QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]

QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 3: Deluge]
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

She's a woman, you know what I mean, you better listen listen to me, she's gonna set you FREEEEEEAAAAAAYYEEEAAAA-AAAAAAAA-YEAH
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

It slipped into the tunnels of the cavern between the molding rocks and the fire-bitten earth, singing a whistling song as it went. Little echoes- ech, onora! fuse, ster whispered back in answer, always teasing it, always hiding. It moved in secret rivers down to the sun-beneath-the-ground, berating itself. “Oh Sonora, heavenly blood and earth in excess,” it sighed, “Take us into you! Make us a part of your chthonic ecstasy!”

She was there.

“John, is that you? John, is that you? Is that you- Is that you- Is- Is- Is-“

“Leave me alone, monster,” she said. All fire and fear and sweet womanly flesh, ah... Delectable. Disgusting. Dirt-ridden filthmongering anthill of a human being. Her flavors were bitter and sweet and so, so sharp.

“Please,” it whispered. “Please, I’m so scared….”

A silence from her that was no silence but a symphony because it heard her heart and her throat, pulsing with that sweet slow river of luscious lovely blood like the curve of an artist’s brush tracing her aortas. It opened its mouths and tasted the air to smell her fear. Her anger. She was a bouquet.

“J-John? Is that you? Please, John, it’s coming… Please come back…”

“Enough,” she said. Indignant and disgusted. Her solar heart burned with all her anger and self-pity, worrying at her like a starving dog. The corpses on her scent were in her mind, it could see so far into her that she was transparent, a girl-shaped ghost with a nova at her heart. It had never seen such a creature in all its lives. It came closer, flowing across the floor rippling so she turned her head away from the ceiling’s sudden mouth.

“It’s here, it’s here, it’s here,” a frightened female whimpered from above the sun-girl’s head, black teeth dripping on her hair, “Oh John, John, John John John, where are you? WHERE ARE YOU, JOHN WHERE-

A burning in its flesh that scarred its lovely teeth. Sharp and pretty as a bee-sting. It laughed a little girl’s laugh (when the family cat gave birth to kittens) and withdrew, pooling into itself and spreading into a sky over her head. Her eyes were like lanterns even in the darkness.

“Don’t touch me,” she screamed/said. “I’ll burn you to ashes, Sonora. I’ll burn- I- I will…”

She looked at her hands. She wore their blood as war paint.

“Some cultures believe that there is only one Sonoran, that all individuals of the species are simply fragments of this gestalt being. This is of course ridiculous, as separate Sonorans produce different reactions to stimuli.”

She was such a pretty weeper.

“The Murre people have a legend in which the first Sonoran-“

“Shut up!” she screamed to it. “Shut up! Go away. Leave- leave me alone. I just want to be alone.” Her posture was weak and limp and her voice was a tremor on the sunscape of her nonexistent breath. Such radiance should never be tarnished by the petty flaws of nerves and it flowed from the skylight above her head to form an ocean at her feet. She bared her teeth and it bared its own back, spiny black mouths arcing from the molding stone all awash with the pretty pretty blood of the madmen wolves.

“Look at me. Can’t you look at me? What happened to you?”

She grew colder then, seeing its words as its own instead of a part of its endless soulful song, as if it were a woman asking the question all those years ago in that lovely house on the edge of the river. What happened? What happened? She saw the water take her children. She warned them not to go.

“Nothing happened,” she said. She sat down with the blackness pooling all around her, phantom waves making fists and mouths and lovely long teeth, a birdsong warbling in its twenty-thousand throats. “I killed them all. Nothing happened.” She was so precious. Her bones were a goddess’s. “They were going to use me. Again, just like the others. So I burned them all. I burned them and they screamed and I kept burning them anyway. I… I’m just as bad as you.”

The venom in her voice when she spoke of it was poetry. It wheezed in the voice of a murderer, “Ah, you’re like me, aren’t you? They hate us because we’re stronger. We’re killers, we are, and it makes ‘em nervous. Makes ‘em shake in their beds like children! Ha ha! Ha ha ha!”

She wasn’t impressed by its story, it could tell. Her pretty muscles underneath her face were taut with tension and weak from exhaustion, her lovely radiation-light eyes trying to watch its infinite self but finding nothing but the darkness around her. She did not see how trapped she was, a single spark in its river’s waves, rolling and rolling around her in a languid soutenu. It wanted to be patient, to savor her, to make her last before it swallowed her and carried her voice across the centuries. If it could take her lights! And her anger and her hate, and all the other burning suns inside her…

“A marvel of modern science! She’s a natural-born-“

It heard another


and it sank

Rachel’s eyes, assisted though they were by the faint light of her internal sun, were playing tricks on her in the darkness. She knew that she’d dug herself into some – kind of cave or something- but the floor was too warm and smooth, like skin or paper, and it gave slightly under her feet when she moved. It stank of mildew and smoke and something else, something sweet and dark that she was trying not to think about. The smell filled her mouth. Reverberations of some strange, distant breathing rumbled through her. All around was the patient panting of the writhing in the darkness, all around her, whispering and whispering…

She ignited a tiny flare and immediately felt the kickback in a sudden heaviness of her eyelids. She was more tired than she’d realized. All that fusion slowed her down, made her weak and… she-

A pale face, terrified, red mouth wide and screaming. Young.

She didn’t-

“I surrender! I surrender! NO-“

She wasn’t-

“Frightened, are we, child…?

“Sonora,” she hissed, her fists clenched, “I don’t fear you, monster. Come out and face me.”

What did you say to me, human?”

Belatedly, the water at her feet giggled.

The air in the cave rippled; a distant singing wound its way to her from somewhere far off in the cavern’s depths. The shadows on the walls slithered together and began to coalesce, forming narrow arms and a sunken chest from the fragile shade and solidifying with a hiss into a tangible form. An enormous shape like a woman formed from black gauze and smoke materialized before her, taller than the ceiling yet unbent and gleaming in leather and polished iron studs. Two familiar black glass eyes bored into Rachel from the smooth planes of the woman’s face, reflecting the single insignificant mote of light that was the glow of her sun against the cavern walls. The thing’s face was drawn and tight, more stitched than grown, and it was painfully beautiful even through the snarl of its pretty mouth. It opened its black lips and spoke and in a throaty whisper.

“You again,” Obscura said. It was impossible to tell where her body ended and the surface of the hidden stone began. The blackness now seemed thicker, almost tactile, a living shroud that draped her sharp shoulders and folded itself gracefully into nonexistence. A narrow-fingered hand drifted forth from the darkness and laid a razor nail in the center of Rachel’s forehead, pricking her skin and drawing forth a tiny bead of blood. “You again. Where are the fools I gave you to? Where did they go….? Ah. Yes. I see.”

There was no particularly hurry in the way she plucked the girl by the throat from the floor and held her dangling there like a freshly-born kitten. Pain exploded in Rachel’s neck as the goddess’ nails pierced her skin, but her mouth wouldn’t open and she couldn’t seem to scream or call for anyone- anything-

“And who would answer you?” Obscura whispered, inky lips and dagger teeth inches from the girl’s face. The deathly chill of damp stone pressed through Rachel’s straitjacket into her skin and she gasped, making the goddess smirk. “Another god, perhaps? Or that little bitch of Kedemonas? A jumped-up magpie is your best hope, how sad. You wretched thing. Do you know who it is you gaze upon? Or am I too far back in your pitiful memory, after all?”

“Obscura,” Rachel choked, eyes brimming with tears. Her legs kicked futilely for a grip on the smooth wall. She clawed at her neck, meeting only the nail-studded gloves of the goddess who hissed like a snake and shook her violently, smashing her head into the stone with a sickening crack. Agonizing lights exploded behind the girl’s eyes and she felt her grip slacken and surrender, a nauseous darkness rising up from the base of her spine to meet her…

“Darling! Da-aaarling!”

Obscura’s head stayed perfectly still. Rachel sensed her gaze flicking over the floor, the faintest edge of a growl emanating from her hidden throat. “Magpie,” she said, “I will attend to you in a moment. Be patient.”

“Girl, it’s just yoooouuu I’m thiiiinking of!”

“Obscura,” Rachel mumbled. Her head was swimming and she felt her sun guttering with pain. “I killed… your mmmen… I burned…”

“Idiot girl. Did you think I didn’t already know? That the goddess of subterfuge wouldn’t know when her own pawns were being disposed of? They breed you mortals more dull with every rutting cycle.” Obscura’s hand might as well have been steel cables for all Rachel could resist it. The goddess sneered at her efforts. “Even now you wriggle like a worm on a hook. You disgusting thing.”

Without warning the goddess’ grip loosened and Rachel fell to the floor, the stone hitting her like a titan’s angry fist. Black fingers spiked at the edges of her vision and she heard someone whimpering wordlessly. “I can find more,” Obscura said, staring down at her, “I have hundreds of men. Thousands. But you’ve done something far worse, yes. You’ve returned to my Labyrinth with a guest.”

“You know you’re gonna hurt somebody tonight…

The goddess’s outlines were blurry and faded, curiously washed out, and dimly Rachel saw her black eyes flash silver in the gloom. “Even if for some asinine reason I was seized with the desire to show your pitiful self mercy, I couldn’t. Could I? No. Who knows who you might go to with my secrets? Desolo? That ancient wreck could care less, but to lose…” Her voice trailed off. The cavern fell into silence. Slowly Rachel’s vision climbed back into focus: the goddess’ head was turned, glaring at some point on the floor. Rachel couldn’t move. Her limbs felt as though they were filled with stone and tied down with leaden chains. Through the haze of Obscura’s cloak she could just barely make out a ripple of light on the far wall, one that rang with a tiny bell-like note.

“Come on, show your faaaaace!”

“Magpie,” said the goddess slowly, “I told you to wait.”

“Come on, give us one more spaaaaark! Set us all afire!”

“Why is it that Kedemonas’ lot can never stay silent?” Obscura growled. “Do you expect your prey to leap into your mouths?” Something shiny and dark glittered in her hand; the muscles in her pale arms writhed underneath her armor, she turned to strike-

A freezing wave of blackness slammed into Rachel and smashed her into the ground. She felt the floor buckle and vanish and then she was floating and falling all at once, plummeting through nothingness into a wall of sound and crushing strength that bound her arms with needle claws, jamming her wrists into angles that made her scream. “You’re looking for a way out, I can feel it!” a voice roared in her ears, hysterical wolves’ howling echoing all around her, “COME ON, SHOW ME WHERE IT HURTS, MAYBE I CAN HEAL IT!”

She tried to yell, to bite the choking darkness but all she met was a bitter numbing rushing of waves and fire and thunder rolling and rolling in her head, a swallowing madness that echoed her missing heartbeat with deafening bells and drums in agonizing strikes hammering into her head with every breath the darkness took. Her sun hummed, flared; she clenched her fists through the rushing currents and focused on the fire exploding into life and with every ounce of her strength sent it out-

The blackness parted and there in her path was the startled face of Obscura, staring up at her in fury. The bolt erupted; she heard a nightmarish scream, and then everything slid quietly to a stop.

She blacked out.


“All that I wanted was a little touch, a little tenderness and truth, I didn’t ask for much…”

A drop of rain splashed her face. Her eyes didn’t seem to want to open.

“Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”


“I only wanna smile at your eyes. You should have seen your little face. Burning for love!”

Something cold crept along the inside of her calf and coiled around her ankle. Rachel groaned and rolled onto her side, weakly brushing at the sensation; splinters of ice shot into her fingers and melted into a soft numbness that crept into her bones and stayed there. It was nice. It was like falling into a gentle and long-awaited sleep. “You are cold, and darkness, and death,” a girl somewhere far off was saying, “I am heat, and light, and life. You fear me- You fear me- You fear me…”

“Sonora,” she mumbled, “S-sss… So…”

“I. I never caught your name.”

The dead soldier’s words triggered something in her mind- a brief flash of a pale young face -and she curled herself into an upright ball, wincing from the sudden rush of coolant to her system. For a moment she thought she was still where Obscura had dropped her, trapped beneath the ground, but as the distant sounds of cannonfire and screaming reached her she realized that the darkness surrounding her was different.

It was breathing…

“PEOPLE? PEOPLE? IS ANYONE OUT THERE? IS ANYONE THERE? I never caught your name. Rachel. Rachel. Hames gave me fuckin’ last week’s map. You stand accused of murder. I did what you said, I did what you said,” it sobbed. Sheer walls of glistening black liquid arced over her head, continually forming and collapsing into strange lacy patterns. Pockets of dim light dappled the ground where gaps bubbled and burst, endlessly knitting itself back together. From all throughout it came a gentle whispering, echoes of its voices and, faintly, a wheezing man laughing and laughing in a way that made her skin crawl.

“Stop it,” Rachel said. Her mouth felt as though someone had stuffed it full of bile and cotton and her head seemed to have been bashed in with a hammer at some point. The rest of her…

She looked down. Dark water clung to her hands and legs and she realized with a horrible twist in her gut that she couldn’t feel them at all. All sensation came to a stop where the blackness covered her. She shrieked and slapped at herself, only succeeding in spraying the fluid across her chassis where it hissed and bubbled fitfully. “Get off me,” she spat, wobbling precariously to her feet. “Get the fuck off me, you- you- !”

“Sometimes the dream, it don’t come true,” a voice sighed. Warmth spread across her flesh; the water slipped off her to join the pools at her feet. “It’s a pity it’s a feeling I can’t control.”

“Control it.” Slowly, concentrating on maintaining her balance, Rachel turned in a cautious circle. Walls of water surrounded her on every side, occasionally pocketed by windows into something she couldn’t make out. “Where is this? What… what happened? Where did Obscura…”

“I saw my girl with the golden touch- does it get you, ohhh-ohhhh, does it get you ooooooff to know that sometimes we aaaaall blaaaaack ooouuut? Are you looking for a sign? Or are you caught up in the liiiiiiight?

Rachel groaned. “Obscura… What did you…?” Memory flooded her mind; a crushing darkness and a horrific screaming, battering her from every direction. Suddenly she felt much colder. “What did you do to me?”

“You got a fooooolish heart. I feel the heat, I see the light of miss atomic bomb, spoken up, fiery heart, your sil- ver- bones- and a sun to maybe dissipate the shadows of the mess you made. For a second there we’d won, we were innocent and yoooung! My lioness! MY PIÈCE DE RÉSISTANCE!”

The voices burst into a hundred types of howling laughter, a discordant clamoring that made her headache throb resentfully. Though her sun was still recovering from the attack on Obscura Rachel bore down within herself and forced its glow to flare. The darkness flinched: a little girl screamed pitifully and the liquid around her rippled and fell to the ground in a curtain of rain, flowing away into the shadows. “Thanks,” Rachel said drily, and stepped between two outstretched hands, black and bubbling.

“Oh, oooh, o-oooh, please don’t tell me I can’t make it,” something crooned into her ear, just behind her head. “It ain’t my fault. Let em hate, it ain’t my fault. Letting go, all I know, I’m giving you my song, you could have it all if you want it…”

“I get it. You talk in song.” Sometime between when she’d blacked out she’d- well, Sonora, anyway- had moved to some other part of the Labryinth, one she didn’t recognize from her earlier visit. Strange glyphs covered the ceiling and walls, almost seeming to form intricate pictograms but dissolving into meaningless shapes the longer she stared. It seemed lighter than where they’d been before. As her eyes adjusted she noticed that one end of the tunnel seemed less dark than the other, although faintly muted and somewhat distorted where the shadows had begun to dissipate. Water lapped at her heels as she walked. “So you just carry on mimicking people and trying to scare them, is that it? That’s your whole story? You’re just a coward who fucks around in the shadows. Go bother someone with more time on their hands.”

An icy needle exploded into Rachel’s leg, spreading through her flesh with terrifying swiftness as numbness quickly overtook her. “What- !?” Almost reflexively she sent a blast of energy at the floor but the stinging continued, biting deeper and deeper with every move she made as the cave around her suddenly echoed with the agonized howling of wolves and men.

“Please don’t lie, don’t lie to me that you’re not afraid, my love,” the water around her wailed. A hand seized a hold of her waist and shoved her to the wall in a clash of metal, pairs and pairs of glistening black hands erupting up from the ground and digging their fingers into her jacket and pulling at her hair, clawing madly at her ribs and neck. One seized her wrist and pinned it above her, another punched into her stomach with enough force to make her chassis creak and Rachel snarled wordlessly, blasting the hands with fire that destroyed some but only seemed to make the rest sharper and more intent, pulling at her with greater and greater fury. She had just enough time to see a newcomer, talons long and glittering, lunge for her eyes before a freezing blackness overtook her and gripped her jaw with icy talons.

“Love, you don’t know what you’re running away from,” something lilted next to her ear, tenderness thick in its voice, “I am better than you think! You are one of them, I won’t be fooled again! I followed you through the darkness, I followed you through the cold, I remember myself as a looooonely child and so it was and I don’t understand what I lost, I don’t understand it, you took it from me. I’ll show no mercy for you- you had no mercy for me- I promise toniiight I won’t do no harm, I only want what’s best for you, I only want so bad I can’t think straight, so baaad all my bones shake, I want you, I want you, I’ll never leave you alone, don’t cry! it’s over! I never got your name, I was wrong and you got me wrong, yes, you got me wroooong… All men are pigs! All men, but meeee…”

The grip on her relaxed. Rachel threw herself forward, clawing free of the remains of the ichor clinging to her and sputtering wordlessly as smoke-like billows of darkness parted before her, drifting aimlessly across the floor. She stared at it, speechless.

“I’m frozen to the bones, I am. You bring your elegance and me my dumb strength, you were so kind to me, please please it’s coming please please where did you go!!!! My god. Can’t you see that Iiiiiiii know which way to run?”

“What the hell are you talking about,” Rachel hissed, but then the shadows shifted and a pale arch of light appeared on the far end of the tunnel, the faint outlines of trees and distant battlegrounds burning into her eyes as the cavern filled with daylight. She threw up an arm in defense, stumbling into something wet and writhing that pushed back languidly.

“My logic will prevail! So shut up, nightingale,” someone said smugly. Cold hands batted at her feet. “I’m the boy that that will heeeaaalll you. Rolling river of truth, can you spare me a sip?”

“Some time in the near future, Sonora,” Rachel said, edging her way into the light, “I’m going to find your face and punch it.”

“All men but me.”
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by crepuscularDissembler.

Amaranth was somewhat trepidant about how exactly to begin a conversation with a many-eyed rock-eating wyrm, but it seemed Chaete had no similar reservations. Or perhaps she was simply the type that dealt with nervousness by prattling even more. She exhausted most of the salient questions quickly: ”Where are we? Why did we get put here? What was that explosion? What were those things that came after us?” Other than carefully explaining that she and the soldiers from before are in fact the same species, Amaranth could do little to satisfy Chaete’s curiosity.

Having exhausted that subject, Chaete moved on to attempting to discern what, exactly, a human could be. (After all, they seemed to be able to be very different colors and have different shapes.)

“So you and all those other people that were in that weird place before I got put here are ‘humans?'”

“Er…not exactly, I’m pretty sure the huge armored alien and that Sonora creature aren’t…”

“Pretty sure?”

“After what’s happened today, I can’t discredit anything as impossible.”

“You’re telling ME! Hey, at least you get a bunch of your species all over. But I haven’t heard from even ONE normal person!”

”…That must be very hard for you.” Amaranth said, keeping her tone as neutral as possible.

“It IS! I mean for one thing the way you talk is weird. And you don’t even eat rocks- waiiiiit…” Chaete shied away from Amaranth and dropped her ‘voice.’ “You didn’t ask me if I ate people…because that’s what YOU do, d-did you?”

”Of course not!” Amaranth responded immediately. “People’s bodies are for fertilizing their plant, and nothing else.”

“Oh.” Chaete tilted her head at this statement, but pressed on. “So what do you eat?”

”Er…plants.” Amaranth thought it prudent to omit humanity’s omnivorous tendencies for now.

“Wait…but you use people to fertilize plants…and you EAT the plants…”




In the absence of their god, the followers of Res Rex had not merely stagnated. They had rotted, and grown strange things from it…they had built upon what their god had left them by repeating his and his prophet’s words long past when Godsworn Valley had changed beyond anything his projections and charts could have foreseen. They drew what little they had thinner and thinner outwards and always without any acknowledgement of the quickly growing holes. They were spared by the other factions only because of the resources it would have wasted to get rid of them for good.

Within the great hall of Res Rex (not so great now that it was packed from corner to corner with reams of data, the temples having ceased expansion long ago) the high priestess received a young cleric. Her robes, and indeed all the decorations, seemed to echo the philosophical problem of the Argonaut’s ship.

”One of our tracking devices has sent us anomalous readings, your verity. Not only did it leave the sentry point, it jumped suddenly to a wildly different location and then again to another.”

If one thing could be said for these worshippers of a dead god, it is that they never embroidered on the truth nor wasted time accusing other members of fabrications or mistakes. If the priestess doubted his story, her stony expression did not show it, and the manner in which she mulled over the scroll betrayed no hint of anything less than businesslike attention to her task.

”Let me see…ah yes. You and a small transport vehicle of clergy shall travel to the projected location of the device.”

”But, your verity, the strangeness of these results and not to mention the fact that it is heading towards a site which recently experienced further anomalous events, among which was an expl-“

”Enough. Do you doubt my fidelity? That is the last recorded response for an aberration in tracking device data, and you will deal with it accordingly. Unless you wish to deviate from protocol?”

”N-no, your verity.”

”Then go.”


They had continued on in that style of questions-and-answers for some time. Despite Chaete’s responses to any human practice she felt was odd or distasteful, Amaranth had been trained in explaining her culture’s practices to outsiders, and it was an almost comforting bit of normalcy in her strange new reality. But Chaete eventually tired of questioning and even more so of crawling awkwardly along the ground to hear Amaranth’s responses. Amaranth had to admit that in this one instance, the human bodyplan fell rather short in comparison to Chaete’s telepathy.

The silence was somewhat relaxing, but the thoughts that crept intrusively to the forefront of Amaranth’s mind in the lull weren’t.

She had, for her life up until this point, lived with a simple and unequivocal idea: that the ability to be saved by the plant is a gift given only to humans because they are the only sapient creatures, and therefore the only worthy ones.

But Chaete (meandering in the rock beneath and uncomprehending of the philosophical problems her very existence posed) was offering a rather good argument against the soundness of this belief.

She had tried, gently at first and using only positive emotions-- and then more and more strongly and with more extreme emotions as she began to panic—to induce some kind of reaction in Chaete with the smoke. All to no effect.

Amaranth’s mind reeled as she considered the possibility of planets, entire universes full of sapient creatures that could not be saved. She would have called the idea ridiculous before, but in comparison to being plucked out of her world to fight in a battle to the death? Nothing seemed like too much anymore…she had, of course, noted the alienness of some of the others, but that brief sojourn in a space between worlds was much more easily pushed aside than a jarringly normal-sounding creature slithering right in front of her.

Amaranth had never had much interest in speculative literature, but she wondered if perhaps that was a mistake…at least the very least, those scores of stories about meeting aliens could have offered her some idea of how this was dealt with! She suddenly felt very silly. All those scores of writers, thinking out the problem for years and putting it out where she could see it…and here she had ignored them all and was now panicking desperately and trying to debate it all by herself. This was irrational, of course, as she had little way of predicting this happening. But if only she at least had some knowledge- some idea of where to start- a view to argue against or for, at the very least-

Amaranth attempted to gain control of her thoughts. Surely she had time to think it through- time?! She was on a battlefield! If there was suddenly an attack, where exactly should she value Chaete’s life? Could she risk killing a human to save her? And if not, poor innocent Chaete with nowhere to go if she died…would the moral thing to do be to risk losing a seed to her maw? Surely a thing that eats rocks could not digest it, but, but-

She struggled again to concentrate. When the moment came, surely the right path would reveal itself, as all things flow naturally forwards. Even in such seemingly unfair circumstances as this, some kind of deeper reason must exist. Perhaps she was sent here to learn that reason…yes, she mustn’t view this as simply a trial at the whimsy of whatever brought her here. Not when there was so much to accomplish. She would not give in to self-pity. The meaning behind these circumstances would reveal itself as she moved forwards, like fog parting before her footsteps.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Anomaly.

Faced with a platoon of vicious hell-soldiers charging toward them, intent on killing everything that breathes and some things that don't, the normal reaction might have been to run. To hide. To at least take shelter behind the 11-foot robot suit guy with a massive gun for an arm.

Anila instead reacted with a grin, pulling her fairly-dull probably-not-magical sword from her bag. Who the hell would want to run away from something like this, anyway? This was adventure! This was excitement! This was needlessly dangerous!

Besides, she did have ice robot man and his cannon if, inconceivably, it was too much for her to handle.

You're not planning on fighting them with that thing, are you?

Uh, yeah I'm going to fight them with this thing. Do I look like an amateur to you?

...Just stay behind Akroht, Anila. Don't die.

Anila sighed. She supposed she could stay out of harm's way.

...By leaping on top of the Iceworlder's armor. She paid no mind to his protests and attempts to brush her off, reminding him that he was supposed to be fighting the Predators, not her. She just wanted a better view, that's all. Akroht grumbled and again leveled his gun toward the figures approaching on the horizon.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Four coldbloods rested in the distance. Little matter for two, perhaps even one Predator, let alone a dozen. Those numbers were certainly unnecessary - just an hour before they had handily slaughtered three times that number without a single casualty. This group of prey would be dead before they had a chance to fire a shot.

The Predators darted through the grass, rapidly, silently approaching their mark. Interesting, the group they approached seemed to be growing in number - they were first joined by another of similar temperature, and then another indeterminate humanoid. It mattered little. The Predators would not have backed down if faced with an army of giants.

Were they any other army, they might have rethought their strategy the moment one of their number was blasted by an energy wave that knocked them to the ground, coating their armor in ice. The remaining eleven did not stop to assist their fallen comrade - to do so would open them to further attack. Never before had a soldier of Frigidus so easily taken out a Predator. Raxis's warriors didn't want to take any risks with this unknown weapon - they each drew their guns and opened fire.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Date unknown, time unknown

Huh, that's odd. Usually it fills in the time on its own. Maybe it can't keep track of it when we're not on our world? Oh well, who cares about the time anyway? There's a battle going on!

I met the God of Science a while ago, too. I didn't even know there was a God of Science! Do other planes or universes or whatever have their own gods? This warrants investigation. Anyway I met him and then flew on the manticore dragon thing over here to the big ice machine guy! I'll draw a picture of him in a sec but there's a lot going on.

There's these guys who I think worship this god of ice or something, and they're being hunted by these guys who worship the god of war, who are running toward us right now. Oh hey Ice Machine just shot one of them with his giant gun arm thing. Must be a freeze ray or something! The other four seem to be hiding behind him for some reason. Dunno why. There's a much better view from up here.



Wow okay I thought these guys were supposed to be highly trained soldiers but their bullets aren't even hurting Ice Machine. I think they're also trying to shoot me but I guess their aim is really bad or something. IM's taken out about half of them by now... No, more than half. 8... 9. Nine of them. They're getting pretty close now. I hope they don't shoot one of the ice priest guys, I like them.

hey no what are you doing argh go away blargh

no look i told you to



Sorry about that, one of them just jumped onto Ice Machine while I wasn't paying attention. Knocked him off with my awesome sword and then IM kicked him in the face. I'm pretty sure he's dead. Even worse, he broke one of my pencils! I don't know where I'm going to get another dark blue out here. Oh well, I'll just finish this with a regular blue...


There! At least I finished my picture, now to-

"Anila-Vakmero! Get down!"

Anila looked up from her journal with a start. Oh, right, the battle was over. She leaped to the ground, gazing around at the ice-coated, frostbitten remnants of the Predators of Raxis.

"Oh hey, you finished them off! Good job, Icey."

"Akroht," the Iceworlder sighed, wondering what sort of horrible mental dysfunction his new companion was afflicted with.

Gelu and his companions, meanwhile, simply stared in shock. They hadn't even used their guns. Akroht's armor had barely been scuffed by nearly a dozen Predators opening fire simultaneously. That sort of firepower could have shredded their less-than-impressive armor in seconds - especially as the rounds were specifically designed for the purpose of killing Frigidus's followers.

"I must humbly thank you, brother Akroht," Gelu began. "We did not think it possible for anyone to so easily take down such a large squad of Predators. You have saved our lives."

"They were nothing," Akroht bellowed. "I expected more from a god of war. Perhaps too much."

"Be warned," the chaplain continued, "that Raxis holds far, far more soldiers than just those few. For now, though... For now, our fallen brothers are avenged."

"Hey, guys!" Anila shouted. The soldiers broke off their conversation to stare at her.

"You know, on the way here I saw this weird archway opening thing in the side of a mountain not very far from here. ...Yeah, it was that one!" She proudly announced, pointing at the nearest cliffside.

More blank stares.

"...And what I'm saying is that we should go there. There could be treasure! Weapons! Magical artifacts!"

"And you think we should risk our lives to explore a cave?" Gelu protested.

"Alright look, there's no danger as long as we've got Icey here with us, and hey, if we don't find anything you can at least hide there."

"This is foolish, Anila-Vakmero. We have nothing to gain by wasting our time on frivolous exploration."

Anila frowned. "You need me, don't you? Listen, Iceman, I've been doing this for years. I can tell there's something good in there, and I'm going whether you're going to follow or not." She began walking away.

The shapeshifter had kept quiet during the battle. Sure, Anila was reckless as hell, but it'd be stupid to distract her in the middle of a battle. She was unusually good at avoiding danger despite throwing herself at it every day. However, it had to interject at some point.

Anila, if you really want them to go with you, shouldn't you at least try to give a good argument for it? The only reason Akroht didn't kill you is because he wants your help to kill the Outsider. At least try to keep that deal, if nothing else.

She paused, then spun around a few seconds later. "Besides, do you really think we could kill the Outsider with the stuff we brought with us? As awesome as my sword and your gun are, I am pretty sure they won't do much against that weird thing that brought us here. If we're going to get anywhere, we've got to examine everything unusual."

"Very well," Akroht begrudgingly responded. "But if you lead us astray, remember that there are six others I could seek the assistance of."

"Don't worry! It's just a cave, right?"

Meanwhile, at the entrance to that very same cave, a machine-bound woman was threatening bodily harm against a vague voice-stealing liquid monster.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by One.


Iceworlders were adapted for war even before they discovered the secrets of technology. Their homeworld was a harsh one, where shelter was scarce and food even scarcer. In eons past, roving iceworlder clans battled and fought one another for better hunting grounds or richer foraging territory. Conflict was frequent and unavoidable. This was darwinism at its finest. The weak perished; the strongest thrived. Those were the facts of life for many millions of years. The iceworlders remained individualistic, their petty feuds quickly tearing down any attempts towards unity.

True civilization would only arise as a result of necessity. The iceworlders were not the only sentient race on the planet. Formerly kept separate by geography, the race they called nharkoten began a mass migration into iceworlder territory. None could say why, only that they were threatening to drive the iceworlders themselves out. So it was for the first time in history that permanent alliances between the clans were forged. They were united by a single desire: the eradication of the invaders.

The nharkoten were wiped out utterly. In that brutal cross-species war was born the intense xenophobia characterizing iceworlders today. And when the iceworlders first traveled to the stars, they carried that xenophobia with them. Alien life must be destroyed because they aren't iceworlders. It was as simple as that. There might be other reasons--greed, imperialism, resources--but in the end it all boiled down to simple hatred of aliens.

Every human Arokht had laid his four eyes upon since his arrival here had triggered that killer instinct (especially the female who had been impudent enough to climb on top of him!). But this was the first time the armored giant could actually indulge in it.

Iceworlders do not charge very quickly, but their sheer mass gives them the impression of an approaching wall. They aren’t as fast as horses but they are large and heavy enough to simply smash through anything they don’t just trample underfoot. Their soldiers, meanwhile, have the added advantage of having huge guns attached to their arms.

The targeting computers in Arokht’s helmet leapt into action, calculating firing solutions and adjusting his aim to match. Generator bottles in the warrior’s subzero cannon whirred into life, powering the complicated firing mechanisms. A blue glow built in the weapon’s barrel and erupted into a beam of barely visible radiation that leached heat from everything it touched, aimed directly at the nearest Predator of Raxis.

The blast struck the black-armored soldier mid-leap, almost totally enveloping its head and torso. The thermal shock alone was enough to kill the Predator instantly and leave a thin layer of ice on its armor--freezing and rupturing every cell in its body struck by the beam in the process. It fell to the ground and shattered.

In a fraction of a second, its comrades processed its death and worked out a new battle plan. The coldbloods’ companion daemon became their new target. The extermination of the human worshippers could wait until they had dealt with the heavy support. With almost eerie coordination, the Predators fanned out, their augmented legs carrying them swiftly through the grass. As one, they drew their flechette rifles and fired, straight at the advancing beast.

A valiant effort, but futile. Arokht laughed as the tiny barbed spikes simply bounced off of his armor, even as he rushed towards the shooters. None of these humans could hurt an iceworlder! The flechettes, which would undoubtedly have been devastating against other humans (but hopefully not the one sitting on his back--he needed her), were utterly useless against the mammoth alien. He adjusted his aim and fired again, and again, and again.

Dropping like flies but not caring that they were, the Predators raced forwards. They had stopped shooting; what was the point? Shooting something immune to gunfire wasted ammo. Now, their best bet at taking down the beast was that it would be as clumsy as it looked, and that they could bring it down in close combat. That metal carapace might stop flechette rounds, but no armor could defend against a blessed Raxian blade. Slinging their guns on their backs, the Predators each drew a long, wickedly serrated knife. The black blades seemed to emit a faint red glow. As one, the last three Predators lunged.

The iceworlder lashed out with improbable swiftness. With an arm as wide around as a telephone pole, Arokht swatted one of the Predators out of the air. Its shattered corpse collided with a second Predator in mid-leap. Its momentum broken, the living Predator flew sideways, hitting the ground hard. The body of its dead companion landed on top of it. But while Arokht dealt with the first two, the third’s lunge succeeded. Clinging to the iceworlder’s massive bulk, it glared up at Anila with one crimson eye. It raised its blade for a killing strike, but the adventurer was faster, thrusting her sword into its helmet hard enough to make it lose its grip. It too, fell. The last thing it saw was one of Arokht’s massive boots coming down on its head.

The lone survivor, sprawled on the ground, finally disentangled itself from the body of its dead companion. It struggled to its feet, turning to face the iceworlder--and stared straight into the barrel of Arokht’s cannon. One shot later, it joined its fellow Predators in death.

Arokht looked down at the corpses with contempt. These Predators of Raxis turned out to be massive disappointments. Black Temple clones might have been more fragile than these hyped-up supersoldiers, but at least those diminutive creatures had sheer weight of numbers on their side. Still, it was nice to get some of his frustration out.

He was about to rear up and bellow another challenge when he remembered that Anila was still riding on his back.


Brother Gelu looked up at Arokht. His bewilderment was clear even with his face concealed. To think that a monstrous servant of the Wintergod would bow to this scraggly woman! Not only was she the shortest member of the whole group, but she also wore nothing that marked her as a follower of any god. She was a renegade, godless and unpredictable. At the very least, Arokht seemed to know her, and she had agreed to help him achieve his mysterious goal.

It was clear to Gelu that Arokht also chafed under her leadership. The giant was dominating and imperious, and it insulted him to be lead around by a lesser being. But as long as Anila lead him to that supposedly unusual cave, the iceworlder would tolerate her. He would put her in her proper place with the rest of the humans once they reached it.

Arokht glared at the cliffside. Though the entrance to the cave was still little more than a speck to his companions, the zoom function in his eyepieces allowed him to spy on what was happening within.

A human female, bound in metal and machinery, staggered out of the darkness. Arokht remembered her--the one the Outsider had described as a universal power source, but also fearful and destructive. Connected to a sun, somehow. Behind her was a...a thing, shadowy and formless, only visible in the cavern because of its constant motion. The iceworlder caught hints of limbs and bodies shifting in the mass, only to be subsumed again.

“We are not the first,” rumbled Arokht. He pointed towards the cave mouth with one of his secondary arms. “There are two others at the cave. Coming out.”

Anila squinted. “You’ve got very good eyes, Frosty. Who are they?”

“The one called Rachel-Wylite. And another.” Arokht paused. “Unidentified.”

“Let’s go meet them! They could help us, too!”

“Or they will attack,” snapped the iceworlder. “Carelessness will kill you. I will lead.”


The human stopped short, frowning. She seemed to be listening to something.

Anila sighed. “Fine, fine, I’ll follow you. But I’ve been in worse places, you know.”

Ignoring her, Arokht swung around to face the four Frostsworn soldiers. Brother Gelu immediately stood up straighter.

“Keep your distance. Be ready to fire if I call for it. Stay alert.”

The chaplain nodded. He had no idea what to fire at.

“Now,” said the iceworlder, “we take the cave. Forward!”
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by XX.

“Forward forward forward FORWARD forward,” it hissed to her. Invisible teeth chattered in her ear. “Forward.”

The sun was blinding- irony, she thought- as she edged out of the cave with her forearm held above her like a shield. She’d felt as though she’d been underground for days. The air outside was thin and cold and she felt her sun fluctuate in the changing atmosphere. She was so tired. A creeping ache had started in her back and legs from being tossed around like a ragdoll and her legs still tingled when she walked. Halfheartedly she wondered if it was possible for a star to burn out early as Sonora sang.

“Take the cave. Carelessness will kill- kill- kill.”

She paused. The voice sounded… off. Echoing and hollow, as if through a barrier. Familiar.

“Who was that?” she said, refusing to look at the thing directly. Bad enough that it was following her. “That thing you just said?”

“We are not the first, first, coming. Follow you! Iiiiiii will lead, ready to fire! Coming out. Un-i-d-en-t-i-f-i-ed. Ra-chel Wy-lite. Dentified, identified.”

She winced at her name.

“…Sonora. Tell me who it is.”

Dead of winter! Swear it gets so cold your bones’ll freeze. Huddle close, now- huddle close, that’s it, she won’t- icicles. If the frost sets in before the harvest we’ll lose the crop. Cold now. Cold. Cold. Hold me, please.”

She narrowed her eyes. A cat mewed and something cold pushed at her ankles, turning her clockwise. She gritted her teeth and followed, staring down at the base of the mountain. Something was moving-

There. A rough pack of blue blurs was ascending the slope with determined speed, emerging through the sparse trees on a collision course for the cave. The leader was a huge tank-like thing that moved with an insectoid precision that made her sun flicker, followed by a few bulky shapes that could have been humans. And… someone was sitting on the metal monstrosity. She squinted. A girl in a silly hat.

“Who are they?” she murmured.

A few gentle chimes like champagne glasses brought together were its only answer.

Rachel inhaled and let her breath out slowly, weighing her options. The group had already spotted her, already knew her damn name, if that’s what Sonora had indicated. There was no point in running, not when her only option for escape lay behind her in the cave where Obscura was surely waiting and nursing a grudge the size of a continent. Briefly she entertained the option of asking Sonora for help; the idea left her in a shudder of disgust before it could even come to completion.

“Hail. Metal-bound.”

The voice boomed up the mountain, quaking through the ground under her feet. She took an involuntary step back at its sheer volume, raising her arms; she could flare again if she needed to, but the tank-thing was only growing larger as she watched and seeming like more and more of an unavoidable problem. It towered over its companions by twice their height, bearing the girl on its shoulders might as if she were made of paper. Cold, glittering eyes bore into her. A giant metal insect.

“Rachel-Wylite,” Arokht rumbled. His heavy steps cleared the distance between them with uncomfortable swiftness. His head swiveled to the cave, then back to her. “I am Arokht, of the Iceworld. These humans are the Frostsworn and Anila-Vakmero. I have-”

“Hi! Hi, lady!” the girl interrupted. She waved ferociously from atop the behemoth, nearly unsettling her hat. “We’re friends! We’re gonna be! Don’t be scared of Frosty. He’s just bluffing.”

“Rachel-Wylite,” boomed the colossus over her, “Where is the entity that was here before?”

Silence. The hairs on the back of Rachel’s neck tingled and she glanced behind her. The cave was empty, strewn with dead leaves and the shells of long-dead beetles. The ground at her feet was dry. Where the hell did you go? “It left,” she said curtly. She forced herself to stare into the iceworlder’s glowering eyes. “Believe me, it’s better this way.”

“Unacceptable.” A cannon she could have crawled into was suddenly leveled at her face, a dull blue light glowing in its depths. Rachel bared her teeth. “You know where it has gone. This information is critical to the success of our mission. I will not allow any discrepancies.”

“You get the hell away from me, you fucking machine,” she spat, letting some of her radiance pierce through her chassis. She felt a fierce surge of pride at seeing the iceworlder take pause, its eyes flickering. “I’ve had enough of people trying to scare me today. Sonora’s gone and I’m just perfectly fine with that, got it?”

Something flickered at the edge of her vision, a tiny smudge of darkness on the ground.

“Frosty! Be nice!” the girl in the wizard hat scolded. She tapped the alien’s head with a hollow sound. “He didn’t mean it, he really didn’t. You know how men are!”

“Sonora,” Arokht persisted. “Can it be reasoned with? What are its weaknesses?”

“Lullabies and dirty limericks.”

The iceworlder paused doubtfully. The soldiers behind him glanced at each other. “Dirty…?”

“Yeah, you know. If you whistle one it’ll come right back out and bake you a fucking cake in a French maid outfit with tassels. What else would it do?”

“You are mocking me,” the alien said. It sounded more surprised than angry. As it spoke the ground behind it began to shift, ever so slightly. The rearmost soldier adjusted his stance. “I will not negotiate-”

“I know some limericks!” Anila squealed happily, clapping her hands. She tilted her head exaggeratedly to the side, pressing a finger into her cheek and humming badly out of tune. “How about… how about the one that goes… There once was a man from Nantucket, who had… Oh, I don’t think I can finish that! Hee hee, I’ve got to know at least one good one!”

The ground shifted. The soldier had just enough time to look down before a pair of jaws closed silently around him and vanished into the earth.

“This is irrelevant,” the iceworlder insisted. Even if you are not attempting to trick me-”

“Bra-ave boys in the empty coats of men…”

The voice floated up from nowhere. Rachel was half-surprised to see the party jump with the exception of the alien and the manic girl. The latter merely looked around excitedly while Arokht continued to stare at Rachel, cannon thrumming at his side. She returned his gaze with a glare of her own. She’d been harassed by enough monsters today.

“What was that?” he asked her. His hollow voice had dropped a ground-shaking note.

“What the hell do you think it is?”

“Hibernus!” The gasmasked soldiers sprang into formation, huddling with their backs to each other. Pale glittering guns appeared in their hands. “Where-”

“I don’t understand the rules of this game,” sighed the ground. Rachel felt it wind and shift underneath her, but she kept staring at Arokht as though she didn’t feel the twinge of revulsion that came at seeing the monster’s sinuous black hide rise up from the soil and coil loosely around her legs. The rest of its bulk was still underground- she could feel it in the tremors- but enough of the water rose up to form a swaying serpent that laughed and screamed at Arokht and the soldiers, splitting horizontally into a dripping tangle of a mouth.

“Sonora,” Arokht boomed. “I am willing to ignore your hostility so long as you indicate yourself to be in line with our goals. I ask that you return your hostage.” Despite his words the iceworlder had slipped into a battle stance, massive legs meticulously balancing on the trembling earth. “In return, I will… forgive your initial response.”

“Welcome home, welcome hoooome,” the water trilled, and spat a cluster of white pebbles at the iceworlder’s feet. “There she is. What a goddamn beautiful animal. Let’s get a closer look, shall we?”

It only took Rachel a moment to see that the pebbles were a set of human teeth, all 32 in perfect, spotless condition. Sonora laughed and laughed and laughed.
Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Schazer.

The cr, of a crunch, that reserved for a foot less silent and graceful than that of the god of the hunt, was heard by no man or beast. Kedemonas sniffed the air, sniffed the blood in the air, barely espying a flash of gold through the trees, just as irrelevant to the mortal world.
Signals all. Kedemonas stalked it, spun unsurprised on a hoof as the light danced on the edge of his vision.

A wolf snarled, eyes blazing gold, already leaping for his flank. Kedemonas had no recourse but to counter with something bigger - a cougar, hunting the hunter. His quarry twisted about, chasing the god's tail, now hooved and cantering and seeking to gore Kedemonas on its twisting horns.

A giant eagle, to hunt the mountain goat - a rat, to raid its nest - a snake - a mongoose - a wildcat-

Kedemonas blinked, looking for his gold-haloed quarry, but felt only a twist at his gut. Then another, smacking of something more symbolic than realistic. Something coiled, bringing an alien impression to the god's inner eye. No snap of the neck, no blood, no urgency to it. The sensation was disease and slow death condensed into a single idea, and as always, the god of the hunt had only one word.


The feeling faded, replaced by the something instead settling behind his eyes - borrowing them, or perhaps more aptly, sharing.

my son

It said. Kedemonas growled, but the tussle was insubstantial. A mere ritual.

"It is hardly victory if you must stoop to tapeworms and leeches, Zoo."

Your only recourse for my assuming man's form is man yourself
Or have you forgotten our last bout
I envision a legion more beasts worthy of slaying your wildcat if it pleases you
Though you lack the time for such games with your father
For what reason have you sought me out

Kedemonas paused, shifting deliberate from the corporeal glade at which they'd agreed to meet, back to wherever the gods go when there's no need to manifest. The gold faded from behind his eyes, diffusing instead into the entirety of the nowhere. The old god seemed content to let the younger lead the way wherever, barely enough of a presence to be frightfully rude were it any other god.

"It's not only I short of time, Zoo. Do the softskins' rumours fail to reach your ears?"

They do not

"Does it not concern you?"

It does not

The gold laughed this time, merry at the other god's angry confusion.

Do you forget I am, quite unequivocally, the mind of all things
Perhaps more specifically, the mind of all things dying
In one permutation or another
And bear in mind (haha) how that differs from being all the minds, my son

The stand of forest Kedemonas was barely traipsing through had, somehow, escaped the triple-gauntlet's teeth of flames and progress and the river. Perhaps it was magic, though they both sorely doubted it. Regardless, Zoo's voice was borrowed from the trees and the scrub and the chorus in the loam, the sort of struggles for existence with which Kedemonas never concerned himself. The larger creatures, the familiar creatures, had fled.

What I imply is this
The components do not concern me as much as the whole
The Circle rests on one thing predating the next-
Kedemonas cringed, hoping the old fool wouldn't crack his usual quip -though you're the expert on that
Some things are brighter, or louder, or play some other part disproportionate
But their time also comes
And as the mind of all things dying, I see you and I and the rest of a rabble you call a pantheon, we're all the same
We're struggling like the owls for nests where the rats can't reach, the rats for eggs they can
And by we I mean everyone but myself
And the river I suppose

The hunt-god twitched, licked away the pre-emptive taste of throat upon his teeth. It made sense, really. Kedemonas could respect her as a predator of the finest order; he'd rallied his hounds to the pursuit of lesser prey even as she chased them. "You know her?"

She's competition is what she is
She's eating the valley to death, not a single morsel to tick back over
She's just a very violent order to my similarly violent flux
If my emotional investment in the matter matched my godly investment you are talking to a god in the throes of despair

"You seem cheerful enough," growled Kedemonas. Zoo laughed again, borrowed the chorus of local insect chirps and let it ring out in a noise completely unlike laughter.

And thus, the sentiments so clearly lack the action's gravity
Logic, my son
Though considering all things I shall bawl all my literal eyes out and then some to sufficiently care
You tire of my presence, you are free to leave as I know where you head
If it pleases you I'm off to help a priest or two of mine

The local Between was being slowly absolved of Zoo, leaving Kedemonas with his own thoughts again.


Robin had found herself a better-fitting helmet, gloves which were more like gauntlets (with retractable fingers for fiddly work) a nice coat, and had just procured a pack from a surprisingly peacable... thing. It had plated armour fused to its skin, but Robin had had a polite chat with it about enough of its life story to placate it that she was pretty sure it was human.

She was just strapping her bundled-up labcoat in the spot a bedroll would've been, when Barbary hissed his petty little heron-noise of disapproval. Robin plucked the rafic from between her lips, where she'd put it for safekeeping, and gave the nearest heron a questioning look.

“Problem, officer?”

“Nothing so pertinent as to raise contention.” He flinched a bit as Robin unsheathed the dead soldier's knife, several of his birds taking flight as the blade whined into presumably-dangerous life. “Put that down!” he barked, assuming the voice and bodies of a quartet of coyotes. Robin raised an eyebrow, but slid it back out of harm's way.

“I'll tolerate your disregard for Zoo's will, but you'll make no use of the liar god's trinkets if you want my guidance.”

Robin would've laughed, but four coyotes were appreciably more convincing than a sedge of herons. She laid the combat knife beside its owner, and motioned at the pack. “I can still use this, right? I'm pretty sure it's just a bog-standard pack.”

“Before this war began,” growled Barbary, “I was raised Inderigan.”

Robin sighed internally, avoiding the physical act as a small courtesy but more because of the body a couple metres off. Barbary had steered her clear of any unwelcome attention, at least, so she owed him this much. Robin dragged her backpack a respectful distance from the priest, taking Barbary's lack of anger as approval.

“Right. But you changed allegiances to Zoo?”

“I'm a scholar, Pearson. Worship to me was a mere social more, though Inderigo was a pleasant enough god to live under. Knowledge for progress' sake, unlike the cults of Desolo or Res Rex.”

“Right, so which one's the liar god you're worried about?”

The coyotes paced around her, an arbitrary one uttering a bark of derision. “Neither! Even they preached reason and order, though they used Inderigan technology to seek it. I came to the valley to wage my own war, one my old god cares little about.”

“And that's... this guy's god?” Robin pointed at the priest, tacking the little voodoo needle into the lining of her coat's inner breast pocket. “He sort of looks like one of your guys, but tried turning into a pangolin and messed up. He said his god's name was... Cindy? Sidney?”

Visindi,” spat Barbary, “is a self-styled 'God of Science.'”

“Wait. Like, just, science? Are we talking arcane sciences, or the traditional kind, or-”

“He purports to preach 'Science.'” Clang clang, went the quotation marks. “Under this institution, he grants boons that casually disregard laws of physics and biology, in pursuit of some... aesthetic.”

Robin scoffed. “Aesthetic? You mean, like, steel corridors, labcoat and goggles and rubber gloves to the elbows, tests tubes and clipboards and green vats with 'genetic experiments' floating in-”

Robin was forced to stop here, because Barbary looked awestruck. Fourstruck, even.

She snorted - well, laughed, mostly, but there was definitely a hint of something condescending and nasally therein. “Seriously? Of all the progress and reason he could've brought to the world, that's what the god of science is doing?” Barbary took a trepidatious pace or four back, hackles rising. “Colour me impressed, because I've never seen a cause I could justify killing another human over, but that is borderline-”

Robin didn't get to finish that, because something plucked her by the neck with two ugly great talons, and stabbed her through the stomach with a third.


The chimera, on the non-pointy end of the claws, announced with a laugh: “Greetings, Barbary! It is I, Deacon Cathedral, dispatch on behalf of brilliant merciful Visindi himself!”

“Save your breath, buffoon. Your physiology is an impossibility, to speak and belch your plague-breath in a single organism.”

Cathedral just laughed again, waving a semi-carapaced paw with a necrologist still dangling off it. “Doubt not the miracles bestowed upon we servants of Visindi! I offer you the chance again, Brother, to repent and join us!”

“How do you loudmouths not attract gunfire wherever you fly,” snarled Barbary.

“Invisibility!” boomed Cathedral, leaning in nice and close to get the point across, beaming at the terrified hounds. A forelimb swung forth in what would've been a genial movement were the deacon not the size of a house. Three of the coyotes sprinted for cover, one holding the chimera's gaze even as its own legs tried to scramble to safety.

"Every time, Cathedral! You perform this charade as though I have a choice - as though my answer could be any different!"

Cathedral tilted his head back and cackled - the battle-cry of some avatar of the mad scientist archetype. A porcupine's tail rattled, loosing yardstick barbs in an arc behind the last coyote. His eyes - predatory, perhaps mammalian, but hard to say in that melanged face of multiple creatures- glowed, with a cruelty more human than beastly.

"Visindi may have infinite patience for you, Barbary, but he is an immortal god. I am not, and I find your resistance - not to mention my constant stationing in this position to convert you - tiresome. Degrading. An insult. You're the scraps of a pack of curs, Visindi forbid he tells me what worth you are to anyone!"

"Less than nothing," retorted the coyote, after a pause to let its racing mind find a place to stop. "I am a loss to your organisation, not a gain."

Cathedral seemed to consider, before bellowing again. "How Inderigan of you, heathen! Regardless! I tire. You've been given ample chances, so on pain of death and or your body's contribution to the furthering of Visindi: Will you join us?"

Coyotes to maggots, to a great horde of ants. They rushed the chimera as one, as many crushed beneath Cathedral's hooves as successfully latching to the hide and scales and fur, the sea of red rippling with grub-white as chitin cracked and mandibles were torn off, before it reformed and new ants drew fresh blood.

Cathedral roared, tossed the aberration's companion to the rocks like a bag headed for the autoclave to get its claws free, then gave up and unfurled seven rows of dragonfly wings and leapt into the air. He screeched obscenities and yelled a pox upon Barbary and all his ilk, the latter of whom was showering the clearing in maggots.

Robin's eyes snapped open, clenching shut again at the faint wet noise of one of Barbary's constituent grubs landing on her cheek. She clenched them shut again until the deacon's shadow flashed across her eyelids, before lifting a hand with almost mechanical slowness, curiously tremor-free. Robin explored the wound in her stomach, gingerly poking around to figure out what was ripped up, while a handful of crows bounced into the kiltered-over slice of sky from which she couldn't tear her gaze.

"What manner of monstrosity are you," marvelled the crow. Robin took a deep a breath as she could, still quite conspicuously moving single muscles at a time, and found Cathedral had done the small mercy of missing her lungs.

"Good," she said, still not moving, in a monotone that would've been relatively amicable in any other situation. "It's a quirk of mine. Body shut down but I missed the crash and I'm back to clean up."

"I can still breathe. Small mercy. Ha," said Robin, after an unpleasant couple of seconds trying to squelch out an actual laugh. "Makes talking easier. Need a doctor though."

"No surgeon could fix you, Pearson."

"Stop the bleeding. Digestive system's inefficient anyway. Shut it off. Everything else should work after. Barbary. Please. I can't say I've had worse but. I studied to be a surgeon before things changed. I know anatomy. Ha. Ha."

Barbary shifted through a few forms again, perhaps in some approximation of his internal turmoil, before finally finding the form of some parrot, presumably to handle words better. "I suggest an alternative, Pearson. I pass to you Zoo's teachings. With will like yours, you'd shrug off any injury, and he would not reject you if you chose-"

"No. Thanks though. Just. Please help me. Do as I say and I'll be fine."

Robin yanked the corners of her mouth into a smirk-snarl-smile.

"You help me and I'll help you. We'll destroy the-" gurgle-snigger "-church. Of Visindi. Sounds like a blast."

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Jacquerel.

Amaranth hadn't been entirely certain, not even when she set off, what she had expected to find when they reached the source of the detonation that had rocked the Godsworn Valley. Probably the site of some battle or the blazing wreckage of some bombed citadel, somewhere that there were people that needed help. As callous as it might sound, helping someone in need tends to make them more likely to listen to what you have to say than if you're coming to the table empty handed and she was going to need a lot of advantages if she were to make much impact on a region that already had so much entrenched religion (if The Outsider were to be believed anyway).
Regardless, while what they found might have once been a battlefield (it was hard to tell) they were far too late to lend any aid.

The treeline ended abruptly in a jagged fence of exploded trunks, giving way to a blasted plain of blackened earth, charred so thoroughly that it crunched underfoot. Oddly, the circle of death was marred by a twisting corridor of trees that seemed to have survived the wildfire mostly untouched. Some still dripped with water, even, which was odd because there wasn't any nearby and it hadn't been raining. With lack of any other direction Amaranth decided to follow this path as it wound towards the middle of the burnt clearing, if there was going to be anyone at all here it would be that way.

Chaete had returned to the surface with another round of inane questions some time before they approached but gradually quietened the further they travelled, edging her way closer towards the protective presence of the sole Supportive Adult she had met so far with all the subtlety an enormous worm-child could muster.
Beside her clumsy movements and the distant flames still dancing at the other side of the artificial clearing (far in the distance) there was no movement or other signs of life, though the ashes floating heavy in the air suggested that until recently there had been both here in some abundance.

This wasn't what Amaranth had been hoping to find at all, thought she was too busy being unnerved to be particularly disappointed. Nothing remained of the people that had evidently been here before whatever it was that had caused the explosion but a carpet of black dust and while that would still probably produce a passable fertiliser it would be of entirely the wrong kind.
She'd heard stories of war before of course, and people had tried similar slash and burn tactics against The Union in the past (almost too terrible to think about) but at least the soldiers there had been motivated by understandable (misguided, ignorant, tragic but understandable) fear. Obviously these trees weren't special in any way, she hadn't had any qualms about burning some herself to make an escape, but that someone would be prepared to destroy so many at once in a single detonation was a sobering thought. Weren't they going to live in these lands after they had conquered them? What was the point of burning them all?

And what a tremendous waste of life! To dwell on it for too long was actually a little nauseating, though she held it back in order to keep her composure. The ethical ramifications of... Chaete in general were still chasing each other around her head but until she had resolved them she would have to try and act as a proper ambassador for her people. Even though she knew the Space Worm wouldn't have been able to make much of her facial expression anyway, the fact that she was wearing a mask made staying calm a little easier.

Chaete didn't seem to be enjoying the view (or the complete lack of cover and hiding places) a great deal either, having stayed mercifully but uncharacteristically quiet since they had rounded the last hill. The deep silence left her fidgeting with discomfort and scraping lines in the ash with her steel fingers and when the oppressive stillness finally became too much for her to bear any longer she reared up to disappear into safety underground, at which point a fairly unpleasant thought occurred to Amaranth.

“Wait!”, Chaete stopped, “I... don't think you want to be eating that.”
She regarded the black dirt with some degree of suspicion, it wasn't hard to believe that something which tasted so bad couldn't be trusted! “Why not?”
“Well unless I'm wrong”, Amaranth nudged a suspicious off-white lump with one foot, “and I don't think I am, quite a bit of this dirt is made of, well... people.”
As Chaete squealed and rolled over in the ash as a self-defeating attempt to shake it off, she wondered if maybe she should have just kept that detail to herself.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Ceraceans were fighting a losing battle, that was obvious to everyone, but you had to give them a bit of credit in that they had been losing it for quite a long time and did not plan on giving up any time soon. Life at sea can be tough, but for whaler and pirate alike it is chiefly composed of long stretches of drawn out tedium punctuated by brief periods of frenzied violence. They had experience with living through long periods of hardship and this was just the latest test set to them by their abusive deity.
Ceraceros always believed in rewarding service by withholding his gifts rather than granting boons. You would give him sacrifice to prevent a terrible storm or sudden month-long doldrums, rather than to fill your nets with fish (in fact, any form of whaling at all tended to require some form of appeasement, and he certainly wasn't going to make it any easier for you even after that) so upon learning that his control over the spheres of storm, tide and shoals were all but useless in a windless valley with two rivers his followers could actually take comfort rather than dismay, even if it meant they weren't going to be receiving much in the way of help.

They still had to do what he wanted though if they ever wanted to return to the sea (and what they previously defined as their lives). No matter how long the odds they weren't going to be allowed to turn back, there was too much at stake.

Anyway the key point here is that despite their clear disadvantages, neatly embodying the idiom “fish out of water”, one thing they did not lack was persistence and while it had definitely provided a temporary respite for Chaete and Amaranth, they'd be damned if they let a bit of fire get in their way for long. There wasn't any particular way for them to guess where the other portal led to and there was very little chance they'd be able to douse the blaze now that it had really got going but what they did have were pressure suits and while they were really designed for descending into the ocean, they sufficed for a twenty second dash through a forest fire if they'd been thoroughly soaked beforehand.

Their quarry had been guarded by some form of mad nun (no surprise, as mad nuns were basically all that they'd been fighting for the past several months) which meant that it was even now being taken into the hands of some other faction. Fortunately (or, unfortunately depending on your perspective) Chaete's winding trail was simplicity itself to follow even for the least experienced forest trackers.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The minimum mandated size for an anomalous instrument investigation team was three. Six of the nine battle clergy had volunteered to guard the vehicle as soon as they had entered within the accepted radius of error for the last transmitted position of their tracking device, after they had seen the smoke rising on the horizon. Try as she might the young cleric couldn't find any regulations that forbade this, so she and the two slowest on the uptake were forced to set out almost alone towards the crater.

What was their stolen gear even doing in there? The best she could hope was that it was on some poor corpse and they could take it and get out of there as quickly as possible. One thing you'd never lack for in the halls of Res Rex were charts and maps and while in moments of weakness the young priest might begin to entertain questions about how they could all be true when they were clearly different shapes, one thing they all seemed to agree on was that this little section of the forest was more often than not posted with Obscurans and unless She Herself had been sitting in this explosion at the time, the goddess was going to be mightily pissed.

The younger of her two escorts, the one who'd protested loudest at the “cowardice” of their compatriots and had to be reminded of the proper procedures for submitting a formal complaint, had been ranging ahead and now beckoned them behind a tree, hailing them in a hushed voice.

“Massive burnt clearing up ahead and there's no cover at all. Can't move across it now though either, there's a handful of pirates up ahead who've got here before us. Not really sure what they're after to be honest. Think they're responsible?”
The older one shook his head, the Ceraceans were even less relevant to the Valley's big picture than they were, regardless of the current status of their God, and there was basically no chance they'd be responsible for blasting Obscura's doorstep this late into the engagements.
Their presence did create a bit of a problem though because by the time their frankenstein tankboats had trundled their way into the theatre of war, Res Rex had already been on the way out. The only instruction he'd left with regards to dealing with them were in the form of receipts, trade agreements, lists of debts... and nothing particularly useful outside of peace time.

“Come on, they haven't noticed we're here. The two of us could get the drop on them and that'd be that!”
“No wait! You can't!” the cleric rifled through a battered tome frantically but there didn't seem to be anything there. “It's not in the rules!”
He sighed and tapped his foot against a trunk in agitation, still watching the distant party of sailors through a pair of binoculars. It was clear he wasn't going to hold back all that long.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“Thar she blows!” exclaimed a grizzled whaler waving his telescope, his beard fraying in odd directions after being stuffed into the helmet he was now carrying under his other arm. His commanding officer slapped it out of his hand.
“Cut it out Andrews! We're enough of a laughing stock as it is without anyone furthering these bloody stereotypes.”
“Sorry ma'am.”

He was right though, even encumbered by diving costumes (they didn't have time to undress again on the other side, and they were modern enough not to be too restrictive) it hadn't taken them too long to make up for their lost ground. The Captain had seen the lurid red and pink of their target even sooner than her ageing first mate, the only question was how to proceed with capture.
Its ability to eat holes in the air wasn't really an effective escape mechanism because they could just follow it, but they did have to worry about its bodyguard.
Obviously there were more of them than there were the one of her, however this whole detour would have been a waste of time if they killed their quarry in the crossfire of a firefight and whoever's beast this was seemed to think a single escort would be sufficient, so she must be pretty good at her job.

And there was the matter of the greenhorn scout and his two pals that had been tailing them for the past ten minutes, evidently believing that they hadn't been spotted. The fool was going to try and ambush them any minute and that would give them both away. While the wormholes were easily navigable she didn't feel up to leading a team through one in single-file, with who knows what waiting on the other side. Not much she could really do about it for the moment though.

“What is that they're looking at?” asked the battle-minister, mostly to himself, “think it's what we're after?”
His veteran buddy merely shrugged and the cleric was too busy rummaging through her spacious pack of scrolls for something more enlightening to give any meaningful response.
“I'm going to go get a closer look.”
“No, stop! We need to know what it is first! How else do we know what the proper response is?”
Unfortunately, Battle-Priest One was about as undevout as it was possible to get in the religious corps though and was having none of it, stepping forwards through the brush with what he obviously thought was subtlety.

“What the hell is he doing now?”
“He's moving in on our target!”
“Can I take him out?”
The sea captain growled to herself and rolled her eyes, but if they didn't do something he was just going to call attention to himself anyway.
“Yeah, alright. You get him. Quietly.”

They almost managed that second part too, he didn't have time to yell before the harpoon drove itself through his lung and nailed him to a tree as a stark monument to the values of following instructions carefully, and while the muted ”Thunk!” it had made was still loud, it probably was not quite enough for Amaranth to hear. Unfortunately in the slightly overenthusiastic silent celebrations following their success someone accidentally hit the detonator, and the end of the harpoon, the tree and most of the unfortunate scout showered themselves over the nearby area with a cacophanous noise that could even have been heard from underground.

“Andrews you complete pillock!”

All pretence of stealth now abandoned, the glade awoke with the sound of gunfire as the Ceraceans brought their more traditional arms to bear on the followers of Res Rex and the cleric's sole remaining bodyguard shouted into his radio for the rest of his team back with the van to get off their asses and reinforce them.
The cleric herself just sort of stood there staring at the ruined, red-spattered pages in her hands until the veteran pushed her out of the way behind a tree.

“You never seen a man die before, girl?”
She shook her head and he sighed, partly with empathy but mostly in annoyance.
“Alright here's what we're going to do. The cavalry will be here in a moment and they've got a battle-wagon. These sailors can't shoot worth a damn and they'll be more interested in firing at the guy shooting at them than a tiny thing like you.
Run along and get our guns back and I'll keep them off you until our ride's here, alright?”

This plan wasn't written in any books and for good reason, frankly it barely made any sense at all and this was mostly because the battle-priest cared less about her safety than he did about getting the untrained almost-civilian who fell apart at the first sign of battle out of his hair so that he could get things done, but she was too shell-shocked to notice or care at the moment. Clutching her GPS for dear life she sprinted across the ash waste barely cognizant of the bullets thudding into the dust under her feet.

She nearly screamed aloud when the “target” arrow suddenly reversed its direction, but by then the shimmering hole Amaranth had disappeared through was within sight and it didn't take a genius to put two and two together. The air on the other side of the portal tasted strangely heavy and she'd caught her foot on the lower rim of the apeture as she'd dived through, sending her sprawling on her face in the grass in a snowstorm of dislodged pages.

When she looked up, someone was pointing a gun at her and her sensor was beeping with joy at finding its mate. The heaviness increased. A monster with 17 eyes was sharpening its claws and rubbing its face against the ground in her peripheral vision but she had the weirdest feeling that everything was going to be ok. She burst into tears.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by One.

Arokht snarled, raising his cannon arm. Cold blue light danced on its surface. He wasn’t sure how he’d fight this manifold monster, but by the Twin Gods he was willing to try.

How do you fight something like Sonora, said Arokht’s more rational side. It has no definite shape. It can be anywhere it wants to be.

Shut up, said Arokht’s more emotional side, I will kill it.

The iceworlder stood motionless as his rage and his logic fought for dominance. Then, with a twitch of his arm, his subzero cannon fired--not at Sonora’s serpentine avatar, but into the darkness deeper within the cavern. The freezing beam radiated such intense cold that just being near it chilled one to the bone. Anila shivered. Sonora sang.

“Global warming ain’t got nothing on this chick...”

The iceworlder fumed, struggling to contain his anger. The loss of one of his guide-underlings was acceptable, he reasoned. He still had three more, though it seemed the chaplain was the only one who mattered. Besides, they were aliens. Who cared if an alien died?

A horrible realization dawned on Arokht.

Squashing his epiphany before he could think about it too much, the iceworlder turned his attention to Rachel--the one that made sense when it spoke. “No more frivolity. You, with Sonora, must make alliance to me.”

Rachel almost laughed. “If you want me to buddy up with you, good fucking luck. I’ve had enough of gods and monsters. You’re on your own.”

“Unacceptable. Alliance is priority.” Arokht’s voice bordered on the subsonic. “Your cooperation is paramount.”

“You heard me, right? I said no,” growled the girl, the David to an armored Goliath. A harsh glow rose from her body. “Now get the hell away from me or I burn you to a crisp.”

The iceworlder’s stance shifted. Bringing his colossal body lower to the ground, Arokht prepared to lunge. “My armor will protect. Your armor is deficient. Cooperate or I break every limb in your--”

“Come on, how’s she supposed to say yes when you haven’t even told her what you need her for?”

Four pairs of eyes (and one quadruple set) turned towards Anila, carefree as ever. The silence would have been complete, were it not for Sonora’s soft, ceaseless crooning.

“...I need you like a lighthouse on a coast, like the Father and the Son need the Holy Ghost...”

“We’re gonna kill the Outsider!”

More silence. Brother Gelu looked from figure to figure, fidgeting nervously. His two surviving soldiers remained as placid as ever.

This time, Rachel did laugh. There was no humor in it--only exasperation and disbelief. “And how are we supposed to do that? In case you haven’t noticed, it dragged us here across whole damn universes. God knows what else it can do. You have no idea what you’re up against.”

She swept her arms around in a gesture that seemed to encompass not only those within the cave, but also everybody outside of it: to the other, absent ‘contestants’, to the warring armies, to the gods themselves.

“None of us do.”

“So be it,” replied Arokht.

“If I die because of the Outsider, I die fighting it,” he thundered. “I will not obey its whims. Neither will you.”

“It wants us to kill each other,” continued the iceworlder. “Normally I would do so, with immense pleasure. But this is not normal. And I do not take orders from aliens,” he said, spitting out the word like a curse.

“I will not fight. You will not fight. The Outsider wants us to die. None will. We will not obey, and we will force it into the open. And in the open I will kill it.”

It was at this point that the long-suffering Brother Gelu decided to interrupt.

“Begging your pardon, great lords, but, er, I suggest that we move somewhere else.”

He shrank beneath Arokht’s and Rachel’s glares. Breaking into a conversation between beings that could kill you in a heartbeat was never a good idea. “No disrespect intended, but, ah, our approach may have been noticed by other forces, and we Frostsworn are rather unpopular this side of the battlefield.”

If the chaplain were still capable of sweating, he would have done so. Unfortunately, the faithful of the Church of Frigidus tended to start losing bodily functions as they rose in power.

“Raxis undoubtedly knows something just wiped out one of his squads single-handedly, so they’ll want to make sure it doesn't do any more harm,” continued Gelu, desperately trying to keep another awkward silence from descending. “They’ll send a Makhê if we’re lucky. A missile strike if we aren’t. We must leave before that happens.”

He fumbled with one of the pouches on his midriff. Arokht looked on, utterly inscrutable to the chaplain. But since the armored demon hadn’t butchered him for disrespect yet, Brother Gelu figured he was doing something right.

“Here,” said the chaplain, unfolding a somewhat battered map. Its surface was covered in symbols and lines that neither Arokht nor Rachel could make any sense of. Gelu knelt, spreading the map on the floor. He pointed at a blob of red stripes. “We’re here, I think. Near the edge of Raxis territory, but the lines have probably changed in the last twelve hours. Still, unfavorable conditions.”

“But...there’s a forest over here,” he said, moving a finger to a long swath of dark green. “Contested ground, but that just means Raxis guerillas’ll be too busy fighting Ceraceans or something to seek us out. It would make an excellent refuge.”

A huge, four-fingered hand shoved him to the ground. Lumbering forward, Arokht seized the map in his secondary arms. His triangular head tilted as he examined it. Though the iceworlder couldn’t read the map's symbols, the geography it showed was as clear as day. The chaplain had brought up a good point: Raxis would undoubtedly make a second attempt to kill him. A being of Arokht’s power must not be allowed to survive, so close to Raxis territory. And if the god of war intended to kill him, they wouldn’t waste soldiers assaulting an easily defensible position. They would use artillery to collapse the cavern mouth, either crushing the iceworlder or trapping him inside should he stay within. But the forest provided cover. The thick canopy would hide him from Raxis's targeting systems, and Arokht’s own sensors would easily detect foes waiting in ambush.

He might even find some of the other ‘contestants’ there. Who knew?

“Very well,” rumbled the iceworlder. “We march.”

He cast a look at Rachel and--no, Sonora had vanished again--and stated, “You follow, unless you want to die when the missiles come.”

Arokht tossed the map back to Gelu and trudged outside.

Re: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Originally posted on MSPA by Sanzh.

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
"Where do those tunnels lead, anyway?" Anila looked down at Rachel from her seat on Akroht's chassis, friendly (or maybe sociopathic) smile on her face.

Rachel narrowed her eyes. "Bunch of fucking darkness and misery. Why the hell do you care?"

"Dunno, it looked interesting. Some kind of dungeon? A labyrinth, maybe? Could be treasure in there... Ah well! Don't want to be around when the missiles hit." Anila began whistling to herself as she watched the forest grow larger on the horizon.

Rachel stared in equal amounts disgust and disbelief. Did the girl have no comprehension of what she was involved with here? Did she have a complete inability to process death or danger? Was she just really fucking high?

Funny, Rachel thought. Usually she was the crazy one.

"Incoming!" Brother Gelu shouted, suddenly dropping to the ground with the rest of his unit. The three outsiders failed to follow suit. A pitch-black missile shot overhead, its deafening roar barely registering in the ears of the observers before being replaced with an even more deafening boom. Rachel braced against the oncoming shockwave. Anila was sent toppling to the ground.

"Get up and keep moving!" the Iceworlder roared. He couldn't care less that Raxis's army was firing missiles, given that it was the obvious tactical choice and that they had predicted it in enough advance to not be blown into tiny chunks. He marched on without so much as waiting for a response, leaving the troops of Frigidus scrambling to keep up.

Anila sprinted and leaped back onto Akroht's back, much to his annoyance. Meanwhile, she kept on whistling and humming the march away, seemingly ignorant to the craters, the bloody corpses, the ash-streaked debris of vehicles long demolished.

In truth, she was trying not to look at them.

- - -


An emotionless red eye scanned the battle-scarred plains. Seven figures. Four easily-neutralized troops of Frigidus. Two unidentified humans: one not a threat, one potentially dangerous. And, of course, the alien supersoldier.

He'd watched the latter of those wipe out an entire squad of Predators without so much as a dent in his armor. Fortunately for him, he was not a mere Predator.

Designation, H-034. Classification, Hunter. He had no name. The soldiers of Raxis had no need for names. All were expendable.

A pitch-black rifle, various crevices along its surface glowing a blood red, whirred to life in his hands as he sat, crouched in the trees, unseen and undetectable. Behind him, two dozen Predators waited, crouched over a pile of broken Ceracean corpses. The enemies of Raxis would be dead before they had time to learn the error of their ways.

- - -

Wizard Jelly, I'm bored.

The entrapped shapeshifter gazed outward through Anila's eyes. The forest drew nearer by the minute, surprisingly intact considering the judicious use of artillery in the vicinity. Couldn't have been much alive in there except the warring soldiers, though. Seemed awfully quiet though. A good place to hide, Wizard Jelly decided.

It was one of the few times the blue blob actively observed its environment beyond the woman it inhabited. Usually it only did so when she was doing something stupid, which, it had to admit, was very frequently. In the meantime, it had been wracking its magical brain-analogue for a solution to Anila's predicament, coming up empty every time. As far as it could tell, though, she didn't have long. It was quite doubtful that she could survive total conversion - the rate of which was increasing exponentially.

Maybe when they were hiding in the peaceful and certainly not dangerous forest up ahead, it'd have more time for thinking. Surely there was something it could do, surely-

Hello, Wizard Jelly? You in there? Anila knocked lightly on the side of her head.

Er, yes, Anila. Is there something you need? Her blissful attitude was disheartening. She had no idea that she was going to die, and he couldn't even think of how to stop it. Damn wizard.

Dunno. There's nothing going on out here. No weird monsters, no cursed artifacts... Anila paused as the group passed a few battle-scarred trees. There's not even anyone trying to kill us!

It would've been extremely well-timed (if unfortunate) if, at that exact moment, Anila and co. were attacked, as is often the case when someone mentions such things. Instead, an awkward silence. Everyone had pretty much stopped talking - in Rachel's case, probably for the best. She seemed the type to get angry easily.

Another couple minutes passed, nothing but the mechanical stomps of Akroht's armor (which mostly drowned out other footsteps) breaking the silence. Then, very suddenly, Akroht was on the ground and Anila was sent flying.

When Anila tried to recall what had happened afterward, she had a difficult time. A handful of events, a series of disjointed snapshots of memory:

- Anila was shot several times.

- A bunch of the black-armored guys popped out of nowhere and opened fire.

- Things started getting warmer.

- Brother Gelu and his men ran for cover - one of them was shot and fell to the ground.

- Akroht stood strong, firing his cannon in a rage. He was blown back by something a second time.

- One in much bulkier armor dropped out of a tree, wielding the biggest gun Anila had ever seen.

- Rachel screamed in fury.

- Anila ran toward Akroht to help.

- Anila tried to run.

- The soldier with the big gun stood over the wounded man, then crushed his head with the butt of his rifle.

- The ground exploded. Anila's lower leg became a bloody mess.

- Disjointed yelling, a lot of dirt and underbrush.

- Pain.

When she woke up, Anila was slumped against a tree, deep in the forest. Akroht, Rachel, and the followers of Frigidus were nowhere to be seen. For once, Anila decided to do the sensible thing and not call for them.

In a smooth motion, Anila leaped to her feet, ignoring her injuries completely. She'd been hurt worse than this before. Once. She took a quick look at her right foot - it had been replaced by an identical one, albeit translucent and blue. Felt pretty normal to her, though. She'd need some new boots later.

Hey, Wizard Jelly, what happened? Are the others okay?

I don't know anything more than you do. You passed out, and I made you run. We're at least a mile into the forest now. Just be glad you're alive.

Anila looked around, clearly worried. Nothing but greenery in any direction.

I hope they're okay.

Picking a completely arbitrary direction, Anila began running, shoving vines and branches aside with her uselessly-dulled "sword". A smoky haze clouded the battle-scarred forest, vainly attempting to choke out the life that remained, the towering trees that refused to fall as countless soldiers had. At least once, Anila tripped over an unseen root or a misplaced rifle and landed face-to-decaying-face with one of the slain. She quickly got up and kept moving. No sense in disturbing the newly-dead - that was one of the few boundaries she preferred not to overstep without a reason more significant than, say, boot-thievery. Besides, her replacement foot was holding up fine.

It really was strange - Gelu had called the forest "contested ground", but it seemed pretty tranquil to her. Aside from the occasional far-off explosion or missile streaking overhead, all was disturbingly serene. And... really boring, actually. She missed Visindi. His obviously-legitimate science was much more interesting than an empty forest. There weren't even any mythical beasts to tame, or trap-filled ruins to explore with reckless abandon.

Another missile rushed overhead. Anila braced her had against the oncoming gust of wind - it hit her directly from the front. Wherever the missiles were launching from, she was heading straight toward it. Now that seemed like an interesting place to go! The god of war's temple, maybe? Anila pushed the ambush out of her mind and ran forward in excitement.

Hold on, Anila! the shapeshifter thought-shouted. It'd been quiet for a while, lost in futile thought.

Anila skidded to a halt. Something wrong?

You're deep in the territory of the omnicidal war god, and you're not looking out for his troops. There are some right ahead of you, which I guess you can't see yet.

Alright, alright. Sure. But we're still going this way, okay?

Like I could stop you anyway, the shapeshifter mumbled.

Silently, Anila crept through the brush, quickly reaching an unseen clearing. A trio of Predators stood by some sort of metallic, armored vehicle, far more advanced than anything Anila had seen before. The open hatch on top beckoned to her. Called her. She knew what had to be done.

Silently, fluidly, Anila slipped between trees, lining herself up with the back of the vehicle. No guns or anything mounted on it - must've just been used to transport the troops. They were far too busy fighting some unseen foe to notice her, thankfully. Anila took a deep breath, then went for it. A sprint, a series of leaps and flips, and a final dive into the hatch, all within seconds.

A series of dim, red screens glowed before her, at the front of the empty vehicle. A bunch of buttons and switches lined the control panel in front of her, but of course she had no idea what any of them did. Maybe Visindi would know... Nah, she could figure it out. A pair of levers, one obviously intended for each hand, pointed at her tantalizingly. And who was she to turn down mysterious, unidentified levers? She gave them both a hearty push.

The last remnants of their foes decimated, Predator squad P-045 turned around. With some dismay, they noted that their armored transport was pulling away without them.

Raxis wasn't going to be happy about this.

- - -

That. Was. AWESOME! Anila shouted to her blood. She waited a while, but got no response. Huh. Wizard Jelly was probably just too in awe to speak, and definitely not annoyed or anything.

Anila pounded on the crumpled hatch for a while, eventually resorting to prying it open with her sword. Bits of concrete crumbled around her as she climbed out, sliding down the horribly-deformed remains of the tank she'd expertly piloted, now lodged in the Temple of Raxis's brand-new door. He'd probably thank her later.

The adventurer tiptoed away, the corridor poorly lit by an array of flashing red lights. Even the lightest of footsteps echoed out on the black, reflective tiles - she stuffed her remaining boot into her coat before proceeding onward.

If the Temple of Raxis was one thing, it was massive - the wide hallways extended up into the darkness, no ceilings in sight. Only the occasional bridge or overhang interrupted the darkness. A plethora of gray banners hung from these, each emblazoned with the familiar image of a sword-pierced skull. Dotted along each wall were a series of sliding doors, similar to Visindi's but much less showy.

Anila slipped behind one of the banners as one of the doors gave way to an outpour of soldiers, singlemindedly pursuing the security breach she'd long since abandoned. This was going to get interesting.

- - -


A series of armored figures sat around a rectangular table, lit only by the glow of the massive screens that surrounded it. Tactical maps, camera feeds, and the like provided constant updates on the state of the battle, information vital to most of the room's occupants and completely worthless to their deity.

Their attention was, instead, focused on the screen at the head of the room, plastered with the scowling face of Raxis himself. They were the Strategists, the only followers of the god of war who stayed behind, who never had the opportunity to know conquest and bloodshed firsthand. Raxis's patience for them had always been thin, his respect negligible. These "cowards", as he was quick to call them, were only tolerated because they were necessary. Necessary to command the Hunters and Commanders, necessary for coordinating missile strikes, necessary for en masse deployment of soldiers.

"You mean to tell me that a Hunter, and his entire Predator squad, were wiped out by... by common scum? By a few of Frigidus's men?!" Raxis was furious, not only because of what had happened but because a minute spent talking to the cowards was a minute he was deprived of battle, of glorious bone-breaking and tendon-snapping.

"There were others, sir," the figure at the head of the table replied. "Their presence was unanticipated, and they were far, far stronger than expected. They only suffered minor casualties - a Frigidus soldier killed, and an unaffiliated human girl critically woun-"

"Spare me the details, coward. There was something else you wished to tell me?" The face onscreen glared impatiently.

"Y-yes, sir. You see, not long after the engagement, squadron P-045's Megáli was commandeered by an unknown insurgent. The very same Megáli managed to evade all of the Temple's defenses and ultimately breach the wall. It's been recovered, but we've found no trace of the driver. We can only assume they have infiltrated the Temple - security measures are being taken."

"IDIOTS!" Raxis roared. "Not only have you failed to neutralize the remnants of our oldest enemy, but your incompetence has now brought an intruder into the temple! You will capture them at once, or be executed for treason. I don't have time for you."

"Do not worry, sir. The intruder will be dealt-"


The head Strategist paused midsentence.


The War Room had only one entrance, accessible solely by a long series of security doors and heavily-guarded passages. A few loud thumps and some muffled shouting later, the door began to grind open. Each of the Strategists reached for their rifles - unimpressive weapons, intended only as a last resort. Few of them had ever been in battle before. They expected the worst.

Instead, the door opened to reveal a short woman in a wizard hat, smile spread across her face. Around her lay several unconscious guards.

"Hi! Nice temple you've got here. Can you point those guns somewhere else, please?"
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
I swear to whatever forsworn deities oversaw your creation, Pearson, you'd best have a plan.

They'd trekked a mile in the steady drizzle, two boars bearing a carcass to the nearest Inderigan outpost. Barbary still knew the warning signs, or maybe he could smell them on the landscape like the offal-pits they were. It wasn't difficult, finding them.

Explaining how it hadn't been difficult, that was harder. The sentries refused to negotiate with all of Barbary's animals, words only for the human that finally, begrudgingly, fronted. Naked. Shivering like his muscles didn't quite fit him right. The four of them had waited in the rain until orders came through from the main temple. Barbary had refused trousers, and the soldiers promised they'd make a shambling mine of Robin if he grew so much as one extraneous hair. He'd settled for a shirt, draping it over his shoulders and tying the sleeves loosely back.

They'd let them come in from the rain, after an age. More correspondence from headquarters. More waiting. They took Robin to Triage, and Barbary fought them tooth and talon and several other appendages until he got assurance that it wasn't a euphemism. Some final messenger-ghoul must've arrived, because they were moving again, hustled by sombre-visaged Shamblers into a fleshcart which scuttled through the warzone on three dozen simian legs. Barbary refused to ride with the guards, sulking up on the roof as a flock of crows, hunched and huddled against the rain.

Robin was tended to by bone-fingered creatures. They creaked as they sewed, making discontent little groans whenever the cart trundled too quickly over a rock. Other than a skirmish a hill or so away (according to Barbary, anyway) between Raxis' forces and another walking catastrophe of Visindi's, the trip was peaceful. Unsettlingly so. Then the great iron teeth of Inderigo's cogs and machinations rose from the horizon to greet them, and swallowed them up. Barbary didn't know what form suited a place like this, other than something impractical like maggots. He settled instead for seventeen raccoons, forming a bandit phalanx around the meat-doll carrying the lifeless Robin like its corpse bride. A wicked-clawed second and third composed their escort, one clutching the necrologist's pack and coat.

Robin's eyes flicked open, twitched slowly about.

"These shamblers have no ears," muttered Barbary, not one of his thirty-four eyes looking straight at her. "You are a presumed Visindian spy, worthy of interrogation by High Priestess Scinda herself. The assumption is I brought you as tribute, a token of goodwill after I turned my back so long ago on god and country."

The woman's chest rose with excruiciating slowness. Barbary shot her a warning glare. Just one.

"They think you dead, your soul tethered with some stolen technology reserved for Inderigo's clergy. My curiosity on such matters was sated long ago. My only wish now is to crush Visindi's cult."

There was steel in the raccoon's voice, a cold deadliness that was so very human in origin.

"You promised to help me. Shirk that now and you'll be another showered spark in Inderigo's furnace. The High Priestess will see to it."

Robin didn't catch much of that. They were walking into something with a spectral ambience that didn't hum so much as wail. A deterrent to keep your soul-butchery clean, she supposed, and a bad case of the pseudo-corporeal jitters what threatened to dislodge her from her physical tether only reinforced the fact.

This was new territory. The best seat in the house in a decent-sized magic circle, if we were strictly off the record, not so much. Robin kept her eyes shut as they lowered her into position, resisting the urge to sit up and get a proper look at proceedings. Would they use the same syntax and arcane vocabulary her contemporaries used? I mean, of course not, this whole gods business implies a whole bunch of different underlying laws to this universe but what if-

"Rise, accused."

Robin found that a perfectly reasonable request, blinked a bit, and struggled into a seated position, working her shoulders. Her stomach region still felt kind of tender, but whatever magic these Inderigan types employed appeared to be (with a quiet sort of understated diligence) stitching her up from the inside out. Nice touch. Robin would've called it life magic or healing magic and a subsequent shade out of her area of expertise, but it wasn't like anyone else in the room cared.

"Hi," said Robin, experimentally. "Am I ok like this, or-"

"Do not speak unless addressed," rasped a distinctly automated kind of voice, devoid of personality or a clear source. Robin looked around anyway, trying to pinpoint it, but everything beyond the circle was a nondescript blur; a nonreality. Moving of her own accord was still difficult; she tweaked and tugged her eyes to the floor and absorbed what she could before they dilated back out of focus.

Fuck. Conditional relife within- what is this? A separate reality? Maybe? I guess I don't blame them, but shit. Shit shit fuck-

"Doctor Robin Peaugh fuck-" Lost in thought, Robin caught her mouth responding to a command for a name. She clamped down hard on her tongue, and assorted nerve receptors fired to the tune of pain and blood. She glared straight ahead, heedless of her audience's dumbstruck expression. Corpses, even haunted ones, didn't pull stunts like this under interrogation.

"I'm a non-combatant. I enter no plea for any accusations. And, I'm not answering to anything until I've got a lawyer."

A pause. "You are in no position to negotiate."

"Actually, considering I could tell you what you want to hear, or tell you what's actually happening, I'm sure there's-"

"No. I mean. You should not be capable of negotiating. Barbary." There was a tangible edge to the voice at that point; enough for Robin to get a sense of where in that nondescriptness beyond the circle. Look for the anger. Your anchor. There. Everything came into focus all at once, several lines in the magic circle snapped and crackled a warning as Robin took an unplanned step-

An emptiness stared back. A gap-in-space. A familiar face. A paper-thin facade of a familiar face, stretched across what adopted all the adjectives of, but still couldn't possibly be, a black hole. Robin's spectre or soul or whatever perched on the event horizon. She wasn't quite torn between her familiar vessel and this one, but Robin sensed a casual lean in either direction might warrant such a violent term for the feeling.

Someone - Scinda - snarled a warning. Robin took another step outside of everything, succumbing to the pull.

Florica jolted her back into vitality like that first cup of post-bender coffee, murky and bitter and hers and perfection. She sighed, and felt it catch in her throat as her fingernails (a bit too long, a bit too uneven) dug into her palms. She felt the thrum of machinery through the soles of her feet, an odd contrast to feeling it through her very self, and saw the body.

"Right," said Robin. Priorities. She looked next to the figures in the corners of the room, two Frankenstinean patchwork dolls stuffed with muscle and ensconced in circles of their own. To her left (Florica's left, Robin mentally corrected herself) was an anaconda. It was tensed in a way a herpetologist might expect from a smaller, more venomous snake, and its tail twitched like it had been expecting a rattle on the end of it.

"Barbary, it's me." She gestured to the floor. "Can you read any of this? I've got a plan, but I don't want all this screwing it up."

The snake hissed, shifted through a couple of intermediary forms, and settled on a peregrine falcon or fourteen. "You can read this?"

"A word here, familiar syntax there. I've read denser manuscripts, but I don't think my life ever counted on parsing a Masters paper. That's-" she pointed "-a conditional there, right?"

"A secondary conditional, yes."

"Fuck. Where's the original conditional, then?"

The falcons not actively reading shrieked in frustration. "Pearson, you said you had a plan!"

Robin was unmoved, gesturing impatiently toward the tidily-arranged rows of implements sitting on a desk. "Pen. Chalk. Whatever this priestess used to edit the circle's ruleset. Did you bring my equipment with me?"

Barbary sulked, to the best of his multiple-bodied ability. One of the falcons grabbed a stick of something like black chalk in an awkward talon, and dropped it in her hands. "It's elsewhere in this temple."

"Find it." Robin brooked no discussion, her attention focussed entirely on the circle. It took her a good three minutes before she dared mark the script with her own addition; she (Florica) sighed with visible relief when her first cautious, meticulously cross-referenced line didn't bring the whole thing crashing down or combusting. She looked to the body, and after a tense moment it took a shuddering breath. Robin (Florica) just about sagged with relief then and there.

"Cool. Ok. Barbary, trust me on this. I can get you your deicide, but I want my coat and my suitcase back. I also want to have a chat with this girl. Not the priestess-" Robin clarified, catching the suspicion "-I can't even tell where she is. It's this girl she was haunting, the one I'm talking through right now."

Barbary's glare was full of reproach, an expression falcons wore well. "You never explained your purpose here. Does this husk of Scinda's have something to do with you?"

Robin just smiled, or pulled the corners of Florica's mouth up into something more or less the same. "I'll explain later. Promise." Barbary still looked sceptical, but he disintegrated into a sea of something ectoparasitic and surged for the door, not even bothering to open it.

The necrologist-in-a-ghost-magnet took a few steadying breaths, then lay down and carefully arranged Florica's robes about her until they were comfortable.

Then, she screamed at the top of her lungs.


Exterior. A mountain slope. Rain, rain, rain. Watcher in the Woods, patron of the Hyleoroi, crownless king of predators, stands in the double-gloom of the rain and the Between.

Fade to faded, muddied gold.

If you've got guns, Son
now's the time for sticking

Kedemonas flinched. "You sound ill, Zoo."

A tactful choice of words, my son
One considers 'infected', but that incriminates a culprit that does not exist
No, you're afraid (my son) this is my necrosis

"I'm afraid?"

You acknowledge no death but the broken neck, the snakebite, the finishing blow
A dying like mine scares you, as rightly it should
For my lack of fear or dread or apprehension is just that, an absence
An absence you godlings are wont to fill flood with passion
Some toxic mockery in me of those emotions deems your passive demeanour unseemly

Zoo sighed. The mental note had a wet gurgle to it, to which Kedemonas flicked his ears and barked a callous laugh.

"This is unlike you, Zoo. You, who spent all existence mocking me, scoffing at the other gods, to fret for our continued existence! Is it the river in your lungs that changed your tune?"

Back to question every effort, back to challenge your command?
The better to form a sovereign nation
, snickered the old god.
No, Kedemonas, every beastly form is a macrocosm of the perfection of the now
And the price of existence in the now forever
Is to consign the forevers before and after to the darkness of ignorance

I am such a beast
Sprinting on the thinnest slice of now between an endlesss unknown before me and after me
And just like me, that unknown now has a tongue and jaws for her own
You know my son the role of prey in this gruesome world of ours

The gold settled about Kedemonas' shoulders like a cloak, or the desperate grounding grasp of a begging man. Kedemonas pulled it about himself, staring down at the flames and the rain and the death. "We are bested."

I am bested, remonstrated Zoo.
And it is to such fatalistic fancies that you are my son
My investment, my
pocket of gold
will never be enough to saay I do

I offer you
Or more accurately
Your passion, whatever will you have to ensure your continued existence
My domain and power, freely given, to do as you please
To storm Malhaven and seize the throne
End this war or tame the river
But to know full well that she will not stop at this valley
She will not stop at all the beasts, all the worshippers, all the mortal things and their mortal songs
And that your choice is now to fight or consign the world to silence

Zoo bowed his head, materialising at Kedemonas' feet as all the beasts to which the two had given names, for Kedemonas to impart as a gift at the birthplace of man. The old god shivered, shedding the black like a layer of ice or a raft of fleas. He stood radiant, the primal incarnation of life itself, and the Lord of the Hunt knelt before him.

I will all this to you, Kedemonas
My wilful child
My prodigal progeny

"My beloved father," growled Kedemonas, and he reached forward and ripped out the Millionbeast's throat.


Hey. Hello. Fl... Fr... Grave girl. Sorry, I'm bad with names.

Florica said nothing, instead sitting with priestly serenity in the ribcage of something very big and very defiant of the limits of its original physiology.

I'm Dr. Pearson. Robin, if you like. We're both contestants in that thing, with those other things. Well, other ladies, I guess. With that guy. You know who I'm talking about, right?

If Florica did, she gave no indication. Robin had been keeping as much of a spectral distance as she dared, but this Florica girl was alerting the necrologist to the fact ghosts were frigging everywhere in a warzone. That, or she just naturally attracted marauding souls in a five-mile radius, and a spirit more accustomed to a still-breathing body had the clout to keep the air ahead of her clear. The necrologist bit back the temptation to sigh with Florica's ribcage, wishing she could just entrust the whole facade to the girl and get her own body back. It was in a casket the next corpse ride over, for fuck's sake.

Look, I can understand if you're scared shitless right now, frankly, and I know my riding shotgun's only a liiiittle bit less ideal than some other ghost, but I want to help. I mean, I'd help right now, but I also promised I'd help this other guy, hence the 'leading all Inderigo's forces in a decisive strike against Visindi' plan. Thing.

If it bothers you? Sing out. I
promise I won't take this charade far enough to put you in danger, but maybe you'd rather not do this at all. I don't know.

Still nothing.

Listen, I'm not like the other ghosts. Well, I'm not even a ghost. Technically. I guess. Anyway. I'll figure out a way to fix you. Stop the ghosts. Let you live your own life again. Okay?

Robin wondered if the girl just wanted some peace and quiet in her head. She conceded that being jostled and cajoled, albeit only to the ends of just talking, was still much the same of what she must've dealt with. Other people's wishes. Desires of the dead. Robin borrowed a guilty glance over Florica's shoulder, appraising the full force of the Inderigan army marching behind them. Her officers had reported something that sounded like Barbary forcibly reclaiming her gear, in that chaos that followed her proclamation, but she'd dismissed it. The multifarious beast himself still hadn't shown his face, though Robin suspected he wasn't far off.

Sorry. Just - let me do this one thing. Then I can to you I prove I'm different.

The entire Inderigan army, storming Visindi's temple. It was tactical stupidity.

It was the divine decree of Inderigo himself, to teach those fools their folly at affronting their oldest ally. So the High Priestess had spoken.
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
The impossible machinery churned the earth. Legs, wheels, and worse things, all working together to mock sense. But they fit the setting more than any normal human army. The field was mud and craters and barbed wire, fallow earth seeded with mines and corpses.

In this scene, the strangest thing was the birdsong.

Barbary was angry. Or perhaps panicky. Dozens of birds weren’t the easiest to parse the subtle emotions of. But despite this fluttery form, he was succinct.

“This was not what we agreed upon, Robin Pearson.”

“What’s the problem?”

Do not give me that coy--“ the sentence devolved into an angry twitter “--Your plan of destroying both armies utterly is the problem, Pearson. I knew you weren’t a tactician, but I expected you’d at least understand the folly of this.”

Robin did her best to look suitably sympathetic. “I thought you held little attachment to Inderigo, what with your whole conversion deal, and wanted Visindi gone. I’ll admit it won’t be the…prettiest, but it’s the best I can do on such short notice.”

The birds were snakes, hissing threateningly. Robin distantly noted them as one of the more poisonous varieties.

“Goddamit Pearson have you ever even seen a real battle. You academics. I should have known your type when I first met you. Always seeing war as numbers and outcomes and games. No regard for practicality or life.”

Barbary changed again. Reprobation circled on vulture wings.

Robin sighed inwardly, a pretty natural action considering the circumstances. The only guilt she felt was her continued occupation of Florica. She wanted Visindi offed, or whatever happened to gods (note: research this), but that didn’t mean she had an attachment to another side’s forces. They were both participants in a war, why should destroying them all at once be any more morally wrong than their usual commanders thinning their numbers by more subtle maneuvers? For all Barbary’s practiced aloofness, when it came down to it he was as jingoistic as anyone. She sighed again, melancholy feeling right in her current body. She had thought he was someone who had a proper view of death, wasn’t wrapped up in the whole idea of tragedy and finality. Oh well, not like she’d have to live with the decision for very long, if the promise of being whisked away to another world once someone else died held true. Ordering a massacre and then running off without paying the bill.

Not that another one on history’s long list mattered much in the grand scheme of things. More like running out on a bill and leaving a gigantic I.O.U., really.


Through the tears although she was feeling better already Clara watched as the figure in front of her slowly lifted off her visor. The expression that she wore was not the one Clara expected, nor was the calm tone of voice nor anything about what followed.

“What can I do to help you?”

Amaranth chose her words carefully. This crying young girl—not so much younger than herself, but clearly less prepared—was not the type to be threatened. She watched as the expected emotions of confusion flitted across the young soldier’s face, before continuing.

“What do you need me to do?”

Gentle questions were better than harsh demands for information.

Clara was calmer now and shakily began “W-well…you need to come back with us…to our temple.”


“Because, you have our things and we tracked you down and, and that’s what you’re supposed to do…” Clara trailed off, expecting disagreement, but the robed woman merely nodded as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
She paused.


Amaranth nodded to herself. Others, then. Another set of pursuers.“You said ‘temple’…is this conflict faith-based, then?” Amaranth felt it best not to take for granted what a possibly-mad being had told her and the others.


Who could not know of the Godsworn Valley? Clara felt…oddly unconcerned with what should be a deeply concerning fact. She took a closer look at the woman—no such clothes were on file as belonging to any sect—mentally cataloguing both the flowers, mask, and the bitterness with which she seemed to consider Clara’s last answer.

(Off to the side, Chaete fussed, running her metal hands obsessively over chitin and making small noises of discomfort.)

All this destruction, for false gods…in her own world, Amaranth had never expected to see such horrors. Even the most backwards country no longer fought for the imagined favor of a petty idol. Only the true faith continued a real conquest of the soul, and they would not touch these brutal methods. At least when she first glimpsed the bomb-craters, she had imagined this was for something less…pointless. Perhaps her hesitation to believe the Outsider had been one of denial rather than caution.

The sensation of being looked at broke her rumination. The girl looked bewildered, yet much calmed from her earlier distress. Well, it had been long enough. The air seemed tangible where the sunlight from the hole in space tilted in to the caverns. It had certainly been long enough.

Amaranth smiled apologetically.

“I never asked your name”

“Oh…I’m Clara.”

“My name is Amaranth Benedicta. And I’d like to go with you, but I have to ask…do you really want to take me there?”

Clara didn’t know. Of course, the answer was clear. However oddly warm she felt towards this stranger, she still had an unclouded view of what she was supposed to do. But…she couldn’t help the pangs of concern. Could she really put Amaranth—no longer a dot on a screen, but a person with a face and a name—in one of those awful cells, for who knows how long until they figured out what to do with her? She could do what she came to do, retrieve the stolen items…surely the resources of the temple of Res Rex were better spent elsewhere, somewhere that didn’t involve Interrogation Procedures E through H and an innocent woman. She could say Amaranth bested her and escaped. That was true enough when she stumbled into the cave, and who would doubt that she had failed this? She could just-

“Why are we standing around talking? He’s dangerous! And I neeeed to wash off properly.” Chaete had finished her intense grooming for now, yet the ordeal had left her stressed and increasingly petulant.

Clara’s train of thought was broken, her focus on Amaranth immediately snapping to the exceedingly strange—too many eyes—creature. She had avoided looking. It was like nothing she had heard of, and for a cleric of data that was a rare thing.

Amaranth sighed. Whatever state she had managed to work Clara into was clearly shattered by the visceral oddness of the alien wyrm.

How could she have thought to turn a blind eye? This thing—“Stop looking at me like that- Amaranth, let’s go-”—cowering, or whatever approximation its odd form allowed…it had to be catalogued. And for that matter, how truly anomalous was an unaligned soldier in a battlefield they did not even know the reason for...natural curiosity swelled, and next to it an even greater one of duty. However merciful she might feel towards her quarry, and however uneasy she felt about combat, she was still a follower of Res Rex. Scrupulosity had been ingrained in her, and she felt an uneasy guilt settle into her stomach. How could she have thought to turn a blind eye.

The set of Clara’s shoulders changed, and changed again as Amaranth made a small mechanical noise with the gun. Only to remind her of its existence, really. She watched as the combination of pollen-calm and natural fear lulled the girl into a fragile state of inaction.

“Chaete, please try and consider the…effect you have on most humans.”

Chaete started to say something, probably a hypocritical complaint about species bias, but was silenced by a look that pierced through all barriers of alien body language.

“Well, regardless, we cannot stay here. These tunnels seem the best chance we have of finally kicking those pursuers that have dogged—“ the smallest hesitation “—us.
Unfortunately, I do not know which items of this equipment are bugged, which means I cannot bring the gun. However, Clara, I do not believe I must make a demonstration to show that I am still quite capable without it. I also believe it goes without saying that you are coming with us. We can neither let you go nor simply knock you out in the midst of a warzone.” Gratefulness fluttered across Clara's face. Perhaps she wasn't a lost cause after all.

Amaranth gestured for Clara to begin moving forward. She uneasily shuffled past the wyrm. If she chose to examine Chaete further, and then if she chose to ascribe emotions to something she currently classified as somewhere between “monster “ and “impossible,” she would see that Chaete wore an expression of the barest childish frustration and disbelief. Likely the girl was working herself up into a long speech, having realized that her normal whining wouldn’t work and she’d have to choose her words more carefully. Amaranth, who was managing to view her as somewhere between “monster” and “innocent,” saw the impending diatribe but merely hoped they could make enough progress into the tunnels before Chaete informed everyone within a large radius of her feelings.


Robin closed her eyes. The throne was atop a device which was atop a bluff which overlooked the battle from a distance. From here, the sounds of real battle and the sounds of the other world bore an equal sense of urgency, both fading into the noise of the forest life that continued around her. She didn’t know where Barbary was, briefly imagined he was this or that forest creature before realizing she was anthropomorphizing their wary gazes into emotions of anger. Forced herself to look at the battle again.

The spyglass was the same ridiculously macabre technology as everything else, yet the view it offered was unparalleled. In both the sense of clarity and of subject matter.

Robin’s sense of responsibility battled with her fascination in a way that frankly embarrassed her. While her current face managed to project an air of icy rulership, inwardly she couldn’t help the childish thrills. The sheer variety of monsters, each more horrible than the last, and all fighting—it was like a b-movie with an inexplicably massive budget. The main thing keeping that distancing thought process in check was the view afforded by Florica’s unique gift. Whenever a monster died, the soul was expunged as well…and it was always human, and it was always suffering.

If Robin had been the type for guilt, she had enough here to last her a lifetime. But she watched out of a sense that it was a necessary decency, not to mention her robust curiosity. After all, the main purpose of the mission—the destruction of a god—would be like nothing she had ever seen, or could have ever seen. Not on her old world.


The followers of Ceraceros stepped through another impossible aperture, following the distinctive trail of their quarry. The clerics of Res Rex had long since backed off, some unseen timer or calculation of weaponry providing them with an excuse to clear off.
The air inside the caverns was damp and thick with the strange cloying scent the armored woman had about her. No doubt this was the right track, though they couldn’t explain why the pile of weapons or the presence of two pairs of footprints alongside the dragging mark of the beast’s snakelike body.

"I used to be a fisherman, on the icy crests we'd ride"

The unnervingly stable land of the battlefield did little for the mariners, but now they would take it back in a second in exchange for this claustrophobic nightmare of oppressive darkness and strange echoes.

"Like a banshee on the wind, we'd sail the ocean wide."

Their only solace was that their prey clearly had as little knowledge of the tunnels as they, as evidenced by the places where the footsteps went down one corridor and then came back out, signifying a dead end.

"From the shoals of Yarmouth bay to Newfoundland we'd go..."

Dead ends that the pursuers needed waste no time pursuing. Slowly but surely they would gain.

"And we'd shout! Shout! Shout! Shout at the Devil down below!"

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
A grenade fell from the treetops, bounced off of Arokht’s back, and exploded.

The blast drove him to the ground. At once, the soldiers of Raxis opened fire, mottled green and brown camouflage fading from their black armor. Their rifles screamed sharp retorts, kicking up dirt and grass and bark. One of Gelu’s soldiers, Algon, the chaplain thought, fell immediately, dozens of flechettes embedded in his helmet and chestplate. One shattered his mask's left eyepiece. A few dented his bandolier of grenades.

Anila twisted as more flechettes sliced through her, but from her wounds welled up something blue and gelatinous, pulling them closed again. She tried to run to Arokht as he bellowed, trumpetlike, shaking earth off of his body as he rose. Sparks flew as his armor deflected the flying darts. He raised his cannon and fired again and again and again. Scything tendrils of fire and light joined his frigid blasts as Rachel unleashed her inner star, screaming in fury.

Gelu dove for what cover he could, flechettes jutting from his robes. Some providence of Frigidus had prevented him from dying instantly in the ambush. The chaplain shouted something foul, conjured his frozen gun, shot three-inch shards of jagged ice at Raxis’s men. Beside him, Congelos, the last of his squad, took careful aim with his rifle and fired with precise bursts. He still made no sound.

Arokht raged. He seized a tree with his primary arms and with incredible strength snapped it. The tree fell. So did the two black-armored soldiers crouching in its branches. They jumped to another tree, but Arokht shot them mid-leap. They shattered against the bark.

A black-clad soldier dropped gracefully from the canopy, followed by another, and another. Tightening the noose. One landed with a thump ahead of them. It was larger, bulkier than the others. Three red bars decorated its right shoulder. Its armor whirred as it brought a massive, black gun to bear on the alien. It fired. A thunderclap, a shockwave, a rush of air. Metal and polymer sheared, snapped. Arokht roared again, not in rage but in pain. He stumbled, fell heavily. He did not move.

[Image: tumblr_mqbqpqmnmA1r7l7cko1_250.png]

H-034 turned, targeted, fired at Rachel. Again the thunder. A curtain of fire billowed across the forest floor, swallowing the woman and three Predators. Smoke filled the battlefield. The Hunter ignored it, stalking towards Algon. The Wintergod’s minion lay facedown, one hand bent under his body. He twitched feebly, still alive. Barely. H-034 stood over him, flipped him over, slammed the butt of his railgun into Algon’s face, turned it horrifically inward. He looked down.

Algon’s hand gripped a grenade. The pin dangled from his thumb. H-034 jerked back, his already inhuman reflexes augmented by his armor. Not fast enough.

The blast swept H-034 off his feet and the shrapnel cut through him in a dozen places. The shockwave caught Anila, knocked her out. Hot metal shredded her leg. She fell.

Concussed and bloodied, H-034 struggled to stand. His armor sparked and whined in protest. He heard something stomp noisily over him. He looked up. The thing was huge and dark and lit with blue lights. Its abdominal armor had been ripped open by the Hunter’s weapon, blue coolant and teal blood pooling on the ground. But the armor had worked quickly, sealing the open wound with anti-puncture foam, administering painkillers and stimulants and aggressants.

Unmistakably alive and unmistakably furious, Arokht reached out to seize H-034.

The fire continued to rage, snapping and hissing like something alive. Gelu and Congelos, both wounded, fled under the cover of smoke so thick it was almost solid. Red eyes saw them. Four Predators, communicating silently, turned to give chase. Without Rachel directing the blaze, the fires would not harm them. Such was Pyrum’s will.

Something soared out of the smoke behind them. It struck one Predator in the head, snapped its neck, and hit the ground with a thud. It was a gun. A huge, black gun covered in glowing red lines. An arm still gripped it.

Three Predators turned to face Arokht, striding out of the fumes. His secondary arms dragged what remained of H-034 with him. More of the Hunter dripped from the iceworlder’s armor. He raised his cannon and fired.


Arokht crushed the last Predator’s skull in one four-fingered grip. It didn’t scream. None of them screamed. Disappointing, but he was still glad. Lambs they may be, but Raxis’s soldiers fought until they died. No retreat, no surrender. It had been a good fight.

Except, maybe, for the part where he’d been shot with a railgun. It wasn’t the shooting that bothered him--Arokht had suffered worse injuries in the past--but the fact that there was no way he could get to a proper medic on this godsforsaken world. (His gods, not theirs. Their gods were pretty clearly paying attention to this place.)

Not only was his biology alien, so was the very chemistry of his body. Humans were carbon-based. Iceworlders were ammonia-based. Water burned Arokht like acid. No human surgeon could help him. Until he’d killed the Outsider and found a way back to his ship, he would have to walk around with the metal slug buried in his body. Right now, his internal nanomachinery was probably hard at work isolating it from the rest of his organs, stopping his bleeding, patching his wounds. The round wouldn’t kill him (iceworlders were hardier than that), but it made his right leg drag slightly. It annoyed him. He’d get used to it.

He looked for the others in the aftermath of the ambush, picking through charred and crushed corpses. The fire licked at him harmlessly, unable to find a way into his thick armor.

Arokht gathered a pile of what used to be a Frostsworn soldier, piecing it back together as best as he could. It wasn’t Gelu. The iceworlder felt a twinge of emotion deep within his two hearts but stamped it out out before he could identify it.

Arokht scavenged H-034’s discarded railgun, prying the fingers of the Hunter’s severed limb away from the grip. His secondary arms held it awkwardly; it wasn’t designed for iceworlder hands. He didn’t know how many shots it had left, nor how to reload it. Still, the extra firepower would be useful.

He discovered Anila, crumpled on the ground and unconscious. She bore many wounds yet did not bleed. Something blue and translucent seemed to be eating or replacing her mangled leg. The inferno crept dangerously close to her. For a moment Arokht debated letting it consume the strange woman, but that struck him as somehow wrong. The longer she stayed alive, the easier it would be to attract the Outsider, he contended. Thusly justified, he grabbed her by the collar and dragged her away.

Leaving her slumped against a tree in cleaner air, Arokht trudged off to consider his next course of action. The odds looked grim. Anila had yet to wake up. Rachel was gone. So was Gelu. One Frostsworn soldier was dead, another was missing. Sonora had never showed up in the first place. The iceworlder felt his rage growing.

As it stood, there was very little chance of him successfully gathering all the rest of the contestants. Their personalities would strike sparks against his own, or the minions of some random god would scatter them again. It frustrated him. It frustrated him how idiotic he’d been. He should never have trusted these aliens. He’d grown too used to leading obedient, trained soldiers. Nothing good could possibly have come of him trying to lead a ragtag team of outcasts and eccentrics.

Should’ve expected this to happen.

Then the fires guttered and died.

It was as if some unseen hand had suddenly smothered the blaze, leaving only blackened dirt and charred wood. A strong, hot wind began to blow, carrying the smoke away. A distant wailing echoed through the forest. The wind? Arokht bristled, alert, all four eyes scanning for threats. What now?

The noise came closer, a high-pitched wail mixed with an infrasonic thrum that would inspire terror in all but the hardiest of humans. Even Arokht felt a spark of unease as he turned to face the source of the scream. He heard the footsteps of something huge stomping towards him. A dim red glow shone through the trees. The iceworlder raised his cannon, waiting for the thing to make its entrance.

If it hadn’t been for his motion sensor, Arokht would have been taken completely by surprise. Because the approaching, keening thing was only a distraction.

The iceworlder spun, barely managing to raise an armored forearm in defense as a whirlwind of blades struck him from behind. He swung his cannon arm, hammer-like, but only caught empty air as the thing leaped back with impossible speed. Warning lights flashed in his helmet. Arokht looked at his arm in horrified amazement: the creature’s blades had sliced deep gouges into hisimpenetrable armor.

If Gelu had been present, he’d have identified the attacker as a Makhê, Proioxis-class. A spirit of battle and one of Raxis’s most fearsome servants. It stood only about as tall as a normal human, but mistaking it for one would be impossible. Two torsos, back-to-back, swiveled freely above one pair of digitigrade legs. Four swords swung from four hands. A red glow shone from the joints of its black armor as it moved. Crimson eyes glared from behind its two helmets. It hissed, crackling like fire, and charged again.

Arokht could target and fire his cannon in the blink of an eye, but in the blink of an eye the demon was already somewhere else. Undeterred by gravity, it leaped between trees as easily as it ran across the ground. The Proioxis crossed the gap between them in seconds. Swords gleamed and sparks flew as it pirouetted around the huge iceworlder, cutting into his armor, dodging his counterattacks with ease. Then it danced back again, skipping nimbly away from Arokht’s clumsy reach.

Which was when the first Makhê, the screaming thing, made itself known by ramming the battered Arokht bodily into a tree.

This demon was larger and burlier than the Proioxis. Like its sibling, it wore black armor and stood on digitigrade legs. Perhaps the cybernetic legs of Raxis’s soldiers were meant to emulate the Makhê. Unlike its sibling, It only possessed one torso, hunched and broad-shouldered, bearing a single radially segmented helmet on its chest. Gelu would have classified it as an Alala-class. As Arokht heaved himself back upright, dazed, the Alala’s head opened up like a metal flower and screamed.

Iceworlder armor deflected most things, but it could only withstand physical attack. Arokht howled as two of his eardrums ruptured under the assault. He tried to retreat, his vision blurring, his entire body resonating painfully to the destructive scream. His ears continued to ring long after the screaming stopped. A small respite. Stunned and deafened as he was, the iceworlder couldn’t bring his arms up in time to block the demon’s sledgehammer fists.

The Alala struck with enough force to shatter concrete. A downward blow cracked the armor plating on Arokht’s head. A vicious punch to the chest sent him staggering backwards. A brutal knee to the gut brought the iceworlder to the ground.

Arokht twitched feebly, lying curled on his side. Multiple damage alerts flashed insistently over his eyes. Moving hurt. The Makhê stepped back, hands clenching and unclenching spasmodically. The Proioxis watched from a tree overhead.

Arokht remembered he still held the railgun. And the Alala was nowhere near as fast as the Proioxis.

A thunderclap, a shockwave, a rush of air. Otherworldly armor warped and snapped. The Alala screamed in pain, red fire spurting from the hole in its gut. It stumbled back, still screaming. In one fluid motion, Arokht picked himself back up and charged at the wounded Makhê. The Proioxis responded instantly. The air whistled as its swords spun, biting deep into Arokht’s armor. Wires split and coolant lines burst. One cut drew steaming blood. But the iceworlder ignored it, slamming the Alala against another tree to return his beating in kind.

Arokht bludgeoned the demon relentlessly with his cannon. It bled fire with every blow. Its radial helmet bent and deformed. One of its arms snaked out to seize the gun by its barrel. It pushed back with titanic strength, using the tree as leverage, the gaping wound in its belly already slowly closing. The demon and the alien wrestled, evenly matched. Then Arokht fired his cannon. The unnatural fires coursing through the Alala’s body resisted the heat-leaching beam, but not well enough to keep the iceworlder from shattering its arm.

The Proioxis stabbed Arokht’s ankle.

The iceworlder fell to one knee, growling. His inexorable grip faltered for a second; long enough for the Alala to force itself out from under it. Its mangled face flapped open.

So close to the Makhê, Arokht took the full brunt of the scream. The sound drove all thought from his mind. Organs ruptured. Electronics flickered and died. One eyepiece cracked. The mighty iceworlder slumped like a sack of bricks, acrid smoke drifting from ruined machinery. Even so wounded, he struggled to rise. Arokht refused to die. He wheezed, coughed up blood. With bloodshot eyes he glared up at the two demons. He laughed in defiance.

And hurled himself once more at the Makhê.

bonus deleted sceneShow
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
The ancients did not look into the sun. They believed in a vengeful god of solar sphere, one that did not suffer to have his visage stared at: anyone so presumptuous as to look on the face of a god were blinded, obviously, by his wrath. Later, men of science knew better: the eyes would burn, retinas fried, if one stared too long at the sun; it was equally obvious that overstimulation of the rods and cone cells would kill them. Cause and effect. Justice is blind, and very dead (The Battle of Capers Gorge, where Raxis first broke the rules of war).

In the Godsworn Valley, however, things were not so obvious (Obviata, goddess of the obvious, died at the Taking of Mole Hill. Fluorescent green safety vests: not good armor).

A while ago, there had been Kohl, God of the Sun. It was he that drove the sun across the sky - in first a chariot borne by phoenix, then a carriage drawn by stallions with flaming manes, and eventually, a rather flashy red racecar with flames and ‘Solaria’ stencilled on the side. “To make her go faster,” he used to say, flashing a brilliantly white smile, “everyone knows flames make her go faster.” In Solaria he scrawled the passage of the day across the sky, pursued endlessly by the Night Sisters and their mother Selena. Time went on (Kairos, god of the Supreme Moment, had failed to consider the moment after. Or his sister, Chronos).

Vocatur hadn’t meant to kill him. In a cruel twist of Fate (Inevitably betrayed by Evita, Goddess of Destiny), he had been spared the horror of war. Exiled from the Valley, from Malhaven, his followers dispersed, killed, and forgotten, he had simply disappeared from the world, or into the world, depending on one’s point of view. Occasionally news from the patchy wastes and fields beyond the valley would report of a half-hearted party, or a mass orgy-suicide, but it was infrequent and no one felt the need, or desire, to know more. There had been hesitant proposals, later on, that perhaps his nature would combat the despair (Nihilos killed himself eight years into the neverending conflict) that seemed to drag it all on and on, but nothing came of it. No one would risk weakening their forces over a folly (HÅ҈ŌˆÍÔ´ÍŘÇı”∏, the God of Silliness, died in the very first days, having not taken the war at all seriously), not even to find out if he had died out there somewhere on a cocktail of his own shame and cocaine.

For their own part, gods did not die - in the traditional sense. They did not subsist on a quiet diet of belief; they simply were, and demanded worship from their constituents purely for their own satisfactions. But for the battles and machinations amongst themselves, they would have lived forever.

They would have lived forever.


Mad laughter in Obscura’s Labyrinth. Soldiers, their camouflage grey tattered, ran up the myriad stairs into the strange, broken temple. Somewhere, deep within, the tunnels were collapsing, closing like capillaries. Shadowy summons poured from them along with the soldiers, too afraid - if myths could be afraid - to stop and prey on stragglers.

And behind them came Obscura. Perhaps it was Obscura. Maybe it was Obscura. It was hard to tell; what burst from the darkness bore as much resemblance to the black and silver goddess as the whole of the night sky to pinpricks poked into black construction paper. Power, black and gleaming, rolled off of Her in waves and earthed itself in shadows - then She was the shadows, flitting back and forth in the corners of Her temple, flowing like a dark, sinister fog between the members of her congregation.

Without fanfare, She may have appeared on the altar. But not as they might have known Her: the Obscura they knew was ever so human, with her petty hatreds and propensity for little tortures. This Obscura was maybe something more like what She must have been before the war - the Goddess of Subterfuge, her minions Misinformation, Doubt and Denial. This Obscura might have worn a cloak that perhaps hooded Her face and maybe shadowed Her body; when this Obscura spoke, it was like writing traced out in the roiling fog.

“Desolo is dead.” Her voice rang out - but maybe the sound hadn’t happened at all - then faded. The masses shifted uneasily as the shadows lengthened, darkening the spaces in between the stones of the walls. The chandelier above them flickered, as if beating back against the dark. “I took of his power what I could. In the end, he stood with certainty, and the unknowable won out after all.”

A consensual query born from Her soldiers’ thoughts: “What of the Labyrinth, your Tenebracity?”

“The Labyrinth is dead.” To accentuate Her point, blood began to ooze from the stones before her: the remains of those that had not escaped her closing, collapsing maze. “We have more power than we have ever have had in that pale imitation of what we can do now. What further need do we have for those tunnels and warrens under the earth? Let others take the ones that are left; we can travel in the spaces between shadows. The gaps amidst the sunbeams.”

“But Desolo is gone. His forces scattered.”

“So who shall we battle, my troops?” There might have been laughter, if laughter were hewn from shards of white ice and black obsidian: an auditory flickering, like the shadows of a kinematograph. “Do you remember Desolo’s spy?”

Silence, palpable, then - “The girl?”

“Clad in metal. Endless light.” An angry whisper may have tainted her voice, rippling the shadows at their feet. “I found her once. I found her again after she broke into and out of my Labyrinth.” Gauzy tendrils caressed the shadows and birthed strange and terrifying cryptids. “She escaped me twice. No more shall we be so foolish.”

“Your Tenebracity.” As one, they knelt.

“And the magpie. The singing wing of the black, without eyes; it should be mine. I would have it mine or have it destroyed.”

“We await your command.”

“My orders? Be the dark edge to the wind. Be the shadow under every leaf. Blind the plain seers and muddy the clear waters.

Find them.

As one, they, too, may have stepped into Her shadows and vanished.




If you cut her, does she not bleed? Only insofar as Rachel and the human race she left behind both bled plasma, of two different sorts. She trailed it now, wisps of electron sea and free nuclei coalescing into mere fire and flame as she traipsed amid the disappearing woods. She almost felt her consciousness fill the trees, beyond the burning trail she left behind her, past the sparking, twitching war machines that chased her still, limping as they were, on the scent of her, the tang of free hydrogen in the air. Her little sun sputtered a little, recalcitrant, reluctant to give up more of its life for its walking host - yet it was unwilling to let her give up the ghost.

She thought she heard singing; and some part of her knew it was very likely she would meet Sonora again, and soon, the copycat crooning melody as speech into her ear where she could never get the songs out, true earworms in the sense that they were perhaps more like the memories of long-dead singers and victims - perhaps even perfectly true in those circumstances where both singer and victim were one and the same. Perhaps it was just her imagination in the woods, singing among the screaming.

The gods are dying.

She didn’t even stop to acknowledge the grey voice, nor the white-robed figure standing by the side of her burning path. If the war machines were still after her, they wouldn’t matter soon anyway.

Do you hear me, girl? The gods are dying! The figure raised a hand, and doves flew from her sleeve and circled her laurel-garlanded head. Will you not listen?

“The gods seem to be far too interested in my death to be worried about their own,” Rachel muttered into the air, not looking at the newcomer, “and you’re one of them too. Leave me alone!” A neat jolt of plasma leapt from her palm and fried a dove, which evaporated without a trace. She trudged on, only to be stopped short by the white-clad woman suddenly standing in her path. “What are you, goddess of conjurers? Going to pull out some handkerchiefs next? Pull a rabbit from a hat?”

No, that would have been Zaklínání. He was killed several years ago, by his own believers. They discovered he’d been palming the coin the whole time. The garlanded goddess smiled, and as grim a smile as it was, it seemed to calm the world. I am Tawn. The goddess of love and peace.

Rachel snorted. “Really? Then do tell,” her voice cracked as it rose, “where the fuck-”

-have I been? I placed - sealed, rather - myself away when this all started. I wanted no part of this endless war.

“Should’ve stuck around, goddess of peace. Maybe the war would have been less endless. Look at it! Look at it!” She pushed past the goddess, who offered no resistance.

There was a minute hesitation as Tawn considered, speckled with the sound of gunfire, burning wood and screams. The thought had crossed my mind.

“God forbid you act on your thoughts.” Pause. “Hell, maybe they did.” A laugh then, a little hysterical laugh.

No one forced my hand. She replied, aggravating in her serenity.

“I don’t care! I don’t...care!” The sun-girl screamed, not in anger but in helplessness, pain and bewilderment, “You could have helped and you didn’t!” She tried to dash away - but still the goddess of peace kept up with her, not even walking or running. She was simply there, as unintrusive as a shadow and just as inescapable.

You do not know war like I do. I could have brought peace for a while, but it would have meant disaster. There would have been worse war than this - and I have seen war worse than this.

She turned around then to face her, angry sparks arcing between her fingers. “Then why are you here? Why now? Why?”

Because a long time ago, I decided that enough was enough. But it was too late. There wasn’t anyone left. But now...Traiya’s prophecy is coming true, I hear.

Rachel stumbled back from the goddess, scattering doves. “What? Who- what- I-I don’t have time for this, this - I don’t have time for you. I’m being chased. I can’t stop. I literally, can’t, stop.” She would have cried if she could have cried. “They’re chasing me and I can’t stop them either and I’m going to die-”

Shhh... A dappled light played across the burning clearing, as Tawn unfolded sets of moon-white wings. The ravaged sounds of war faded from around them, muffled by the gentle wingbeats of a flying dove. For a moment, a tiny corner of a shrinking forest of a crumbling valley of a dying world knew peace.


Shout! Shout! Let it all out! A new river graced the forest where there had been nothing of interest before - well, there had been a camp, perhaps of some description, but the torn, half-dissolved banners were stained black by the tarry waters carved into among, between, above the trees, as much above the ground as in it. Behind her there was only more of the same. Before it were the fleeing forces.

These are the things I can do without! Come on! It cared not for blue or black or grey, it simply killed them, effortlessly, just to see it done. The joy of the hunt? I’m talking to you! Come on!

Here and there, bodies rose again from her, riding along with her; her generals, her servitors, her toys. They spoke aloud in more voices with her - preaching to the choir. No more gods. No more worship. Only dissolution. Sometimes goodbye’s the only way. A shattered bouquet floated downstream. Lilies. Orchids. A rose.

“I can feel the cold hand of death and the end drawing near. I’ve seen gods of the men and all which they fear.”


The Strategists shakily sighted their weapons - but a slow, unexpected sound stopped them in their tracks: Onscreen, Raxis was giving the intruder a slow, sarcastic applause.

“I applaud your tactical innovation. Obviously, you have a weapon or a plan on your side more powerful than the defenses I could give these useless cowards.” He stressed the last part, his countenance breaking into a fractional smirk for a fractional moment.

As one, the Strategists looked up fearfully at the screen depicting their deity. “C-Commander?”

“I would spare my best protection for those who do not participate in my war? Not likely. But enough time wasted on you.” The wargod turned his attention to the diminutive figure at the door. “You fools can’t even hold a weapon straight. This one breached the Temple, and that is no easy matter.”

Under the collective gaze of god and men, gelatinous bluestuff shifted uneasily. The same could not be said of the little adventurer. Please don’t say anything stupid, Anila.

Don’t worry, wizard jelly! I got this allll under control. “Ahem. Greetings, noble personages and other important-lookin’ guys! Salutations unto you all.” She accompanied her introduction with an equally dramatic bow, complete with flailing arm special. See? Perfect. Look at how awed they are.

...I. I suppose they are. In a way.

“Where’s your bathroom? That big war-thingy I rode in on didn’t really seem, uh, equipped for that sorta thing. I mean, there was this super weird hose needle combo package attached to a bottle, but I don’t think that really was for that stuff.”

The following silence stretched on a while.

A white cage lamp set into the wall flashed into life, accompanying an urgent beeping on every console. In an instant, each screen in the War Room exploded into activity.

“One-one-beta-Jansson.” A Strategist read, half-relieved to be back in familiar territory. Then, hesitation. “One-one-beta-Jansson. I don’t know that code.”

“You wouldn’t.” All present looked up at the screen in surprise. The war god’s voice had stratified, somehow; instead of the usual harsh order-barking tone, it had grown an edge of steel and a hardened surface - yet buried underneath were undertones of sadness, loneliness - even pain. As if where there had been merely anger before, hot but ultimately shallow, there was now a quenched blade of purpose tempered by a gamut of complicated emotional states rarely seen in the wargod: shame, helplessness, betrayal, fear, anxiety. “One-one-beta-Jansson was a code set from the very beginning. I...I had never thought I would ever see it read. It...it could be said...I hoped I would never see it read.”

Haltingly, a Strategist spoke up: “But what does it mean, Commander?”

The rage flickered back into life. The blade burst into flame. Onscreen, Raxis spat at the bullet-blasted ground behind him and shouted, his voice ascending to a roar, “You cowards are there and not here because you know what things mean. Here’s a test for you: you tell me!” He slammed a fist on the console before him, ending the communication.

There was silence in the War Room for a moment - broken by one of the more important-looking Strategists, a woman wearing a highly impractical lab coat over shiny combat fatigues. “Well, come on, you lot. Raxis wants us to tell him something he already knows to prove our worth. Again. Let’s not keep him waiting or he’ll sic the Tacticians on us. Again.” She turned in her swivel chair to the display at her station.

Around Anila, the Strategists leapt into activity, examining monitors and reading printouts in a very businesslike way. No one seemed to care about her much.

“Um…” What do I do, Wizard Jelly?

Well, I’d probably try and go out the way we came. Let’s get out of this madhouse and find- oh. Oh, come on Anila, do you always deliberately do the opposite of anything I say?

Maybe! In a few bounds, she closed the distance between herself and the Strategist who had spoken. “Hi lady!”

The woman glanced up at the adventurer momentarily, then returned her gaze to the screen. “You’re still here?” She spoke quickly, not looking at her audience. “I’d get out there and find Raxis, if I were you. He seemed impressed that you broke into the temple.”

“How’ll I do that?”

She glanced back at Anila again, and then leaned in confidentially. “You didn’t hear this from me, but try and steal another Megáli. Here.” A printer beside her chattered into life, spitting out a thin plastic block. At a touch, a map appeared embedded inside, with flashing waypoints indicating Raxis and the vehicles hangar, as well as a temporary access card - “so you don’t have to break down as many doors,” she indicated.

Fifteen minutes later, when the experimental hovercraft attack platform prototype Fäe sped out of the hangar, setting off another round of security alerts on her screen, the Strategist couldn’t honestly say she was surprised.


The Unraveling is upon us.

The voice of Tawn broke into the silence - a silence, Rachel realized, had been going on for far too long. Without understanding why, or how, they were away from the burning forest - though, she realized, the crackling sound of fire was still out there, not near, but yet not far. The smell of smoke was faint, but very much there. The burning was coming. Yet the woods around them were thicker than thieves: it would take some time for the flames to arrive.

A chill wind blew amongst the branches, fanning the faraway flames. The trees around them began to tremble, as if in fear.

Malhaven will rise before she falls.


An army marching across the plains. An army that recycled its dead as they fell to SCIENCE bullets, SCIENCE lasers and SCIENCE grenades. The forces that still flew Inderigo’s banner marched on - ahead of them Visindi’s part-time temple, full-time SCIENCE laboratory, led by a dead necrologist inhabiting the body of a girl that could not help but talk to ghosts, all of which were disillusioned with the concept of gods in general. They marched on.


A plastic cup of water fell from a crowded desk and bounced, splashing its payload across the dirt floor. That was how it began.

The ground shook uncertainly, as if it wasn’t quite sure what to do with the motion imparted to it. The Temple of Obscura, however, knew perfectly well what it could do, and that was to resonate wildly with the earthquake. The wireframe chandelier trembled, what little crystal it still had tinkling madly. Under it, Obscura could have risen from what may have been her seat. She maybe stood in the slanted doorway that demarcated Her place of worship. She might have looked out towards the epicenter of the rolling ground, and She may have dreaded what She was going to see.


Vísindi’s laboratory had a balcony that overlooked the vast woodlands of the Godsworn Valley. It was here the SCIENCE god stood now, peering into the woods as the ground below shuddered like jelly maracas. His Temple, of course, stood steady as a rock in a storm, being based on the best principles seismology, meteorology, nuclear physics and (ugh) engineering could devise. Because of this, Vísindi had perhaps the best view of what was transpiring at Malhaven.

What the God of Science saw was this: The squat little structure that was the doorway unto the gods’ meeting court rose into the air, borne on a rising hill that quickly grew above the woods it lay among. On top of it stood two figures - one Vísindi didn’t recognize, and one he recognized all too well as long-gone Tawn. Delighted, he began to wonder - as was his nature. What was Tawn doing now? Did it have to do with the Unraveling? Had she, too, come to know of Traiya’s prophecy, or had she always known? And where did all that dirt come from?

It was almost preoccupying enough to forget the marching Inderigan army headed for the gates of his Temple.

He would have to do something about that.


The trundling Megáli were on the move. The roving Heléin, the slow hovering Kæls, the roaring Proioxes of Raxis’ personal squadron all pointed towards the risen hillock Malhaven now occupied, and the two figures at its summit, mere smudges at this distance and only distinguishable with magnification.

Raxis stared at the image on the small screen before her. In the cab of her Megáli she drew a pair of field binoculars from the glove compartment, staring through them towards Malhaven.

“One-one-beta-Jansson.” She intoned, at once without emotion and with heartfelt feeling. “Tawn.”


At once, the army that flew Inderigo’s sigil split in two as the first SCIENCE construct struck. Blood spewed everywhere as the clockwork eagle descended in a shower of gears and springs, finally falling to a hail of bullets - but not before it disemboweled its bloody way through the ranks, bronze talons slicing into flesh. The second wave came as grenades began flying over the battlements of the Temple, marking their landing with explosions of vaporized flesh. These were followed by fusillades of blaster fire from autocannons mounted in the walls, scattering the forces further. Even so, the Inderigan army recycled its dead as it pressed on towards the gateway, firing back at the gunners on the battlements and the chimerae that descended upon them.

In the beginning, Vísindi had not been considered an entirely serious god in the battles for supremacy, yet the gods that had dared to violate his space found their forces turned back by overwhelming defensive power. A frontal assault on his Temple was nothing short of tactical suicide, and the Inderigans knew it.

Which was why Robin, still in Florica’s body and hence still High Priestess of the Inderigans, had opted to take a smaller contingent - with Robin’s body still stored with them - around the back to find another entrance.

“Oldest trick in the book.” Robin smiled to herself. Under cover of the trees above them, there was no sign that Vísindi’s forces had noticed their detachment. The necrologist checked her notepad, on which a hastily-scrawled diagram shone in luminescent ink - “There’s the back entrance. We should be coming onto a patrol soon. Any ideas?”

“E-excuse me, High Priestess-” An Inderigan soldier/adept/mechanic volunteered. “We could perhaps leave this body here to attract their attention, then ambush them?”

Robin turned to him, gaze and voice steely. “We don’t risk this body, adept.”

The offender lowered his eyes. “Yes, High Priestess.”

Trying hard not to rustle the branches around them, all turned once more to the cleverly-concealed back gate. “Now, as I was saying-”

“Max, did you hear that?” The quiet voice came around the corner of the Temple, followed by two Visindan soldiers in strangely shimmering fatigues. “I could have sworn there was something.”

“I do believe I picked something up with my SCIENCE hearing, Private Tenes! But I couldn’t make it out over the sound of your improperly addressing a superior officer!”

“You know, Max, you turned into a real wanker once you got promoted with those implants.”

“I still can’t hear you, Private Tenearrrrrrrrghargharghargh.”

It was over in a few seconds. Lithely, Kedemonas rose from the mutilated bodies, and spat out two glittering objects into the the grass. He stepped on them; a silent crunch were the last things they heard. Out of the woods behind him came a pack of his own. Leg numbers were variable.

“Vísindi is mine.” He snarled at them. “Take their uniforms. Cloaking cloth. Won’t hide your shape but might hide your intentions. Find the genetic monstrosities he creates and put them down.”

“Genetics?” Robin’s contingent stepped from the bushes, provoking a chorus of bared teeth and flicking safety catches. “Relax. Relax. We’re not enemies. You say you’re looking to take on Vísindi’s genetics systems? I can help with that. I’m a sci-- a doctor.”

The God of the Hunt growled. “Inderigo’s flock. What use is your dead flesh to us?”

“Inderigo? Not anymore. We stand on our own now.”

For a moment too long Kedemonas hesitated. His eyes flicked to the risen hill not far away.

Instantly, Robin seized her chance - and the uniforms. “That comes later. We’ll need these. Cover our flank and bring up the rear.”

The god bristled. How dare this...unaffiliated...squad of mere humans take charge of his troops? Yet the prophecy nagged at him. He would not be the first to fall. But alpha status insisted he not defer. “We shall lead the assault. You bring up the rear, or pay the price.”

“As you like.”


Out of the blasted hills and the scrublands, soldiers may have risen from shadows, searching, shooting, then perhaps descended back into shrouded umbra and penumbra. When survivors shone light into the crevices and corners there was no one there. Myths running, chasing, ripping apart hapless victims in impossible ways with impossible limbs and impossible numbers of teeth and jaws, death out of a nightmare. They searched for their prey and prize, sun and song, light and darkness, life and death.


Kohl’s death was regrettable. It tore us apart. The Goddess of Peace bustled before a stone altar. It bore no sigil nor sign, nor did it seem worn from the ages, and the Rachel madly blasting plasma at it every few seconds before lapsing back into a druggedly peaceful state made no dents in its smooth surface at all. Please don’t do that, dearest sun-child.

“You...you bitch,” she screamed, “I knew it-” she let fly a bolt of flame, which dissipated a neat pace from the goddess’ calm visage; waves of narcotic peace flooded through her a moment after, sapping her will.

Please stay calm. Tawn’s serene face, for ages the source of reason and rationality among the broiling tempers that were the pantheon, showed no real expression now. Time was that a smile from her would signal the end of a conflict, or a frown a sign that the present argument was no longer acceptable to continue. Now Tawn’s features, while still the same as they ever were, had lost a fire behind their eyes. These were the eyes of a beaten god, trapped in a world of constituents that no longer believed in peace, or in the possibility thereof. With nothing to lose and Traiya’s prophecy at her side, everything - everything had become allowable in the name of peace.

Above the clouds, noontime approached. None of them had forgotten about the pronouncements Kohl used to make, to mark the highest part of his daily journey. It was usually something crude about Selena’s tits, but still, the regular silences reminded each and every deity of the war that raged among them, and the unending losses it had brought. Yet they did not stop, could not stop. How could they ever claim an end to this war when it would mean their destruction?

Do you hear that, little sun? Feel it burn above you. Does it not bring you peace to know you will take your rightful place in this world?


This war shall end. I will see it end. I will dissolve the conflict that brought it life.


Traiya was right. The wellspring of our power has broken its banks. It pours into this world and this war. This is an age of champions and heroes, an age of old gods and the new. The Goddess of Peace cast her eyes upon her captive, a look of almost envy meeting Rachel’s gaze. I will make you anew with the power all about us. We will have a deity of the sun again. And everything is going to be - just - fine. Her voice cracked, as if she were trying to convince herself.


Death is peace, of a sort, Tawn intoned, though you shall not truly die. Some mortal part of you will burn away, perhaps, but gods don't need those anyway.

In an instant, the clouds above them parted, covering the stone altar in dappled golden light. Noon.

It’s time. The Goddess of Peace took her place before the altar, her hands upon the smooth stone by Rachel’s side.

The trees around them burst into splinters, leaving Malhaven bare upon the hill.

A tremendous whip-crack of energy lashed the air a moment after, resolving into a solid, jagged thrumming beam of light that poured its pain into both of them, enveloping them in an aura of screams and power, and a pure-white stream of - something, something so far removed from matter or energy or even space and time that the air around it stopped so much as existing - shot up into the sky, into the gap in the clouds, into the sun.


Pouring out of the dying forest, a river of black tar - if tar could leap and stretch and kill of its own volition. Coldness followed in her wake. Bodies sank under her glossy surface and disappeared forever. Other bodies propped up at the fore, screaming and chanting and singing with her. Sing to me songs of the darkness.

Lithe, liquid and lethal, they poured towards the hill before them. Legends had aggregated about Malhaven amongst dead ravings. Farewell to heaven, my friend. She almost stopped as its peak exploded into blazing, incomprehensible light.

But for once she did not change direction before fire and the flame. She knew that fire. “You are my sunshine...my only sunshine…” It was not the fire that pushed on somewhere behind her. And Malhaven could still be hers. The gods would have nowhere, then, and they would come to her in time. Come to me, bury your sorrow. The fire ahead of her could be ended. The fire behind would have only to burn itself out those beyond it would hear her song. Temptation to the condemned.

She would go ahead.

Hold on, hold on to yourself
Because this is gonna hurt like hell

They would all go ahead.

And the shadow of the day,
will embrace the world in grey…

And the sun...will set for you…

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Chaete liked the Labyrinth. The entrance had been earthworks but as they descended it had quickly replaced itself with solid, reassuring stone, bereft of burrowing insects and almost entirely free of ancient, rotting, dead matter. She had been building herself up to give her two travelling companions a piece of her mind, but away from the oppressive sky that didn’t really seem so important any more. Coming down here had been a good idea and she was glad she’d thought of it (even if her new friends were being very unreasonable with their insistence that she stop stopping to bite the walls).

Occasional sections of the tunnels seemed to have been carved by hand, with well-spaced wall sconces holding torches which surely should have burned out by now, but most of Obscura’s maze was composed of twisting natural tunnels filled with cave gloom or the occasional patch of luminous flora. The darkness didn’t bother Chaete at all but the flashlights in Clara’s pack had been designed as an aid to moonlight rather than tools for a spelunker, and so it was necessary for her to restrain herself from digging her own path through the complex so that she could lead the poor, half-blind humans around. That had been fun for a little while but frankly it was starting to get a little tiresome, she was so hungry and the food was right there and even though Chaete’s dragging land speed was slow it could not truly be said that the shuffling gait of a person who is trying to make haste but at the same time avoid running face-first into a wall was much better. And besides, it wasn’t like she actually knew where they were going.

They had passed through square passages barely wide enough to fit their group through single file, twisty channels that had once held subterranean rivers (still gurgling in the distance) and echoing, cavernous chambers of stalactites with more exits than Chaete could count on her hands, all they had all been united in their complete lack of signage and multitude of dead ends. At this point she wasn’t even sure how far they were underground, let alone what route they had taken to get here (or whether they were retracing their own steps), but she didn’t let that bother her because sometimes they’d come across smooth-walled, circular tunnels which she could imagine were dug by other worms who, for some reason, were refusing to make themselves known.
While feeding Chaete was rarely methodical and tended to produce meaningless looping tunnels scarcely wider than her own head which were not intended to ever be revisited, but for the few times she wasn’t busy gorging herself and was in the mood for some socialising she and her brothers had carved out bigger chambers (not too dissimilar to the one they were walking through now) which were useful for all sorts of games.
She’d been lighter back there of course, everything in this new place was slow and heavy and uncomfortable. She’d hoped it would go away if she got deep enough underground but she still felt like she was having to drag herself everywhere. Maybe…

She thought back to the time when she could effortlessly glide from one end of a cavern to the other with just a little push, duplicated the movement and… fell over.

“What are you doing?”
“Why isn’t it working?! I should be able to get up there!”
Chaete broadcast a series of pictures of herself floating majestically through the air which the other two both completely ignored. Amaranth sighed.

“Chaete we need to stop stopping like this! There are people following us, they were following you earlier. Don’t you remember them?”
“These passages belong to Obscura... she’ll likely care more about the armed invaders behind us, and whatever was burning her woods, but it would be unwise to stay here long.”
“We need to keep moving.”

As if on cue, something thundered in the distance and the shadows cast by the flashlights flickered and jumped. A rat ran out of the darkness, ignored the humans entirely and vanished into the black void ahead. A host of chittering creatures that were just slightly larger rats ran around the edges of the torchlight and followed it. The thundering sounded again, closer this time.

“What’s happening?”
Clara rifled through the remaining pages of her book, squinting through torchlight and breathing heavily, the numbing effect of the pollen starting to lose its grip again.
“I don’t know! There’s nothing here about traps, people who get lost here are just supposed to wander forever or be eaten by something!”

“We need to move, now!

Chaete didn’t need any further persuasion.

- - - - -

Some of the followers of Ceraceros had high-powered lamps attached to their suit helmets. Exploring a cave in diving gear was a little bit odd but it had been that kind of day, they’d travelled a good 20 miles on foot in just a couple of hours and couldn’t be sure they weren’t going to face another sudden change of environment, so while they hadn't really done it on purpose they could pretend that carrying the extra equipment had been practical.
For example, even if they hadn’t actually had to go underwater yet, their rebreathers were pretty good for cutting through the thick clouds of incense they were following. Some of the men were sure they were being poisoned, and so even though the breathing gear hadn’t cut out the incense smell entirely it had made it did make everyone feel a bit safer.
Still, the hunting party were having doubts about their current location.

“Captain, isn’t this Obscura’s place?”
“You’re not scared are you, swabbie?”
“No but like, we’re not fighting Obscura. Won’t she be upset that we came in here with guns?”
“We’re fighting everyone! We’re at war!”
“Yeah but we’re not fighting her right now are we? Like, mostly all we’ve done since getting to the valley is a bit of skirmishing with Res Rex and hiding from Raxis and Kedemonas. We’re not winning! We shouldn’t be getting more people mad at us!”

By all rights Dread Captain Balencia (honorary title, really she was more for fishing than piracy but war brings a lot of tempting prizes and anyone who can capture an enemy battleship with four boats, six men and a load of nets tends to rack up the commendations fairly quickly) should have had her crewmate keelhauled for this level of insolence… but the Ceracean military structure was not a particularly rigid one and unpopular captains did not stay captains for very long.

She knew all of her crew were thinking along the same lines, nobody liked being down in this cave and the prospect of enemy soldiers or worse descending on them from the darkness wouldn’t help morale at all, but the dire straits they were in weren’t a reason to stop, they were a reason to go faster. They needed this, or jousting with the followers of a god who was already dead would stay their most notable achievement and their Occasionally Merciful Lord would be left a laughing stock.

“Look, the Obscurans are all tied up with Desolo, right? They aren’t going to care that we’re in here. Besides, once we catch this thing we’ll just have it make a hole out and nobody will know the wiser. Got it?”
“If you say so boss…”
“Besides what’s she going to do? There was that big explosion near her front door just before we started this whole thing, she’s not going to have anyone free to send after us right now.”

Unlaboured by poor vision and lack of legs, and with the luxury of having a trail to follow rather than stumbling at random down false passages, it only took them another ten minutes to fall into range of Chaete’s mental radio complaint broadcasts (a somewhat disconcerting experience considering it got no louder or quieter relative to their distance from their quarry). The trail had been harder to pick out since they left the mud, but their quarry still left the ground somewhat scuffed and occasionally pockmarked with deep furrows through solid stone from what they silently hoped weren’t teeth. Another reason that the signs on the ground had been getting harder to follow was that they were frequently being obscured by little groups of panicked rats.


“Ground just shook!”
“The hell was that?”


“Something ran over my foot!”
“This some kind of earthquake?”
“Think we should be running too??”


“Ground team says the entrance tunnel just collapsed behind us!”
“What?! Are we trapped?”
“I don’t want to die down here!”

The Captain clapped her hands together and glared at her assembled crew.

“We can’t get back the way we came. So? We weren’t going to anyway!
Whatever’s making that noise-”


“-is behind us and our way out is in front of us.
If you want to get out of here, stop standing around like a bunch of quivering nancies and do your job! We’ve got a fish to catch!”
“But it’s not a-”

- - - - -

After maybe half a mile of walking, there was another dead end. Amaranth was starting to think that coming down here hadn’t been the best idea after all… not that they’d really had many other options to choose from.
The tide of cave dwellers had presumably known a way to the exit, but had swept past much faster than they could follow and now even the stragglers had overtaken them. Every thirty seconds or so the walls shook with a loud grinding noise and it sounded closer every time. There were no other passages leading off from this one and she had a sinking feeling that if they turned back to go the other way now then they’d run right into their pursuers (or at least, if they themselves had been moving faster than what she suspected was happening behind them).

Amaranth did not want to die and she especially did not want to die here. What would grow from her underground, in the dark? Nothing healthy would be able to take root were she to be crushed by rocks. No, they definitely should not have come here.
“Chaete, I think we need to go.”


Clara dropped her book and her torch and started shaking, Amaranth clapped her hands to her ears. Chaete was loud and she hadn’t expected such vehemence! Not too far off, there was a distant, muted booming entirely unlike the now regular crash of stones coming together, someone else had been surprised too. They didn’t have much time.

“It’s nice here! There’s no gross dirt and there’s food everywhere and nothing’s tried to hurt me! It’s like home!”
“But there are people trying to hurt us! That’s why we came down here in the first place, they are almost here now! Please, we need to get out of these caves before they catch up.”

There wasn’t time for this to be a discussion, Amaranth desperately released more pollen even though she knew it wouldn’t do any good with the alien child. Clara moaned and dropped to her knees, but Amaranth didn’t have time for that either.

“I could dig a tunnel out of here if you let me… I would be safe!”
We can’t dig Chaete, you know that! A hole just for you would be too small for me!
If you leave now, I will die, and then you’ll be on your own.”

Chaete tilted her head to give Amaranth a plaintive look with seven of her eyes, then turned her head to stare at the wall that was blocking their path, wracked with indecision. She didn’t want to leave but she didn’t want to leave the only person that had been nice to her but she was already working on an empty stomach and she’d been running and she was tired and if she dug through the wall she could eat and have a nap and then come back and maybe Amaranth was wrong and they wouldn’t hurt her? They were the same weird shape creatures after all, she didn’t really understand why they’d be angry at Amaranth, they just wanted to chase her for some reason… but unfortunately before she could finish that line of thought, “they” arrived.

As fast as they’d been able to go compared to their quarry, they weren’t faster than the arcane mechanisms Obscura was using to close up shop. It was now no secret that the tunnels were grinding closed in their wake and sealing their escape, and any pretense of military order (or attempts at morale-boosting sea shanties) had been abandoned in favour of a reckless sprint to keep themselves out of the pounding stone jaws. Not all of them had made it. By the time they rounded the last bend, near-blinding the two humans with their head-lamps, they were completely unprepared to actually meet what they’d been hunting, and especially unprepared to meet a solid stone wall.
One of them ran into Clara and fell over, throwing his loosely-gripped harpoon launcher across the room. Another crashed bodily into the rock and toppled dazed onto the floor (his weapon was useless anyway, apparently he’d detonated it prematurely and all that remained of the end was a twisted metal lump). Three remained, managing to react fast enough to train two of their weapons on the worm and one on Amaranth before she could move to claim their companion’s lost firearm.
There was another
Slam! deafeningly close now, rattling the teeth and changing the texture of the air as it was crowded into a smaller space.
The one with the fanciest helmet addressed Amaranth.

“We need to get out of here! Make it do it’s thing!”

“Now! Quickly!”
Chaete scrabbled backwards in panic until her back was pressed to the wall, filling everyone’s heads with a low keening buzz.
“And make it stop doing that!”

The soldier to his captain’s left swayed, coughed, and lifted his rebreather, relaxing his aim on his weapon and closing his eyes.
Amaranth dived for the fallen gun (what kind of ridiculous order would arm their soldiers with such an impractical tool? The mechanics were simple enough and clearly labelled, one was a trigger, the winch did what all winches did and the only other red button was emblazoned with a fiery icon which a child could probably understand, but as single shot armaments clearly these couldn’t actually be useful for anything other than whale hunting? She decided not to pick it up after all) as the two remaining sailors both fired theirs.
“Useless! Don’t let it get away!”
There was another
Slam! (and a crunch, cutting off a scream) and the “room” they were stood in was suddenly half as big as it had been. Clara crawled over to Amaranth and tried to help her to her feet.

One harpoon splintered Chaete’s left mechanical arm before bouncing harmlessly off a space-proof hardened scale, but the other caught itself between two plates and stuck there. Chaete wailed (everyone was suddenly subject to the painless but annoying sensation of having something stuck between two very large teeth somewhere on their back) and bucked and unfolded her mouth and went.

Amaranth ran for the worm, dragging Clara with one hand, and managed to catch hold of Chaete’s midsection as she vanished through the rapidly widening portal… but Clara let go, pulling back and staring through the hole in alarm.
“Wait, don’t!”

The whaler captain braced her feet against the floor as her harpoon’s chain went taut, then staggered, cursing, as the pull on the other end suddenly magnified, dragging her towards the aperture and out into the daylight beyond.
“Don’t go!”

Amaranth looked back, clasping both arms around the worm to steady her sudden dizziness, at Clara who was looking back at her from a jagged hole in a tapestry of blue and white swirls.
Clara reached out through a window which looked directly down at the tops of the trees of the forest from several miles above, stretching out an arm in a pointless attempt to try and catch her rapidly shrinking companion before she hit the ground. Her voice was almost inaudible as gravity caught the worm and her two passengers and the wind started to rush past their ears as they dropped downwards.
“It’s too high! You’ll fall!”


- - - - -

Warnings blared and flashed inside Arokht’s helmet, but he fought on. The damage his suit had already obtained was concerning, but there was no time to worry about it now. Besides, it wasn’t like he could really hear the alarms anyway over the tinnitus.
If he hadn’t been stabbed through the leg and otherwise brutalised he’d have been able to outrun the Alala easily and probably even now would still have a good chance, one of its legs was bent at the wrong angle (probably, it was hard to tell with all of those joints) and he currently had it pinned under half of a tree, but the darting Proioxis was a problem.
It was taking both of his bigger arms to keep the larger of his two foes from moving or operating its terrible sonic weaponry (shoving a cannon barrel into its mouth and filling it with ice seemed to help, though it had to be constantly reinforced to keep back the fires that seemed to make up the inside of its body) which left him with little to defend himself with as the second demon twirled and danced with itself behind his back, darting in and out to swipe and thrust whenever he had to shift his attention to keeping his other foe held down.

He was going to pay for these injuries later, while these creatures at last were something worthy of fighting they were still using substantially different technology than his and none of their parts would be useful for attempting to perform maintenance on himself. He doubted anyone on this superstitious rock could have understood his suit even if they had the inclination to help him (and why would they?) and so every breach and tear was going to stay with him for a long time, but he’d lost so much functionality already that it seemed a little immaterial in the face of just surviving, no, winning this encounter.

As the Proioxis spun in again, blades flashing, Arokht reversed his grip with a titanic heave, swung the Alala around by its unbroken leg and threw it. It was too heavy to fly far and he hadn’t been able to put as much strength into it as he’d have liked given that he was favouring one leg, but it did land upside-down with a satisfying crunch. The sight only improved when another railgun blast turned its already maimed head into a twisted hole. This time it didn’t get up.

Unfortunately the Proioxis just ducked under it, its absurd agility had left it with barely a scratch even after all this time. It spun its torsos and raised its arms to the sky, spitting sparks at Arokht, as if to laugh at him. Even without its ally it had the advantage and it knew it. Arokht could not put the whole of his weight on one of his legs which slowed him down considerably. The conjoined creature could run rings around him with ease and vaulted lithely over the blasts of freezing light Arokht aimed at it as he began to charge, and filled with the same kind of fire as its companion its feet seemed to melt through the ice before they could slip, meaning he couldn’t even use that to slow it down. It seemed to know where he was going to fire even before he pulled the trigger.

The devil soldier continued its dance, lunging and swiping and dodging away, severing more of the tubing which had burst from punctured plating and carving tattoos into the outside of his armour. Without its bulky assistant to provide a distraction it seemed less daring, prioritising keeping its own hide over puncturing his.
It would take hours for it to bring him down when it was playing it safe like this, but unless it committed to something more risky then Arokht didn’t have much of a hope of catching it either, his heavy swings were too slow and too high. Whenever he’d attack, the Proioxis just ducked underneath, scored another line across his suit, and rolled away. This was no real fight! Either it was playing with him… or it was delaying. A rumbling in the ground clued him in as to which.

Arokht roared and swung his cannon at its head, but it was gone a second before the barrel connected, somersaulting away towards the trees and turning (a gesture Arokht imagined was entirely for his benefit, given that it had a head on both sides) to greet the approaching Megáli. Reinforcements! As the lumbering vehicle pulled up next to the remains of the Alala, the Proioxis hopped up onto its roof (in front of the forward defensive cannon) to avoid Arokht’s final ice barrage and raise its arms again in a final mocking challenge. The cannon fired.
“I told you it was worth finding out how that worked!”

Wasting no time, Arokh froze his target’s legs as together as the impact knocked it into the air, and was already at its side as it slammed into the ground. It valiantly brandished one pair of swords, but the icelander knocked them both aside with one arm and pinned the other two to the ground with another blast of ice. Suddenly immobilised and with a boiling hole in both of its chests, the creature actually looked fairly pathetic. It hissed and spat embers a he looked down at it, placing his good leg on its midsection, just above where the two torsos began to split.
“You should have just killed me.” he told it, increasing the pressure until its armour began to buckle, “Or tried.”

He left its two now-separate torsos scrabbling in the mud, hefted his stolen railgun and then began toward the still motionless transport. Fortunately Anila had already pried the entry hatch open, crawled out onto the roof and waved him to attention before he began to try and tip the vehicle onto its side.

“Hey! Hey! It’s me! I was just in the area and thought you could do with a hand! I owed you a favour after all.”
No you didn’t, the vehicle was mostly driving itself.
“How long were you fighting those things anyway? I’ve been gone for ages!”
Arokht fixed her with a glare of iron.
“...never mind. We were going to go check out that big tower that came out of the ground just now, want to come with? There’s medical supplies and stuff in the back. I’m not sure they’d work on you but it’s worth a shot, right?”
Arokht continued staring in silence.
“Look, I know a lot about enchanted towers and they’re usually just full of neat magical stuff, and if we’re looking for something to help us kill that Outsider guy where better to start?”

He sighed. He didn’t know what he felt about being aided (not rescued, he’d have managed by himself eventually) by the diminutive alien (at least it meant protecting her earlier hadn’t been a complete waste of time) but she did, somehow, have a somewhat convincing point. And even if it were better for him to invade that stronghold alone, in his condition it would be faster getting there on wheels than on foot.

“Alright. Let’s go.”

“Yesss! I call front seat!”

He was disheartened to learn that she was the only one of the pair who could have possibly fit in the driver’s chair.

- - - - -

“Chaete! You need to do it again! We’re going too fast!”
Amaranth clung on for dear life, either Chaete couldn’t hear her protests past the rushing wind or wasn’t listening. She had barely moved since they fell through the portal and Amaranth could still almost feel the heavy drag of the pirate behind them as if there was a metal spike stuck into her own back, not the worm’s. Was she in shock? With both her hands occupied with holding on there wasn’t really much she could do except try shouting louder.
“Chaete! Wake up! You brought us out too high up!”

“...I’m tired.”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t stop until we’re somewhere safe and this definitely isn’t safe.”
“Safe? Safe…” There were gears spinning in Chaete’s head, sluggishly, and through their psychic link Amaranth could hear them. She’d gotten through!
“Can you do that? Just once more, and then you can rest.”


There was still the matter of the pirate captain, somehow still clinging on to her violently swinging weapon at the end of a straining length of steel chain, but the labyrinth had dealt with the rest of their pursuers and Amaranth thought she’d be able to cope with one person on their own.
It had… also dealt with Clara, the girl that she’d led into there at gunpoint, but she didn’t want to think about that right now. She forced herself (with botanical aid) to be calm, they were already moving quite fast and this was going to be a bumpy landing.

Chaete shuddered and caught the sky with her teeth, Amaranth gripped harder, tensed herself and closed her eyes. There was a momentary feeling of weightlessness… and no heavy impact. The sounds of battle raged far below.

They were still falling.

- - - - -

The corridors of Visindi’s laboratories were an eccentric combination of sterile and cluttered. The walls and floor were mostly of a smooth, seamless, reflective steel, lit by fluorescent tubes… but the effect was ruined by randomly placed, tumorous masses of pipes (full of strangely coloured liquids, and not apparently leading anywhere) and the constant flickering of electrical arcs from the light-tubes to the unshielded scaffolding that supported them. The doors leading off the hallway were often plastered heavily with arcane icons probably intended as warnings, but which were almost impossible to decipher without some kind of handbook. A couple were boarded shut, many had broken or soot-blackened windows and the foul smelling fumes (and occasionally, puddles) that leaked from those that weren’t quite properly airtight kept those of the party with more sensitive noses glued to the far wall as they passed by.

The ragtag group currently sneaking around inside had been invested with some small part of the spirit of Science!! and “experimented” with breaking the rather pointless glass viewing panel of the side of one of the chrome chemical tubes open… but when the blue goop inside had started to drip upwards through the cracked screen and corrode the roof above them they collectively decided to leave well enough alone. Whatever that was for, it could keep doing its thing for a little while longer. At least, as long as it took for them to find where they were going.

The floor was decorated with a series of coloured lines, running down the centre of the main hallway to lead the science lord’s various servants to whichever designated workspace they were meant to be tinkering in that day. Unfortunately there wasn’t a key to what each colour meant in sight and hadn’t been for some time, so to the invading party it was about as useful as any other carpet.
Matters of navigation also weren’t particularly helped by the fact that only two of them were in disguise, and there were watchful eyes (literally eyes, presumably leftovers from scientists who had installed something more “efficient”) wired into machinery set into the roof at fairly regular intervals. Kedemonas’s contingent were experts at moving undetected and did not have particular trouble staying out of sight, but much of Inderigo’s lot were a bit… slower. Robin eventually decided simply to effect the “we’re escoring these prisoners/test subjects and are totally allowed to be here” stance and hope nobody was really watching. So far it seemed to have worked (it may really just have been that nobody was watching), but they were slowing the beast pack down considerably, it was only a matter of time before someone realised the guard patrol they’d ambushed hadn’t come back, and resentment was running high.
Kedemonas had been dubious about bringing these "new friends" along to begin with, and they certainly hadn't proved themselves to be very useful yet.

This place was evidently kept at the back of the building simply because most of the work done here wasn’t terribly important. None of the rooms they burst into were even staffed and most of them just appeared to be storage for a series of eclectic and useless science fiction toys. The first actual scientist they found confirmed the suspicion that most of the high ranking important researchers were all dealing with the forces beseiging the front gates, but managed to slip some kind of bulbous ray gun out of a coat pocket and met an unfortunate end before he could use it.
The second was much better at providing directions.

Once they’d found the scent (turns out they were already fairly close), the dogs had been set loose and all attempts at keeping up became impossible. Even Barbary had fluttered off to join the hunt, after giving Robin a consolatory look (or was it annoyed? The last few hours had been a crash course on animal body language but she still couldn’t always tell exactly what a cloud of birds might be trying to convey to her), leaving her and her misbegoten flock in the dust. Not that she could blame him, things had kind of slipped out of her hands since An Actual God had walked into their midst and the big, antlered guy was clearly a far more powerful ally than she was, whether she commanded an entire army of zombies or not. At least she had her tools now.
By the time she and her shambling entourage reached The Chimera Labs they’d already missed most of the action.

Each Chimera was a unique creation, tailored to the whims of the worshipper in question, as well as whatever their attendant doctors thought would be a good idea at the time (they needed an excuse to try out their latest Advanced Techniques and Groundbreaking Technology of course). The massive creatures required an equally massive preparation area, and a very large team of surgeons, and so even though the room they found themselves in was larger than an aircraft hangar it was only equipped to service three of the beasts at a time.
The centre of the room was taken up with a spiral of progressively larger surgical slabs (individuals as large as Deacon Cathedral tended to be the lucky recipient of several staggered augmentations rather than progressing directly from man to mammoth in one go, though that wasn’t unheard of for those who had done particularly great deeds or on days when the lab team were feeling particularly Inspired) which were currently mostly lying smashed or on their sides, as a result of the ambushed surgeon-technogenticists waking their current, fairly titanic patient early in response to ambush and before he’d figured out how to work all of his legs (some of which hadn’t been sewn on yet).
One of the far walls had once held a veritable forest of impressively large glowing green tubes, gestating the various Advanced, Scientifical and Definitely Not Magical In Any Way parts their god had so kindly donated, ready for attachment. Many of those were now crawling away on their own after a scorpion’s whip three times the length of a bus had swept through and transformed it into a sparkling field of glass and sticky, nutritious slime. The upper gantry had collapsed into the rows of biomechanics workdesks, leaving several years of work on intravenous nanomachinery now completely impossible to find (and possibly doused in sprays acidic venom), and the massive engines used to grow the patients’ organs to the fantastical sizes they’d need to be was now spraying the vital contents of the two other unfinished and still-sleeping chimeras all over the floor after an unfortunate perforation from the roused titan’s high-intensity eye beams.

Fortunately, while Visindi Labs’ latest and perhaps greatest creation had done a real number upon his own birthplace, his drugged state had led to far less damage being dealt to his actual intended targets than his surroundings. Additionally, the fact that he was still missing perhaps a good third of his torso meant it actually hadn’t taken all that long for one of the beasts of the hunt to duck underneath the ventral scything claws, into the cage of the 13 arthropoid legs already attached to its centipede body, up between the structurally unecessary ribs and into a warm place where there were several pulsing, important parts and a fairly surprising lack of advanced defencive systems. Its dying roars had led Robin and her troupe the rest of the way in as the creatures of Kedemonas were routing the last of the scientists, who had mostly given up after seeing their progeny so easily defeated.

It was a scene of utter devastation, but the sheer absurdity of scales made it somewhat difficult to properly take in. The bespectacled, white-suited bodies lying in what was soon like to become a small lake of blood (it takes a lot to fill a creature near the size of a house) were so dwarfed by the room and their test subject that they just looked like scattered toys rather than dismembered humans. Robin decided that the best course of action was probably not to think too hard about it, and make sure she was still somewhere near the perpetrators’ good books. After all, this could be the place she'd been looking for.

Barbary and Kedemonas were squeezing the route to Visindi’s personal workshop out of what looked like the head surgeon (she had the whitest coat, most overdesigned goggles and most complicated array of micromanipulators in place of her arms) and only Barbary (some kind of hyena probably?) looked up as she approached.

“You have not been very helpful.”
“Hey! I got you in here didn’t I?”
Barbary merely lifted one eyebrow at that, fortunately a gesture that was generally recognisable on the faces of mammals. He’d already heaped enough scorn on her decision to simply smash the two armies together and see what happened that it did not require repeating.
“Oh come on! I thought we were friends!”
“We had a deal! You turned down a very generous offer, used my help to not only save your own life but surround yourself with more of your necromancer friends-”
“Hey, I’m not like them!”
“- and now it seems like someone else was already doing a better job than us independently. All I have received from you is promises and no payback. You are a tinkerer, not a soldier, it looks like Zoo was wrong to place us together.”

Robin rubbed her temples, she and Barbary hadn’t really been friends but that still hurt a bit. Clearly it was too much to ask for people in an entirely separate universe not to share the same gratingly familiar bias against her field of study, but she could hardly be blamed for the fact that someone else had come after Visindi first! From what she’d seen of his place, wanting rid of him was an entirely understandable urge.
“Look, here’s a plan for you. I could hear that big thing shouting from way off, which means I won’t have been the only person to know something was happening here. There’s going to be more of the science guard down here very soon and in force, and we’re only a small group not an army. Clearly you and that other guy’s troops can move the fastest, so how about you and the big guy go finish your dirty business while we stop anyone from coming after you?”

Barbary was getting a little tired of her ideas. “And how are you going to do that, after splitting up our forces even further?”
“Well, that sounds pretty easy to me.” Robin pointed over her shoulder at the still-bleeding titan
“We just turn that thing back on for a little while.”

Barbary had to concede that made a certain amount of sense.

- - - - -

With things decided, Kedemonas and Barbary took very little time to vanish back into the chrome corridors of the complex (truthfully, the hunters had set off before Robin and the hyena had even finished their conversation, having decided they didn’t need Inderigan support anyway), leaving Robin alone to address her troops.

“You all heard me just then didn’t you? You’ve got some work to do getting that thing over there back on its feet, and we probably don’t have much time to do it. Better get moving!”
“But…” one brave Inderigan finally objected, “why aren’t you helping? We all know you’re the best of us, priestess!”

Robin was already breaking open her toolbox and hoisting her own still-breathing cadaver onto one of the few correctly oriented slabs as she waved the necrotechnician away.
“I’ve got something more important to do first. Won't be a minute.”

- - - - -

Chaete was exhausted, she’d never had to dig this far or this frequently before and she’d barely eaten since she got here. Today had been exciting and tiring in a multitude of ways and it wasn’t even over yet. She reckoned she’d need to make two… maybe three more holes before they got somewhere safe and she could sleep for several hours before digging this thing out of her back, but at least gravity was doing a lot of the work now.

“Chaete! You just took us higher! Chaete!”

Amaranth was yelling about something, but Chaete wasn’t really listening. I mean, she’d said herself that the ground wasn’t safe had she? Chaete knew somewhere much better. They were almost there now, almost there. The wind streaming through her teeth growled and buzzed like a chainsaw, and they were gone again.

- - - - -

The battle outside was going fairly well, everyone knew he had the best defended stronghold in all of the valley, but instead of dreaming up novel ways of disposing of the invaders (alright maybe a few, it was a real shame the hologram/trapdoor system designed to send opposing armies marching into a radioactive moat of waste industrial chemicals hadn’t been finished yet) Visindi’s attention was still drawn to the earthen pillar that Malhalven had become. What was going on up there? The inquisitive spirit of science within burned to find out, but while the Inderigans were at his doorstep he couldn’t well leave to investigate.
He was perfectly safe here on his balcony, the overhanging structure protected by the most powerful Science Shielding modern technology could produce (he reckoned it’d take at least two of his competitors showing up in person and working in tandem together to break through this bubble, and as there was basically no chance of that kind of trust happening now that made him basically invincible), but the generators it took to produce such an effect were massive and definitely not portable, so he was effectively stuck.

His gloom only deepened as the towertop was bathed in sudden sunlight, orbital solar weaponry was exactly his thing and his stuffy almost-cousin was keeping him from seeing it. He was going to have to think of something very inventive to do to the Temple of Industry in return.

The door banged open behind him. Visindi had a more casual relationship with his followers than many of the other gods (bit old-fashioned all that ritual stuff really, no place in a laboratory) but still, even in wartime none of them would dare barge into his personal workspace unannounced. He span around, bristling with an electric fury that set his (entirely functional and definitely not there solely for decorative purposes) tesla coils to sparking in response to find… Kedemonas.
That wasn’t who he’d been expecting at all.

“Tyrant! Your stranglehold on knowledge will end today! We have destroyed your production facilities and next-” Visindi idly flicked one hand/pseudopod, enclosing the incensed swarm of hornets in a red bubble of the same unbrekable kind he himself was standing inside. A second handwave rendered it opaque, and reduced the swarm’s incensed buzzing to a barely audible hum.
“Yes yes Barbary it’s nice to see you too. Don’t worry about whatever mess you’ve made I’m sure I can find more machines somewhere.”
He turned to address the Horned Lord of the Hunt instead, a regrettably primitive sort but probably the closest he was going to find to an equal in here.
“What are you doing here? With Inderigo’s lot? Wouldn’t have thought you were the type, especially considering what he’s been up to lately. Don’t suppose you brought him with you?”

“Inderigo is gone.”
“Really? Well, that’s a shame. Bit old fashioned but the closest thing I had to a contemporary around here… ah well.”
Visindi stepped backwards and gestured to the scene unfolding at Malhalven behind him.
“Well, while you’re here I was looking for someone to ask, what do you make of all this?”

The hounds (some more metaphorically than literally) of Kedemonas were confused and impatient. Visindi didn’t seem worried by their presence at all, in fact he was treating this whole thing like it was a game. This was hardly what a hunt should be about. One of them bumped its nose up against the pulsing semi-visible wall that blocked them from their quarry hopefully, then tried to catch it between talons, but the points just slipped off as if there was nothing there.
Kedemonas though was taking it a little more in stride, he’d not got a good look at Malhalven before they went in and now he could see a shadow creeping up its walls. A dark serpent winding its way up the twisted earth.
A river.

“‘A time where gods are men and divine blood shall be spilled like so much water’, it has already begun. It means time is short. That answers both of your questions, actually.”

“Bah! Prophecy!” Visindi turned his back completely to gesticulate at the tower.
“This is all Tawn’s trick! It must be. A last ploy to scare us into cooperating.”
Kedemonas placed claws of his own upon the wall of Science and concentrated. Golden sparks flew as he untapped the stored strength of two gods.
“I bet she made that prophecy up herself and slipped it to our good chairman behind our backs. Obscura was right, it’s not like Desolo would know something as ephermal as that and she wouldn’t, right? This light show is all very impressive but it’s just smoke and mirrors. It’ll never work.”
“I believe Traiya.”, Kedemonas’s voice was closer than Visindi had expected it to be. He frowned but was unable to turn back before there was an arm embedded through what passed for his chest, fingers curled around his heart. “Enough power for one, or maybe two.”
Kedemonas looked again at the dark shape now nearing the light of the summit, before raising the still weakly pulsing organ to his lips “Best make sure it’s one of ours.”

His beautiful labcoat was completely ruined.

Barbary (now in crane form) didn’t really know what to do with command of an elite pack of hunting beasts, nor had Kedemonas given him much instruction before vanishing, but there were still plenty of scientists to kill (a trvial matter, now that their weapons didn’t function and the eye of physics, once distracted, had found plenty of beasts a-wing that simply shouldn’t be). With its former occupants cleared out, he had vague hopes that he could take the place for his own and use its facilities for what they really should have been used for, after all there wasn’t really anyone around to stop him. It didn’t take a god to see that there was change coming, and with more and more deities falling out of the picture perhaps he could take the future for himself and make something of his own. Do some real science, find some real scientists.

He’d even thought he might extend Robin a second hand of fellowship (she was no tactician, but her heart had been in the right place (he’d seen it) and perhaps she could be useful doing something that actually was related to academia) but oddly, wherever they looked she couldn’t be found.
It was as if she’d simply vanished into thin air.

- - - - -

The world tilted again, Amaranth slid down Chaete’s back as the sky inverted and up turned into down, catching hold of the harpoon with one arm and pulling herself back before she fell off entirely. There was an answering twinge in her own back as Chaete felt the tug on her abused dorsal plates but there wasn’t time for her to feel guilty.

They were far above the clouds now, that last jump had taken them further than all of the previous ones. The air was thin but still breathable and the cold she could feel pressing in made her glad of her heavy robes, practical though they may not have been for riding an airborne invertebrate. Now that she was no longer peering down at a charred treeline or a host of the dead wrestling with twisted fusions of men and beasts, the Valley was actually quite pretty. She could understand why people might want to fight over it, if not their destructive methods (what would be the point of owning it then?).
What really drew the eye though was the enormous column of light, too bright to look at directly, which stretched up and up as far as the eye could see. It was like the sun itself had reached down to touch the ground, was this something to do with why the tunnels had started closing? It was obviously important, and it hadn’t been there before, but Amaranth had no idea what it could mean.

As up became down, so too did their momentum start to shift, initially they’d rocketed upward out of the hole as if shot from a cannon, but Chaete wasn’t particularly aerodynamic and they certainly weren’t travelling at escape velocity… oh.
“Chaete… Where are you taking us?”

The worm’s response came mostly in feelings rather than words; Home, safety, protection… and then a memory of her mother, a coiled leviathan whose eyes alone dwarfed the little creature, and reflected a lattice of endless stars.
They weren’t going somewhere safe at all.

“Your mother’s not up there!”
“She is! She will be… she hasn’t heard me yet... but I just need to get high enough! She will come! We’ll be safe!”
“I won’t be able to breathe!! I can’t get down on my own!”
“It’s safe! We’ll be safe! Nearly there... You’ll see.”

Almost at the apex of her climb and clearly unsatisfied with the downwards arc it was about to turn into, Chaete bit the sky… and was rewarded with a sudden roar. Stars twinkled and beckoned in the distance and the air rushed through the new hole to meet them. They slammed to a sudden halt, sending the pirate below swinging wildly, as the protruding body of the Harpoon made Chaete too wide to fit through her own hole, but her teeth stubbornly gripped the aether on the other side like sky hooks and as the aperture widened she slowly began to drag herself inside.

Dread Captain Balenia had other ideas.
Endurance, Will and Tenacity were traits highly prized by Ceraceros and the chief reasons his followers had stayed on the field of battle despite endless setbacks and overwhelming odds. Whaling and Piracy alike were both jobs that required a lot of focused patience, enduring storm, ice and tides until the moment arrived and then seizing it with both hands. Chaete wasn’t exactly covered in easy handholds but Amaranth had it easy compared to the sea captain, who’d swung perilously on the end of a long metal chain for the entire ordeal. She could barely feel her arms any more, and as she was suddenly shifted from fighting against air resistance to fighting against gravity (and the chain swung round like a pendulum to follow Chaete’s gradual decline into an arc) she realised she wasn’t going to make it.
Which also meant: neither were they.

She hadn’t brought her whole crew with her on this fool’s errand but she had brought the best, and all of them had been lost when the walls of Obscura’s maze had started to come down. Now it was basically certain that she was going to die too. She was a realist, and apart from divine intervention (something Ceraceros was not known for even at sea let alone miles in the air) there was no way she was getting out of this one.
As far as she was concerned, sole blame for this lay in the heart of the beast whose hide her harpoon was already embedded in. The detonator button was just a couple of inches down the barrel, she wasn’t going to survive this anyway, and there wasn’t any hope that she was going to be able to bring this prize home alive any more.
“To the last I grapple with thee! From hell’s heart I stab at thee! For hate’s sake…”, she inhaled too sharply in the freezing, rapidly thinning air and coughed violently as her throat burned, “... fuck off!”
It was taking her longer to prise her rigid hand from its grip than she’d thought it would.

Amaranth had slipped herself further down Chaete’s tail, the worm wasn’t listening to her any more (it was quite possible that she couldn’t, given that her head was now in an airless space, she suddenly realised she didn’t even know where Chaete’s ears were situated) and besides it was getting difficult to breathe up there. Things had escalated so quickly that she was at a little bit of a loss to what to do, and wasn’t even entirely sure where it had gone wrong. Putting her trust in a juvenile alien had clearly been a bad idea but what else could she have done? what could she do now? The only ways she could go from here were up and down and neither of them held anything good, in fact up was entirely out of the question.

She was prepared to die for her cause… but hadn’t expected to have to do so this soon. She hadn’t even really achieved anything in the short time she’d been in the valley, she’d given a single seed but in this land of warring faiths it would be terribly alone and in great danger (and if the sorry state of Clara had been any indication, she probably hadn’t given it to a winning team, perhaps she should have been less hasty). Everything else had been… carelessness really. She’d allowed herself to be followed and then allowed herself to be backed into a corner and now she was stuck. The Outsider’s promise had been a wonderful opportunity and she’d squandered it at the first stumbling post, there was so much more she could have done…

With her legs still wrapped around Chaete’s barrel torso for support, she fingered the container where the rest of the seeds still hung safe against her chest. No, there was still one last thing she could do. If she allowed Chaete to carry her up into the stars then she would not only die but she'd be dead for good in a place no tree could grow. She’d drift lost and frozen in a place entirely inimical to her cargo, but if she went down… she’d fall again to the Godsworn Valley and eventually someone would find her tree. It wouldn’t be the end, it was a shame to squander the other seeds but they would likely survive the fall too and there was always a chance someone would find them within her branches and divine their purpose. She steeled her will with the pollen one last time, loosened her grip, looked directly down and… saw the captain. She was actually quite surprised to see that she was still there. Different calculations arose unbidden in her head.

These were explosive weapons, she’d gathered that much in the brief time she’d held one, and the person down below her was in the process of flipping the safety screen to prime the detonator. And what was it The Outsider had told them?

“We will transport you to seven locales. At each, one of you will expire. There will be one survivor that will return to their home… We will watch intently and see how you cope with this environment. You may leave when one of you ceases.”

There was another way out of here after all.

If she positioned herself right and let go then there was probably still time to aim her drop such as to knock loose the whaler’s grip as she fell, killing them both and sparing Chaete a grisly fate, or… she could simply drop free by herself as she’d already been planning to, leave her former pursuer to her business and hope The Outsider caught her before she hit the ground.
That was provided the blast was strong enough and Chaete’s space-armoured hide weak enough that such a detonation would kill her, and provided that it would do so fast enough that she expired before Amaranth finished falling. It was of course entirely possible that the blast would do nothing at all, or that it would maim Chaete but leave her alive and in pain, or that it would maim Chaete but leave her alive and in pain and dying such that she perished shortly after Amaranth did, meaning that neither of them lived when one of them could have done. There wasn’t any way of knowing, really.

Amaranth touched the seed-box again, closed her eyes, leaned backwards and let go. Chaete didn’t even notice her leave. The wind rushed up to meet her at once, snatching what was left of the fumes floating around her face and buffeting past her ears such to block out all sound.

If the harpoon blast made a noise she never heard it.


She vanished.

- - - - -

Obscura, Kedemonas and Tawn stood around the altar in the great hall of Malhalven, newly open to the air. Rachel was there too, but couldn’t be said to be part of the conversation. The sun was in her eyes, and her mouth, and… everywhere except where the other sun was. She thought the golden light she was trapped inside might be trying to talk to her, but she couldn’t really hear what it was saying over herself, and the complaints of the envious orb in her stomach, apart from that he sounded sad.

“This is your gambit?” Obscura sneered, “I tried to use this one, it’s no Kohl. You can’t just replace him and expect everything to go back to normal!”
Kedemonas kept silent, keeping one eye out for treachery and another for black streams to make their way over the rim of the tower. Surely the dark beast should have arrived by now? Until then, they were at an impasse. The prophecy had decreed them enough power for one or two, but not three (or even four?).
Kedemonas had found an uncertain Raxis in an armoured convoy (somewhat smaller than usual, it seemed some of his famously disciplined troops were turning traitor) at the foot of Malhalven and paid them the same respects he had given Visindi... but Obscura had been similarly busy in the neighboured frozen halls of Frigidus and Ceraceros. The final pair of the pantheon were evenly matched against each other in stolen strength, and neither were certain they were even capable of turning on Tawn, even discounting what effect that would have on the ritual she was performing.

“You don’t have to fight! We can still stop this, go back to how it was. It will all be ok.”
Tawn clearly didn’t believe her own words, but nobody made a move nevertheless. The fire raged on and Rachel wished she knew what they were all waiting for.

“Our wellspring has run dry. There is not enough to go around. How can you make another god when we can’t share even this much power?”
It was true that something should have happened by now. Rachel was still screaming, and glowing from within, but there was nothing exceptionally immortal about her.
“It will work!”

“No, I don’t think there is enough power left here to finish your process. It ebbs even by the minute.”
“She’d have to kill us as well. Is that the true purpose of her spell, do you think?”
Tawn shook her head weakly, “There’s not going to be any more fighting!”

The summit was still for a moment longer, and then Kedemonas spoke slowly, thinking of Zoo and the scientist’s balcony.
“Those I have spoken to below… they were forgetting their gods. I stormed the halls of Visindi with a cleric of Zoo and the hordes of Inderigo, who is already gone from this valley. The forces of Raxis were deserting. The whalers are headed for home.
Inderigo left of his own accord, and Zoo gave himself to me freely. Perhaps this is all for the best? Men will hunt without me, I’m sure they’ll not abandon their secrets.”

“Will they abandon their armies?”
Kedemonas looked doubtful.
Tawn’s voice cracked. “I can’t do this half way! The fighting’s gone on too long, I am going to bring Khol back!”
“My flock are still faithful. Who cares about the followers of weaker gods? Nobody will abandon me.”

Tendrils of dark chose that moment to pour and spill over the cracked remains of the walls and pool into the temple as if it was a basin. It had waited long enough, they were faltering, it was here, it was time.
“It shows itself! Here is what we should be fighting!”
As Kedemonas turned to battle a wall of water, Obscura dived at his unprotected back, driving shadowy nails deep into his shoulders. Tawn could only gape as her golden conjuring flickered and surged wildly out of control;
While they had been talking Rachel had disappeared.

Freed from its focus, Tawn’s holy fire leapt joyfully up into the sky and back, beckoning the pantheon’s lost beloved toward the valley with a desperate fervour. Following the path of brilliant power the sun found its way home, reaching down to the pillar of earth with a finger of nuclear flame that met Tawn’s outstretched hand and consumed her. For a few brilliant moments the home of the gods was transmuted into a pillar of gold too bright to see, stretching from heaven all the way down to earth and casting its light across all of the valley.
Then it was gone, and the gods were gone too.

RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 1: Godsworn Valley]
Beautiful / beautiful / beautiful.

The seven who survived found themselves within the Outsider's domain once more. Each had been placed on an unadorned, geometric plinth, arrayed in two rows-- the Outsider itself stood in the middle. The abomination itself had changed, seemingly less of a mass of limbs vaguely arranged into a humanoid armature and more of a refined attempted at mimicry. The slavering grin its mask-face had was gone now-- its face was now featureless cerulean.

Its domain was no longer the broken, chaotic space that it had been the first time, with broken walls half-shielding the group from an inestimable void. Solid walls of obsidian and thick, nigh-opaque glass stretched upward towards a distant ceiling, and other crude experiments in architecture were visible-- pillars, arches, attempts at what might be windows. It resembled a cathedral, almost-- or a mausoleum, given the bloody remains of what had been Chaete that hovered before the Outsider. It observed the intact parts of the visceral corpse like it were a pinned butterfly in a collection, emotionlessly and analytical.

We have seen tragedy / sacrifice now. It soundlessly intoned into the contestant's minds. It took a few steps, curiously circling and examining the broken body from another angle. We have seen duty / rebellion. We have seen so much. Chaete's remains disappeared, folding into a pocket of void away from the Outsider's sanctum.

But there is more we wish to see.

The Outsider's pocket dimension vanished, leaving in its wake an empty expanse of space-- not the void of its dimension, but the familiar one of stars and nebulae. For a brief moment, the unprotected and humanoid among the contestants felt the harsh exposure of space-- eardrums almost bursting, tissue swelling, air rushing out of lungs-- before some degree of protection washed over them, invisibly separating them from the vacuum.

For a second, there was nothing-- no planets, no asteroids or suns or anything to make the sheer space on all sides any less daunting.

The Krei'kii'kelriz.

A shape came into view-- a spaceship, almost crustacean-like in appearance. Folds of metal carapace protected it, sensors protruded from the front like twitching antennae, alien machinery emerged from cracks along the spine. Faint lines glowed and traced their way across the hull, terminating around engines that streamed an incandescent plume of plasma.

The last creation of a dead civilization. A salvation that never came.

Eons passed in an instant-- the trail of fire died down to an ember, the lights dimmed, microscopic fragments of its machinery trailed like a comet's tail. A millennia of collisions and damage became evident, as the ship was battered and lost parts of its metal shell. The contestants watched as the ship made a lifeless sojourn across countless dead stars.

A relic that was found.

The ship slowed down, then stopped. Scabs of new, foreign metal artifice filled the vessel's old wounds. The dead engines experimentally flickered, as though they were being reignited. Shuttles drifted around the hulk curiously, as the dead ship was examined. Time returned to normal-- and before the handful of contestants could fully readjust, they were thrust forward, rushed inside of the ship now before them. As they began to reacquaint themselves, they heard a voice-- not the voice that soundlessly bored into their minds, but one just as awful and subconsciously recognizable as their tormentor's.


RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
The corridor where Florica pitched up was empty of both the living and the dead. The walls were the colour of rusting brass, the floor was metal and cold under Florica's bare feet. The corridor was wide, wide enough for four or five people to stand side by side, and the ceiling was high, about twice as high as you might expect. Someone had set up lighting rigs every few metres, but even so there were parts of the corridor that were still pitch black. Wires as thick as Florica's wrist snaked down the corridor, the power within coming from somewhere out of sight. The machines hummed a familiar tune but Florica did not deign to hum along with them.

She ought to have been pleased; Robin was gone, back to her own body, and as such she was once again in control of hers. Yet in truth she now felt worse than ever. It was only a matter of time before some other spirit started pulling her strings; 'a dead civilisation' the Outsider had said. Florica couldn't imagine death upon that scale, she tried not to think about how many ghosts might be wandering this place. But she recalled the moment spent suspended in the blackness outside of this place; the sense of so much time passing, and she hoped that perhaps it was long enough that the spirits of the dead had moved on or faded away. Such a hope was little more than wishful thinking, but it was better than imagining the alternative.

Florica decided to move. She had no goal in mind as such; she had nowhere she wanted to go and nothing she wanted to do when she got there, but anything, even the prospect of being possessed once again was better than sitting here in the darkness alone with her emptiness. She stepped gingerly over a bundle of wires and out of the dim light of the nearest lighting rig. She fixed her eyes upon the next beacon of light and moved through the darkness, hesitantly at first but gaining confidence with each step until her feet unexpectedly found the wires again and she almost fell backwards.

As she shuffled forwards she thought about Chaete. Florica hadn't met the worm, but she was dead and consequently she could go on living. Inexorably she was drawn to a question she'd been trying to avoid answering; was her life worth fighting for? Her existence was not a happy one, but she doubted that she would find any respite in death. It was a lose/lose situation no matter which way she looked at it. Idly, as she stepped into another pool of light, she wondered where Chaete's spirit would go. Would it linger in the Godsworn Valley, or in the empty domain of the Outsider where her body had been taken? Perhaps it would find its way home or maybe, though Florica couldn't support the idea with any actual logic, it might follow them here. Maybe she could give Chaete another chance at life? Would that be worthwhile? Would that life be better than this one?

And despite herself she missed Robin. She was different; she'd spoken to her, promised to help her. It was the first time in a long time Florica had felt like a person again rather than simply a vessel for spirits. She recalled Robin's words and in that dark and empty corridor she sung out as though there was some chance she would hear: "Beneath the sparkling sky / o'er the sapphire sea / my love I say goodbye / horizon's callin' me." It was the only song she knew with actual lyrics. Her mother used to sing it for her when she was young, sitting in the back of her family's caravan watching the world fall away behind them. When her mother had sung it to her it had been a cheerful uptempo song, but in her mouth it was slow; melancholic.

"Another world to see / another dream to chase / horizon's callin' me / an' I won't leave a trace." Florica managed another verse before she started feeling self conscious and trailed off. In truth she knew it was not what Robin had meant, but it had made her feel better for a minute to pretend that it was. She continued in silence, following the ready-made path of lights through the strange corridor to a large open room, only barely illuminated by the circle of lighting rigs set up around the podium at the centre of the chamber. Off to one side there was a couple of bedrolls and a selection of machinery the function of which Florica couldn't even begin to guess at, to anyone else these signs of habitation were probably the most notable thing about the empty chamber, but to her they barely registered. Her attention was taken by the hundreds of worm-like spirits all clustered around the podium at the centre of the room, atop which sat one much larger spirit.

The alien spirits were arguing in a language Florica couldn't understand and which she was fairly sure that even if she could she would be physically incapable of speaking herself. It didn't seem that they had noticed her yet; if she was really quiet she could probably slip out of the chamber and back down the corridor, but what would be accomplished? What if every room on this ship was just as filled with spirits as this one? Was she supposed to hide in the darkness, wait for someone else to die and hope not to be discovered? In the end it was probably inevitable, so maybe it was best to just get it over with. She almost wished that they had heard her song, at least then she wouldn't have to choose.

Florica took a hesitant step towards the writhing mass of spirits and announced her presence with a feeble "hello" that was lost beneath the spirits' unpronounceable argument. She felt crestfallen, her first attempt to be assertive in a long time having fallen so spectacularly flat. She decided that maybe she should just go, when she became aware of a gradual cessation of the spirits' argument. Though it was difficult to see any visible difference in the spirits she was quite aware that they were all intently focused upon her.

"Kiiek kreiil'ke kiex'kri." the larger spirit commanded and immediately the mass of worm spirits surged towards her. This had been a mistake, she thought dumbly as the spirits engulfed her.
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RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Robin had Chaete's soul on the brain too, though it was probably less of a good thing.

The Outsider had dumped her in some kind of dormitory, a hallway flanked with walls arrayed all trypophobic extending up to the distant ceiling. Some of the holes (the old inhabitants weren't simian, Robin discerned that much) were still plugged up with some kind of gel, hardened through eons of disuse and crumbling at Robin's touch. The space between the walls, though wide enough for five people to walk through shoulder-to-shoulder, felt narrow against the sheer size of the walls on either side.

Robin swatted spun-sugar fragments of once-liquid door out of the air, before giving up and kicking off the wall to somewhere tidier. The wall lit up where she struck, just enough to let her properly see what she was doing, before she bounced (in a stately manner, she hoped) off the other wall. She punched a few more walls for good measure before easing herself down to the ground, just in case someone turned on the gravity on without warning her. (Wait, was this even the floor? Robin deliberated, then eased herself and her gear into one of the cells. Better safe then sorry, right?)

Robin struggled around for a bit, trying to repose herself in a way that'd avoid bruising anything regardless of potential falling direction, then carefully unlocked her briefcase and fished out her equipment. She untangled the wires, listened for anything over the ambient creaks of the ship, then booted up her laptop and plugged everything in, including her headphones. That done, she unfolded a motionlessly energetic piece of paper from her pocket, and fed it into the auxillary machine once her computer got done installing device software.

"Alright. Mr. Cathedral, can you hear me?"

A burst of static. Robin had to remind herself to not seek patterns in the white noise; what her conscience parsed as bestial fury could just as easily be a cry of post-mortal confusion. She click-dragged the audio clip into the - alt-tab - spectrography program, and tried again.

"Up you get," Robin chided, muttering further encouragement to the hissing in her ears. "Yup, yeah. Good." A tiny grin froze at an untoward sound from somewhere beyond the dorm, but the first chunk of audio finished scanning with a reassuring ddink. The language was unrecognised; translation quality, 12%. Robin hit "playback".

<expletive>, <query>, <expletive>, <expletive>, <expletive>

"Good good good. We'll try the command line next, ok?"

It started with /querip spec1 NAME, and proceeded pretty smoothly from there. Simple questions, simple answers, stringing together from cobwebs and branching logics a Stygian bridge. Robin ran the original clip through the improved translator, grinning a bit wider at the sheer creativity of the spirit's foul mouth. A wordsmith and a saint-to-be, probably, if only he'd run most anyone else through the stomach.

"Awesome. Ok, so. Cathedral. You're listening? That's rhetorical. Anyway, here's what's up."

<expletive>, <command>, <amend-"kəˈθiːdril"/"diːkən kəˈθiːdrəl">, <expletive>, <expletive>, <query>

"You got a rather fatal case of systemic, uh, hypoxia - heheh - on the operating table, what with all of your blood ending up outside of you. I patched up that sack of Godzilla antagonist offcuts, but we couldn't have you in charge of it, obviously. So! I put an Inderigan in there and figured, hey, why not keep you on hand?"

<expletive>, <expletive>, <expletive>, <command>, <expletive>

"Haha, yeah. I'll release you, sure. Don't bother trying to haunt me or anything though, we've both got better things to be doing." Robin glanced at the animeter, which clearly wasn't doing its desired job in zero gravity. She'd have to go find Florica after this; stop getting distracted when she had more important things to be doing. Robin hadn't even considered how lucky she was, that the round had ended while her and Florica were in the operating circle. Could Florica carry her resident spirits between universes? If Cathedral hadn't "killed" Robin in whatever sense of the word qualified in the eyes of the Outsider, then what had happened to the worm?

So much to think about, and at least three, wait, no, four - five? people who'd be a better use of her time to talk to. She'd only met the one fellow contestant that whole time in the valley; had it been the same for the others?

Cathedral, meanwhile, had not been waiting patiently. Robin refocussed, scanned the three-odd minutes of foul invective with disinterest.

"Right. Yeah. So, once I release your spirit, I need you to try find your way back to your home universe. Not that I know what kind of afterlife Visindi or anyone else has set up for you guys, but I'm sure you'd rather the final fragments of your stab-happy existence disintegrate back into that reality instead of this one."

<query<APPEND: fear>>

Robin shrugged, running a finger around the blood-encrusted stab wound in her coat. There'd be one on the back, too, wouldn't there? "It's my going theory. Not a sure thing, but think of it this way. If you make it home, and I manage to track you all the way back, then we'll be communicating across universes! Visindi'll be pretty pleased with your discovery, if he's still alive. Hell, maybe the Inderigans will build you a new chassis if you sell the secrets of the multiverse out to them."

<expletive>, <query>

"It's your funeral. Uh, choice of final resting place. Look, I've got other souls to work with if you're dead-set on doing everything to avoid helping me. I'm just giving you a chance to be part of something bigger, you get me?"

Robin began packing peripherals away, saving audio clips and project files and giving the battery meter in the corner of the screen a pensive look. She left everything hanging for a moment as she poked her head out into the main hallway, alert to any signs of life.

Nope. No, wait. Double-nope! All this gravity business had gotten her looking in the completely wrong direction, as somewhere up near what was (albeit by total conjecture) the ceiling, one of the tunnel-like hallways out of here was the source of a distant "eeeeeeeeeeeeee".

Robin just waited patiently for a moment, until that lady with the witch hat was launched bodily out into the main hallway, roughly contiguous with the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeing. Anila clipped a handrail with her foot, motion shifting seamlessly from torpedo to boomerang. She barely got her legs back between her and the section of wall she was about to collide into, springing off in what probably wasn't the intended direction.

Robin grinned, then ducked back into her requisitioned pod-chamber and quickly scooped everything up back into her Visindian field backpack. Anila hurtled by just as she stuck her head out again, yelling "hey!"

I told you to keep quiet, Anila! What's the point of announcing your presence to potential threats?

What's the point in fretting over a potential threat if they greet me? Come on! Let's go say hello, just as soon as I figure out which way's up.

Robin had, meanwhile, drifted out into the space between the hole-studded walls, trying to look like she regularly talked to bluish people without showing any emotions along the lines of concern. "Hiya. I think we're in that thing together, with the Outsider?"

"Hey! You're that necromancer, aren't you?" The adventurer still hadn't quite gotten the hang of conserved momentum, and the two halves of that sentence ended up in two different ears.

"I prefer necrologist," Robin said in her best neutral voice, hooking an ankle round a rail and fixing a receding Anila in her vision. "People tend to get funny ideas with that word. Start worrying I'm going to raise an undead army, or steal your soul to power a flesh golem or something."

"So you - oof!" Anila slammed into the wall beside Robin, scrambling for handholds and catching her breath before turning to a flagrantly upside-down necroma-sorry, necrologist. "So you don't actually do those things?"

"No." Robin took the look she was given as disappointment, and grinned a bit. "I'm working on it. That's a joke. As for what I actually do, I'm... hrm. Do you have physicists where you come from?"

Anila was looking around for her hat, spotted it lurking up near the opening she'd entered from.
"... Physicians? Fzz'i'drits? Last I heard I killed the last of those off. By accident! I thought it was just a regular old dragon-"

"I'll figure out a way to explain it," Robin sighed. "Later. For now, how about we fetch your hat, get to making some sense of this place, and figure out what we know?"
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
The hall had been beautiful once.

It was a perfect octagon in shape. Flowing arches of segmented metal had once swept up from each corner towards the high, domed ceiling. Curious geometric designs had spiraled outwards on the walls between each arch’s legs, each one unique, describing in their curves and angles the mathematical concepts used to allow this ship to travel between the stars. Beneath each design had stood a sturdy-looking door, inset in the walls. Balconies circled the room’s heights. A single column had risen from the center of the hall, at the floor ringed by six hexagonal podiums and reaching all the way up to the ceiling. Light had filled the whole place, golden and austere.

That was millennia ago.

Now the hall was ruined. The column in the center had collapsed along with the ceiling, spilling huge chunks of rubble across the floor. Two of the arches had sagged and fallen in a twisted heap of metal, and a third seemed to be going the same way. Rust ate away at all of them. The angular designs on the walls were stained with unidentifiable fluids that ran in discolored rivulets onto the ground. All but one of the balconies had fallen. Scraps of beaten machinery and unrecognizable debris fought for room on the floor. And not a single light shone from anywhere in the room.

That is, nowhere but from its sole occupant.

Arokht charged, loping gorilla-like as fast as his strained body could. Several tons of iceworlder met the door’s metal surface with a deafening crash. Several tons of iceworlder bounced back. The door held fast. Just like it had the last eight times he'd tried this.

Snarling in frustration, Arokht reared up and hammered the door with his fists, again and again. More impacts rang out, echoing through the hall. Pain fueled adrenaline. Frustration fueled rage. Servomotors assisted muscle. But adrenaline, rage, and muscle failed to do anything, to put a single dent in the damned door.

He punched the door one last time for spite’s sake, then sank down in front of it, panting. Arokht hurt. Arokht hurt everywhere he could think of. His right eyepiece flickered fitfully behind a web of cracks, the hardware housed within badly damaged. The left eyepiece still worked. It was the only thing letting him see in the darkness. It also let him see his multiple damaged organs, his wounded ankle, the power failures in various parts of his suit, several burst coolant lines, two ruptured eardrums, a lump of tungsten lodged in his abdomen, and a whole host of gouges and scratches disfiguring his armor. For the last few minutes he’d been getting by through the remainder of his armor’s painkillers and sheer force of anger, but the cumulative weight of his injuries was beginning to press down on him. Pain throbbed through his body to the beat of his hearts. And it felt like the suit was slowing down, too. Getting slower to respond to his movements.

The iceworlder carefully pushed himself up to all fours. Then a sudden lance of pain tore through his chest and he sank to his knees, coughing violently. He retched. Teal blood spilled into his helmet. Internal plumbing siphoned it away as quickly as it could, but Arokht still gagged on it.

His chest throbbed, another entry in his long list of pain. His thoughts were clouding up. He shook his head, doglike. What had happened? Somebody had died. One of the contestants. Anila? Where was…

...it was the worm. Floating scraps of orange flesh. Arokht knew what blast damage looked like. Somebody had killed the worm. And because the worm had died, the Outsider had brought them…

The Outsider. Arokht struggled back up to his feet, a sudden fury blazing through him. The Outsider! It had been there, it had been right in front of him! If only the sudden shift hadn’t disoriented him. Arokht would not be toyed with by that thing. He would crush it. He would tear it to pieces, he would…


His strength failed. Arokht collapsed heavily, his anger flowing away as quickly as it came. His head felt filled with fog. He grunted, tried to crawl away. From what? He was having trouble seeing. Everything seemed to be getting dim, even though his eyes were wide open. The pain was starting to bother him less. He’d been doing something. What was it? What was he...


"...too different. Different materials too, looks like. It's definitely not part of the ship."

"Advise I caution. Alive is organism still."

"Shit, this thing's alive? You sure it's not a robot?"

"Can see your eyes beyond visible spectrum? Unusually cold it is, but living it is."

Arokht stirred, groaning. His eyelids felt too heavy to open, and the pain was making an unwelcome return, but he still had two functional eardrums.

"Say I not the truth? Living."

He heard footsteps moving towards him. Human, judging by the gait. They stopped just beside his head. Arokht heard the rasp of tough fabric sliding over itself.

"Hey. Can you hear me? Are you all right?" A pause. "Can you even understand me?"

Arokht opened his eyes. Blinding light shone through his one functional eyepiece, and though automatic polarizers dimmed it to tolerable levels he still couldn't make out anything beyond it.

"Alien," he grunted. "Move."

The human backed off obligingly, taking its light with it. Arokht's eyepiece depolarized and afforded him a clearer look at his visitors.

He was right. A human crouched beside his head--a stocky female in a bulky canvas jumpsuit covered with pockets. She wore a vest and a tough leather belt over the suit. Both vest and belt were covered in pockets as well, but the belt also held a variety of tools both familiar and esoteric. None of her skin showed, except on her face, and even most of that was hidden under a yellow hard hat and a clumsy-looking rebreather. What little was visible was the color of teak. A lamp shone from the hat's brim. She wore a satchel slung over one shoulder.

Behind her stood something like a mix between a lobster and a bacteriophage. It had four legs, each ending in a chitinous hoof. Those legs radiated from a thick waist, which in turn sprouted an upper body shaped something like a question mark, or a shrimp curled up around itself. At the end of the question mark hung an insectoid head covered by a hood-shaped shell. Three yellow eyes gleamed beneath it. In line with its head, on either side of its body, two triple-jointed arms curled, each terminating in triple-pronged crustacean claws. A deep red carapace sheathed its entire body. Metallic implants seemed to be attached directly to its shell.

"Identify," growled Arokht. Shakily at first, but growing more confident with every second, the iceworlder began pushing himself back up.

"Easy, easy." The human got to her feet as well, taking a few more steps back. "Don't move so much. You're in really bad shape."

Arokht glanced at the warnings still scrolling down his eyepiece. Thank you for letting me know, he thought, irritably.

Slowly but steadily, he rose up to his full height, revealing the railgun still clenched in his secondary hands. "Identify!"

"Easy," the human repeated. She held up her hands, palm out. "You don't have to point that thing at me. I'm Mary. Mary Santos. I'm a salvager."

She pointed a thumb at the alien behind her. "That's Ak. Ak's a..."

Ak stepped forward. "Archaeologist am I. Ak'kubal^ut am I," it buzzed, clicking on the ^. A faint hint of reproach entered its voice. "Calls she I Ak."

"What it said," said Mary. "I'm human. Ak's kaltul. Er, ka^tul. And you?"

Arokht tilted his head. He still found it strange how none of the humans he'd met knew what he was. His kind weren't exactly a secret where he came from.

"Arokht," he rumbled. "Iceworlder.”

His eyes traveled from the two aliens to the door behind them. A neat rectangle had been cut out of it, its edges orange and molten.

Mary followed Arokht’s gaze and grinned, though her mask concealed her expression. “We heard you knocking. Figured we’d give you some help." Her voice turned wry. "Though it looks like you need more help than that.”

The iceworlder turned his attention back to the human. He was out of his depth yet again-- seriously wounded, trapped in an unfamiliar environment and surrounded by aliens. He needed a guide. He needed a medic. He needed his suit repaired. Arokht considered his options.

“Then help me,” said Arokht.

Ak nodded. “Follow,” it hissed.

The red alien turned and scuttled out the door. Arokht limped behind it. Mary walked beside him. Together, the three vanished into the derelict’s depths.

The hall behind them stood dark and silent once more.

ak and maryShow
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]
Light, a faint orange glow, peeked around a dingy corner and impinged upon surfaces that hadn’t seen light in centuries; it laughed and watched dust motes stir from their comfortable resting places. It shone on disused panels that hung by their corners in front of filled-in maintenance hatches (inside, things like dried out intestines or decaying rubber sleeves gave the impression of having glistened once) and dimly scattered, spreading what little warmth could be given to a glacial, eternal winter.

In the frozen dust behind Her began a track of molten footprints, each one marked with a spray of metal vapor. In the vacuum, with no air to burn, Her eyes glowed blue-white. Her gaze threw sunburn at twenty meters, give you cancer easy at ten, kill you straight at five. Divine power blazed inside Her little sun, annihilation of antimatter to Her measly fusion, C4 to Her gunpowder, outright war to Her trade sanction; it fueled Her rage, and Her rage fueled it. She wanted things to burn, and She would have let loose on the ship about Her - if it were not for the fact that She would rather have unleashed it all on the Outsider. But no, that last visit lasted no time at all. A curling lick of orange plasma escaped from Her lips as She sighed into the vacuum. The Outsider had taken it all away, just as it was getting good.

She shook herself. Good? Being an omnipotent homicidal maniac was supposed to be good? She recognized, on a fundamental level, that divinity did not suit her. It scared the electrons off of her atoms - raw power, unbound by any fundamental principles or physical laws? Of such things are Outsiders made of. Perhaps. Hold on to it too long, and it would destroy her.

But maybe there was something she could do.

Rachel took a deep, unnecessary breath of absolutely nothing at all, and exhaled something that was not air into the corridor. When she was done, and it had all coalesced into a tiny floating orb of blue, she sagged and contrived to look slightly less immortal. A fair few impatient moments had to pass before she began to walk, and then bounce, and then float towards the innards of the ship, the blue marble orbiting her head.

Sometimes gods have to walk among mortals for a little bit. Plus, all that divine power was beginning to chafe.


“...and so, I went and took this map the nice lady gave me and I used it on doors that went ‘KA-CHUMPH’ a lot!” Anila illustrated with a downward swipe of her blue-tinged hand, sending her somersaulting across the weightless chamber. “Then I stuck it in this slot, and it nearly blew off my hand, but Wizard Jelly helped me out!”


“Then we went driving! It was the funnest thing ever, unless you count the other time I went driving in a tank and went WHOOSH right into the big angry room full of sad people being yelled at. But that lady was nice.”

”So,” Robin straightened a weightless wrinkle in her coat, “let me get this straight. Technically, you’re dead?”

Manner of speaking. Do you have grounding in basic biology and thaumic theory?

“Wizard Jelly says if you have grounds in biowhatevers and thaumthingies.”

“I’m sorry?”


“Biiiiiolooogiessss,” Anila stretched out the word, and pouted. But only for a second.

“Oh! Yes. I have a doctorate in Arcane Sciences. My thesis was in,” she paused, “bodies.”

Excellent. Well, consider that I am not precisely, for the exact definition of the word, a symbiote; Anila is in many ways physically dead. I am simply maintaining her body, but in the process I must consume an increasing proportion of it.

“Wizard Jelly’s eating me.”

Seeing Robin blanch, Anila hurriedly continued, “But that’s okay! Because that means I get to stay alive!”

The necrologist scribbled a note onto a scrap of paper. “Fascinating. I don’t know if your magical theories correspond to mine, but… so your ‘Wizard Jelly’ is consuming you in exchange for life?”


“I wonder,” she mused, “if death, by being consumed, on a microscopic scale… is what creates and sustains the wizgel?”


“Wizard Jelly’s not a big fan of ‘wizgel’.”


Their conversation cut short as a loud hissing noise sliced through the air: a hatch on the far end of the dormitory-room was easing open, taking an inrush of escaping air along with it. With lightning speed, a familiar hand shot out and hung on to a hole, pulling the rest of an equally familiar white-orange and metal carapace out from the maelstrom.

“Rachel!” Anila leapt for her old war buddy, and ineffectually attempted to swim over in zero gravity. She only started making progress when a stray air current caught her, dragging her towards the hard vacuum beyond the hatch. “I know this one, Robiiiiin,” she yelled as she soared past the necrologist.


“Also Wizard Jelly is screaaaming now -- oof!”

Anila slammed bodily into the hatch just as Rachel managed to pull her legs through the opening, shutting it neatly; all was silent for a moment as everyone involved attempted to do a roll call of their limbs and injuries.

Robin kicked off a wall-hole neatly and came to rest near the other two. (Aha, she thought, and mentally checked the last name off her checklist) “So are you dead too, then?”

Metal-ensconced hands patted the rest of the organic body down. “I don’t think I can die.”

“Well, you’d be surprised.” She made a joke to keep the excitement from rising into her voice. “It gets easier after the first few times around, so the ghosts keep telling me.”

Rachel flinched. “There are ghosts?”

“Well, uh - not right now. I can probably find one-”

Shudder. “I listened to the sounds of the screaming dead.” Blanch. “You could see everything from up there.” Wince. “Oh god, Sonora.”

She tried to turn to face Anila, but ended up spinning in place. “Anila! Anila, did you see Sonora? Before it all went to shit? Or -” No, it was Chaete who had died - “No, it’s - it’s still alive - “

Robin reached out and steadied the spinning sun. “I didn’t see Sonora in the Valley. What is it?”

“Horrifying. It -”

“It was awesome! It was all ‘i like to siiiiing’ and then it ate one of the guys and then it spat his teeth at my other buddy Frosty! I wonder where he is?”

“It…ate a guy?” Robin bewildered. “And spit out his teeth? While singing?”

“Look, it was godsdamned horrifying, all right? It - it destroys everything. It eats people and things and anybloodything, and then it fucking… it fucking learns their voices or something, and it sings with the voices of dead people.”

The necrologist’s ears pricked up. “So… we should probably find it, then?” she asked, completely innocently.

“Ugh. At this point I’d be happy to stay as far away from it as possible. But what else am I going to do?” Rachel sighed. “It seems to like me marginally more, at least. Maybe you won’t get killed instantly if I’m with you.”




“Excellent. So it’s settled, then.”

“Bluh.” The three of them began navigating single file towards the dormitory-space exit, through a combination of handholds, kicks, and (in the case of Anila) flailing.

“...Is that a planet going around your head?”
RE: QUIETUS [S!5] [Round 2: Krei'kii'kelriz]

"Hey, neat!" Anila bounced in before Rachel had a chance to answer. "I didn't know you were into wizardly things like iouns."

Rachel gave Anila a perpelexed look, before half-shrugging and figuring Robin would be less of a headache to engage. "Yeah. Astute of you. Don't touch it."

"Wasn't planning to. Sonora, though. If you were an inchoate custodian of the voices of the dead-"

"A what?"

"-where would you hide yourself?"

The sunlight fluttered, tricking Robin for a moment into thinking Rachel had tapped the lights. They were still extinguished and crumbling, like old sores on dead walls. "Why are you so obsessed with it?"

"I'm just curious," the necrologist tried not to bristle. "Good science, after all is limited by how much of existence we can perceive, and all of a sudden I've got a lot more to observe."

"Is that why all of Visindi's guys had twelve eyes?"

"Uh, I'd call that more... Science!" Robin jazz-handsed, conservatively. "Big S, exclamation point."

"S!" echoed Anila, jazz-hands and all. The two waited for Anila to finish, but the hiss continued on a while with little drop in enthusiasm.

"Anyway, you said Sonora spits out voices of the dead. Now, this could be because it's an animalistic predator with a good aural memory that lets it regurgitates sounds its heard-"

"Why are you phrasing that like a hypothetical."

"It's a hypothesis! Sort of. Loosely. Not a great one. A 'theory', of the non-scientific parlance? Persuasion? I'm getting off-track, here. To wit, I think there's more to Sonora than we've been led to believe. For one thing, animals don't try to sing at people."

Anila frowned. "I knew a noddy who ran a postal service in my hometown, he'd probably have words with you."

"Ok, ok. Animals don't talk, at least not in my world."

"Stern words," clarified the adventurer.

"Point is, people talk. Non-humans, too! Sure! Either way, this means either-" -Robin raised a finger here- "Sonora is a being, a person, an omnivore just like us humans, trying to communicate-" -Robin raised her other hand, half pointing, half cutting off argument- "-or! It's a repository of souls, a coherent component in the world from which it was taken, and there's a whole bunch of incorporeal people trying to communicate."

"Isn't that the other guy? Lady? Ghost-girl?"

"Florica? That's a completely different thing, why are you even-"

Robin closed her eyes, counted to five. Opened them just as soon as she quit thinking this was a waste of her time.

"Okay. Florica may not be entirely dissimilar to Sonora. Either way, I'm working on that. Her."

The shadows in the room shied from Rachel; were her planet inhabited there would've been a mass extinction as she tilted her head and its orbit, questioning. "What do you mean, working on-"

"Please. Let me finish." Robin still had both index fingers in the air; she brought them together. "Sonora may or may not be sentient. Its voices may or may not be extensions, as opposed to regurgitated fragments, of souls. People. I prefer not to discriminate."

"And you want to extract them? Rescue them? Why?"

"Not necessarily! The voices, which may or may not be whole people, may or may not be there willingly. Ugh, I had a good graphic on my laptop I could explain with, but I should save the battery until I find a power point-"

"What's a laptop?"

"What does your plug look like?"

"It's like a- oh, uh, I guess it's regular? North American? I don't know if that's a thing-"

"Just show me," Rachel sighed. She extended a hand, revealing up her arm all manner of plugs and ports and sockets. Robin's eyes widened, some of them were positively industrial, savage intrusions upon what should've been the organic outlines of an arm. She couldn't possibly flex it with that, where was the bicep-

Someone must've said something, because the necrologist stopped staring. "Crap, sorry, hang on-"


"Ok, so let me get this straight. It's like a book, but written too small to read, so you tell it what you want to read and it pulls it out for you onto that flat bit?"

"Pretty much, yeah."

"Weird! Can I try it?"

"Later. Maybe." Robin was more focussed on Rachel, or at least focussed on trying to look at her somewhere other than her arms. The adapter cable kinked in places where Robin had let it squash in her pack, linking the two in zero gravity.

They'd hooked spare limbs against railings and shelves, batting the air clear of capsules dislodged from rest. Anila had cracked one open before Robin had yelled at her not to; all that was left of the original contents was black residue that hung in the air like a smudge.

"Ok, so," Robin began. "Do you guys have life after biological death? Beyond, uh, niche cases?" Robin gestured at the pair, who managed a full shrug between the both. "Prooooobably asking the wrong crowd. Never mind. Do you at least have souls, some persistence of the self beyond your brain and your senses?"

Rachel looked doubtful, but Anila nodded vigorously. The necrologist, meanwhile, had opened the laptop, pulling up a charmingly-illustrated presentation titled "Soul You Want To Be A Wicked Sick Death Wizard."

"I use it for high schoolers," Robin mumbled, fast-tracking through a bunch of slides, until some kind of looping diagram, like a food web or water cycle, popped up.

"Right. So there's something other than the meat and circuitry, the kind of thing that makes a ghost when the chassis breaks down. It's got enough energy to make its presence known, in particular situations, but not much else. Now, in my world, estimated dead people a hundred billion, you don't see nearly enough ghosts for that many deceased." A click, and the graphic brought up two question marks - the input and output on what Robin had helpfully labelled "the soul cycle".

"Now, what little necrological research was underway in my world mostly dealt with this- the output. A contemporary of mine was trying to figure out more of the input side of things, but he was also a pretty religious guy. The going theory is souls are generated by particular confluences of biomatter, and-"

"You're getting off track," said Rachel.

"Right right. So! Where I come from, you can use magic to get in touch with ghosts, but they're less... here, for lack of a better word, the longer-ago they died. Most of them don't mention afterlives or knocking elbows with ancestors or creator-type gods, but that's never stopped people from subscribing to concepts like heaven, hell, purgatory, whatever. It only conflates things that we're using arcanics to make contact, seeing as that often does what you ask of it a little too well, and-"


"Afterlives. Super-popular in fantasy works, especially when there's a god or gods involved with creating the world. Sonora could well be one."

"A god, or an afterlife?"

Robin tried not to make her look at Anila withering, in part because she conceded the woman had a point. "Annnnnnn afterlife. 'god' isn't even that useful a designator; it's just anything with a handful of brain cells and enough raw power to hold great sway over your life if it feels like getting up in your business."

"So Sonora is an afterlife," Rachel groaned, because all she was getting out of this was that Robin was just as foolhardy as Anila, just with a bunch of fancy words to make it seem ok. "You win Nobel peace prize for incredible advancement in making people too dead to fight, and Sonora gets to eat your fellow laureates. How does any of this help us?"

"Depends what, exactly, Sonora is. Maybe we use it to destroy our physical selves, freeing us from the obligation of the battle. That Outsider creature doesn't seem to have a great grip on what counts as 'alive', after all." Robin almost made it sound appealing. "We'd have nothing to distract us from tackling the big problems, like how to neutralise that guy or traverse the cosmos of our own free will." The necrologist closed her laptop; Rachel figured the lecture was over and unplugged it on her end. "Thanks. Yeah, either way, before I can possibly do any of that, I need to know what Sonora's deal is."

Anila made grabby hands toward the laptop, but relented as Robin folded away the cable and stashed it all in her pack again. "Ok, but, like, what if it is just spitting out voices it heard to mess with people?"

"Then it's a mockery of everything I stand for, and I'll kill it dead and eradicate its kind if I ever stop by its neck of the multiverse."

Rachel rolled her eyes.
"Cooooooool," said Anila.