the button on his shoulder. “Very soon, a Deathball recruitment unit will arrive to escort you to the stadium. Please do not attempt to resist recruitment, as this may result in injury. And in the fast paced, high-intensity sport of Deathball, injury can lose your team the gold, and can also lead to a horrible, agonizing death!”

Marcus found a flight of stairs leading downwards. He began to take them two at a time.

“Please note that the International Deathball League cannot be held legally or fiscally responsible for any injuries, permanent disfigurements, or deaths that may occur during the course of recruitment or competition. If you have any questions, comments, or complaints, please contact us through our website or via ZapMail™.”

Marcus reached the bottom of the stairs and barreled out into a large lobby. People turned to watch him warily as he dashed for the main entrance. Bursting through the doors he found himself in a city full of tall, imposing buildings, many of them plastered with posters, signs, and banners in support of one Deathball team or another. There were a few pedestrians, and the street in front of him was filled with cars. Up above, small vehicles flew around, more or less following the streets.

“Hey! There he is!”

Marcus’s head snapped around, to spot two men in dark grey uniforms advancing towards him. One of them held what looked to be some sort of tracking device, and they were both armed with some nasty looking cattle-prod like things.

One of them grinned. “Whew, he looks like a rough one! I bet he’ll bring in a nice little chunk of change…”

The other glanced at him, smiling faintly. “Yeah, I bet. First we gotta catch him, though. Hey!” This last was directed at Marcus. “Do us a favor and make this easy, huh? Put your hands behind your head and drop to your knees. Don’t worry, you’ll get your weapons back later. That kind of thing is great for the ratings.”

Marcus slowly put his hands behind his head and watched as the two recruiters walked towards him.

“Wow. Okay. Just how I like it.” The first one said, “Nice and easy. Now, let’s just take this gun, for proce--”

He couldn’t have possibly moved fast enough to avoid Marcus’s vicious strike, his arm swinging around from behind his head to collide with his would-be captor’s jaw. The blow, though awkward, landed with plenty of force. There was a loud cracking sound as something in the man’s face broke. The other recruiter wasted no time in activating his prod. He thrust it forward, but Marcus dodged it easily and grabbed his arm, following it up with an elbow to the gut. The man doubled over, and Marcus laced his hands together, to bring them down on the man’s exposed head like a hammer.

Glancing down at the two men lying on the pavement, Marcus briefly wondered if he had perhaps been a little too rough… Nah. He nabbed one of the prods and began moving down the sidewalk, scattering wide-eyed pedestrians in his wake. Finally ducking into an alley, he realized that he had no idea where he was going.

Fortunately, a potential solution to his dilemma revealed itself in the form of a new squad of recruiters, five in number. These looked considerably more businesslike than the last two, and they had him boxed in, two at one end of the alley, three at the other.

Marcus grinned nastily, and activated the prod in his hand. This was going to be interesting.

And hey, at least when he was fighting, he didn’t have to think too much.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Pinary.

Maurice deFont was glad when the crazy guy with the gun was out of the storage cupboard and out of the office. He really had only wanted some more paper; the latest sales figures were in, and sales among his target demographic (fans of the Terran Tales Deathball team) had jumped by another ten percent. That was exciting news, especially when sales on the whole were down by 1.5% in the last week. He wanted to share the news with as many people as he could as fast as he could (after all, that's what marketing was all about).

That didn't stop him from peering nervously around the corner into the copier's alcove before he went in, though.

A few minutes later, with a stack of charts and graphs in hand, he stopped by his coworker's cubicle. Peter Fenwick was in charge of marketing towards the Cutting Runners, and while he was always a bit twitchy, when Maurice dropped a chart on his desk, he nearly jumped out of his seat.

Maurice just groaned. "You tagged him, didn't you?", he asked his coworker. "Pete, man, you know that's against regulations."

"Well, now, see, that's, ah, not, well..."

"Come on, man, relax!" Maurice chucked the shorter man on the shoulder. "It's not like everyone doesn't do it from time to time."

Peter's eyes darted around furtively for a moment, then settled back on Maurice. Soon after, they drifted down to the stack of papers. Still a bit nervous, he asked, "What're those?"

Maurice just grabbed the top of the other man's head and turned it to face the copy he'd already placed on the desk. "Sales figures, man! My new batch of commercials worked wonders, check it out!"

Before the shorter man had a chance to look over them, half-heartedly congratulate Maurice on them, then go on about how his figures were so much worse and he'd be fired for sure, however, his desk phone rang. Instinctually, his hand snapped out and he grabbed the receiver. Someone had let it get to third ring just last week, and he just hadn't been cut out for the games.


There was a pause for a few seconds while someone on the other end of the line said something that made Pete's eyes widen.

"It's for you," he said simply, his gaze turning up to Maurice.

The taller man took the handset and cautiously raised it to his ear.


"Maurice, go to the downstairs cafe. Be there in the next ten minutes, or you'll be in the game before sun meets horizon." There was a click, then the line reverted to its typical background commentary on the current state of the game.

Pete's face, in response to the shocking change in Maurice's, was chalk-white. The taller man's still managed to be paler.

"I'll, uh... I'll talk to you later," Maurice said. "I think I'm going to head out for a cup of coffee. See you later."

Peter didn't think seeing him later was very likely, but he responded in kind all the same.


As Maurice made his way downstairs, Lloyd was quietly knocking his head against the wall of the Fifth Avenue Lunchery. The bookworm could think of dozens of people he'd been before that he'd rather have been now: an incompetent lab tech "accidentally" messing with results; a mischievous triangular prism screwing with a two-dimensional world and ruining a sphere's plans; hell, even being that damned half-mute elf was preferable to this.

Lloyd Conrad was the regional manager for A2 All-Natural Energy Drinks. He wore a suit-jacket and tie over his usual hawaiian shirt (something that was, for some inexplicable reason, actually in style in the positively insane world he found himself in), and his towel was folded neatly in a fairly-expensive-but-not-top-shelf briefcase by his side. The half of his personality that came from the local storyline had spent many years getting to where he was in life, and the worst part was, it wasn't because he liked distributing electrolyte-enhanced iced tea.

Lloyd Conrad had a plan.

He'd spent years and years working on the plan, slowly getting things in place, getting a small organization of people together to work towards his ultimate goal. Things were nearly ready, too, and soon, his plan- and yes, it was his plan, not the work of another that he was merely putting into motion- soon, his plan would be ready to enact.

He literally couldn't bring himself to mess it up. Half of him had spent more than half of his life planning to bring down the games, take down the whole Deathball organization in one fell swoop, and as much as the other half hated the idea, the will it took to create a plan was so much more powerful than the will required to bring one crashing down.

Lloyd was determined, and he was damned if he'd let Lloyd stand in his way.

Fortunately, the bell to the cafe jingled, and that meant it was time to go to work. Lloyd could quietly rebel against himself, or he could accept that at least he was at least going to be taking down something.


Maurice stepped into the deserted diner and blinked into the darkness. Normally, the restaurant would be bustling, but instead, it was deserted, all the blinds drawn and all the lights out. "Hello? Mr. Conrad? It's, uh... It's Maurice deFont." There was no response. After a few seconds, he added, "You called me do-"

"Yes, I know," Lloyd interrupted, his voice cutting out of the darkness. "I'll be brief."

A light came on over a table off to one side, the dim bulb barely lighting up enough to see the seats. In the middle of the table sat a briefcase.

"Mr. deFont, I have a task for you. If you carry it out, you get a raise, an office with a window and dedicated vents, and I'll put a recommendation to add a sales commission to your salary." There was a pause while he didn't have to say he'd throw him to the games if he refused.

"...Alright," Maurice assented, taking a hesitant few steps towards the table. "What do you want me to do?"

"It's simple," Lloyd responded. "A recruitment team randomly ran into Jerome C, our department's liaison to the International Deathball League. Standing company policy dictates that the person with the best weekly sales record is automatically promoted to fill vacancies in such scenarios, and I don't need to tell you who that is."

Despite not being able to see him, Maurice could feel his boss glancing pointedly at the sheets he'd nervously crumpled in his hands on the way downstairs.

"Take that briefcase with you to tonight's Welcoming Ceremony. In just two hours, they'll be introducing the day's recruits into the stadium, and I want you in the Corporate Box overlooking it all, along with the Chairman and two thirds of the Deathball Oversight Committee."

Maurice had been to the Welcoming Ceremony a few times before, as most people had, and he'd seen the box looming overhead. It hovered over the center of the stadium, watching everything from a plethora of cameras standing around. No one could actually see inside it from down below, as the glass was all tinted and reflective, but stories were constantly whirling about the sort of luxury people watching from within were treated to.

"Attached to that briefcase you'll find the official identity transmitter that marks you as the A2 representative. Recruitment squads won't touch you, and all public transit is free."

The light over the table went out as Maurice took up the case, perhaps a bit too eager considering he was being forced to take it.

"The lock on there's a Glenn-Reider 1550, so don't bother with trying to open it up early. It's set to open when the bell sounds at the end of the ceremony, so you don't have to worry about a thing."

The door swung open, apparently of its own accord (really, there was just fishing line tied to the inside handle).

"Good luck, Mr. deFont."

As Maurice rushed out, briefcase gripped tight in his hand, Lloyd let the door fall shut. Two hours, the bookworm thought to himself, one hand rubbing the bridge of his nose. Just two more hours, and this stupid plan thing's rolling on its own.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Drakenforge.

Karen let out a sigh of relief as the last corpse hit the floor, having just been cleaved in two by her sword. The corpse offered its loot to her, which she absent-mindedly had stored away somewhere in her inventory, which was fit to bursting point as it was. She had came this far to defeat a Hydra level boss that was proving difficult for a lot of the best groups on the server. She was, as usual, alone during this attempt, proving just how abnormal the levelling curve was in the game.

But as strong as she was it had proved too much for her, so she had backed off a level to wait until Coal logged on. It might have been early morning where he was in the world, so she had casually been dealing with the ceaselessly spawning monsters for quite some time. A few groups had passed her on the way up, but she had never seen them go back or pass her again as she waited. Karen never judged people by how much they play the game because she was, plain and simple, the longest running player the game had. While she had never bothered to check just how many hours she had logged herself other players would never cease to get in contact with her to either send their reactions, usually involving bad language that her filter was gladly taking care of, or to simply insult her play style. She rarely used her mail system anymore as a result, and people would have to track her down and speak (virtual) face to face with her.

Coal was the one exception, the only player on her 'friend list'. With that status his messages would reach her perfectly fine, and she would know exactly when he logged on. She double checked just how much room she had left and was unpleasantly surprised to find no open room left. Miscellaneous junk items, spare equipment, consumables and loot had taken up all the room. She was glad to have a small companion that was able to do running jobs during dungeons and summoned the small creature. It was a dark imp whose design was just slightly curving into cute territory. It responded to specific instructions, the weapons and armour she no longer needed would be stored away, the junk items sold, the loot kept for selling to players later and she gave it enough money to refill her dangerously low stock of healing and mana potions.

As she watched it perform the digging animation that would teleport it out of the dungeon when a small alert noise prompted in her inner ear, usually meaning someone had messaged her. She got about as far as reading that it was a “beta testers reward patch” when her body seized up, and her vision went completely blank.

Karen's inner self viewed the memory with pure empathy. The last moments before she was hoisted out of the game forcefully and thrown into the game of death. She was oddly secure with not being in control of her body. It was serene in her mind, in her opinion. She could drown out the noise of city life and ignore the gazes that people gave her. The only comfort to be had was the faint scent of air that the darkening skies brought with them, almost completely obscured by the city smog.

Her peace was interrupted when she was yanked back into reality, once again under the effects of the spell. Her path was blocked by a well executed blockade made up of vans, wooden fences and armed security personnel. They stood guard in front of a large stadium. It definitely seemed like the right place.

They whispered something as she walked up to the entrance, but they quickly braced themselves and tried to look as threatening as possible to someone with a four foot long sword on their back. Karen fought through the cloud that was veiling her cognitive prowess so that she could talk her way in. She didn't want to have to have the deathball staff against her else she would never gain entrance.

She stopped when they prompted her to and asked for her identification. Already hitting an obstacle Karen had no choice but to dodge the question.

“Where do I sign up. For Deathball.”

This seemed to puzzle the guard that posed the question, and he turned to look back at his colleagues, his eyes passing over their own surprised faces.

“You want to sign up?” he asked, turning back to her, “as in, of your own free will?”

She nodded in response. He rubbed the back of his head idly as he waved her past. Karen retreated to her inner mental sanctum as waves of wavers, instructions and a surprisingly basic list of rules. Of course they warned her of potential death, dismemberment or permanent injury, which she brushed up with a basic “That's fine.”

Eventually she ended up in the prep room for the few contestants that were not reluctant to take part, or who just preferred acting docile to being constantly bound. She found herself a corner of the dingy, half re-modelled locker room to sit and meditate.

Acting like that it was no wonder how fast someone tried to interrupt her.

“Hey girlie, I think you might be lost. This isn't a costume parade!” Taunted a gruff, possibly deranged man. He was lanky, probably a coward and looks a complete emotional wreck. A small part of Karen pitied him for losing his mind. That part of her was no longer controlling her body though. He was left completely ignored, not even getting to see her eyes hidden beneath the layers of hat and hair.

“Hey, don't you ignore m- ack!”

A large dark hand shoved him to the side violently, knocking the lost contestant off his feet. Karen had to really arc her head to take in all of the persons gigantic size. He didn't acknowledge her existence and strode towards the gate to the pitch, which from how the cheering had started was probably preparing for something. Karen checked the wall clock, noticing there was still a timely gap until the players needed to leave. Her eyes drifted back towards the large guy. He seemed to remind her of someone, but even though she felt that she absolutely should be able to pin it down, the concept of who escaped her. It wasn't until she heard the name that it all came flooding back.

“Go get 'em, Cole!”

The resemblance to the one person she had called her friend in over two years caused her stomach to knot, even with her mind in chains. She watched his massive back over the heads of the shorter contestants as he walked, alone, onto the stadium grounds. A chorus of cheers welcomed the arrival of who turned out to be the star player this season.

Karen tried to clear her mind again focusing once more on how best to kill Reudic. She wondered why she had gotten sidetracked like that in the first place. Fire was a good option, but she couldn't get careless. His toxins were potent even against her, and more likely than not she would not be able to cure herself in time to survive if she succumbed to them.

However, she would not be alone in the stadium. Not only did she have other people fighting for their lives, or for their teams, she would also have to be mindful of the audience. While they were generally protected, her abilities would prove too much for their defences. Using her sword was out of the question, she was not planning on murdering the other contestants. She could use the inner staff, though the weight of the un-enchanted sword would slow her down. Instead Karen chose to at that moment retrieve her katana from inside the staff. While the weapon was usually in two different swords, it had an effect to combine into a two handed katana, far longer and even came with a sheath. The men inside the locker room gawked as she seamlessly retrieved her sword out of what appeared to be a black hole like effect. Satisfied that the sheath would suffice as a blunt edge she sat back down with it across her knees. She had her non-lethal weapon, enough magic that could leave people alive, and a plan to gain revenge without dying. Things were finally looking up for Karen the Blade Witch, even if her inner self was unknowingly shaking with something... anxiety maybe.

Meanwhile, three separate groups of recruiters were on the move to retrieve new contestants before the next wave came. Two of them converged on Marcus which, unfortunately for him, meant Sarika was unknowingly telling her new co-workers what he was going to do before they attacked.
The last team had tracked down Reudic successfully, but had so far been unable to restrain the creature of vines. But it was running out of places to run or hide, and was growing increasingly desperate.

Its situation only proved to be more grim that anyone could have thought when it flew straight past Marcus' now sweating face, choosing to go down the one dead-end alley on the block. Marcus had to choose; boxing himself in with it could give him the chance he needed to kill it, but it would mean letting himself get stuck between a rock and a hard place with the recruiters hot on his trail. However it would quickly manage to escape if he hesitated.

“What the hell are you doing, Marcus?” He sighed to himself as he made his choice.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by TimeothyHour.


"Caught him! Man, what this this plant thing, anyway."

"Who knows, but it's sure to net us a big bonus with the the boss. Stuff him in the van, frank."



ba-bump… ba-bump… ba-bump…

In fiction, when you do something like, say, kill a little girl, you cross a sort of… line. A boundary. The internet calls it the Moral Event Horizon.

killkillkillthemtheyaremankillmantheruintheruindes troy

When one passes the Moral Event Horizon, you’re evil, indisputably. Irredeemable. You transition from a villain to a monster.

ba-bump… ba-bump… ba-bump…

Generally, the character’s appearance, the mood of the piece, tends to suddenly reflect this- in this case particularly, Reudic’s vines grew dark and filled with thorns, and it constantly, violently lashed out at the cage containing it as the car bumped over speed bumps throughout the city.

destroydestroyburnburnkillfeastfeastfeastiamcoming iamthedarkinthenight

Although, this was less because of any moral event horizon that had been crossed, and because a fraction of that being of dark magic had found itself fragmented into Reudic’s feral soul.


Although, one could simply argue that reality had simply found a justification for this change- there wasn’t any real reason that Reudic be possessed than some kind of divine justice, a karma that had deigned misery upon the plant for his evil act.

ba-bump… ba-bump… ba-bump…

But really, that’s all human abstraction. Reudic was a plant. Plants don’t care about human morality, or fiction, or culture. Somewhere in Reudic’s mind, it all made sense- his rejection of humanity and its social constructions, his murder of Lillian, the so-called “evil” presence, in his soul. He was a moral paragon in a world of depraved monkeys.

killthemkillthemESCAPEfreedomliesinthebloodofthose meaninglesslfleshbags

And so, how dare they, those swine, those evil rabble! They dare contain the plant Reudic? They’ll pay for this, they’ll pay for it!

And they did. Through Reudics feral movements and rage, slowly, gradually, the car began to fill up with hallucinogens.

“So, I was talking to the girl right? And, of course, the unfortunate subject of jobs come up.”


“And, well, I was too drunk to come up with a good lie, so I just up and tell her, and she gets real uncomfortable lookin’, y’know?”

“Uh… uh huh.”

“And then, as soon as I look away to buy her a drink, she just goes in disappears! Poof! Can you believe the nerve?”

“Mm… Betty, why can’t we just go to sleep…”

“What? My name isn’t… Betty… your wife… Shit.”

And at that point, the driver fell asleep and hurtled the car forward at sixty miles an hour, practically ramping at each speed bump, until the car hurtled into a storefront window and impacted itself into the opposite wall.

Smoke drifted from the ruined car, slowly floating out from the entry point into the open air. Distantly, some sort of machine beeped angrily. Some people looked on, but only for a moment. Most ignored it. Someone else’s problem. And as they tried not to pay attention, tried to just get on with their lives without much ado, Reudic slipped into the crowds, heading towards the largest building in the vicinity- Deathball HQ.

Reudic was the king, the moral template. He would civilize these beasts of flesh, who think they understand right from wrong. He would become their king.

deathisyoursmanisyourslifeisyoursyouarethekingyoua rethegodYOUARETHEGOD

No. He would become their god.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

Why? Why did he run away? He could’ve killed the damn thing. It was right there. And if he killed it, then he wouldn’t have to worry about being captured because he would have been long gone. And if the thing killed him instead…well, at least everybody else wouldn’t have to deal with this crazy city.

Marcus had met with the team that had been chasing Reudic, but managed to barrel past them for the most part. You’re supposed to kill it, monster that it is. You’re supposed to avenge an innocent life. You’re supposed to make up for your shortcomings. But no, apparently that’s not what he’s doing now. Now, he was…doing something. Just running. And with this tracker on his shoulder, it was unlikely he would stop running any time soon.


“Geez, how’re you doing that?”

Sarika, suffering from a particularly bad headache, said nothing.

“’Cause that whole foresight thing, god, think of how you could use that if you were a player!”

This comment was worrying enough that Sarika made an effort to look up at Turaine. The recruiter laughed at her expression. “Aw, c’mon. You take everything too seriously, man. You’re much more useful as a recruiter, believe me. Why don’cha relax a little, huh?”

“Sorry,” she muttered, staring back down at the tracker in her hand. “It looks like he will come here soon.”

“Ah, great!” said Turaine, apparently completely nonplussed about the idea of confronting someone who had managed to take care of two squads at once. “Watch and learn, Rookie. Then you’ll be able to do more than sit around and see future things.” With a swagger that not very many would be able to pull off, Turaine pressed herself against a shadowy wall and prepared. Sarika herself stood up and got ready to hide, but suddenly stopped.

And stared.

A few seconds later, Marcus plowed into the alleyway, almost crashing into a wall as he tried to swerve too quickly. The next second, Turaine swept a foot under him so that he fell over and crashed to the ground.

Her cattle prod hit the ground, though, as he rolled away quite quickly, and straight into Sarika, who had simply stood there the whole time. Though, of course, having been rolled into, she fell over like a sack of feathers. “Sorry!” she yelped.

Marcus paused in his struggles to get back up on his feet. “…Sarika?”

It was actually a little difficult to recognize her now. Even though she didn’t have her headdress before, she at least had her clothing and her goggles. Now, she seemed somewhat normal. Besides all the feathery down covering her. It was certainly strange to see her, short cropped hair, bright wide eyes, in a uniform.

And then Marcus got electrocuted.

Turaine quickly kicked away the cattle prod he stole, as well as the large rifle. There was a vast number of other armaments, she was sure, but it wasn’t as though she had too much time. With a practiced hand, she twisted both his arms behind his back and handcuffed them. “Right! See, wasn’t so bad, was it? C’mon, let’s get ‘im handed in. If we hurry, he can get in on time for the next Welcoming Ceremony.”

“…You need to let him go.”

Sarika had picked up the Retribution. It was a bit too heavy for her, though, and she couldn’t really hold it up very well, considering that an unsupported wing couldn’t do much holding at all. It wasn’t too hard for Turaine to simply walk over and take it away.

The recruiter stared at her, and then looked at Marcus. “…You know him, then. Oooooh Christ, you know him. And you don’t want to turn him in and you’ll feel guilty and you just want to let this one guy off the hook, nobody else, you promise, just one guy.”

Turaine rubbed her head. Sarika only stared.

“Forget about friends, Rookie. You didn’t take this job just to let friends off. Sure, maybe one day you’ll find yourself nabbing people you know, but y’know what? It was gonna happen anyways. Even if we let him go, someone else’s gonna turn him in, see? So we might as well get the bonus.”

There were a startling number of things that Sarika found she was okay with. But this one…

Turaine tapped her lightly on the head. “Suck it up and act like a professional already.”

Sarika mumbled out a “’Sorry.’”

“And stop apologizing all the time! C’mon, help me carry him before he wakes up or something.”


Everything was going smoothly. Everything was going smoothly. Goddamn was everything going smoothly.

Maurice had never let go of the briefcase even once, just to prove how smoothly everything was going. It was going smoothly as hell. Yes. Awesome.

Maurice did wonder what was in the briefcase, but he was smart enough to know that he shouldn’t question things. Though he couldn’t help but think it probably wasn’t a good idea to be around when the briefcase opened…but he was ordered to be there. It’d be risky to not follow the directions to a T. But it also seemed incredibly risky to stick around.

This thought process was just simply circular. So Maurice simply did his best not to think about it. Though once in a while the cycle would simply start anew. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped.

As he was thinking about how he shouldn’t be thinking, he bumped into something rather leafy. It scratched at his face as it whirled around quickly, furiously, and as he rubbed at the cuts, it lashed out at him. Pushed him over. Shoved him into the road. And the strange thing was, the more it did that, the more he couldn’t feel it, until he collapsed in a heap, ready to sleep.

And then a truck hit him.

The floating plant left and immediately forgot about him.

The briefcase, though, never left his hand. He would’ve felt vaguely proud of that, perhaps.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.


Vernon was not the kind of man that anyone would in normal circumstances fear. He was short, he was fat, he was balding. He was middle management and he worked for Deathball Inc. He was a human resources manager, and in this line of work that meant more than hiring and firing employees. He was in charge of recruiting. That is to say he was in charge of finding people capable of abducting innocent people and sending them to their certain deaths. Once you were in Deathball there was no way out, even if you proved to be good at it, you would be there until you made that one fatal mistake and died. Vernon was in charge of creating incentives for regular loving citizens to nominate a member of their nearest and dearest to participate in the games.

A lesser man might have had issues with this job, might have balked at the things he was expected to organize. But Vernon was middle management through and through. He did his job and it was not his problem that your significant other/family member was going to be brutally killed for the amusement of the nation. He took a pride in the job that he did and it was rather distressing that he was receiving reports that one of the new recruits had escaped. This was unprecedented. This was unacceptable. This was an embarrassment to Deathball. How could anyone ever take them seriously again if some thing was able to escape their custody? It had to be found. In his little office in the building adjacent to the Deathball Stadium, Vernon bellowed orders to every recruiter in the plant’s proximity.

His orders were simple. “Bring in that recruit and if you fail to do so you can expect to be playing Deathball in its place!”


Reudic floated casually down the street, his attention not on the world around him but on the fevered ranting that was going on inside his own head. He was all powerful, look how he could reach out his tendrils and end the lives of these meagre humans, so weak, so pathetic. Or if he deigned to spare them they could easily be drugged; laced with his own special chemicals that would illuminate the truth of the world they inhabited, show them the folly of their complacent lifestyle and Reudic’s unquestionable superiority. Either way his progress down the street was marked with a trail of bodies, corpses and those who had merely collapsed as they struggled to cope with the ideas being forced onto them by Reudic’s toxins.

It was surprising, or it would have been surprising had Reudic not been so lost in his own maniacal monologue, that there were no screams, no people running for their lives. There was a palpable air of panic amongst the people who remained on the street, but no outward vocalisation of this fear. The people of this city had long ago learned not to draw attention to themselves for fear of being entered into the games. Bystanders watching the Viridoflorian’s quiet rampage did not turn to run; they simply moved at as brisk a pace as they dared into the nearest building and closed the door tightly behind them. Where someone found themselves locked out of all nearby buildings they tried to run in the moments before Reudic’s vines found them and ended their pathetic existence.

There was a screech of tyres as a pair of vans, black with tinted windows and the Deathball logo emblazoned on the sides, swerved onto the street one after another. Moments later a third was rushing up the street behind him. The vans almost seemed synchronised as they skidded to a stop a couple of metres from the plant, skidding as they cornered tightly in an attempt to block off as much of the street as possible. Used against anyone else it might have been an effective tactic, but it very quickly became apparent that Reudic could easily float over the vehicles.

The van doors slid open and a couple of worried looking recruiters emerged from each; three humans, one reptilian with laurel green scales, a woman with brittle amber skin and an elongated head and a heap of viscous amethyst goo. They were all wearing the feared grey recruiter’s uniform and in their hands/claws/wedged into their goop were heavy duty electric prods. They exchanged nervous glances and without a word darted around their own blockades to pursue the floating plant. Reudic snaked some vines in their direction and before they had time to react one of the humans was hauled into the air by his neck. He struggled pathetically for a moment, managing to jab at Reudic’s vines with his prod before they twisted his neck and flinched away. A cry of pain escaped Reudic’s mouth fruit.

The pain forced Reudic to focus; these insignificant things had more bite than most and they needed to be taught that they could not stand up against their god. He dodged their distant thrusts, swept the amber skinned woman off her feet whereupon she broke into chunks upon the concrete floor. Moments later a small swarm of bees emerged from her broken body and flew quickly away. The reptilian tried to get in close and for her trouble she found herself impaled upon one of Reudic’s barbed vines. The remaining recruiters hung back a little more after that. One of the humans glancing around as though he was ready to flee the scene, was rather suddenly aware of the approaching civilians, their bodies gashed from where Reudic had touched them, their eyes staring into the distance.

“Leave him alone!” One screeched as he flung himself at the hesitant recruiter. He attacked with primal fury, teeth and nails clawing and biting at whatever exposed skin he could. His mind was clouded over, his logic hazy ever since Reudic had slashed him with a vine; all he could feel was the overwhelming compulsion to protect his new lord from his persecutors. In moments he was joined by a number of other drugged civilians and the screams of the dying recruiter finally broke the eerie silence of the street.


Sarika was slumped in the passenger seat of a Deathball recruiter’s van. In the seat next to her Turaine was talking, largely to herself, about some of the tips and tricks of the trade. Behind them there was a barrier designed to separate them from their recruits while still allowing them to see what was going on back there. Marcus was still unconscious handcuffed to the metal bench and sitting opposite him in a resigned silence was a creature made of sharp angles and unnecessarily pointed accents. His skin was a deep demonic red and his eyes were like that of a lizard.

Sarika stared into the middle distance and let Turaine’s words wash over her. She could not bring herself to care about anything that the recruiter had to say. She could barely bring herself to care about the battle she was in any more. She felt empty, completely drained by the series of ordeals that had comprised the last couple of hours. She just wanted to stop; to just be left alone for a while, to have a moment where she did not have to worry about people killing her or the prospect of potentially killing them. But no. This was not to be. Evidently something had happened.

Sarika felt the vehicle speed up as Turaine put her foot down acting upon some orders that she had missed. She consulted a panel set into the dashboard upon which a map indicated a flashing red dot a couple of streets away. No matter how distant she was, she could not help but notice the eagerness in her new companion. Turaine was pretty confident that this thing that everyone had been sent to apprehend was going to mean a major bonus for whoever brought it in, and she was pretty confident that person was going to be her.

The van raced towards Reudic’s location, at one point taking a corner upon two wheels in her enthuasiasm. Turaine only slowed down as she turned onto the street where Reudic was. The trail of bodies that he had left behind was enough to give even her pause. Somewhere in the middle of several empty recruiters’ vans there was Reudic. He floated lazily admist a circle of corpses and citizens who were upon their knees praising him. Sarika sat up, momentarily removed from her melancholic fugue by the sight of the plant. She might have expected to hate him for what he had done, but again she could not bring herself to have an emotion so strong.

“Hey, rookie…” Turaine’s voice betrayed her growing uncertainty about the situation they were walking into. “Do you think you could use that future vision, get us some idea of how this is going to play out?”

Sarika wordlessly obliged. In the future Reudic was still floating there, and there amongst the corpses there was a new one, that of Turaine. That wasn’t really all that surprising; you didn’t need to be able to see the future to work that one out. What was surprising was that she saw herself standing in front of Reudic engaged in what appeared to be a polite, if tense, conversation. She didn’t appear to be uncontrollably swaying like she had been when she’d been affected by his toxins previously, or kneeling at his roots like the others that surrounded him. Then something happened that really took her by surprise. Within moments she was rushing out of the van. The “Wait here.” to Turaine was almost an afterthought. A twinge of pain in her temple indicated the future had been altered; Turaine was no longer dead. She quickly walked towards Reudic.

“Sarika!” Reudic greeted her happily. If he had been a human such a greeting would have been accompanied by a disconcertingly wide grin. “Have you come to greet your new god?”

Sarika had her mouth open to speak and then paused, blindsided by Reudic’s ambition. She was for a moment simultaneously insulted on behalf of her gods and amused at what was clearly a hopeless pipe dream. Ultimately she found she didn’t particularly feel either and she continued. “Reudic, I understand that this isn’t you.”

This time it was Reudic that was blindsided. “What?” was his meagre response.

“This is the darkness from the castle.” Sarika replied. “It’s been controlling you, but you can fight it off, I saw it leaving you.”

There was a long silence.

sheliesshetriestotrickyoutriestomakeyoudoubtyourow ndivinepurposedestroyhermurderherripherpeicefrompe ice

Reudic felt like he was waking up from a dream, the logic that had seemed so clear and certain at the time was falling apart in the cold light of day. What had he been doing? Aspiring to be a god? That was not what he wanted, not what he stood for. Before this battle had occurred, before he had accidentally downloaded a wealth of information on the lifestyle of these wretched humans, he had had no concept of a god. He had since decided it was a lie that humans told themselves to feel better about the cruel nature of the world. In Reudic’s opinion the majority of human culture that he had become forcibly acquainted with was just that; lies to cope with a harsh world. It was why they were weak; because they could not accept the world for what it was, because they had to sugar coat it with fairytales and stories and gods and pathetic morality. It was that he saw the world how it really was that made him strong, and it was that fact that had for a moment caused him to believe the little lies the darkness had been feeding him.

youarethenightthedarknessthattheyfearembracethatem bracethepoweryouhaveandshowthemoncemorewhytheyshou ldfearthiscolduncaringworld


Sarika took a step backwards as a cloud of darkness was expelled from the plant, it hung in the air for a second before it was gone. There was a hesitant silence for a couple of seconds in which Sarika isn't exactly sure what is going to happen next. “Thank you Sarika.”

“You should go.” Sarika said. “Behind me there’s someone who wants to take you off to play some kind of death sport, and I don’t think Marcus is going to be pleased to see you, even if it wasn’t exactly you who killed Lillian.”

“No.” Reudic replied after a pause. “It was me. The darkness made me do some things I do not believe in, but not that. Lillian was weak and she did not deserve to survive, so I did not allow her to survive.”

“…oh.” Sarika was crestfallen. “I thought…” she trailed off.

“You are weak too.” Reudic replied. “But I will allow you to live this time because you have done me a favour in helping me reclaim my mind.”

Sarika didn’t know what to say in response to that, and so somewhat hesitantly, she turned to leave. She walked back to the van where Turaine was waiting for her.

“Well?” the recruiter asked.

“We should go.” Sarika replied. Turaine was reluctant, but with a sigh she reversed the van and started towards the Deathball Stadium. Maybe she’d be able to claim they were not in the area at the time?


In a new mind the darkness lay dormant for a moment and scoffed at its lack of ambition. Why settle for the mind of a plant when it could have anyone in this shiny new world?

fyck phytybyckyt
Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by GreyGabe.

Once again, Marcus was wishing he had his helmet. If he had, Sarika’s little friend wouldn’t have been able to get the prod into the back of his neck, he’d still be free, and his head probably wouldn’t be ringing like churchbells.

The headache didn’t do much to help his mood, which could only be described, currently, as “murderous.” It was all kind of a blur for a few minutes after he got shocked. He vaguely remembered being thoroughly searched and then loaded into a vehicle, and then it all went dark for awhile.

Now he could hear the other woman talking in the cab, her voice muffled and rendered unintelligible. Marcus could see only a little through the reinforced glass window. He tested the handcuffs they had restrained him with, finding them surprisingly solid. He glanced up at the van’s other passenger.

“Don’t suppose you have some boltcutters or a plasma torch on you?”

The creature regarded him silently and without blinking.

“I’d settle for a nail file.”

The creature’s expression shifted ever so slightly, but Marcus wasn’t quite sure what it was trying to convey.

“No, you’re right. I’d never file through these in time to escape.”

The creature shifted its gaze away from him, to stare at an empty section of wall.

The vehicle pulled to a stop for a while, and Marcus strained to see out the front of the vehicle. From his angle, he couldn’t see much. Some vehicles and… Reudic!? Marcus stood as far as his handcuffs would allow. Reudic was just floating there, surrounded by people who seemed to be kneeling in supplication. The vehicle shook slightly as someone exited, and Marcus sat back down. He pulled at the handcuffs as hard as he could, trying his damndest to break free. It was no use. These things were designed strong enough to hold someone even as strong as him. He looked up at his new friend once more.
It shrugged its two pointy shoulders and blinked once.

Marcus nodded. “Ugh. Tell me about it.”

A minute passed. And another. Whoever had exited the vehicle climbed back in, and a few seconds later they were on their way. What had that been all about? Not that he had particularly wanted to be locked, restrained and unarmed, in a small place with a psychotic shrubbery, but he was surprised they hadn’t at least attempted to capture it. Lacking anything better to do, he worried at his cuffs once more.

An interminable amount of time had passed as he sat on his bench, occasionally attempting friendly conversation with Frank (That’s what Marcus had named him. Frank didn’t seem to care one way or the other.) before the van once more rolled to a halt. Marcus decided—for the time being—to go along with this. If he escaped, he’d still have to deal with “recruiters” harassing him at every turn. If he escaped. He wasn’t optimistic about that happening, anyway. His hands were bound, all of his weapons and equipment had been taken, and it was obvious he couldn’t trust Sarika to help him. Hell, Marcus felt a fool for trusting her as far as he had already.

The back doors opened. He blinked as bright lights hit him from outside. Not the bright light of the sun, however… the light shone from brilliant, flat panels, installed into the roof of the parking garage they were in. The recruiter sent Sarika in to unlock their cuffs, while she stood at the ready with her prod. Sarika muttered an apology as she freed his hands, and then recuffed them. Marcus sneered. If she was really sorry she would have fried the recruiter, freed him, and given him back his stuff.

He quickly took his bearings as he exited the vehicle. The parking garage was huge, with decently high ceilings, and packed with almost identical vehicles. The sea of black vans restricted visibility somewhat, but armed guards were stationed to discourage escape attempts. As his captor gave him a shove in the general direction of the entrance, he directed a withering glare at Sarika who, appropriately enough, withered. He wasn’t sure just what he might do if he could free his hands, but his handcuffs made that a pretty moot point, for now. It didn’t stop him from glaring, though. It didn’t help his temper any that she was carrying all of his gear. So close, and yet so far.

“Eyes front, competitor.” The woman jabbed the prod down into the small joint in the back of his knee, giving him a shock. It wasn’t quite as severe as the shock he had gotten earlier, due either to his thin under-armor or her dialing back the voltage, but it was enough to elicit growl of pain and his momentary obedience.

He decided he knew exactly what he was going to do to that one if he got his hands free.

“Don’t know why yer lookin at her all nasty, anyways. It’s her job. Better her than somebody else ya don’t know, right?”

Marcus pulled a Frank, and held his tongue.

“Hmmph. Whatever. Probly wasting my breath. Just keep moving.”

The entrance was somewhat… underwhelming. No terrifying statuary, no sounds of tortured screams from within, no bloodstains, not even a hastily scrawled sign that read, “Welcome to Hell.” Just simple, double metal doors, flanked by two guards. The doors had the words, “Contestant Processing” stenciled on them.

One of the guards nodded to his recruiter. “Just two today, Turaine?” He looked at Marcus appraisingly, and looked up at the other fellow appraisingly. “Hmmph. Obviously, neither of these is the one there’s been so much fuss over. Seems like the cash on offer for that big shrub would have you all over it.”

Turaine shrugged nonchalantly. “This couple was enough of a handful as it is. ‘Sides, the thing sounds like a bitch to restrain. I didn’t want to have it eating my other catches before I got here.”
The guy chuckled. “Fair enough. Go on in. Slow day today.”

Within waited a large, sterile feeling room, with white tile floors, drab grey walls, and the same lighting panels as the parking garage. A large counter stretched across the back of the room, the area behind them separated off with windows of reinforced glass. Armed guards stood in each corner, with more patrolling a catwalk lining the upper walls. Marcus wished he had made a break for it in the parking garage. Out there escape would have been difficult. In here it would be impossible.

There was only one other group, of three recruiters and four prisoners.
Turaine was explaining to Sarika that this was only one of many processing offices, including ones that were off-site. They were never all used at the same time, but she said it was better to have too many than not enough.

Marcus and his imposing friend were led up to a waiting official, standing on the other side of the glass. A small grill was set into it to allow them to speak. The receptionist was small, balding, and very obviously bored.

“Which one first?”

Turaine pushed Marcus forward. “This one.”

The little man looked at him, and pulled up a computer display.

“What’s his team?”

Turaine pulled something from a hip holster and scanned it over Marcus’ shoulder. “Cutting Runners.”

This was quickly entered into the computer. The man looked up at Marcus. “Name.”

“Go to hell.”

The man glanced at Turaine, who promptly slapped Marcus across the face.

“Name,” the man repeated.

“I formally request that you proceed to forcefully copulate with yourself.”

Turaine hit him, harder this time.

The man sighed and typed something in quickly.

“Very well. Species.”

“Space mule.”

Turaine growled, and spat, “He’s obviously human.” To Marcus, she said, “Go ahead and keep up the funny little act if you feel like going out onto the field unarmed. And naked.”

Marcus rolled his eyes.

“Blood type.” The official had apparently ignored the by-play entirely.

Marcus sighed. “O positive.”

“Do you have any pre-existing medical conditions that could render you less physically able to compete on the level of the other players? Please note that the existence of said medical conditions does not excuse you from playing.”


The man again typed something.

On it went. Marcus answered (mostly truthfully) as he was accosted with a variety of questions, many of them seemingly pointless.

“Alright,” the man said, finally. He slapped a button on his display, and the tracking button on Marcus’s shoulder beeped. “Congratulations. You’re a Deathball player. Take him to final processing.”
Turaine gave Sarika some quick directions, before adding, “And don’t get soft, rookie. You can’t afford it. And if you try to free him, or something stupid like that, you’ll both get shot. Now go!”
Sarika began walking, and Marcus followed closely.

“Bye, Frank.” Marcus said, over one shoulder.

Frank nodded at him before stepping up to the counter.

Sarika led Marcus to a door, and they proceeded down a long, wide, well-lit hallway. It was slightly curved, and doors led off to either side. The doors on the right had signs hanging over them, displaying groups of team names. Armed guards stood at regular intervals, watching Marcus vigilantly.

A while passed in silence.

“I really am sorry about this, Marcus.”

Marcus grunted.

“I didn’t mean for it to get this far. I didn’t think there would be so many guards…”

Marcus said nothing, and Sarika lapsed once more into silence.

They entered a door, and climbed two flights of stairs before coming to the Cutting Runners area.
The guards stopped them, and one scanned Marcus’s chip. He smirked at something on the display and nodded to his colleague.
“Any personal equipment for processing?”

Sarika handed the guard the bundle of Marcus’s equipment, including Retribution. He set it down on a table and began sifting through it.

“Dear gods. Where did you find this guy? He’s armed to the teeth.”

Marcus interjected. “I was shopping for a new pair of slacks. You know how those sales crowds can be.”

“Well, we have to confiscate the explosives… and this… thing?”

“That would be a multi tool.”

“Oh. Keep it then. Anyway, you can keep your firearms, the crowds love that. Try not to mow down your own team-mates, though. Anyway, I assume you know how Deathball works?”

“Not really, no.”

“Well, basically… you’re going to have to find someone else to explain it to your because I don’t feel like wasting my time lecturing a jackass who’s probably going to be dead in the next couple of hours. Anyway…” He typed something into a nearby computer, “There we go. Break a leg. Or three. Your stuff will be given back to you before your next match begins.”
Just like that, his handcuffs were removed and the door in front of him opened up. And both guards subtly, but certainly, readied themselves to respond if he tried anything. Sarika watched unhappily as Marcus proceeded through the door without a glance back.

A sign on the wall declared this the Prep Room. A pair of young men in uniforms similar to those worn by the recruiters approached him with what looked like weapons. Marcus tensed and readied to attack.
“Whoa, easy there, fella,” said the shorter of the two. “They’re just paint guns. Perfectly safe.”

Marcus relaxed marginally and allowed them to approach.

“Got your own armor, that’s good. Saves us a step. Just hold your arms out to either side, please.”

Marcus complied as one man stood in front of him and the other circled behind. They both sprayed a perfect rectangle, one across his chest, the other across his back. Though it was black when applied, the paint suddenly changed colors to blue and gold, showing a logo in lime green (A fist clutching a dagger) against a pink field, with blocky, green letters up top and a number down at the bottom.

“See? Reacts to the tracker. Anyway, there ya go, ah… Goto. You’re officially a Cutting Runner now, number 55.”

Goto? Marcus looked more closely. Sure enough, his name was marked, in bold letters, as GOTO HELL. Who would have thought that guy had had a sense of humor?
“55’s a pretty lucky number.” The man behind him added. “Last guy who had it, Gopher Qorsilf, lasted five games before he bit it, and a full three of those with all his original limbs!”

“Wow. I’m honored.”

“Uh-huh.” The kid seemingly missed Marcus’s sarcasm. “Anyway, good luck out there, I’ll be cheering you guys on!”

“Golly, thanks.” Marcus continued on into, for lack of a better term, locker room. There were nearly two dozen men, women, and person-like entities here, most of them ignoring him. They all wore the team colors, some on fairly modern looking suits like his, some on little more than a metal plate strapped across their chest, and everything in between. Many of them looked nervous, and those that didn’t looked… roughly used. The room itself was solidly constructed, with metal benches, lockers, and showers towards the back.

One creature waved him over. It was tall, broad, and vaguely humanoid, with leathery skin and shiny black eyes. Its hands were as big as dinner plates, with three broad digits, and it was completely hairless. A wide, frowning mouth dominated its noseless face.

“Hello, fresh meat.” Its voice was raspy, but not threatening. “Welcome to Runners. Goto Hell, huh?”

Marcus sat next to him (he was fairly sure it was a him) and read the name on his chest. “Nice to meet you, Sonorznik.”


Marcus sat looking around for a moment.

“So… how do you actually play Deathball?”

“By not dying.”

“More specifically than that.”

Sonorznik looked at him, his frown deepening. “Wait, you are serious? How can you not know how Deathball works? Were you born in cave?”

“Alternate universe.”

“Fine. Deathball is simple. Each team has ball. There is other team. Kill other team. Take Cutting Runners ball to Cutting Runners goal. Try not to trip over bodies.”

“Okay. I’ve got a gun. Why can’t I just blow the other team away from across the field?”

“Proximity shields. Only deactivate when close to enemy. Don’t always work perfectly, though. So be careful. Oh. Watch out for wild cards, too.”

“Wild cards?”

“Teamless. Volunteers. Released periodically onto field. Run around field during match, kill whoever they can. Fans love them. Get cash prizes for scoring many kills, exempt from recruitment for a while. If they live.” Sonorznik smirked slightly at this. Or at least, Marcus thought it was a smirk.

“…Kinda wish I’d volunteered, now.”

This apparently struck Sonorznik as especially funny. He cackled, loudly. “You and me, both,” he said, after he’d wound down. “No. We get to play until they take us off team. In a body bag.”

Marcus sighed, closed his eyes, and tried to wish away his headache.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Drakenforge.

Karen found herself being stared down by both the contenders and the heavily armed guards that surrounded the room. There was even some sort of amphitheatre level above them, almost completely for the sake of the guards and whoever was dumb enough to want to look over the most well armed group of players. Karen seemed to be a new favourite, looking completely out of place if you ignored the massive sword, though for some of the players it was the sword they were focusing on. The races that spoke english marvelled that she had even managed to walk in the room with it on her back. One of Karen's stray thoughts wondered why the guards around this room in peculiar were different from those she had seen before.

“Listen up Rookie's,” announced a well dressed aviary humanoid from the amphitheatre, “A little bird tells me that some of you don't know how this game works! I don't know how the clutch you managed to accomplish this feat of ignorant bliss but I'm here to fix that right up.”

“Welcome to Deathball Championship, highest rated sport sensation this quadrant has seen in centuries. It has it all, action, tension and a rich and bloody history. Let's go over some details that only apply to us, shall we?,” By now most of the other creatures had started ignoring him, but Karen decided that since she needed to show at least some interest to stay in the game that she wouldn't just drown out his squawking.

“Each of you contenders are quite different from anyone in the other teams; you signed up. The other players didn't have the guts to do it, figuratively speaking since some of them literally don't have guts, and so you guys get some major perks. While we work in a prize for score system you guys even get paid for your 'contributions' to the game, should you survive anyway. The organizers and recruiters even give you identifications that exempt you from most recruitment teams, for a limited time at least. Each of you has no tie to any other volunteer so you're free to try and kill any other competitor you see on the field. Each of you should have a small machine that'll at least dampen the enemy fire from longer ranges, but your safety is absolutely none of our concern so don't count on it to save your life. While the teams usually get assigned colours and symbols to wear, you guys are fine as is. You'll leave when instructed to since you have no goal other than mayhem and misery, so don't try to score any goals out there but feel free to stop anyone else from doing so.”

“Are there any questions? Nope, good. Game starts in five so get pumped already, I've got money down on some of you wimps dying pretty fast, and a personal bet with one of the team managers that the new girl breaks down in tears before she kicks the proverbial bucket!”

He guffawed at his own remark and walked briskly out of the room. Karen suspected that it was herself that he was mentioning but failed to care. There would be no more tears from her in the game, that is, the battle. Even if she had to knock out every single opponent in the ring she would last until Reudic was dead at her feat, burnt to a crisp with each and every leaf, petal and vine reduced to ash.

Her attention was caught when some kind of anthem began to play. Several monitors inside the prep-room lit up a moment later and began broadcasting a live feed of the field. Karen began memorising specific points should see need places to catch her breath or ambush other players. She began checking on individual limbs and muscles, finding herself surprisingly light and flexible after the amount of injuries she had inflicted on herself. Her magic supply was less limited after managing to have a breather for the last while, and she was still enduring the stress of the berserk spell.

She watched the games progress out the corner of her eye, noting the obvious difference in skill the returning players had compared to newer players. She was surprised to see a familiar figure covering his teams assault on their goal, and the announcers seemed very interested in the man from another universe.

“What the hell are those recruiters doing, that noobie looks like he's some kinda space commando. He's not even interested in scoring he just keeps shooting people and I LOVE IT.”

“You think he's cool now human you should wait until you hear his name.”

“Is it like, Magnus Rockjaw or Spacegun Shootsalot?”

“Go to hell”

“Woah what, what'd I do?”

“Nah human, that's his name look it says it right here in print.”

“Oh... awesome”

Karen was unamused at their attempts at humour and just focused on the video feed. Marcus was backing his squad up pretty well, though Karen wondered just how he had managed to get captured in the first place. Though deep inside a dark part of herself briefly thought of using the game as an excuse to wound Marcus so that he wasn't a threat later on. Karen gave the thought no attention and locked it down. So long as Marcus didn't stand between her and Reudic, though he should have no reason to, she wouldn't pay him much heed. She expected him to do the same but she couldn't put much faith in that.

“Whichever newbie is called Karen, time to get on stage!”

When Karen approached him to go through a final check that she was who was next on the list she could notice that that the guard looked almost pained whenever he looked at her. She gave the bare minimal of responses before walking through the large shutters that separated the pit from the grounds. There were several places one could appear from in the grounds so that they didn't get instantly ambushed, though Karen knew the last one sent out had not lasted very long at all, though they had just fallen over and smashed into tiny little pieces which the announcers had found absolutely hysterical. If they made fun of her, Karen was going to make sure they regretted it.

When Karen stepped out into the enclosed dome the sheer volume of the crowd had managed to shake her down to her very core. She heard the announcers just barely over the massive speakers as they told of her arrival and gave out what little background info she had relieved about her character. When they laughed at the obviously fictional video game references and pitied her youth, she summoned a large fireball and sent it hurtling into a speaker, incinerating the material quickly. The announcers lets out a unified “WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT” over the remaining speakers.

The crowd went crazy in delight and even some of the veteran players were astounded. Even with the countless number of races this world held it was clear magic was not common to them

Is it said that the current city that Deathball used for recruitment is the melting pot of every race in the known solar galaxy. You wouldn't be able to walk down the street without seeing at least five different sentient species. It was one of the reasons it had been the most beneficial choice for candidacy as the Deathball managers would you, “Variety is the spice of life!”
Humans were not, as some of the contestants would expect, the social norm.

Sam Clover is human. He has no augmentations, prosthetics or even a single tattoo. Up until recently he had worked as a baker, the bakery in question having belonged to his family for a few generations. When the recruiters came to pick him up, he told them to come back when his shift was over. When they refused and attempted to use force they found out just how deadly bread could be in a pinch. Resourcefulness is what humanity excels at in this world and Sam Irving is pretty good example of it's effects. By the time back up had arrived for the first poor sods he willingly surrendered, but still refused to drop the blood soaked loaf on the grounds that it was “Not selling very well anymore, might as well keep it for the ride”

When he was signed onto the Dusty Vagabonds he told them everything they wanted to know, got his number and tag, left his bread on the bench and genuinely tried to win the match. It's rare for a first time player to actually do very much to further his, her or its team any justice unless they had some kind of criminal or military background, even then it usually accounted only in the number of deaths in other teams. But Sam was surprisingly different, he actually managed to score three times personally and give his team the best score they had managed in seasons. To him, it was just a sport. He wasn't at all angry or annoyed that he had been taken from his life and shoved into the game. His team mates didn't complain at any rate as he tried wresting the Cutting Runners ball from a Female Tryth, a race not unlike some kind of humanoid shark with hard scaly claws. While she was technically unarmed Sam was carrying a metallic bat and was pummelling her pointed head relentlessly. The ball itself rightly belong to them, but the more of them in a teams possession obviously meant more chances to score. He'd only managed to kill the first batch of recruiters and failed to actually cause any casualties in his first game, but his record finally grew as her skull gave way and her body slumped over his leg. What he hadn't expected was the grenade her team had forced her to hold, now tumbling gently out of her recently unclenched fist. He wasn't surprised, while killing your team mates was shunned to make sure the game lasted using them as scapegoats and martyrs was totally fair game. Sam's first instinct was to kick the ball back to his team before the grenade went off. He briefly wondered why it hadn't been to kick the grenade but hindsight was not one of his skills.

As he looked back at the fallen grenade and thought of how dying felt like a black shape appeared in front of him. It seemed to shorten a little and rise again after just a moment, and Sam noticed that it had an appendage now holding the grenade. He tried to get some kind of curse or expletive out just before it went off but was surprised to find that instead of a fiery explosion the grenade's top half just fell to the ground with the black powder innards spilling out after it. With the tension mostly over, Sam noticed that the black shape belonged to a darkly clad girl with a large hat, and in her opposite hand held a long blade. She quickly returned it to its sheath and stood over the recently deceased Tryth, failing to give it any real notice. Since he didn't see any team markings or armour Sam expected that she was a volunteer player. He didn't care how young or feeble she looked, she was armed and was an opponent, the gave dictated that he should just kill her then and there. Why she had stopped the grenade didn't matter to him as he raised the bat for another beat down. He tensed the muscles in his arms and swung his arms down only to fail to connect at all. His arms didn't stop until they reached so low that they stopped in reflex before throwing him off balance. He rose them again to throw another strike only to find that the bat was now about half its previous length, now ending in a perfectly angled cut. The girl was also now gone and his team was trying to get him to join them on scoring again. He tossed aside his now useless weapon and wondered just what kind of player he had met, if that creature had really been a player at all.

After managing to disarm the first person to attack her Karen had quickly used her skill set to vanish before he could throw a second attack. Now she was using magic to cling to whatever clear material was keeping the audience from experiencing harm during the match, and it was giving her a very clear view of what was happening on every side of the match. Of the five current teams, the Cutting Runners had a lead of two goals and three kills, with the last two teams not yet managing to gain points in either area.

She took a deep breath and focused on what needed to be done. She could easily ignore the scoreboard, though her name was in the corner under the current team-less players to keep score of kills. It was just and the first creature sent out at the moment, but she couldn't see where the star player was. So she stayed where she was, to the annoyance of the audience and announcers, right up until a certain object was launched into the ground from the top of the stadium. After it impacted Karen could see that it was some kind of rounded shell which had landed amongst several players, and each member seemed excited by its arrival. They fought over it for a time until an opportunistic player managed to pop the shell open and quickly made off with whatever had been kept inside. From her vantage point Karen could only see a grey shape with a green tube it its paws. It managed to make it back to its teammates current resting spot and seemed to show off what it had gained. She didn't recognise the team but they kept staring back up at her every now and then. It was only when she found Marcus firing rounds almost exclusively at their team that she began to worry.
However her delayed thinking speed had cost her as they threw caution and morals to the wind and fired their new rocket launcher directly at her. Movies and video games always exaggerated personal rockets as being slow to maximise the drama and pyrotechnics but in truth they travel extremely quickly. Karen barely had time even with her heightened reflexes to use an ability and flash out of the way before the rocket impacted of the clear wall. The force of her jump caused Karen's body to flip forwards giving her an upside view of where she had leapt from, but she managed to recognise the scene of carnage even with it facing the wrong way. The wall hadn't managed to stop the blast and at least 30 seats worth of viewers had taken horrible damage during the blast. The anger in Karen rose until it hit a barrier, ultimately never reaching her current consciousness. She was not angry nor scared by the scene owing to her magic influencing her emotions, but her sense of honour told her that something had to be done. She built five fireballs in mid-air and sent them spiralling down onto the creature that had fired the rocket at her, four exploded on the floor around him keeping him separated from his team with a wall of intense heat while the fifth detonated around his arms and chest. It wasn't enough to be lethal but Karen knew it must have been intensely painful. A very quiet voice gave an almost silent praise, once again not managing to cause Karen to truly notice it. She continued to fall but slowed her descent with a simple spell before her velocity caused her any harm.

Unknown to her the dark fog that had been forced out of Reudic's foliage had been floating around seeking a new host. Reudic had seemed like a great choice barely an hour before but it was not too unhappy with its current situation. It was free of the castle at any rate and there were plenty of weak minded creatures that it could bend to its will at any moment. It practised hesitation however and sought out a new host that could be easily moulded while retaining their strength. Of course the intensity of the violence of the current Deathball round attracted it, and it was there that the darkness found two familiar shapes, one of which was not fighting it's very faint whispers. Had it been capable of doing so it would have erupted with glee at the prospect before it, now it just needed a little bit of a kick to finally gain the leverage to take over the young body.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Pinary.

Lloyd was waiting behind one of the many billboards that looked down over the Deathball arena ("A2 Brewed Tea: Refreshment Is On The March") when nothing happened. It was a rather noticeable lack of something happening, and it set him cursing the moment the thing he'd been expecting didn't happen.

He kept up a steady stream of profanity as he packed his rifle up and started down the ladder. He couldn't decide what was worse: that the briefcase hadn't blown out the windows of the Corporate Box at the start of things, or that he had contingencies in place to deal with it. He'd been half-hoping that the plan would fail and he could just get back to doing his thing, but no, the local Lloyd had had to be thorough about it and come up with backup plans.

A key he'd picked up during a part-time janitorial gig at the stadium got him into some service stairs, and he took them down as fast as he could without drawing attention. There weren't many people walking around the back (just a few cleaners doing their thing and a recruiter or two on their way out), but he still didn't want to risk attracting too much attention.

The bottom of the stairs opened into a parking garage, and immediately in front of him was the driver's side of a grey pickup truck, a sheet magnet bearing A2's logo plastered on the door. It would've been his getaway vehicle, if everything had gone right. Instead, it was going to be taking him on a couple of errands; first and foremost, he had to see some arms dealers.

Without waiting around for even more things to go wrong, Lloyd jumped into the driver's seat, slammed the door, and started off, taking the truck out of there.


Sarika wasn't quite sure what to do now that Marcus had gone in and was presumably going through the final stages of preparation or whatever. The guards were giving her a look, so she obviously couldn't just stand around, but Turaine hadn't caught up yet, and she was the one with the keys for the van, which would make getting very far fairly difficult.

Looking around, she could only really see one way to go other than the way she came, and that was a nondescript door off to one side. She took a few steps towards it, and when the guards didn't move to stop her, she went the rest of the way, pulled it open, and went through.

She found herself in a dimly-lit stairwell, and after just a few levels, it opened into a parking garage. Immediately in front of her, there was a grey pickup truck, and she figured that it was as good a place as any to wait for Turaine.

It didn't take much waiting before she noticed the comfortable-looking sandbags in the back of the truck. She'd still be able to see the door from there, right? And what, was someone going to come and tell her off? No one seemed inclined to mess with people in her recruiter's uniform, so she could probably just settle in up there and wait in comfort.

It wasn't long after she found just the right spot that her mind began to wander. Marcus would be alright, wouldn't he? He was tough, he was used to combat and stuff. He could take care of himself in there, she didn't have any-

Without so much as glancing in the back, someone jumped into the driver's seat, slammed the door, and started off, taking the truck- and Sarika- out of there.


Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

Well, her only plan was to sit and mope, so it wasn’t as though being abducted was interrupting anything. But it was still awfully inconvenient. And actually somewhat terrifying considering that she was unsecured in the back of a truck whose driver seemed to be erring on the side of ‘reckless.’ The truck turned and she slid painfully to the side.

Okay, like hell she was going to just sit here quietly.

“Hey!” she yelled, banging on the rear window. Lloyd glanced to the rear view mirror and started slightly – Lloyd the manager immediately recognized the woman in the back as a Deathball recruiter. Lloyd the transnovel traveler immediately recognized the woman in the back as Sarika that righteous prophet bird woman and he didn’t really remember much else about her because she wasn’t very interesting beyond the bird-prophet thing.

Sarika also recognized him as that crazy guy that once derailed a train for reasons she didn’t really understand but also stopped her from committing suicide that one time, which she somewhat appreciated although now that she was thinking about that, it kinda made conversations with him awkward. But at the very least, he was an ally. She resumed pounding on the glass with some muffled pleads to slow down and let her off.

On the one hand, he wasn’t so pressed for time that he couldn’t pull over and comply. On the other hand, he really really wanted this over with already and the first stop wasn’t even that far off right now. So Lloyd shouted back something about just hanging tight for a bit and continued zooming along, and Sarika toppled over in the back and hit her head.

As she felt a dull ringing between her ears, she decided to just stare up at the sky for a moment as it rolled by. She dreamily looked for signs in the cloud. She wished that she wasn’t yet again being tugged along mindlessly. She realized that if she wasn’t, she would have just wandered around like a lost puppy. She wanted someone to tell her what to do but she didn’t want to just follow behind on a leash but she didn’t know how to know what to do otherwise. Maybe if the gods would just tell her. Maybe if she prayed –

She was the goddamn oracle. The people came to her when they wanted to talk to the gods. She didn’t have to pray. She shouldn’t have to pray. She just knew.

Then why don’t you know anything right now?

Maybe…she had lost touch with the gods. The spiritual stuff. Her culture.

But she had felt trapped, back where she was before. But obviously running away hadn’t solved anything. She needed to go another direction. She needed to delve back and remember a, a purpose, something that made her life meaningful or something.

So when Lloyd finally came to a stop, he found Sarika sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, head tilted slightly to the sky. She was definitely mumbling something to herself.

He simply left her there. If she didn’t want to get off, that wasn’t his problem. Unless she got in the way of valuable trunk space, then he’d probably have to shove her aside. In any case, she didn’t seem like one to get in the way or anything. She would probably jump at the opportunity to help deliver this radical justice anyways, or whatever. That was a vigilante thing, right? And she was one of those things, right? Right.

He walked inside.

Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

A young woman with alien toxins running through her body had been only too happy to fill her new god on exactly what it was the bird woman had meant when she had mentioned a death game. When he had asked for further information on exactly what this Deathball was and what it entailed, she had felt it odd that her god had had no concept of something that was practically omnipresent throughout her world, but attempting to pursue that train of thought was like trying to wade through a river of treacle with legs made of stone. It was not unpleasant as such, but trying to do or think anything that her god had not requested was just so much of a hardship that it was not worth it. It was just better to do as she was told and enjoy this blissful stupor. It was okay, she thought as she climbed into one of the abandoned vans at her new god’s behest, he would not allow anything to happen to her right? The girl put the van into gear and started to drive.

In the back of the van the girl’s new god, the Viridiofloran Reudic Otsaceae, rested. His mind was now clear of the influence of the Darkness that had made him want to pose as the god of these pathetic mortals, but he could not deny that having a dedicated follower like… whatever her name was, the girl, was useful. Survival was the highest good and throwing away a potentially useful tool just because she believed in something that he thought was foolish was not only foolish in of itself but also against what he believed in, no not what he believed in, what he knew to be true. He already regretted not killing Sarika when she had been standing there in front of him, vulnerable. He’d had the advantage, she was weak and vulnerable and so so stupid to come to the assistance of a competitor as she had done. He was thankful, but still, she ought to be dead. He contemplated taking a special interest in her, working to ensure that natural selection did not skip over her as in the manner it had so often with Lillian. But that could wait for now, he had something he wanted to do before their environs shifted once again.

The girl was not really in any fit state to be in charge of a motorised vehicle. She drove the van as though there were no other cars on the road, in fact it could probably be said that she drove the van as though there were no other things in the world. Large lazy arcs took them within inches of crashing into trees and at one point straight through someone’s front garden. It was only the fact that the drivers in the city routinely cave recruiters’ vans a little extra space and sheer luck that stopped them from being involved in a number of crashes. When they eventually reached their destination, a little shaken but essentially unharmed and without major incident you could have described such a feat as nothing short of miraculous, if of course you believed in that kind of thing. Reudic emerged from the van and looked up at the building that loomed over him; the Deathball stadium, but he had not come to compete.

Upon the surface the concept of Deathball had seemed to be something that Reudic could appreciate. It had appeared to be a forum in which natural selection was honoured, an arena where the strong would survive and the weak would perish and where all would perish eventually. The mere fact of its existence had, for a scant few minutes caused him to re-evaluate the people of this world, to contemplate that perhaps they did have an understanding of the brutal nature of the world they lived in after all. However the more he thought about it, the more the concept irked him. He came to realise it was not an altar built to their harsh world but a pantomime made of it. These humans had taken the fundamental nature of the world and tried to make a show of it, a piece of entertainment to appease the masses. It was beyond that what he had thought these people capable of, where he had simply thought them ignorant, here they made a mockery of life and death itself.

Reudic and the girl approached one of the many side doors that lead into the stadium and were stopped by a security guard demanding to know who they were and where they thought they were going. The girl replied that she was a recruiter who had just recruited this interesting and potentially very entertaining recruit and stand aside and let me get him processed and they were promptly let through. Or, well that was the plan. In actuality the girl could do nothing but sing Reudic’s praises, enthusing wildly about how he was their new god and he had come down to their world to spread his glorious word to the public at large. Reudic was forced to quickly grasp the security guard with one of his vines and inject a not inconsiderable dose of his toxin into the man before he could respond.

It wasn’t quite the stealthy infiltration that Reudic had intended but at least it got him into the building, and with a menacing if slightly groggy looking security guard following him around he figured people would be less likely to question his presence here. It was a reasonably successful strategy, helped in no small part by the fact that Reudic had seen fit to dispose of the girl after she had outlived her usefulness. She had sobbed so pathetically as he had squeezed the life from her. Such things don’t deserve the gift of life. The corridors of the stadium were mostly empty with most of the players being on the pitch or in the competitor lounges and fans and spectators crowded into the stands above. It was possible to get a not unreasonable idea of how the game was going from down here, just by listening to the cheers from the crowd as another player was brutally killed or some lucky participant managed to actually score a goal.

Even with the corridors as clear as they were it took some time to navigate through the stadium. If he had just been looking for a way down onto the pitch, a way to get into the thick of the action and show these humans how it was done, that wouldn’t have been a problem, there were after all multiple sections where new recruits were processed dependant upon their team affiliations and of course there was the volunteers. Reudic however had ambitions other than mindless slaughter. He intended a demonstration, a way to make his point and to show these people just what it was that they were mocking with their Deathball.


On the pitch above Marcus was adapting reasonably well to Deathball. He didn’t make much of an effort to grab the ball or make an attack upon the opposing team’s goal; his focus was simply on keeping his teammates, and himself, alive against the vicious onslaught of the other teams. Any downtime he had, when the other teams were focusing upon each other or when a momentary cessation of play had been called to bring on a new squad of volunteers, was spent scrutinising the security of this place. If the announcers were anything to go by he figured he was doing a pretty good job, not just at keeping himself alive but at the game itself, but despite this the words of Sonorznik rung in his ears. If he did not find a way out of his own making he would likely do this until he died.

It was during a brief lull, a momentary pause while the other teams fought over the ball, that Marcus noticed multiple gates opening around the edge of the pitch. A number of Teamless charged out onto the field, whooping and hollering firing their rifles up into the air in anticipation of the bloodshed that was yet to come. From one of the doors that was opening sauntered a pack of creatures that seemed to resemble some kind of cross between a tiger and a hyena with razor sharp claws and a hungry look in their eyes.

“Woah I didn’t realise we’d gone into Bonus Time already!” The surprised voice of one of the announcers echoed across the stadium and kick-started a confused murmuring from the crowd.

“Well Dave… the fact is that we haven’t…?” The other announcer replied dumbly. “Folks I think we’re having some technical issues down at the match control centre. If you could just bear with us while the problem is rectified.”

Less than a minute after they opened the doors all slammed shut behind the new opponents that they had released. Even the doors that had remained open throughout the match, those that allowed the referees and security guards to access the pitch, slammed shut, much to the surprise of the guards that stood guard in front of them.

“All you Deathball fans are in for a treat today.” A voice that was unmistakably Reudic’s was broadcast across the stadium. “Today we are going to premiere the all new Survival Mode. This is as tough as it gets. If you think it’s been hard so far you might as well lie down and die. Only the strongest will survive. There are no rules, no teams, no goals to score. Your objective is simply to survive as long as you can.”

In the confusion nobody had noticed the poles that rose from the ground, at regular intervals along the edge of the pitch. Suddenly they burst into life and a deadly red laser wall formed between each one, confining the contestants to the pitch and burning alive one security guard who had been attempting to force open the door he had until very recently been guarding.

“You’re only delaying the inevitable but, unfortunately for you and for all of us in life, it is your only option.”
fyck phytybyckyt
Re: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Originally posted on MSPA by Drakenforge.

Somewhere in the deep recess of her mind, Karen finally managed one cognitive thought, a realization so powerful that it tore past every magical induced limiter on her mind yet somehow keeping her primal survival urges in check.


When the plant menaces voice thundered through the loudspeakers Karen's body froze. Memories of anguish, frailty and mind shattering pain resurfaced into her psyche. Her grip on her sword tightened so hard that she threatened to cut her palms open with her nail while her jaw clenched and gritted enough to chew through iron. She could imagine it floating above a control panel, one thorny vine suspending a microphone in front of whatever vile mess served for its mouth.

Just the mental image was enough for her breath to catch in her chest. She tried to release some of the pent up rage but there just seemed to be no end to it. Every pore on her body seemed to be ready to burst in anger. Many players had also frozen to the spot, staring up at the red wall that entrapped them inside the stadium. Freedom had never meant much to some, however, and murder was just another day to them. At least five people were cut or shot down in the brief lull after Reudic went quiet. When one struck a blow towards Karen's face, she drew her blade and cut through his weapon and arm. She did so without hesitation; this was no longer a waiting game. Reudic was inside the arena, overlooking her. Though she could not pinpoint its exact location, she was not going to get revenge fighting it out underneath the cage of burning light that contained her. She dashed past the wounded fighter, combing her swords together to form her monster slayer and using the thick blade to deflect a barrage of bullets while she quickly moved from cover to cover.

It seemed so long ago that she would have tried to team up with Marcus. She knew he was around, and while they were both competent enough to survive alone she knew that she would have felt safer having just one person watching her back, there to pick her up should she fall. But now she had only one intent and until Reudic had perished she would not waver. She just had to find a way through a deadly wall of lasers.

She vaguely recalled why she absolutely hated futuristic technology and sci-fi.


Deep within the bowls of the stadiums industrial underbelly (or so the nefarious agent would refer to it) prowled a man on a mission. While waiting for any kind of signal and unusual turn of events managed to push him further ahead in his plans. Reudic wasn't the only one unhappy with the way this game was running, but containing the contestants was an obvious ploy for a Darwinian cause. Which is why this particular agent was finding at this particular moment that they were feeling particularly forgetful, but after coming all this way with a package so potentially crisis inducing they were feeling rather parched, and left the miscellaneous machine and engines behind as they decided that, yes, it was worth the walk to go to that lovely little café that would normally be beyond walking distance, but they could use the exercise and the weather was rather radiant.

Oh and the fact he'd just planted an explosive device that would cause untold havoc and potential death should he loiter around the close vicinity.


Karen drove her sword through the ground, testing out her options of escape. The blade easily tore through the fake grass and dirt layer, however a far tougher material was underneath. The dirt was probably an easily replaced stadium ground, while underneath was some kind of plate. It meant she was unable to dig her way out and decreased her number of ideas. The lasers weren't something she was likely to test out, if her magic couldn't stop them then the attempt would be fatal. She peered over the hastily formed stone wall she had constructed from a subclass of her base witch class. The veterans were easy to spot. With the rules being abandoned they had quickly destroyed the opposition. The volunteer players were the most violent, yet they had the worst lot of all. They were individuals against not only the teams but each other. Karen wasn't surprised to see that some teams had managed to band together, but one had already succumb to paranoia and at least three members had killed each other.

The young gamer felt the explosion before she heard it. With her experience with exploding spacestations and crashing dimension travelling trains she had learned to be wary of any sign that the ground beneath her was about to explode, spin upside down or vanish completely. She quickly used her magic to rise several sections of earth into a haphazardly rough series of columns that she ascended with a quick flurry of leaps. When the vibrations escalated into what felt like a full earthquake and the resounding boom threatened to shatter the protective glass around the stadium Karen was already high enough to avoid any underground eruptions of flames or shrapnel. But the arena did not explode as she had expected, but while the security and management of the Deathball tourney had already been in disarray they seemed even more flustered. Soon after the lasers containing them inside the field gave up and died. With the red wall of beams gone Karen could once again see Reudic's lair, and the floating tangle of vines that had thought itself safe in the skybox. Her right leg began to twitch uncontrollably. She had to kill him, and overkill was looking like a likely style to use. She knelt, feeling the muscles in her legs tense over and over again, giving her the sensation that she was a spring coiled and ready to let loose. With that image in her mind the magic took over and she vaulted high into sky through the open roof of the stadium.

She spread her arms out, forcing the magic through her open palms and condensing the mixtures of spells into a dark mess. She didn't care if her limitless style of magic was unstable, without a base game or set of rules to follow her magic was only limited by her strength of will. She meant to perform the cliché, one rage induced blast that would reduce Reudic and the room it inhabited to ashes, if even those remained. Her mind raced as she urged the magic to collect faster, faster, faster.
The necessity to kill, no, destroy Reudic filled every possible thought she had. She didn't even realise that there was something else in her mind, something dark and alien, until it was far too late to stop it.


Finding a new host had been easier than the cloud could have ever anticipated.
The problem was timing. The mind was weakened, a self inflicted ailment meant to empower her body. The cloud recognised the body, it's almost inhumanly powerful muscles, the mind that could overwrite the laws of reality of both this world and the clouds own. The dark could feel her intention; her strive to kill it's last host. She was pained, when the young girl had perished this sword user had anguished and been broken. The dark would fix all this.

When the red wall vanished, and the girl leapt into the air the dark could barely count its own blessings. She was in reach. She was fragile.

She was almost willing to gain the power it promised without even recalling what it had previously caused. It promised strength, power, dominance. She wanted all of this. And it would give it to her.

And it would use them all to destroy the interlopers, to avenge its kin, and to return to its world.


You must destroy it, but you must let it know defeat.

Kill the followers. You know who they are. They are all that would look at you with fear.

For the innocent do not fear the hero.

The hero destroys the evil.

They are all evil.

They will die.

Karen did not question the truth in her mind. Reudic was a creature of manipulation, nothing was too underhanded or cruel for it to avoid. She tried to think of how she knew that it had managed to indoctrinate and enslave the populace but her train of thought just seemed to lead elsewhere. But she had to kill Reudic, that was all that was driving her anymore. Its followers were first. While her body slowly floated back down to the stadium grounds she felt the magic flowing even better than she had known possible. She was empowered, so much so that she felt that even The Monitor would fall before her when she challenged it. Karen could feel the stares people gave her, not able to pin the paranoia down she could only believe that there were monstrous elements in these seemingly innocent gazes.

The dark skinned giant that had held her interest once before was the first to approach her. His gaze was wavering whenever he tried to look in her eyes. Karen hesitated, a brief lull in her hatred as she tried to remember just what had intrigued her about this evil creature before, but it quickly passed. She raised one hand, overflowing with whatever dark magic she had felt necessary to destroy her foes, and just let the pent up energy go. It felt very satisfying to her, like a great weight had been lifted from her mind, and she quickly turned her head from the carnage her powers had caused. She was a hero, it was all for her cause. Maybe she'd even gain another level up from this. Yeah, kill the followers, then move on to the boss. It made complete sense. It was what she did countless times before.


Marcus's blood ran cold when the giant's headless corpse flopped to the ground. It wasn't just the guy's head that Karen had obliterated, a small crowd had gathered around the reigning favourite and half of them had just been mutilated in the blast. It was like something out of a sick comic, too much gore and magic and monsters and yet it was right in front of him. The blast had passed through six well armoured men before it hit the field boundaries, yet it had passed through that like his gun would have shot through paper. A large portion of the audience stands was no completely missing, a large hole showing the outside city minus chunks of office buildings showed through the dripping maw that Karen's magic had left.

She wasn't right. Karen had never been especially imposing before, stalwart had been the best she could ever pull off with her antisocial approach. But know just being near her brought a chill to his bones. Whatever had made Karen turn into a murderer, when the whole game Karen had taken a non-lethal approach to defeating her foes while Marcus gunned down any threat had also changed the girl into something inhuman. Her once red eyes seemed almost evil now, an insane grin was also plastered onto her face. Marcus didn't know what unsettled him more; the fact that Karen was now able to kill anyone or anything that stood in her way, or that he she looked like she had just enjoyed butchering a crowd of civilians. His grip on Retribution tightened as he side skirted to gain some distance between himself and the girl. He'd seen her magic before, giant fire monsters, some fireballs and the ability to heal her wounds had been an interesting repertoire at one time. But he had no intention of getting caught in front of her again if just raising her hand was enough to take out a tank. He had no great urge to kill Karen, she seemed just as poor a soul as Sarika at time. But he had come too far to die like an ant, and Karen had her limits. He just hoped that was still true, anyway.
Originally posted on MSPA by GreyGabe.

The explosion had shaken Marcus, but not nearly as much as the great bloody swathe of destruction Karen had just taken out of the spectator stands. Overall, Marcus felt like the thing to do was to stay out of Karen’s way and let her get all of the crazy-murder-death-rage out of her system. Or wait until she tuckered herself out and could be easily subdued. Either or. Granted, it was an absolute shame that those violence-loving gore-fetishists this competition called an audience had taken such casualties, but Marcus wasn’t exactly shedding any tears over it. They came for over-the-top violence, that was exactly what they had gotten.

Karen was going crazy, killing pretty much anyone she could get her hands on. Marcus didn’t know what had caused this… maybe someone had drugged her, or maybe she had just snapped from all of the violence and bloodshed. Either way, it didn’t look like she was going to be talked down. And he wasn’t entirely sure he could safely take her down himself… that is, he had no doubt he could kill her, but doing it without being maimed or killed in the process? Unlikely. He could try shooting her in the back, but that hadn’t worked so far for the other poor saps who had tried, and were now laid to rest in about a dozen different places each. The more sensible contestants were running for it.

Hell, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that getting as far away from here as possible was generally a good idea. He could get out of Karen’s way, and warn Sarika and Lloyd that she had gone waaaaay off the deep end in the meantime. Or he could go after Reudic…

A bunch of people were trying to escape through the hole in the stands, but Karen was between it and Marcus. Instead, he began putting more distance between Karen and himself. As he did so, he noticed something interesting: A group of contestants (at least half a dozen), and a couple of security personnel who had been locked in with them, were working together to force open one of the security doors that had slammed shut. As he approached, they managed to pry the door almost up to waist level before it dropped back down with a vicious slam. Ignoring the hissed curses and appellations aimed at the door, Marcus nodded to a familiar face in the group.

“Hey, Frank.”

Frank nodded his spiny, crimson head, and bent over to once more make an attempt at the door. Marcus slung Retribution over his shoulder and moved to take a place next to him. The others, still muttering curses, took their places as well. It wasn’t like there was much else they could do.
Marcus strained as hard as his enhanced musculature would allow. Slowly, the thick metal door ascended, first a few inches, then a foot, up to stomach level, higher… It seemed like they might actually make it.

“Oh. There you are. I was wondering where you had gotten to…”

Marcus glanced over his shoulder, but didn’t let go of the door. Karen regarded him from a good distance away, smiling.
Marcus didn’t like that smile one bit.

“Are you afraid…? Interesting.” Her hand began to blaze with mystic fire. “Well, this is nothing personal, but I need the XP. I need to be as strong as I can when I face the Boss.”

She drew back her arm. Marcus looked up at Frank. Frank regarded him with what looked like fear.
Marcus came to a sudden decision. He let go of the door and ducked under it, falling into a half-jump-half-roll as he did. There was a chorus of curses and panicky, screamed denials as the door dropped back down, the others unprepared for someone to let go so suddenly.

Marcus ran from the room as the door caved inward with a loud boom, glowing red hot. Sorry, Frank. Marcus silently gave thanks that she hadn't used the same spell she had used to take out the big guy and the audience stands. Five inches of what looked to be steel had only just managed to stop that relatively small fireball. He couldn't help but wonder why she hadn't used her full power, though. Maybe she was trying to fight back against whatever had happened in her head? Or maybe she was just trying to pace herself for a long day of murder and mayhem.

Either way, he couldn’t be sure how dedicated Karen was to taking him out right now, so he decided to keep moving.
Marcus found himself in a long, familiar-looking hallway, that stretched off in either direction. It was lit by red lights set high into the walls at regular intervals, presumably emergency lights of some sort. One way looked much the same as the other. He arbitrarily chose to go left.

He’d been jogging along for a few minutes when he rounded a corner and found himself face to face with a group of security guards, who seemed to be as alarmed to see him as he was them. There was a tense silence as the group took in his presence. Then the two in front raised their prods while the two further back drew some sort of small, sleek-looking pistols. Retribution being slung over his shoulder, Marcus quickly drew one of his pistols and leveled it at the nearest guard.
She grinned at him. “Ha! You can’t fire that off the field! They fix it with a restraining bolt so it won’t work in here.”

Marcus glanced down at his gun. He didn’t see anything unusual on it. He fired an experimental shot into the ground a few feet in front of the guards. The loud report of his gun firing caused the guards to jump back, one of the pistoleros screaming and firing a wild shot in Marcus’s general direction. It missed by a wide margin. Marcus leveled his gun back at the leader and raised an eyebrow.

“Wha- but- they told us they put restraining bolts on your equipment! They told us that no competitor’s weapon would work off the battlefield!”

Marcus shrugged. “Listen. If you haven’t noticed, there’s some pretty crazy shit going on around here. I don’t want to die, and I’m assuming you guys don’t, either.”

The leader nodded slightly.

“Let’s work together. I watch your back, you watch mine. You know the layout of this place, I don’t. I have combat experience, and you…” Marcus looked meaningfully at the guard who had panicked, who frowned and averted his gaze embarrassedly. “What do you say?”

The leader mulled it over for a second, before nodding once more. There was an awkward moment as Marcus continued to stare them down, before he finally holstered his weapon. The guards followed suit and disarmed themselves, but didn’t completely relax.

The leader cleared her throat. “Okay. Well, if we’re getting out of here, we need to get to one of the underground garages and go from there. The security lockdown sealed off all the main exits, and that explosion’s caused a bit of damage on the lower levels. We can use our security clearance to open the backdoors, though. So, the way I see it we should loop around-”

“We’re not leaving. Not yet.” Marcus smiled grimly as she blinked in confusion. “I have some unfinished business with the thing that locked this place down.”

Marcus didn’t like it, but it seemed like the best decision. If he took out Reudic, they would be transported out of this city to… somewhere else. Getting Karen out of a major population center seemed like a good idea at the moment. Hell, maybe it would even calm her down. At any rate, he’d probably have an easier time with Reudic than with Karen, with the added bonus that he would derive profound personal satisfaction out of turning the rose bush into mulch. He wasn’t sure how he would take Reudic down without his incendiary grenades, but he would burn that bridge when he came to it.

“So, where’s the control room?”

“Look, we really need to get out of here! I don’t care what kind of business you have, we’re not getting killed over it!”

Marcus regarded her coolly. “Look, you help me find him, you can go on your merry way. Run, hide, whatever, I won’t stop you. Maybe you can even help evacuate some civilians on your way out. That is your job, right, protecting the people who come to watch this sick thing you call a game?”

There was some embarrassed coughing and mumbling.

“Uh-huh. I don’t really care. You can go and hide in a broom closet afterwards if you want. But if we don’t find Reudic, a lot more people are going to die.” Marcus laid a hand on the grip of his pistol as a less-than-subtle indication that “a lot more” could almost certainly be expanded to include them. “So. How do we get to the control room where he started this from?”

One of the other security guards said, “He could only have done this from the main control room. It’s several levels up from here.”

“Well. We’d better get going, then,” Marcus said, gesturing for them to take the lead.

RE: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
Marcus wouldn’t have called the Deathball security guards the best of company in an ordinary situation, but in a situation where he was coercing them into something they certainly didn’t want to do, they were decidedly worse. All dirty looks and shared glances. He was just glad that he was the one behind them and not vice versa.

The elevator was not working, so they had to take the stairs. And what an uncomfortable five flights it was. Five flights of silence as heavy as lead and the echo-y clanking of his boots on the damnable stairs. When was the last time he took a break? Did getting knocked unconscious count as resting? It certainly wasn’t restful. Steady, Marcus, you’re almost through this, don’t wear out now. Just bottle up your griping until you can release it all over that shitty plant.

And then…what? Regroup and find a way to get to the Monitor? That was Sarika’s plan. And he supposed it was his plan too, back when he made that cheesy-ass speech…yesterday? A few hours ago? But who was left now?

If the plant burned…it would be Lloyd, who was…weird. Karen, who was batshit insane at the moment and probably unwilling to cooperate. And Sarika. No comment.

Not a group that inspired confidence. He had worked in groups and he had worked alone. At this point, the situation was becoming one where he’d rather work alone, if possible. So then what? Was he going to just…play the game? He wasn’t going to sugarcoat it, he would really rather survive…but…

“Here’s the floor,” said one of the guards, sliding open a door. Marcus looked up, realizing that he had drifted off too much. He couldn’t afford to lose focus at this point. “So, um, you just take a left and – “

“Hey! What’re you scrubs doing?” a voice called out from the hallway. Marcus cringed. He definitely recognized the voice.

The unwelcome visage of Turaine peered into the doorway. “I figured everybody was escaping or – “

By the look on her face, she didn’t seem particularly happy to see him either.

“What’s a player doin’ all the way up here, huh?” She squinted at the guards. The leader met her, squint for squint.

“He wanted to take on the psycho messing with the game or something.” Marcus didn’t comment on the irony of the word ‘psycho.’ “So we led him up.”

Turaine stepped to the side so that she was fully framed by the doorway. In her hands was a heavy-duty gun that Marcus was certain she wanted to point at him. “Weeeeell, that’s just what I’m doin’ so you can just march him back down.”

“No,” said Marcus, pushing his way up to the door. “I happen to have a personal score to settle.”

Turaine leaned against the frame, casually blocking the way. “I happen to have somethin’ personal against the thing too. At this rate, he’ll put me out of a job.”

Marcus couldn’t help but think that his reasons were a bit more righteous. But he tried not to roll his eyes. “Look, I actually know a few things about this flying plant. Things you probably should know if you really want to fight against him. But if I’m not tagging along, I don’t see a reason to tell you.”

Turaine didn’t have the restraint that Marcus did, and her eyes rolled like a three-ring circus. “Alright, fine.

“So we’re just gonna go now,” said the security guards, and they did just that. Neither the recruiter nor the mercenary noticed.

“First of all, do you have incendiary weapons?”


First, there was nothing. The nothing that came with pushing everything out. Pain. Weariness. Emotion.

Then came the enlightening voice.

Sarika panicked when she couldn’t understand it at first, but then she realized that the voice was speaking in her native language, a language she had never spoken ever since she ran away and abandoned her duties no, no, there was another oracle. Stop. No negative thoughts. Breathe.

The voice was comforting. It spoke in words and in abstract. Was it Hora? Did her influence really seep through multiverses? Yes, even after so long, she could still recognize the goddess, c’mon, she was a freaking prophet.

She apologized. She laid her soul bare. She admitted that she didn’t know what to do as much as the next person. Didn’t know what was right anymore. She needed guidance.

She understood Reudic. She really did. His survival of the fittest philosophy. How it was perhaps, a part of the culture he grew up in. How perhaps Lillian would have been a burden, unable to live, how she would have been a waste of resources.

She didn’t agree with him. But was it wrong to kill him for that? Would it just be cold vengeance, murder for murder? Or maybe a result of her frayed nerves reacting out of fear, out of survival instincts? Was justice just a matter of imposing one belief over others, forcing them to comply, treating that as right until some other civilization came along to enforce their beliefs over the “barbaric” ones? No matter what, she couldn’t ever see Reudic being ‘right.’ But that was the point, wasn’t it? Justice was a matter of where you happened to be standing. Justice wasn’t real.

Hora made no effort to break her disillusionment. Yes, morality was all in the mind. But that doesn’t make it imaginary…

When Lloyd came out again, he found Sarika riding shotgun. “C’mon, hurry up,” she snapped. “We’re missing all the action at the arena!”

Under his load, Lloyd shrugged. It was probably best not to argue with the prophet. Though if he thought she knew what she was doing, he was sorely wrong.
RE: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
A little more than a year before all the chaos surrounding the Deathball arena, in a small Malaysian cafe (on Malaysia the planet, not in Malaysia the country), a number of native Malaysians were quite astonished by the presence of what was, to all appearances, a tourist. They'd never really seen one on their own planet, and while they were familiar with the concept, it'd never really seemed like the sort of thing that they'd see at home. Tourists went to places that were fun vacation spots or places with lovely scenery. Tourists didn't come to Malaysia, whose climate was so extreme that most races had assumed it was uninhabitable until the Malaysians developed spacefaring technology and politely informed them otherwise. Even after being welcomed into the interstellar community, no one really ever visited.

That's not to say that Malaysians were unfamiliar with tourists. They'd been trapped on an incredibly inhospitable rock for their entire existence, and now they had a whole galaxy to explore! Malaysian tourists were commonplace throughout the galaxy, and if anyone were to be an expert at identifying tourists, they'd be a Malaysian, and it didn't take an expert to peg the stranger in the cafe. He had all the traits most commonly associated with tourists, after all: he was very obviously foreign-looking (a human, of all things), he was wearing an absolutely atrocious shirt (Hawaiian, so named for its patterns echoing the Hawaiias nebula), and he was drinking a drink with a little umbrella in it (which, to be fair, was actually a device keeping him from alternately bursting into flames or freezing solid as the temperatures fluctuated by hundreds of degrees every few hours). This visitor was most plainly a tourist, on Malaysia, and it took everyone who spotted him a moment or two to figure out how to react.

For Lloyd Conrad's part, the experience of visiting Malaysia was an odd one. The locals were a rather telepathic race (though it was strictly a write-only ability), and one of their more interesting talents was their particular brand of camouflage: rather than making you unable to see them, they simply made you mentally not notice them. The upshot of this was that, on entering a cafe filled mostly with locals who'd never seen an off-worlder that wasn't actually off-world, he was subjected to the rather strange sensation of entering a mostly-empty crowded room. As the locals' shock wore off, he came to notice one or two here and there, but, by and large, the room had quite a lot of chairs he simply wasn't interested in.

He didn't find it particularly strange, though. He knew quite a bit about the Malaysians, and if it hadn't been for their abilities, he wouldn't have been there in the first place.


After loading a few armloads of goods into the back of the truck, Sarika impatiently tapping her talons and making a watch-looking gesture the whole time, Lloyd hopped in the front and started off almost immediately. "So, uh…", he began, not exactly sure how to put it, "sorry for sort of, ah, abducting you."

"That's not important right now," Sarika responded, all business. "We've got to get back to the arena as quick as possible."

"Are you sure?", Lloyd responded. "I've kind of got another stop to make first, and it's sort of an important-"

Sarika cut him off. "Fine, fine. Just make it quick, okay? We need to get back post-haste."

Lloyd did his best, wrenching the wheel around a lot, overusing both gas and brake pedals, and generally being an irresponsible and dangerous driver. (In the end, it wouldn't help them get where they wanted to go all that much faster, but it felt faster, which seemed important.)


Lloyd's Malaysian contact showed up right on time. He came in with his camouflage running full force (as one does at a clandestine meeting), and Lloyd might not have known he was there at all if not for the agreed-upon signal (a pair of small scratches on the table next to Lloyd's coaster). So as to not arouse suspicions, Lloyd finished off the last of his drink over a few long minutes, but once he had, he tossed a few universal credits on the table and left, his contact presumably following behind.

Once back in Lloyd's rented shuttle, the actual conversation began. It took more than a few minutes, and things got a bit heated, but it was a conversation about ideology and potentially-dangerous plots to overthrow major organizations, so such was to be expected. The upshot, however, was that they came to an agreement and that work could begin.


The second stop, it turned out, was a rather tall platform with a big satellite dish on top (presumably up there to get it above the skyline or something). There was a small building a the base of it, but for the most part, it was just standard tower-scaffolding all the way up. With a quick promise to only be a second, Lloyd hopped out of the driver's seat, grabbed a small package out of the back of the truck, and ran inside.

Sarika couldn't help herself, she was curious about what he was going to do. A quick glance into the future told her all she needed to know: evidently, he planned to detonate some sort of explosive in the building, sending the tower crashing down... right onto the truck Sarika was sitting in. Grimacing, she slid herself over to the driver's seat, and, with a bit of difficulty, pulled the truck forward by far enough that it wouldn't be hit.

About half a minute later, an explosion shook the little building at the base of the tower, and the thing started creaking down. With a crash, the structure landed in the street, missing the back bumper of the pickup truck by the sort of distance that made Sarika wish she'd maybe pulled ahead a bit more. (As irrational as it was, if she hadn't already moved back to the passenger's side, she might still have pulled ahead a bit further, just on principle.) Lloyd ran out of the building moments after, leaping into the truck and peeling away before the heavily-armed security guards behind him had a chance to get a decent shot off.

"Okay," he said, still a bit breathless, "that's done. Now, to the arena?"

"Step on it," Sarika said, looking determinedly out the window and wondering whether Lloyd was really as prepared as he was pretending he was.
RE: Intense Struggle Season 2! (Round 4: Deathball Championship)
It had taken a bit of time for Sarika to try to cajole Lloyd into potentially waiting a little longer before blowing the Deathball arena sky-high or whatever, and even then, she hadn't really succeeded, making the whole effort a bit of a waste.

“C'mon, do it for me?”

“We're not quite at that point in our relationship where saying something like that would magically convince me to agree with you. Also, part of me hates what you stand for,” he added, giving a meaningful glance at her grey uniform. Lloyd had not let the conversation detract from his goals and was currently hurrying off with a pile of worryingly bright explosives down one of the hallways that hadn't been locked down. Sarika struggled to keep up.

“I'm just saying, I don't want to die while going after Reudic. Preeetty sure Marcus wouldn't appreciate it either. He's in here, by the way.”

Lloyd shoved a shoulder into one of the double doors and grunted something that sounded vaguely thankful when Sarika pushed it open for him. “You're really bad at this,” he commented, making it sound like a fact rather than an insult. Still, he made a little nod of concession. “It'll take a while to set everything up. But not long. Try to finish your business before then.”

Not even an estimate of time, huh? But Sarika just took what she could get and rushed up the nearest staircase, leaping up the flights as though she wasn't confined by gravity, steps speeding below at a rate that wasn't safe, especially for someone who was made up of a bundle of hollow bones and one really scabby shoulder that was starting to itch.

But she had to do this. She had to be quick. Hora had told her how everything was playing out, and she didn't have much time before someone acted before she got a chance.


“Okay, this is it.”

Marcus had debated whether to share all the information he had on the damn plant, but he knew that it wasn't a good idea to keep necessary shit from your (temporary) allies, no matter how annoying they were.

Turaine was dreadfully annoying. But he still warned her about the whole toxin thing and she gave him a grenade. Not incendiary, he couldn't help but notice. But she had pointed out, rather logically, that they were recruiters, not blow-everybody-up-ers, and it was already damn lucky that she could even get something like grenades for emergencies.

Both of them were currently perched on either side of the door to the control room. Turaine had one hand on the door handle.

“As soon as I open the door, both of us throw a grenade in and hope that it's enough for all the electronic stuff inside to catch fire and burn the plant up.”

It struck Marcus as a pretty shoddy plan, not to mention a completely anticlimactic way to deal with Reudic. But it meant that the both of them wouldn't be in danger of being drugged up and the grenades would at least destroy something important, removing control from the weed. But also potentially unleashing the terror that was Karen down below. And if it didn't work, they'd have to somehow deal with a plant in a stiflingly smokey room. Not ideal for two people without gas masks.

He still nodded solemnly, his finger already on the pin of the relatively primitive explosive, and paid close attention to Turaine's silent countdown before being confronted with the sudden sight of a room full of vines, his grenade rolling along the floor while hers arced beautifully above, the damn plant halfway turning around, right there, Lillian's killer right there and a monster, absolute beast who couldn't be allowed to live, too dangerous, he wanted to watch as it burned away painfully and then the door was slammed shut and Turaine braced herself against it.

A few seconds, there was a satisfying boom that rocked Marcus and forced him to steady himself against the wall and made Turaine jump away, shaking her hands from the shockwave. They stared at the door.

“Did we do it?” she asked, biting her lip, remembering the eerie circle of bodies she had seen surrounding the plant before.

Marcus was still here, so he was pretty sure that was a no. He was already starting to unholster a pistol on his way to the control room proper. Before he could even set a hand against the door, it burst open with a blast of heat and a mess of tendrils that bounced harmlessly off his armor. Turaine leapt back with a curse, fumbling with her own arsenal, but he didn't see her follow him as he ducked his head and jumped through the billowing smoke.

The room certainly changed during his brief glance at it. The panels had certainly exploded into flames, as Turaine had thought, but none of it seemed to have caught Reudic, unfortunately, and the plant currently hovered in front of the broken windows with a menace that was almost apathetic. It seemed unaffected by the smoke, merely flexing its vines in a way that reminded him of snakes.

Marcus covered his mouth with an arm and gripped his pistol tighter. He really wished he could just shoot it, but he didn't know the vitals of plant aliens (or even if plant aliens had vitals to begin with) and even if he did, his eyes were stinging from the constant smoke, meaning any accurate aiming was going to be right out. He could try pushing it into the fire below it, but that meant getting close to the thorns dripping with toxins that would reduce him to a gibbering mess, or worse.

Reudic reared up a few tendrils and Marcus raised his gun, fired a few shots, some whizzing harmlessly by, others lodging into the mass of vines and doing nothing more than jerking the body back. Reudic started to drift away, out the window, and Marcus shouted (or maybe gave a feral growl, he didn't pay attention) before grabbing Retribution and leveling it, or at least trying to without going into a coughing fit. The fire was starting to spread, licking at things that were potentially explosive when exposed to flames. He should probably be a little concerned, but he couldn't because it was getting away, he couldn't let it, not again, not passing up this chance, no

“Sarika!” he heard behind him, and that was surprising enough for him to turn around.

The fire had circled around him, and jumping through it was that familiar, lithe figure of the prophet. She stumbled from the leftover momentum, looking a little singed around the feathers, but not too bad. Her goggles were on her eyes again, making her look much more like herself than before, and despite everything, Marcus couldn't help but reach over and push her behind him.

“Stop,” she said, shoving his arm off. “I'm taking care of this.”

“You don't even have a weapon,” he couldn't help but scoff, pointing Retribution up at the retreating plant as though he were making a point. Sarika stood in front of the barrel. He frowned. “Move.”

“I told you,” Sarika said, her voice hard even as it worked to push through the smoke, “I'm taking care of this.”

And before he could make some harsh comments about one thing or another, about how it didn't matter who did the deed as long as it got done, about how she couldn't kill anything worth shit, Sarika turned around and shouted at the top of her lungs, “Reudic!

Surprisingly, the plant paused. “Sarika.”

Marcus couldn't help but let his grip slack. Did he miss something? When was polite conversation on the table?

“I've been thinking about what you said. About Lillian.”

Marcus narrowed his eyes. Hold up, what? Sarika had a conversation with Reudic? And none of them killed each other? Another glance towards Reudic revealed nothing more than more impassive floating.

“I have too. It was disgraceful on my part to let you live back then. You were weak. Are weak. You don't deserve to survive.”

That, at least, seemed to have affected Sarika a little. She took a long time before opening her mouth again. “You still let me go, though. Survival of the fittest isn't all you live by, Reudic. And you've learned a lot about society, right? Culture? You understand that people don't have to live by survival of the fittest?”

Marcus started eyeing the fire as he shifted to get a better angle on Reudic. But Sarika moved in his line of sight again. Damn her and her foresight. Couldn't she at least tell this really wasn't the time for a philosophical debate?

Reudic seemed to be of the same opinion, his tendrils already preparing to skewer her. “You say that, but you are entered in this competition as well. You have no choice but to live by this rule. It's the way of the world.”

People are the way of the world,” Sarika snapped back, somehow her voice still clear despite the amount of smoke she must be inhaling. “We make the way of the world! Do you really want to live like an animal, knowing all the advances society made by throwing away that rule? You've seen medicine, you know about art, you've seen transportation, roads, systems that are only possible through mass cooperation and Marcus, don't you dare shoot!

He almost dropped Retribution in surprise. Sarika was in front of him again, eyes blazing behind her goggles even as she was covered in soot, and how stupid could she get, turning her back on a cold-blooded murderer, someone who even admitted that it wanted to kill her? She whirled around again before he could think of knocking her out.

“Do you really want to live that way?” she continued as though she hadn't interrupted herself. “Like everybody's against you and you're against everybody? Constantly killing everybody who's too weak for your tastes until someone stronger finally comes along and kills you?

The mass of vines seemed to curl tighter around itself. “That's irrelevant. The world is what it is.”

“Maybe that's how you see it. But I still stick by my own morals. I still have compassion. I've got a sense of justice. And even though I think you did something wrong, you don't deserve to die, Reudic.”

What,” Marcus finally said, the smoke harsh against his throat, and he could swear he heard an echo somewhere in the hallway behind him.

Reudic seemed as surprised as a plant could get. “You're being ridiculous.”

“I just want to help,” Sarika snapped before straightening up and wielding a badge that would probably have more meaning if it didn't belong to someone else.

“Reudic,” she bellowed, and Marcus was reminded of his troublemaker years of yore, “by the authority vested in me as the chosen one of Hora, I am hereby arresting you for the murder of Lillian Finch. You have the right to a fair trial. If you are not able to afford an attorney, one will be provided to you by the state. Please give yourself up, or I will have to use force, and an additional charge of resisting arrest will be added.”