Zach wasted no time sharing his opinion.
"No. No! No. No, no, no, no!"
"Why the strong objection?" Scott asked.
"First of all, there are people in that battery - living, breathing people... er, well, technically they're not living and probably don't need to breathe but that's not the point. The point is, that battery is going to consume them if we turn it on again... um, it is off, isn't it?"
"Yes," Maxwell said, clearly bored of all the adults talking.
"Right, good. Anyhow, I'm not about to just use them as a power source when I promised to help them. Or at least try. And besides that, this Ymirhoggr has caused enough problems as it is, and I for one do not want to find out what it does if we actually provoke it by sending a soul-powered jungle gym after it."
"You're not tangible, though," Zom noted. "You probably have the least to worry about it of anyone here."
"It eats sanity! For all I know, it can eat ghosts too! Besides, do we even know where Ymirhoggr is?"
"Oh, that's easy," Maxwell said. "It's underneath the caverns over there. That's where its influence is strongest, you see."
"I can believe that," Zom muttered. "I just came from there. I was captured and enslaved by a cult of children who worshipped that thing."
"Enslaved?" Zach said, turning to his other self. "Wait, what exactly were you up to while I was in the city?"
"Oh, nothing much. First they tried to sacrifice me, but stabbing me in the heart didn't work too well. So instead they put a blood sigil on my forehead and commanded me. Then they tried to ambush Kargrek and Bellona and every last one of them died."
There was an awkward pause.
"Well, I'm sold," Will's voice spoke up. "However many dead people there are in that battery, the fact of the matter is that this Ymirhoggr is ruining the lives of living people. Those children were torn away from their families to keep this thing sated, had their minds twisted into following it, and then were simply killed for their trouble. What's to stop that from happening again?"
"I don't know," Scott said. "I suppose sacrificing the dead instead of the living is a step up, but the more I think about it, the less comfortable I am about it."
"Well, personally, if I were dead and had the chance to give up my soul to put an end to the shipments, I'd go for it," Will replied.
"I suppose I would, too. But they're not even getting a chance to answer the question for themselves. Or even a warning that they're being sacrificed!"
"So you want me to go into that city and tell them, hello, some people I know want to consume your souls in a possibly futile attempt to kill a nearly unkillable sanity-eating monster, please let me know what you think. I'm sure they'll be delighted about that."
"Look, we can argue all day about whether they'll object or not, but we'll never know for sure unless someone asks," Zom said. "And last I checked, you were the only one who could pay them a visit. Unless you think Simphonia will make a better ambassador."
"Oh, all right. But you'd better not turn that battery on before I get back!"
Zach popped into the battery, leaving the others to wait.
"This is boring," Maxwell said after a few minutes. "Can we ride the shuttle until he gets back?"
The moment Zach stepped through the window, a child in dark clothes screamed at him. Then the boy started waving his arms, and the next thing Zach knew, he couldn't move and the child was dragging him away.
Zach would have asked where they were going, but he couldn't speak either. It was just as well; he soon found his answer. The boy pulled him towards a large crowd of spirits, who were surrounded by similarly-dressed children; Zach could see Strassen and Luron among the crowd. The spirits in the middle were completely still, and one child seemed to be ordering the rest around.
"Boss!" Zach's captor shouted. "We found another one! He just appeared out of nowhere! Maybe he's the one who made that big beam appear that sucked up that building!"
"I told you, it's not Boss any more!" the leader cried back. "I'm the Grand High Prophet! Really, is it so hard to remember that?"
"Boss is quicker to say, though."
"Shut up! Ymirhoggr said to call me Grand High Prophet, so you're going to call me Grand High Prophet! Now quit wasting time and see if there are any other stragglers..."
The leader stared at Zach. Recognition slowly dawned on him.
"You! You're that traitor we couldn't sacrifice! What, you weren't satisfied with ruining our ambush, now you've followed us to wherever here is too?"
Zach didn't say anything, because he couldn't.
"Oh, right, binding incantation. One second." The boy made a few strange motions as he chanted. "There, now you can speak. And you have to answer my questions, and you can't lie! How did you get in here?"
"I just came in from outside," Zach was forced to say.
"What are you talking about? We haven't found a way out. Or figured out how we came in, exactly."
"There's a window leading out. It only works for me," Zach said. "Well, as far as I know, anyhow. I suppose it could work for the other ghost, the one attacking the ceiling up there, but I couldn't say for sure."
The Grand High Prophet looked upwards.
"Oh, that one. Our spells can't reach her. Not that it matters, she's not really doing anything. Anyhow, what do you mean it only works for you? Where is this place, exactly?"
"It's a city of dead people, somehow formed inside a battery that runs on souls," Zach answered.
"Oh, that explains how the last thing I remember before coming here is being torn apart by an axe," the boy said dismissively. "So what's this battery powering?"
"Nothing at the moment."
The boy glared.
"The spell says you're hiding something from me. Well, you can cut that out right now. What would it be powering if it were powering something?"
"A moving jungle gym."
The boy didn't say anything. He just glared. It was enough.
"...which some of my associates were planning to use as a weapon against Ymirhoggr."
"Well, we can't have that. Of course, I have no doubts that Ymirhoggr could crush your silly jungle gym, but I don't see why we should just sit around and wait for that to happen."
The boy chanted something, and Zach felt strange. He couldn't see anything, or hear anything, or feel anything.
Kaja was almost paralyzed with fear.
These two monsters had wiped out all of his comrades. Kaja was the last one left to stand against them. And even if he won, what if there were more of them?
Kargrek and Bellona were not so afraid. Yes, they had come face to face with the monster that the crazed children worshipped, but it was just one creature, and they were both skilled warriors. Even with the exertion of their last battles, they were still ready for this fight.
Kargrek raised his axe and began to charge. Bellona thrust out her spear, ready to strike the demon if it evaded Kargrek's blow. Kaja reached into his pockets, hoping the explosive he prepared would be enough.
And then, suddenly, all three stood very still.
The realization dawned slowly. Kargrek carefully lowered his axe, Bellona her lance. Kaja took his hands out of his pockets.
"What did I almost do?" Kargrek shrieked. "What did... what did that thing almost make me do?"
Kaja was only slightly less afraid, but he was determined not to let it show.
"I can't believe it," he said. "I thought I was home... that you were monsters..."
"We have to destroy the beast," Bellona said. "What it's done to us cannot be forgiven."
"You're right. We have to destroy it now. Something must have weakened it, given us our minds again. If we move fast enough, maybe we can destroy it."
"It's in the depths of these tunnels, I think," Kaja said. "Even deeper than we are."
The ground began to shake.
"Not for long, I fear," Kargrek said, rushing down a tunnel. "We need to hurry."
Bellona quickly followed, but Kaja hesitated.
Was he really ready to face this monster? All he had were a few herbs and his machine. Kargrek and Bellona were warriors, but he was not. True, he had fought monsters before, out of necessity, but nothing like this.
He stared down the tunnel, where he could still see Kargrek and Bellona running.
In fact, they didn't seem to be moving very far.
They seemed to be getting closer to him.
That line of thought was cut short as Kaja ran after them through the tunnel. Yes, of course he was going to fight. He couldn't stand by and let another world suffer as his own had.
Certain of his decision, Kaja felt full of energy. His frantic run, even with the heavy equipment on his back, felt effortless.
It was as easy as if he were standing still.
"It's waking up," Maxwell said suddenly.
"What? What do you mean..."
Scott's question was answered before he finished asking it. Something enormous burst out of the nearby caverns with a piercing shriek.
It was monstrous and bizarre. If pressed to describe the creature, Scott would only have been able to say that it had tentacles. He was quite clear on this point, because two of said tentacles were moving towards the jungle gym disconcertingly fast.
"I think that shuttle ride may be a good idea right about now," he said.
"Yes, I think that's our best course of action," Will agreed. "We'll turn this thing back on and..."
"Ahem. Turn it back on while my ghostly half is still inside there? I mean, I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen to me if he gets converted to energy, but I'd rather not find out."
"Do you have a better idea?"
"Well, I wouldn't call it 'better', exactly, but it's the only other idea I've got. You two... or three, I suppose... go on ahead and get out of here, I'll turn the thing on once Zach gets out. Or, er, sooner if I really must."
"You realize Ymirhoggr is already on its way here."
"Yes, well, look, just go! I'll worry about that. I'd just rather not give up on myself if I don't have to."
"Fair enough. I'll try to fly close and pick you up once you've got it moving."
"Yes, fine, whatever, just go!"
With no further prompting, Scott and Maxwell rushed to the shuttle. Moments after it took off, the first tentacle reached the jungle gym.
It was carrying passengers. Three of them, to be exact. They hopped off and landed on the upper deck.
Zom was about to rush to the battery and turn it on, Zach or no Zach, when his body suddenly fell over and dropped his head.
Zom looked at his fallen body, and saw the tip of Bellona's spear embedded in its heel.
"We need to destroy the heart!" Kaja said, pointing at the battery.
"You go for it. We'll take care of this monster," Kargrek replied.
Zom's head sighed, and watched helplessly as Kaja walked past. His body was trying to pick itself up, but that became considerably harder when Kargrek chopped off one of its arms.
"Maybe my body can still crawl toward the battery," Zom muttered. "And if I can just find a way to roll myself into Kaja's feet, there might even still be a battery by the time it gets there."
Before Zom could reflect further on the apparent hopelessness of the situation, he spotted someone climbing up a ladder.
"You there, whoever you are!" Zom called out. "Stop the man with the machine on his back!"
Carter was surprised by the severed head shouting at him, but to be fair, he was also surprised by the barbarian, the gladiatrix, and the aforementioned man with the machine on his back. Not to mention the terrifying beast that he knew must be Ymirhoggr.
He had only come in the first place to find out what was causing the jungle gym to shake, in order to reassure the children. What he had found was definitely not reassuring at all.
In the end, he decided to just listen to the head. He didn't have any other ideas, and besides which, the man with the machine wasn't armed with an axe or spear and wasn't a sanity-eating monster that would forever haunt his nightmares.
Carter rushed forward and tackled Kaja to the ground, knocking out the poor alchemist.
Then he saw Kargrek and Bellona drop the mangled corpse they were mangling further and turn their eyes on him, and he wondered if perhaps it would have been better not to get involved at all.
Kargrek was angry. At the monster that had just slain Kaja, of course, but also at himself for only focusing on the monster he could see.
Why had he assumed there would only be one monster? This was the beast's most vulnerable point, after all. It would surely be well-protected.
And his carelessness had cost them not only their best chance to destroy the heart, but also Kaja's life.
His first instinct was to charge at the monster, but then he realized he'd just expose himself to a surprise attack, or perhaps leave Bellona open to one.
She was already running forward. Kargrek followed her at a distance, keeping his eyes out for another surprise.
He soon saw it. A monstrous claw struck from nowhere, grabbing Bellona. Kargrek tried to attack it, but it moved much faster than he expected, and his swing missed completely. The claw was gone, and so was Bellona.
Kargrek was alone now. It was all up to him.
He let out a shout as he rushed for the other monster, but tripped on the severed limb that had caught itself on his leg.
What had looked like a claw to Kargrek was, in fact, Carter's shuttle. Scott had flown it right into Bellona, and she was currently clinging to the front, screaming with pure rage.
"Die, foul beast!"
She tried to stab her spear into the shuttle. It was ineffective, but in her mind, she had just made the beast release her. Now she could pull herself up onto its limb and fight back.
From Scott's perspective, this meant that she was standing on the front of the shuttle and about to rush up and attack him.
"Well, this is a problem," he said.
"No it isn't. Just shake her off," Will said.
"We're too high! That would kill her!"
"Would you rather she kill you?"
"It's all right," Maxwell said. "Her spear looks like it's steel, much weaker than the transparent alloy these windows are made from. We just need to be ready to disarm her when she gets tired and looks for another way in, which will probably be that hole in the side."
Scott stared at him.
"How exactly do you know all that?"
"Just do," he said. "Can you go faster? I like watching the trees zip by."
Carter hadn't been expecting the shuttle to swoop in, and he certainly hadn't expected the barbarian to trip and drop his axe.
But he also wasn't about to lose the one thing that might help him even the odds. He wasn't in the best of shape, after all, and the barbarian looked strong enough that he likely didn't even need a weapon.
Kargrek got up and stomped the severed hand under his foot as he snarled at Carter.
In that moment, Carter was keenly aware that he had no idea how to wield an axe.
Fortunately, his imminent doom was delayed by Zom's body, which had picked itself up and was awkwardly trying to hold down Kargrek with its one remaining arm, while barely being able to stand.
It wasn't a long delay. Kargrek simply grabbed the zombie, and flung it right at Carter's hand. Carter was knocked over, and Zom's body and the axe continued through the air, striking the bar with the battery on it.
Zom watched as his body slid down to the deck, and winced as the axe nicked the battery slightly on the way. Fortunately, nothing exploded when it did.
"On the bright side, most of me is close enough to turn the thing on now," he muttered, watching his body slowly pick itself up again. "Shame about poor Zach, but there's not much choice..."
Before Zom could say anything else, Zach emerged from the battery.
"Oh, good. No need to dilly-dally, then," Zom said. "I don't suppose you've got a way to give my body a little hand?"
"Silence, slave!" Zach said, in a familiar voice that wasn't his own.
Zom groaned as he felt an unpleasantly familiar sensation on his forehead.
"Wonderful. Being dead hasn't given you any new perspective, then?"
"It's all part of Ymirhoggr's grand plan. I'm in here so I can show everyone that Ymirhoggr can't be defeated. Now, smash up that battery! Look, there's an axe right there, this will be easy!"
"The one your soul is inside?"
"Yes, that one! Do it! You're still bound to obey my orders, slave!"
"Well, all right. Perhaps you could help me up?"
"It's too hard to possess things this way. Now get up!"
Zom's body obliged, and untangled itself enough to stand.
"Good. Now, pick up that axe and start smashing."
Zom's body turned towards the axe.
Then it slapped a hand on the battery, which began glowing. Moments later, the jungle gym began to move, and sliced right through Ymirhoggr's tentacles with stray bars.
"That's not what I ordered you to do! How are you disobeying?"
"Oh, I'm not," Zom said, smirking. "But as it turns out, my body doesn't have to listen to me any more."
Kargrek had numerous advantages over Carter. He was nimbler, stronger, and more experienced in battle.
But Carter was a good deal heavier than Kargrek, a fact that was quite helpful when the jungle gym's motion knocked him down on top of the barbarian.
Still, he knew it wouldn't last. Kargrek was working hard to push him off, and he didn't especially want to think about what would happen after that.
Simphonia was annoyed. There was a bright light and a lot of screaming down below. Something about setting up wards or something. Didn't anyone realize that breaking a ceiling needed a lot of concentration? Honestly.
She moved along, hoping that perhaps she could find a weaker piece of ceiling.
And then she did. She made a nice big hole and flew through it.
"I'll make you pay for this - no, put the wards up over there! No, you maintain the binding spells!"
"I take it things aren't going so well in there," Zom said.
"Shut up! I ought to destroy you, but I've got too many things to do in here! Stop distracting me!"
Zom was about to say something, but the sigil on his head forced him to stop.
He couldn't even say anything when the small nick from Kargrek's axe began glowing and Simphonia flew out.
He did notice, however, that the shaking seemed to be calming down.
Kargrek noticed as well. As the jungle gym's movement calmed, he found himself able to shake off Carter's weight.
There wasn't time to get his axe, he reasoned. This monster might get up at any moment. He'd have to destroy it before going for the heart, even if that meant using his bare hands.
Simphonia was glad to be outside again but that leak in the battery might not be enough do you even know how fast this thing is moving it's going to reach the core in just a few minutes
and what is that fool barbarian doing if he kills that man we'll have another soul in the battery and it's hard enough for the cultists to manage things in there as it is don't kill him go for the heart
why is he so stubborn well no matter we'll just hold him back and start eating that other man's delicious sanity
Suddenly, Kargrek found himself surrounded by strange vines. He struggled to free himself, but their grip was intense. The monster slowly stood up, and Kargrek was sure it would finish him.
He was baffled when it walked away. What was it doing?
Carter had been doubting his sanity since the severed head shouted at him. When he saw the jungle gym turn into a bizarre cavern filled with monsters, he was just self-aware enough to suspect what was really going on.
That might not have lasted for long, if not for the stroke of good fortune that the jungle gym had just struck a blow on Ymirhoggr's main body. It screeched in pain, giving Carter enough time to flee down what looked like a snakepit, before Ymirhoggr could taunt him into fighting instead.
His head started to clear. He was surrounded by metal now. From what he remembered the children telling him, he was relatively safe.
That also meant he was safe from Kargrek. Simphonia released her grip, and just sort of floated around awkwardly. Ymirhoggr didn't have a use for her any more - she was too spiritual, and destroying the battery with her risked catching her inside, where its control was weaker.
Kargrek, on the other hand, was quite physical. He wasn't sure where the monster had gone, but now that he had freed himself from the vines, it was best to finish what he started. He ran over to his axe, which had landed near the heart.
Unfortunately, the near-corpse of the other monster was also near there, and it began trying to strangle him with its one hand.
Kargrek simply chopped the other arm off, and wrenched it from his neck. He couldn't risk leaving this monster alone either, it seemed; it was far from dead.
Of course, Zom knew he was already quite dead, and getting deader. He was also becoming aware of how much slower the jungle gym was moving.
And of the unpleasantness of his surroundings, for that matter. He could no longer see the sky, and presumed that they had ended up inside Ymirhoggr.
He didn't particularly want to know what would happen to them if the jungle gym lost its power now.
"No, not that ward, the other one! No... What the? Let go of me! Someone bind this fool."
"Zach, can you hear me?" Luron's voice called out from the battery. "A new arrival named Carol told us about Ymirhoggr. If you're using us against it, I just want you to know we're behind you all the way."
"No, don't walk into the light, you--"
Zach blinked. He'd only been dimly aware of what was going on, but he could see the strange not-sky, Kargrek chopping Zom's body apart, Kaja lying unconscious under his machine, and his own head rolling around.
"Zach!" Zom screamed, as he felt the sigil vanish from his head. "This thing's slowing down! I think the battery's leaking!""
"This is Dr. Stassen!" a voice shouted from the battery. "Simphonia made a hole in the ceiling, somehow! I'm not sure, but I think it's affecting our performance! It looks like it might be possible to hold it shut from in here, but none of us can reach that high! Can you do something?"
"Er, what?" Zach asked.
"I don't think he can hear you," Zom said.
"I suppose I'd better have a look for myself, then," Zach sighed. "It's probably too much to hope that I might be able to come back."
"I haven't got much longer myself," Zom said. "Not with what Kargrek's doing."
"I suppose this is goodbye for us both, then."
"Probably. Shame we don't have anyone sane to say it to, except each other."
"And we're arguably the same person."
"I'd nod right now, but it's rather difficult."
"See you in the next life, Zom. If that's how it works."
"You as well."
Zach dove into the battery, and Zom watched as the crack closed behind his ghostly self, accompanied by a groan of "this is much heavier than it looks".
It was the last thing Zom saw before Kargrek tore his heart out and stepped on his head.
If he had been facing the opposite direction, his last sight might have been the jungle gym tearing open Ymirhoggr's heart instead.
There's no reason for this | Or this | Death is inevitable | You can't challenge fate | The smallest change
I'm serious | It makes perfect sense | Easy as ABC! | I can't even explain it
I suck | I rule | I've got it made | Really, I'm serious | This bugs me | It's all lies | I want to believe
(This post was last modified: 08-29-2013 06:10 AM by Dragon Fogel.)