The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 4: The Huntsman's Garden)

The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 4: The Huntsman's Garden)
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Zach flew around until he felt uncomfortably distant from his body, circling the area. After some time, he returned to a rather bored-looking Zom.

"Anything interesting?" the zombie grumbled. "Or are we just going to sit here and play Twenty Questions?"

"Quite a number of dark-eyed children; Simphonia floating away from the corpse of one over there - I don't think we want to go that way; Kaja at the top of a slide in that direction; Kargrek over that way; I didn't see Bellona or Scott, they're probably out of my range."

"That's all?" Zom asked, looking bored. "No shelter or anything of the sort?"

"That's all. You'd have to start walking for me to search further."

Zom looked thoughtful for a moment.

"I think I'd rather play Twenty Questions," he mused.

"How do you play?" asked a voice coming from the height of his elbow.

Zom looked down, and saw a boy standing beside him.

"Oh, hello," he said to the youngster, still not sounding particularly interested. "How long have you been there?"

Zach stared at the boy in surprise.

"What are you looking at, Mister?" the youngster asked him, somewhat defiantly. "It's not polite to stare, you know."

"Your eyes." He paused. "They're... blue."

"Really?" The boy held a hand to his chin thoughtfully. "I never knew that. I thought they were like everybody else's."

***

After a brief discussion, it turned out that the blue-eyed young boy didn't have a name, or even know what one was.

"It's..." Zach paused, as he tried to think of how best to explain the concept. "Well, it's something you call yourself so that other people know who you are. My name is Zach, and technically so is his, but we've started calling him Zom so people can tell us apart."

The boy looked confused as he tried to puzzle this over, until Zom cut in.

"I'm Zom. He's Zach. Who would you like to be?"

The boy looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged.

"I'd like to be me."

Zach wasn't sure how to respond. Zom simply nodded.

"That's a good answer. Do you mind if we call you..."

He paused, and looked at Zach.

The ghost, feeling put on the spot, simply blurted out the first name that came to mind other than his own.

"Maxwell?"

The blue-eyed boy smiled.

"I think I can be Maxwell," he said. "Now when are we going to play Twenty Questions?"

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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

Even when she calmed down, she couldn’t stop. She pushed herself along, tearing up the ground beneath her. Was that right? There was nobody else pushing her, so it must have been her doing the pushing, right?

Blurs of children she couldn’t see ran about her. They ran and hid in the safest places they could think of, places of plastic that she could rend away by simply brushing against it. But, pushing herself along, she somehow dodged all of them. Her erratic path jerked its way carefully around the children. She found herself going an entirely different direction than where she had been going before.

She let out a mournful howl, but it was quickly stifled because any sound would be detrimental in sneaking up on the intruders and killing them. She didn’t know what that thought meant, but the thought must have been hers since she never heard anybody else’s thoughts. So she traveled in silence.

It was maddening.

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

Maxwell didn’t really have the advantage of knowing what would have been basic concepts in a regular world (‘regular’ in Zach’s sense of the word) nor did he have the advantage of a particularly expansive imagination, but if anything, he was persistent.

He could only think of three questions to ask and stayed silent for five minutes thinking up another one before Zach gently tried making some suggestions, all of which were taken without hesitation or gratitude. And when he had reached the limit, he clearly had no idea what the answer was but still thought about it a great deal before Zom finally just said, “Piggy bank. I was thinking of a piggy bank.”

“What’s a piggy bank?”

“Something that holds money. Like a bank does. Usually shaped like a pig.”

“Oh, okay.” Zach was fairly certain that Maxwell had no idea what money or a bank was, and it was highly questionable whether he knew what a pig was. But Maxwell asked no other questions.

“So you know how to play now, right? D’you want a go?”

“Okay,” said the boy. “Go ‘head and start.”

“Is it alive,” Zach immediately asked. Maxwell stared at him for a few seconds before turning to Zom.

“Is a piggy bank alive?”

“No,” said Zom.

“No,” repeated Maxwell.

Zach tried not to place his head in his hands. “It’s probably a good idea to choose something other than a piggy bank, Maxwell. What about thinking of something you know? Uh…closer to home?”

There were a few more seconds of staring. And then Maxwell nodded. “Okay.”

“Is it alive?”

“Yes,” said Maxwell, which gave Zach hope for this game yet.

“Is it male…er, that is, a boy?”

That gave Maxwell some pause. “Um, no, not really.”

Okay, so no gender. “Lives in the center of the planet?”

“Yeah.” If Maxwell was surprised how accurate Zach’s questions were getting, he didn’t show it.

“Extremely powerful and deadly?”

“Ummm…yeah.”

“Some sort of dark god?”

“No.”

“Does it control the people on the planet?”

“No.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Zach could see Zom already bored and fiddling with the thing that they still don’t know what it does.

“Can it be killed?”

“Yes.”

“Is there…an easy way of getting it killed?”

“…No.”

Of course not. “Is it awake?”

“…Nnnno…”

A flicker of worry and uncertainty. That can’t be good. “Does it feast on souls?”

“No.”

Well, that’s good. How many questions was that? Ten? He couldn’t really think of others. “Hang on, let me guess. Is it…” Oh, shoot. How come it was always hard to purposefully guess wrong? “…Cthulu?”

“No,” said Maxwell, who allowed himself a small smile. Probably because he was winning. Though winning at 20 Questions wasn’t much of a win at all.

“Oh, darn. That was the only idea I had. I guess you better tell me what the answer is.”

Maxwell stared. He was quite good at that. “Are you sure? You still have a few questions left.”

“Yeah, I am. Why don’t you just tell me?”

The boy hesitated again over a game that didn’t exist to him just a minute ago. “I was thinking of Ymirhoggr.”

“I never heard that name before. Do you mind telling me all about it?”

“Well,” Maxwell started, but stiffened suddenly and whirled around. There, approaching worryingly fast, was the whirling mass of music that was hopefully still known as Simphonia and not something like “Raging Beast of Music.”

Zach floated a bit higher. Zom stepped backwards. Simphonia came steadily closer, still making no sound at all.

Maxwell, for his part, mostly looked annoyed.

“Stop that,” he said. “We’re playing a game. It’s not nice to interrupt.”

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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Pinary.

Scott had seen jungle gyms before, but this was just ridiculous. It was more jungle than gym, just a tangled mass of pipes, ropes, slides, and any number of other things for kids to climb on or fall off of. He could see some sky here and there, but for the most part, he was forced to clamber through spaces not meant for a six-foot-something guy sporting an overdone, flowing cape and a healed-but-still-painful gut wound.

Seriously, it may've been healed over, and he probably wasn't going to die of internal bleeding, but getting a pipe jammed into you isn't something you just get over in five minutes. (Though, Scott reminded himself, neither was dying, but here they all were.)

As his frustration grew at manoeuvring himself gingerly through the cramped, awkward mess of a play-structure, he cursed the one who'd forced them all here. He didn't really form much in the way of a coherent philosophical argument against the pulling of beings into combat against their will, but he reached the conclusion that Zaire was a jackass just fine anyway. Heaving himself over a rope-mesh wall, he found his resolve solidifying; he wasn't going to fight the others, no matter how much the Grandmaster pushed. When it'd come down to it, they'd helped him (hell, Kaja had saved his life when he could've just not done anything and been one step closer to his own survival), and he wasn't about to repay the favour by just watching out for number one.

They were in this together, and he wasn't about to go after them just for his own benefit. Zaire may've gone and kept his distance this time around, but he'd shown himself to be massively impatient and overconfident. Scott didn't care how much work it took- he was going to find whatever crater the so-called Redeemer was hiding in and take him down.


-

"Newton Orbiter, please respond!"

Depending on your viewpoint, things in the shuttle were either mildly amusing or tense and stressful.

"Relax, man. Remember two months ago? That crappy ARCS array lost audio but kept going with video."

Carter, half of the ship's crew if you counted by individuals or two thirds if you counted by overall mass, shot his co-pilot a glare. "Yes, but they're not signalling at all. No audio, no video, not even a sliver of Morse."

Carol just reclined her seat a bit further and laughed. "You mean like last year, when ARCS kept them isolated for three months because they'd supposedly violated the warranty on the thing?"

"At least they had some sort of communication then. You'd think they would've reconnected the external lights to that encoder they rigged up by now."


-

Food.

Simphonia ignored the child, blowing right past him, missed Zom by inches, and clipped Zach. Her path started arcing up, her concerns completely changed in a fraction of a second. There was food up there. She didn't have time for intruders right now.


-

Air rushed out of the hole that that thing had shredded in the side of the pilots' cabin. Carter had been lucky- he'd strapped himself in and checked the safety gear under his seat before leaving. Carol had always been a bit more laid-back about such things.

The ship's remaining pilot wrestled with the controls, trying to keep it from just dropping straight towards the playground's surface. He succeeded, to an extent- it blew past a sea of coloured balls, skimmed the top of a tangled mass of climbing structure, and started back up and away. With any luck-

Something came up over the extremely-near horizon, and Carter swore. He wrenched the controls to the right, hoping he still had time to turn before the ship slammed straight into the massive slide.

His harness dug into him as the tiny transport tried valiantly to avoid impact, but he blacked out from the G-forces before the pain could really get to him.


-

Scott, who'd dragged himself to the peak of some sort of plastic rock wall when he'd heard something roaring through the atmosphere, watched as the ship tore a hunk of plastic slide off of the nearby mountain-like slide and tumbled away to land a little ways over the horizon with a whump. He couldn't be sure, but the cloud of brownish dust that the impact raised gave him a decent idea of where it had landed. He redoubled his efforts and headed off, the sense of (admittedly vague) purpose pushing his aching torso from his mind. With any luck, the thing would still be decently intact.
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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Kaja supposed he really shouldn't have been surprised by this development. Zaire had told them all that this planet had a maddening influence. He'd dismissed it as scaremongering from a Grandmaster on the run, up until he'd seen what he had presumed was a fairly ordinary kid slicing his 'friends?' with Zaire's crimson sword. He hesitated for a moment, what was the best way to proceed in this situation? Normally when kids misbehave then you scold them and they go to their rooms until they learn their lesson, or something. It's not like he was well versed in dealing with children. In this case it would hardly seem sufficient punishment and he suspected that Bartleby would not exactly consider him to be an authority figure.

So fight back… against a small brainwashed child. That morally dubious option was the best option that he had. Even putting aside ethical issues, it was not the best idea; he had no herbs to mix a potion with, and his sword, which he had hoped would serve as a weapon while he made his way to gather some herbs, was in the hands of what he hesitated to call his 'enemy'. This situation was absurd.

"Put that sword down!" He said, striding confidently towards the murderous child.

"Make me!" Bartleby snapped impetulantly, inexpertly swinging the stolen blade around. As Kaja advanced upon him, he thrust the blade forward, sheathing it in Kaja's chest. He curtailed a scream of pain, and knocked Bartleby’s hand away. Wincing as he did so, he pulled the blade from his body and regarded it. Its crimson surface glistened with the sickly green-brown mixture that passed for his blood.

He looked down at Bartleby, who was confused and angry that his new 'toy' had been taken away from him. "Give that back!" He yelled, shaking with anger. Kaja was forced to admit at the moment he was not in a good way, down on herbs, wielding a weapon he didn't know how to use. This kid was just a kid, but he could make trouble for him if he wanted to. All it would take was one really hard knock and his apparatus would be shattered beyond repair. This kid was a liability he couldn’t afford to have running around.

Without hesitation Kaja attacked, clumsily slashing at the terrified child. Bartleby tripped back and raised an arm to shield himself; the blade slammed against his bone as Bart screamed in pain. Kaja ignored it. He pulled the blade free, blood flowed everywhere, not that it really made much of a difference to Bartleby, already covered in the blood of others. He slammed the blade down, plunging it into Bartleby's chest. He screamed and thrashed against the blade. The alchemist simply pulled the blade out and stabbed him again, and again and again. Blood splattered across him. For a moment he stood there, panting, leaning on the blade, still embedded in Bartleby's chest...

As he did he looked down at what he had done and recoiled in horror. He felt light-headed and nauseous. It was not the sight of the body, he had seen far worse in his time. It was the fact that he had been the one to do it. At the time it had made sense. He was behaving reasonably, the boy was a threat and he had to be killed. He could still see that point of view.

It was not him, he told himself, it was the influence of that creature that had momentarily turned him into a bloodthirsty monster. He told himself this, a sort of mantra as he regarded the body, but he wasn't really convinced. The creature was a factor, but he hadn't been forced to do anything. Perhaps it had given him a nudge in that direction, perhaps it had messed with his judgement slightly, but he had made the decision to kill the kid. In a fury he had stabbed him through the chest numerous times until he stopped moving...

He glanced around, the roof of this brightly coloured structure had been abandoned by any remaining kids as he and Bartleby had fought, he hadn't even noticed. He made to head towards the stairwell, but stopped after the pain of a single step reminded him of the wound in his chest. He lacked the herbs to treat this wound and so simply bound it up for now with a strip of his own torn shirt. This done, he started the long journey to the base of this structure, all the way reassuring himself that his actions had not been his own.

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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

As Kaja descended the structure he passed by squat metal houses, the same as he had seen on the top level. He hadn’t given them a second thought back when he had those kids to deal with. Now that he was paying attention he could see that inside most of the houses there was a rough circle of sleeping bags, and sometimes teddy bears and other miscellaneous toys scattered across the hard metal floor. Wary kids in white robes would peer out of the houses as he went past, their eyes filled with panic at the sight of the alchemist.

The further down he got the more barbaric the shelters became. First it was bloodstained sheets and sewn together white robes hanging in front of the door and alarming stains upon the vibrant green metal. Then as he neared the bottom there were drawings daubed in blood, children’s heads jammed onto poles or piles of bones and rotting flesh. The kids that peered out of the shacks here were not fearful, they were wary perhaps; distrustful of such an unusual stranger. As Kaja felt their probing black eyes upon him he rested his hand upon his sword, hoping that he would not have to use it again but willing to do so if there was no other option. These kids did not seem like the type that would listen to reason.

Eventually after what seemed like a very long descent he found himself at the foot of the titanic structure and stretching before him a vast shimmering desert. Going wandering in deserts was highly inadvisable; he did not need to be told. However the desert as inhospitable as it was presented a greater chance for vegetation to flourish than the tarmacced surfaces that surrounded the alchemist in every other direction. He needed his herbs; he could not fight with this sword, he was simply too fragile to risk it.

And so, with the knowledge that this was an extremely bad idea Kaja set off into the desert. As he walked through the featureless expanse he couldn’t help but be reminded of the old days, back in the world he came from. It reminded him of walking into the deadlands, being drawn by the scent of a mysterious new herb he had to collect a sample from. They were, all in all, good memories. For a moment he could fool himself he wasn’t in this battle to the death, he was just on a long trek to find new and interesting herbs. In the distance the sand-necropolises dominated the skyline, all towers and spires. Kaja knew that he should stay away from, that even being this close was taking his undeath into his own hands, but there was that sweet smell. That tantalising aroma that told him that just a little further there was something he could use. He took a deep breath and followed that scent, drawing closer to the sand-necropolises than he had ever dared before. He hoped he would live to regret it.


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Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Simphonia was about to kill the intruders when somehow they noticed her but she was being quiet, that boy saw her first didn't he what boy the little blue-eyed boy what was she talking about there was no boy it wasn't nice to interrupt no it wasn't, she decided to let the intruders finish playing with the boy who wasn't there and then she could kill them yes that was the polite way to do it.

Simphonia simply hovered in front of Maxwell for a few minutes; it was enough time for Zom to think about seeing what the strange object would do to her. He held it up and stared at his ghostly self.

Zach simply shrugged. Zom shrugged in response, although a bit more slowly, and threw the device at Simphonia.

His timing was off, it seemed. She floated away inexplicably and the box simply struck the ground where she was.

Maxwell picked it up.

"What's this?" he asked, turning back to the two Zach Shaws. He seemed completely unfazed by the musical ghost's attempted attack.

"I have no idea," Zach said. "All I know is, I touched it and it started glowing."

"Ooh! Can I see?"

Zach looked to Zom.

"I don't see why not," the zombie replied. "It didn't do anything besides glow the last time, after all."

"All right, then." Zach touched the box, and it started to glow again. He held it up - it was surprisingly light, he noted - and Maxwell stared at it excitedly.

"Ooh! That's amazing! Can I try?"

"Er, I'm not actually doing anything, but all--"

Before Zach could finish, he disappeared and the small black case fell to the ground.

"Aw, it's not shining any more!" Maxwell said. He turned his attention to Zom. "Can we play Twenty Questions again?"

Quote
<img src="images/icons/icon1.png" alt="Post" /> Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Zach blinked.

It was only a few seconds ago that he had been on an enormous playground. He was rather surprised to find himself inside an extravagant lounge, filled with people - most of them dressed in formal wear, but there were some oddities, such as the astronaut, the caveman, the medieval knight, and the man with a moose's head. In fact, a closer inspection revealed that a number of them weren't human, though the majority were.

And one of them looked remarkably - no, exactly - like Luron Timerius. And he was heading straight for Zach, with a smile on his face.

"Oh, you've come to join us. Good, maybe you can help us out."

It took about a minute for Zach to collect himself enough to come up with the most obvious explanation for why he was in an unfamiliar place with such a variety of beings and a swordsman who was, as far as he knew, dead.

"Is... is this the afterlife?" he asked.

Luron shook his head. "No. That was my first question, too. Actually, I should take you to the man who explained it to me; I couldn't follow most of it, so it's probably better if you talk to him."

Luron guided a bewildered Zach across the room, to where a one-armed man in a labcoat was playing a piano. The man stopped playing and stood up; Zach noticed that the pianist's arm didn't seem to be amputated, but rather that it simply wasn't there.

"Hello!" he said, shaking Zach's hand. "I'm Dr. Jonathan Stassen. You must be the Zach fellow that Luron told me about. I suppose you're wondering where you are."

"Well... yes. I touched this little box, and it glowed, the next thing I knew, I was in here."

"Ah, of course! Well, the simple explanation is that you're inside the box. It's a complicated story, and a shameful one, but if we're going to fix my mistakes, I suppose you'll need to know it."

Zach simply blinked for a while.

"Wait, what's this about fixing mistakes? I haven't agreed to anything..."

The scientist sighed.

"You'll understand once I've explained it. I won't pretend your job will be easy, but I think you might be the only one who can do it."

"No pressure, though?" Zach replied sarcastically. The scientist laughed in response.

"I suppose I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll just tell the story."

***

Every civilization, once it becomes sufficiently advanced, has to deal with a basic problem: power sources.

Stassen's research team had been working on the problem for years, when they finally had a breakthrough. Their new battery produced far more power than they had expected; they estimated that ten of them could operate an entire city.

There was just one problem: they weren't actually sure where the power was coming from.

The "battery" was, in all honesty, little more than a case; it had been made from especially rare and durable metals to protect the circuitry. They had installed a simple test circuit to ensure it wouldn't interfere with the operation of the final product, only to discover it was already generating large amounts of power.

They had made a confidential report to that effect to the company's director, explaining that they didn't want to release the project until they had studied the phenomenon and understood it better.

Three weeks later, a freak accident resulted in the destruction of the entire lab. This "accident" entailed an explosion, a fire, and three men with machine-guns just in case there were any survivors.

It was then that Stassen's team discovered the power source they had inadvertently tapped into: the spirits of the dead.

***

"Now, hang on," Zach interjected. "You're telling me that you created a battery that runs on the souls of the dead, by accident, and we're inside it?"

"You may have noticed that I don't have an arm any more. I also don't have a research team. They were swallowed up by a beam of light shortly after." He pointed to a badly burned man in a military uniform standing behind the bar. "According to Private Miller there, it was a test for an experimental weapon, which I'm guessing was powered by the gizmo. It didn't work out very well; he was the one firing it."

Zach winced. "Did they try again?"

"That's the strange part. There weren't that many of us when the research team arrived. After Private Miller's demonstration, though, the place became flooded. Couldn't even move, there were so many of us here. And strange ones, too." He pointed at what looked like a giant walking cactus.

"But then... for about ten years, it stopped. Slowly, we shaped our surroundings; originally, it was a drab grey bunker. I'm not sure exactly what happened, but now, we're a bustling metropolis. This lounge is just one room, there's an entire city out there."

Stassen gestured out a window; Zach looked out and saw several tall buildings. What caught his attention most, however, was the skyline.

"The sky still looks like we're inside a bunker."

"I know. I wondered if we were shrinking, perhaps due to them finding some other way of using the battery. But nobody new showed up for ten years, so I couldn't get any real information from the outside world... until Luron appeared."

"That was when we were in the robots' city," Zach said.

"So I've been told. My theory is that the thing somehow drew in much more power than they expected, and they hid it in a city of robots because it wouldn't get any new souls in that time. But it's just a theory."

"So where do I come in? How do I 'help' you?"

"Simply put, Zach, we want to move on to the next world. I somehow doubt we will if this battery converts us to energy, though admittedly I'm no expert on the subject."

"But what can I do about that?"

"Look, Zach, I don't understand the Spirit Drive very well. But we never saw it glow, not the way Luron described it. There's got to be something unusual about you in regards to it, or maybe it's just the fact that you're already a ghost."

"But I'm in here now!"

"Yes. And I think you may be the only one in here who can get back out. I could be wrong, but there's no harm in testing it, right?"

Zach shrugged.

"All right, just tell me what you're thinking."

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Eversist.

Straightening as they emerged, the small group of adolescents surrounded Bellona quickly, keeping their distance as they eyed the blade in her hand. Their white gowns appeared threadbare, aged to a dingy patina. They were all quite thin, and at the awkward stage in the journey from childhood to adulthood. Eventually, one of the female children stepped forward and spoke. Her voice sounded unnatural, immature for the body that owned it.

“You’re… too old.” There was a silence following her words; none of the other youngsters seemed keen to speak.

Too anxious to be offended, Bellona found her voice. “What do you mean?”

The girl cast a glance around the group’s grubby faces, looking for a way to explain.
“You should be gone by now. They don’t want bigtalls here.”

“‘They’?” Bellona figured the word “bigtall” for adult or something similar.

The girl blinked.
“The bigtalls who brought us here.” There was an air of “duh” relevant in her words.

“And they are…” This was like pulling teeth.


“Ymirhoggr’s servants.” The girl swept the hair in her face behind an ear, saying the word with a particular reverence.

Now she had gotten somewhere, although she was unfamiliar with the word clearly pronounced with a capital letter. She broke eye contact, the girl’s unwavering stare making her uneasy. The warrior couldn’t help but be reminded of Echidna, the mother of all monsters, who shared these children’s black eyes. “I don’t suppose you could tell me who that is?”

The girl was silent for a bit, clearly deliberating.
“I’ll tell you if you give me something.” She stepped forward, hand reaching out on a gangly arm. “I like your necklace.”

Bellona whipped her blade forward, slicing off the very tip of the girl’s index finger. Shock was evident on the girl’s face, and she stared as her blood pattered onto the sand at their feet.

“Next time, I’ll take the whole thing.” Bellona hissed, inexplicably enraged.

A child-like wail came from the girl, but before Bellona could even consider sympathy, she lunged forward, shoving the woman into the group surrounding them. Small hands caught her, fingers and palms touching bare skin. Pain, pure agony, wracked the gladiatrix’ frame, her eyes rolling back in her skull.

Her father’s disappointed glare as she was dragged away—a sharp, white-hot pain at her hip—a deep, consuming hunger—rage, nothing but fury against anything—burning, forever burning in her chest—thick liquid, gushing—muscles straining to the point of snapping—whip cracks, pain fading to oblivion—an ache, straight to the bone, never absent—a claustrophobic, suffocating blackness—the tip of a javelin, emerging from her stomach—

Bellona came to, on top of a body, her ankle pulsing in pain. Her dagger, coming into focus next to her face, was buried in the body beneath her. Two other adolescents, throats slashed, lay heaped nearby, the sand stained wine red. Her ankle sent out another throb of agony, causing her to groan. If it wasn’t sprained before, it certainly was now.


“They… they didn’t do anything to you.”

Bellona looked up blearily to see the entire group now gathered behind the girl. Some of them looked frightened, but most of the thin faces were becoming clouded with anger.

“Why did you kill my friends?”

Bellona reached out to jerk her dagger out of the lifeless body beneath hers. She had no words to explain what had happened.

“WHY'D YOU KILL THEM?!” The group was pressing forward, slowly, the girl still in front.

Bellona drew her javelin from behind her shield. She guessed correctly what was coming.


“I’ll get your necklace once you’re dead, you know.” The girl smiled at the thought, baring crooked, yellowing teeth. The sudden change in her tone was jarring.

The gladiatrix stood, heavily favoring her left leg and leaning on her weapon. Fighting for her life while injured was nothing new. But she’d have to deal with the moral implications of what she’d unknowingly done (and would continue to do) later.

She could feel the coolness of their blood drying on her skin, and for some reason, that made her face crack into an unnatural grin that matched the girl’s. What was she worrying about, again? Killing children would be easy.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by SleepingOrange.

Kargrek had seen Zach's drifting reconnoitering when the ghost had floated above, but he hadn't seen any reason to signal to him or hide. Zach and Zom were certainly not allies, given their apathy and pacifism, but they weren't threats either for those same reasons. They were practically scenery, and Kargrek had long since filed them as "acceptable to kill if a round needs ending for some reason", which certainly didn't engender much reason to talk to the cowards in him. As Zach had drifted away, the barbarian had turned his attention back to his surroundings and thoughts.

The surroundings were confusing, garish, and almost enough to drown out the rumination Kargrek was desperately trying not to indulge in: someone with a more modern perspective would have recognized it as an unbelievably-colossal caricature of a plastic playplace; Kargrek couldn't see it as anything but a nonsensical conglomeration of platforms and tubes made of some kind of bizarre wood or flexible stone. Nothing seemed to have any purpose or reason, nothing seemed to make sense, nothing was recognizable or familiar. Even in the first two rounds, which were just as and more displaced from his own time than this was, there had been things that were obviously houses, things that were obviously streets; this place was just... Nonsense.

The troublesomeness of the setting itself was much easier to dwell on than the reasons for being there; Kargrek was not a man much given to introspection over action, but there were always times when such was unavoidable. After having your quarry overpower you or disappear smugly twice, then remove itself completely from your world, it was hard not to ask questions like "Can this even be done?" or "Is this even worth it?". It was even harder for someone like Kargrek to answer them; a lifetime of commanding men, fighting evil sorcerers, and hunting monsters and giants hadn't given him the tools to deal with futility or doubt very well.

It was probably fortunate, all things considered, that the structure Kargrek had been dropped on top of was unoccupied; it was too much a tangle of slides and crawl-chutes to allow colonization, and didn't have the convenient playhouses that so many dark-eyed children had settled in across the Infinite Playground. At the same time, the structure's qualities that made it hard to live on made it impossible for someone closer to seven feet than six and as broad as Kargrek to get off the top level. He simply wouldn't fit on any slides or chutes or ladders.

Still trying not to think, he paced around the perimeter of his colorful prison: in the distance, he could see what looked like Zach and Zom and perhaps a third figure; in the opposite direction what could be Belonna or could be some other apparent female bounding across the surreal landscape. No-one else he recognized was visible, but there were occasional clusters or bands of small, wiry figures darting around. Zach and Zom weren't worth approaching and this structure was impossible to explore, so...

A few moments later, plastic exploded outward from the top of the playplace, railing and the tops of several slides yielding to Kargrek's furious barefoot kicks. The bulk of the kicker followed shortly, plummeting a distance that should have been unsurvivable; he rolled when he landed and Krog's bracers protected his bones from splintering like toothpicks, but even all his strength and the spongy ground couldn't completely soften the blow for his soft tissues. He staggered as he stood, wincing and picking multicolored shards out of his soles. It was hard to see where possibly-Belonna had been without the advantage of height, but after spending a few moments testing his knees and ankles, Kargrek launched himself in what he hoped was the right direction.

At least the superhuman leaps the gravity and his own enhancements allowed let the man feel free and unfettered for a short time.


SpoilerShow
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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Dr. Stassen guided Luron and Zach out of the lounge, into the city, and down a dark alleyway. It appeared to be a dead end, but there was a glowing circle on the far wall.

"What exactly is this?" Zach asked his guide.

"Look at it more closely. Do you see anything familiar?"

Zach took a closer look.

***

"Is it black?" Maxwell said, staring at the object on the ground.

"N... yes, yes it is."

Zom reasoned this would be a faster game than if he stuck with "a cardinal".

"Is it a little box?"

"Yes."

"Does it glow when the other fellow touches it?"

"Yes."

"Is it..."

Maxwell held his hands in the shape of the box as a demonstration before continuing.

"...this big?"

"Yes."

"Is it a battery powered by the spirits of the dead?"

Zom stared at the boy.

"I don't know," he replied.

"Just a guess. Does it turn day into night?"

"I have no idea."

"Does it set things on fire?"

"I don't know, look it's that box on the ground, I don't know any more about it than you do."

"Oh." Maxwell looked disappointed. "Are you going to pick it up?"

"I suppose." Zom shrugged. "Maybe we can find some way to get Zach out of there. Or stick Simphonia in there with him."

He bent down to pick it up.

***

"That looks like a hand," Zach said, staring at the circle. "Only it seems to be made of rotting flesh. Is that Zom out there?"

"It might well be. This window shows us a little of our surroundings. We haven't used it much in the last ten years because everything was always the same."

"And you think I can get out through it?"

"Well, it's just a theory. But this is our only link to the outside world, other than the newly dead arriving. We've tried touching it before and nothing's happened, so it's probably not going to hurt you."

Suddenly, several children appeared from nowhere. They stared at their surroundings.

"Where are we?"

"Is the mean lady gone?"

"Can we play here?"

Stassen was shocked.

"There are children dying here? Where exactly did you come from?"

"Er. Yes, I suppose I should explain that."

***

"Ow! Why'd you knock me down?" Zom asked, lifting himself from the ground.

"I didn't. It was them." Maxwell pointed behind the zombie.

As Zom got to his feet, he turned to look, half-expecting it to be a juvenile prank. But no, there were several children behind him, all staring with dark eyes.

***

"But these children don't have dark eyes," Stassen said, looking at the new arrivals. "Perhaps being... brought here... took away the corrupting influence?"

"Maybe. We could probably ask them what they remember."

"Hmm, yes. We've got a few people here who are good with children, I'll take care of that. For now, you should see if that window works. If it does, you can come back and I'll let you know if we learned anything."

Zach stared at the kids, who were listening in awe as Luron told them a story of his travels.

"I guess. Well, see you later... assuming this works."

And Zach stepped through the window.

***

Zom was gone. Maxwell was gone.

The only person Zach could see was a little boy with dark eyes, staring intently at the box.

"Excuse me," Zach said, a little annoyed. "That's mine."

"Finders keepers, losers weepers!" the boy shouted, running off.

Zach sighed. This could be a bit of a problem.

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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Pinary.

The kids beat him to it.

Scott had sighted them a few minutes prior- if he'd been an anthropologist and they'd been adults (and the jungle gym jungle had just been a regular jungle), he'd've called them a native tribe. Instead, he'd just called them "holy crap," sheltered himself as they practically swarmed out of the mesh of pipes and plastic behind him and back into the mostly-indistinguishable maze before him, then called them a few other rude things and carried on.

By the time he reached the crashed shuttle he'd been heading for, they were already swarming around it and crying about the burns on their fingers. Well, and the cuts from the sheared metal. And being scared by the dead man in the front.

Scott wasn't a big fan of kids. They cried a lot.

And of course, the moment a pair of them saw him, they rushed over and buried their faces in his shirt and started wailing incoherently to him. The rest soon followed, and he quickly found himself in the middle of a throng of wailing children. This one had hurt itself, that one was scared...

It took a few minutes and more than a bit of patience on Scott's part, but the gaggle of kids slowly began to disperse. It was actually easier than he'd expected- sometimes all it took was saying "It'll be alright" or some such and they'd brighten up and go back to looking around. There were still a few persistent hangers-on, but by and large, they'd calmed down.

Then the pilot had to go and wake up, and suddenly they were all freaked out again. Scott shoved his way through the throng that did its best to latch onto him for dear life, and by the time he made it to the shuttle, the pilot was starting to unbuckle himself. When he saw Scott coming towards him, ridiculous cape flowing behind him, he blinked and touched a hand to his forehead, searching for gashes.

"That's a shame," he said once Scott was close enough.

It was Scott's turn to blink and be confused. "What is?"

"I thought I'd just blacked out," Carter explained. "But if I'm hallucinating, then there's got to be something more serious going on."

"Oh, no, you're not, uh..." Scott gestured vaguely at his outfit. "It's... a long story."

Carter wasn't convinced. Nevertheless, he accepted Scott's help in getting him unbuckled and out of the shuttle's cockpit, and he was just getting his bearings when one of the kids, a little girl hiding something behind her back, came up to the pair.

"Mister Scott?" She didn't look at either one of them in particular when she asked- her eyes moved back and forth and she clearly wasn't sure this was such a good idea after all.

Scott frowned at her. "How do you know my name?"

She looked sheepishly down, didn't answer for a second, then thrust out a hand and said, words all coming out in a rush, "Mister Thandov wants to talk to you."

Scott accepted the proffered object and took a close look at it. It was a metal sphere, and its only real distinguishing characteristics were the handprint on one side and the crack on the other. Inside, there were some sort of electronics, but Scott couldn't really see into it enough to have any idea what he was looking at.

It was a complete accident when he activated the thing; he'd been turning it over in his hands when he just happened to put his hand in the print. A voice entered his head, and though it was a bit tinny, he still recognized it.

"Good, you figured it out," his own voice said. "Well, not figured it out, but whatever. We can talk now, that's what matters."

Scott looked from the little girl to Carter to the rest of the kids. None of them seemed to have heard anything.

"Yeah, a neural link's my best guess as well."

Scott formulated a reply and thought it at the device. So... what exactly am I holding here?

There was silence for a few seconds, then, "Oh, right, I forgot about that. You still have to actually talk, it doesn't pick up your thoughts or anything."

"Oh, gotcha. So what exactly is this thing?" (He gave Carter a 'sorry I look insane, I'll explain in a moment' look. Carter rolled his eyes. The little girl, for her part, didn't seem to think anything was up.)

"Best I can tell, it's some sort of inter-universal communications device. I'm actually a fair ways ahead of you, one round ahead. It's in another universe and apparently, these two times line up so that we can communicate."

Had Scott not lived with loads of miniature time-loops as a part of his typical day, he might've done two things: asked for information and assumed that he was safe until he experienced the other half of the conversation. As it was, however, he didn't bother with either. Knowing what was coming could easily change what it actually was, and he had no reason to believe that his future self hadn't survived by the skin of his teeth.

Instead, he just asked, "There anything I need to know?"

"Yeah. The imprisoned 'something' Zaire mentioned? It's got a tendency to twist peoples' minds, but the jungle you just came from has enough metal pipes and stuff that whatever energy it uses can't penetrate it. Other groups of kids, they're twisted and nuts and you need to be careful, but these ones in front of you live in the jungle, so they're clean. They're as close to normal kids as you can get, considering they're shipped here as food."

"They're what?!"

"Crap, right, you haven't talked to Carter yet- that's that guy's name, by the way. He'll fill you in on what's going on in more detail. For now, just get the kids back into the jungle, then... well, you'll figure it out from there. I've got to go; keep your head on straight!"

Scott rounded on the pilot and gestured at the ship. Before he could even get out a word, Carter raised his hands and said, "Look, it's not my choice, alright? I just fly the thing, and if I don't they feed my kids to this place."

"Feed? Let me get this straight- the local 'they' feeds kids to the whatever-it-is inside this place?!"

Carter frowned at Scott. "You sure you didn't hit your head? Everyone knows that, it's... Well, it's something everyone knows!"

"I'm not from around here," Scott half-explained. "I'm just, uh... passing through."

"...Sure. Well, assuming you're not a concussed hallucination, let me fill you in: There was this big, godlike creature roaming through space, and it would just descend on colonies, drive everyone mad, then move on once they'd all died. After this happened a dozen or so times, scientists figured out that it actually ate sanity.

"Now, knowing that didn't exactly help, as there still wasn't anything anyone could do about it- the military detonated a bomb inside the thing, and it just kept on going. By the time the idea of trapping it came up, it'd killed thousands of people, and everyone was desperate.

"This planet was constructed in two halves, and a shipload of kids was suspended inside."

"Why kids?", Scott interrupted.

"They always lasted the longest when the thing came by. Scientists guessed they had the least weighing on them, so it had more sanity and stability to eat or something." He shuddered. Like everyone else, he'd just done his best to ignore the blatantly terrible things that they as a race had to do to survive. Actually talking about it and looking at it from the outside... it wasn't pleasant.

Scott finished the story for him. He couldn't really be mad at the guy anymore; it wasn't his fault the only solution was so terrible. "So you trapped it with kids, and you're keeping it from leaving by feeding it more kids every now and then."

"Yeah, basically. I'm stuck shipping the poor kids here thanks to my grades, and even though they're the ones deemed 'troublesome' or 'inadequate', I still feel like- What are you doing?"

What Scott was doing was holding the sphere in one hand and trying to plug a cord into something inside his shirt with the other, completely ignoring Carter. A moment later, there was a small click, and he pulled a little rectangular device out of his cape and tapped it once. One side of it lit up, the whole thing one big screen, and a progress bar practically flew across it. When it was done, a face popped up on the display.


The man being displayed was a bit scruffy-looking, his hair not really kept up and his beard in need of a trim, but Scott would've recognized him anywhere. Take ten or fifteen years off of him and shave him clean and you'd have one of the people Scott had studied the works of for most of his life.

"Wait, you can't be serious," Scott said, addressing the ball in his right hand. "Will freaking Haven?"

At the same time as Will said, "That's me, yes," the future Scott (who had called his past self on the sphere and told him how to transfer him from the ball to the device that he'd revealed to be a touchscreen data storage device) said, "I know, right? Anyway, talk to him, not me, I have to go. Good luck!"

Will narrowed his eyes and spoke before Scott could continue. "Wait, I know you. You're Scott Williams, aren't you?"

SpoilerShow
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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Zom had never quite realized before that he could still be knocked unconscious. He'd generally assumed that simply wasn't something that happened to zombies.

This discovery was less interesting - and less disturbing - than the realization that he was chained to a stone altar. Looking up, all he saw was a very unfriendly ceiling... and the face of a dark-eyed child.

"Hello!" said the child. "We're going to play a game. It's very fun. Do you want to know what it's called?"

Zom tried to pull against his restraints, but whatever they were made of, it was stronger than he could handle. He sighed.

"What?"

"It's called Human Sacrifice," said the child with a smile. "Guess what you are!"

***

The most disturbing thing for Zach was that he could move freely.

Perhaps it was something to do with going inside the box, but he found himself able to move quite a bit of distance without feeling any ill effects, despite seeing no sign of Zom.

He sighed. He suspected he'd have to find one of the others and ask them for help. He wasn't sure just what would happen to him if his body died without him, but he didn't especially care to find out.

After some time unsuccessfully trying to chase down the child with the box, he found Maxwell standing outside the entrance to a tunnel.

"What are you doing here?" Zach asked.

"The dark-eyed children all jumped on the other fellow," Maxwell explained. "Then they carried him over here. I followed them, but... well, I can't go in there."

"Why not?"

Maxwell looked frightened for the first time since Zach had come across him.

"I can't."

"Does it involve the thing in the center of the planet?"

Maxwell's face brightened for a moment.

"This is not Twenty Questions!" Zach shouted.

Maxwell's mood immediately soured. Zach sighed.

"Look, I'm sorry. I'm just in a bad mood because one of the dark-eyed children has my box and I can't think of how to get it back from him..." Zach paused. "Then again, perhaps it would be best to give myself a hand... figuratively speaking, I mean..."

He looked at Maxwell's puzzled expression.

"I'm thinking of going in there," he explained.

"No! You mustn't!" Maxwell screamed, unsuccessfully clawing at Zach's ghostly form in an attempt to shake him. "It's... you simply can't!"

Zach held a ghostly hand to his forehead and let out a low groan. It sounded more ominous than he wanted it to.

"Fine. Then can you help me get my box back? It might help me rescue Zom. If he's in there..."

Maxwell nodded, looking very worried.

"All right. But really, you mustn't go in there!"

"I'll bear that in mind," Zach said, as he began floating off. Maxwell followed, running as fast as he could.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Kaja gazed down at the thing that had brought him here, to the shadow of the necropolis, to what he believed would likely, if he were not careful, be his end. In front of him, no more than a stone’s throw away, closer than he had ever been before nonetheless, stood a sand-necropolis; a jumble of towers and spires of dark sand, a dark and twisted mockery of a city made by creatures that had long since succumbed to the embrace of death. It seemed to sink into the terrain, the warm sand that pooled around his feet, as though it was part of it, almost as though the necropolis was aspiring to be a natural formation. The air was thick with the scent of the herb in question; the only reason he had dared venture this close to the structure in the first place. It was at first sniff sickly sweet, like the smell of toffee and honey and strings of red liquorice, though underneath that there hung the odour of something rancid, something rotting in the sun. It was difficult to notice it at first, but step by step, moment by moment it was more and more potent, until it was dominant, until it overpowered the sweet taste that had led him here.

Though Kaja had not felt the compulsion to eat since he had died, he could not help but find himself doubled over on the sand retching up something. After a minute of undignified minute of coughing in the sand, Kaja climbed back to his feet and took another look at the plant. Growing from the sands in front of him was something that upon first glance Kaja had been unable to identify as a plant at all. It was a rough sphere of flesh, crisscrossed with a thatch of gnarled black thorns. Dark trails of dried blood streamed down the side of the disturbing plant from where the thorns dug into the pale flesh. Kaja quickly reached the obvious conclusion, the magic of the necropolis, the taint of the undeath its residents were plagued with, had seeped out into the ecosystem and this thing, this awful thing, was the result.

Under any other circumstances Kaja would have walked away; he would have turned his back upon the product of the undead corruption and left without a second thought. There were a multitude of reasons why this was the right thing to do and the vast majority of them were probably stirring amongst the black sands of the necropolis as he dithered. The problem was that somehow his supplies had been exhausted. Blearily he fumbled through his pouches searching for a single usable herb. There was none to be found, just the odd dash of powder emptied in a hurry. How had this happened? He tried to think back, to remember using such vast quantities of herbs, but after a certain point everything got confused. His searching fingers found a hilt slid into his belt and slowly drew the blood red blade. He twisted it this way and that, gazing at his own reflection in the semi-familiar blade. He’d seen something like it before, in a dream he’d had once. He couldn’t remember how it had ended.

Suddenly he was drawn from his introspection. There was a subtle change in the tone of the world around him. At once he knew that he had come too close. Though he couldn’t exactly say how he knew, he knew he’d been spotted, he knew that somewhere in the sands around him they were watching him, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Perhaps that moment had already been and gone and they were simply toying with him; their cruel laughter caught in their long dead throats. The world around him seemed unusually silent, almost monochrome, as though the world itself was holding its breath in anticipation of that first strike, of the moment Kaja would die; the consequence of one stupid mistake. Even the perpetual bubbling and gurgle of his contraption seemed muted, as though it was all happening to someone else, someone far away.

The only noise was the slow crunch of footsteps on the sand. Kaja’s grip tightened on the blade though he didn’t really believe a weapon he had no experience with and no training in would do him any real good against the scourged. From where they came it was impossible to tell. Rotten bandages wrapped tight around plagued skin; dark red pinprick eyes burning through the gaps. They approached him cautiously; probably nervous at seeing something so unusual, though that would require them to be capable of such an emotion, something of which Kaja was very doubtful. Once, shortly after he had been kicked out of his tribe after his death, he had considered the possibility that the scourged wouldn’t balk at the sight of him. He’d been wrong of course. He was too living for the dead and too dead for the living.

One of the scourged went to say something but all that came out was a long low rasp, a ‘Hkajaakakajh’. Kaja stared as its rotten tongue floundered around fruitlessly trying to form words despite the lack of a lower jaw. This wasn’t right. This was not how this was supposed to happen. Most that were taken by the scourged never even saw them coming before they met their unfortunate ends. Kaja had guessed he was a special case due to what he was. He figured that they may have wanted to get a closer look before they struck him down, but why were they trying to engage him in conversation? A thought occurred to him, a bitter thought that set his face into a scowl.

“I am not one of you.” He said. “You are monsters. You are evil disgusting monsters. You are all that is wrong with the world. I’ve seen you roll your plague out across unsuspecting villages. I’ve seen you infect entire towns as they slept, butchering anyone resistant to your awful scourge. And for what? Despite your speed, your cunning, your primitive attempts at science I somehow doubt you have a real motive. You’re just monsters acting off instinct, ruining lives for nothing more than the fun of it.”

The scourged drew back at Kaja’s tirade, as though he were the monster here, as though he were the one to be feared. More rasping noises escaped from the dead throat of the scourged who seemed to be the elected spokesmonster of the group.

“No!” Kaja snapped, as he strode towards the scourged in question, his grip angrily tightening around the handle of the scarlet blade. “Don’t you dare talk to me! I am not a monster! I am not one of you!” There was a long moment of silence and then another incomprehensible noise.

Kaja was driven by pure instinct, as he brought the sword around upon the scourged. Something primal, something angry and sadistic seemed to well up inside him, revelling in the slaughter of the scourged, and he revelled with it. They were everything he hated in the world. The swinging of the blade, the easy slicing of the scourged, the scattering of bandaged limbs and the dripping of thick black ichor into the golden sands. They tried to fight back, clawing at his jacket, scratching at his contraption, but it was pathetic. They were little more than a nuisance; he barely even felt their blows. He likened it to being attacked by flies, and he swatted them down just as easily. He chopped and sliced and hacked away until every last one was dead and he was stood in the middle of a slew of dismembered limbs. He could have sworn he heard mad laughter echoing out across the endless desert.

As he stood there, gasping for air and slowly regaining his composure he wondered what he had been so worried about. Why he had worked so hard to avoid any confrontation with the scourged. Why he had been living in fear of such pathetic creatures. Why these jokes had kept him awake at night. He gazed towards the necropolis in the distance. He would take the fight to them. He’d be the cure for the undead blight, and once he was done he would make the living sorry for so casually dismissing him, for throwing away their most powerful weapon out of fear of the unknown. But first… his eyes alighted on the awful plant that had led him here.

He doubted he’d enjoy searching through its fleshy corpse for whatever would be usable as herbs, but he had to make the most of a bad situation. Showing none of the finesse that had been temporarily present during the fight, he raised the sword over the fleshy pod, and brought it down.

The plant screamed

For a second it seemed as though he was in a strange but familiar landscape. Dead children in white robes stained blood red scattered the ground around him. In the distance a thing not dissimilar to the necropolis, but all bright colours which hurt his eyes. The plant was gone, replaced by a sick child curled into a ball, impaled upon Kaja's crimson blade. He looked up at the alchemist with a look of pain and confusion in his eyes. For a heartbeat things were as this.

Then they snapped back to reality and with little fuss and commotion Kaja searched the plant for usable herbs.

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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Zom stared blankly at the dagger in his chest.

"Well, that was fun, I'm sure. Can I go now?" he asked his captor.

The dark-eyed boy seemed puzzled.

"I don't understand. You're not supposed to be able to talk. Did I hit the wrong side again?" He pulled the dagger out and stared at it.

"No," Zom replied, "you definitely hit the right one."

"Well, drat. You're not very good at this game." His face suddenly brightened. "I know! You can help me find a new sacrifice."

"Oh, wonderful. That sounds absolutely delightful," Zom said unenthusiastically.

"Doesn't it? Hang on, though. I just need to make sure you don't try any silly tricks... the Master doesn't like silly tricks, you see. But that's all right."

The dark-eyed boy started rummaging through a pile of boxes in the corner.

"What are you looking for, exactly?"

"Ah! Found it!" He emerged from the pile triumphantly holding a metal disk with a strange symbol inscribed in it. "Now, hold still."

"As if I could do much else," Zom mumbled under his breath.

The boy pressed the disc against Zom's forehead. The zombie could feel the impression it left behind. It didn't feel pleasant.

It became even less pleasant when the boy pricked his finger with the dagger and dripped the blood over the impression. The symbol ignited in flames for a moment, and was burned into Zom's forehead.

"There! Now you'll do whatever I say. And we can go looking for another sacrifice!"

"How wonderful," Zom said as the boy unchained him. "I can hardly wait to get started."

"That's the spirit! Follow me, servant!" The child ran off down a dark corridor, and Zom found that his feet were compelled to follow.

"This day just keeps getting better and better," he groaned, resignedly following his new master.

***

"Ow!" Zach suddenly exclaimed.

"What's the matter?" Maxwell asked.

"All of a sudden, I have a headache," the ghost replied. "I didn't even realize that was possible any more."

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

Simphonia pinwheeled lazily about in space.

The perils of space didn’t really have much effect on ghosts. Many things didn’t apply to ghosts, of course, but it is good to know that space is one of the things that definitely doesn’t have an effect on ghosts, which was why Simphonia could move about in space rather comfortably.

Carol couldn’t, though. Most of what Carol could do while in space involved space-dying, especially since she didn’t have proper space equipment on that would have allowed her to not die in space.

This was the first mature mind she had had access to in years. There were intruders, but somehow they were dead and intruding at the same time, which was always off-putting in a meal. This one was alive and an adult and Simphonia wanted to feast on her sanity very much.

Though she honestly had no idea how to eat sanity, but she really, really wanted to.

But Carol was dying and Simphonia also had no idea how to keep people alive in space. Ghosts tended not to have that ability. So she swarmed around the body as the soul eventually left, which was too bad because Simphonia was relatively certain that the soul was where sanity was, not in the body because humans weren’t like sanity-filled oysters.

Where was this metaphor going?

What in the world is a metaphor?

The spirit was going down in an unusually fast and purposeful trajectory, and Simphonia couldn’t help but be detachedly curious. It was unusual behavior for the recently deceased. She should know, being a spirit-possessed-by-weird-sanity-eating-god-thing herself. The recently dead tended to be more confused than purposeful. Simphonia was pretty much like that up ‘til now, after all.

She shot downwards, following the spirit. The two of them fell back to the planet faster than a comet. Simphonia started to slow as they neared the surface, having no intention of accidentally finding herself in the core of the planet, but Carol’s spirit kept going, faster and faster, until it seemed it was going to collide with a child. But instead, it seemed to disappear, unnoticed.

Simphonia slowly descended until she was right next to the black-eyed kid. He was still picking at the black object he held in his hand, rather ignorant of anything else around him in the way children sometimes were. She nudged him slightly to get his attention and he finally looked up at her.

“Who’re you?” he said, wiping his nose on his arm.

She simply floated there, silent.

“D’you want this too?” asked the boy, waving the black box around. “Y’can’t have it, ‘cause I found it, so it’s mine.”

Simphonia exuded an atmosphere of nothing at all. The boy found this more unnerving than an atmosphere of disproval.

“…’Course, it don’t really do nothing,” he said, turning it over in his hands again. “It don’t even break. It’s not really fun at all.”

There might have been a hint of a façade of emotion just then, but the child quickly realized that it was probably his imagination.

The child stared at nothing in the distance and then said, somewhat hysterically, “Are you God?”

Simphonia couldn’t nod, but the boy pretended that she did. “’Cause if you want it, you can have it.”

“Hey, you there,” called out the familiar voice of Zach, who quickly realized maybe it wasn’t the best idea to draw attention to himself when he was trying to get what someone else didn’t want to give him. Accompanying him was Maxwell, who was infinitely calmer than his companion.

The boy twitched, threw the black box to the ground in front of Simphonia, and ran away.

Zach stopped, and then refocused his attention on to the conglomeration of music, who was still completely silent. “Hey,” he repeated, though more hesitantly, considering the last time he encountered her, she didn’t seem all that friendly for some reason.

Symphonia ignored the two of them and brushed against the box. There was a flash, and then she was gone.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Ixcalibur.

Kaja stood in front of the sand necropolis. The archway in front of him was made from tightly packed hard sand and was twice his height. The tunnel beyond sloped down into the sands; the blazing light of the sun illuminating precious little of the pitch black passage. Though he had shed his fear of the scourged in a shower of blood and body parts, Kaja could not help but feel a certain trepidation when confronted with the entrance to the necropolis itself. There was a difference between fighting a known finite number of scourged out in the sun and the sand… but down there in the dark and the death that awaited him, the prospect seemed like a very different animal indeed. The mere thought caused him to doubt his own experiences. What if it had all been a fluke? What if the scourged he had encountered were nothing more than scouting parties; as numerous as sand and about as terrifying as kittens compared to what awaited him.

For a minute he stood there at that cavernous maw, staring into the seemingly endless blackness, his mind running through the sequence of events that had led him to confront his greatest fear, and to do so with a modicum of confidence and a bloodied sword. Slowly, one disbelieving foot at a time, he stepped into the darkness and descended. One hand trailed along the jagged wall at his side as he did so, the other was upon the hilt of his blade. His feet felt awkward as he stumbled along the uneven floor. The sound of his apparatus gurgling its mixture through his body seemed to boom and echo in the claustrophobic emptiness. The tunnel twisted this way and that way and seemed to go on forever. His imagination seized hold of the panic and projected his fears on the encroaching darkness. Every now and again he thought he could hear something moving in the dark, something rotten almost upon him, ready to pounce, ready to put an end to this foolish endeavour. But, finally, deeper into the depths of the world than Kaja would have supposed to be possible, there was a light up ahead.


--------

Zom’s body was acting independently of his mind. It did not matter how much he willed his legs to stop shuffling forwards, they continued after the kid who had proclaimed Zom his ‘servant’ regardless of what he thought. If he really focused he could establish a modicum of restraint; an act that amounted to making his steps slow and stumbling, but even so, he didn’t really want to hang around in these caves anyway. Though he knew that it was a problem and one that he doubted was going to just go away by itself, part of him just wanted to go with it. It was easier to accept what was happening than fight against the inevitable.

He took a look around the caverns he was making his way through. Here and there were piles of white robes, the purpose of which was not clear until he saw a kid sleeping in one of the piles. Here and there were piles of bones, all of them child sized, all of them picked clean of flesh, nearby there was a dead body, a couple of days old by the smell of it. It was easy to see that the kid in question was dead; a not insubstantial amount of flesh was missing. At this point it occurred to Zom to wonder what exactly the children of this planet ate. He promptly wished he hadn’t. There was however something about these caves that bothered him more than the corpse and the black eyed children, and it was the walls. Every available inch of space had been utilised; carved into the shape of a thing. As soon as Zom happened to notice the multitude of carvings he knew what they were. The name seemed obvious; Ymirhoggr. It was not terrifying as such, how could it be? These images were crude and childish, unsurprising considering their sculptors. They were however deeply disconcerting. There was something about the wall of tentacled faces that made the hair on the back of Zom’s neck stand on end. They were rough but there was something there, a hint of something that was true, something that was awful; something that was real and close. He could practically feel it in the air.

Zom’s thoughts were interrupted by shouts of panic coming from further down the cave. He suddenly started running down a narrow passageway, a surprise to even himself. A couple of kids ran past him shepherding younger kids away from the source of the disturbance. After a moment the passage opened up into another cave; it lacked the makeshift beds and rotting corpse but the walls were covered with similar unsettling carvings. In the middle of the cave, a scarlet sword grasped in his hand stood Kaja. It took Zom a minute to realize that it was the alchemist; his posture was hunched, his arm was trembling. Those were not the most noticeable changes; he was splattered with blood, shards of broken glass from a shattered vial sticking in his chest that he didn’t seem to have noticed and his goggles had been pushed back onto his head revealing his cloudy ochre eyes. At his feet lay a pair of white robed kids, scarlet stains slowly spreading across the robes. One seemed to be dead already; the other was choking bad heavy bloody gasps of air. Standing warily back from the alchemist was a rough circle comprised of the oldest kids that Zom had seen since his arrival on this world. While they couldn’t have been described as well built they did manage to look tough, which was not easy considering half of them had really bad acne. A couple had visible scars and all of them gripped a brightly coloured piece of sharpened metal; likely plundered from one of the structures upon the surface.


“Well?” Kaja shouted at the kids. “Make your move, you vile monstrosities. What are you waiting for?” The alchemist’s eyes darted from side to side, frantically dancing from one kid to another. Momentarily his gaze alighted upon Zom and his expression flickered for a moment, a look of confusion crossing his face for a second. In that instant one of the teens sprung, plunging a sharpened length of bright blue metal into Kaja’s side. Kaja spun slamming his scarlet blade into the kid’s side and the other kids pounced.

The fight was short, Kaja was not an experienced swordsman, his swings were clumsy and easily dodged. A couple more of the teens’ makeshift blades punctured him but he didn’t seem terribly concerned about them, assuming he noticed at all. He managed to land a couple of hits upon the teenage mob, though they were glancing blows at best. The fight ended rather abruptly as one of the kids, quicker on the uptake than his fellows, swept Kaja’s legs out from beneath him. The alchemist landed flat upon his front with a sickening squelch. One of the kids, tall with shaggy blonde hair and a scar across his face, stood over the downed alchemist and lined his sharpened piece of bright green metal up with his neck.

“Wait!” It was the voice of the kid who had subjugated Zom with his blood magic. Zom had been so focused upon the battle that he had not noticed the curious expression on the kid’s face. The blonde haired kid, his sword raised over kaja’s neck, his foot planted on one of the hissing cylinders on his apparatus, turned to look at the other kid. In the tense silence Zom fretted; it cannot have gone unnoticed that the intruder had recognised him. He nervously wondered whether it would be his head next upon the chopping block. But nobody seemed to be paying him any attention. His ‘master’ strode past the blonde kid and knelt down next to Kaja’s head. He got a good handful of the alchemist’s hair and pulled his head up.

“He has been chosen by Ymirhoggr.” The kid said after a moment’s examination of Kaja’s darkening eyes. “Soon he will be one of us.”

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Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

"What just happened?" Maxwell asked. Zach said nothing, and drifted closer to the box.

"She must be inside," he said, then turned to Maxwell. "After I disappear, grab the box and get to a safe place. I've got no idea what she's doing in there, but I doubt it's going to turn out well."

Before Maxwell could say anything, Zach touched the box and vanished. The child picked up the box and stared at it for a while.

"Well, this is boring," he said. "I wonder if I can find anyone else to play Twenty Questions with?"

***

Zom found himself dragging Kaja off to a side chamber, on his new master's orders. He really didn't like this new arrangement. Even with his strength, Kaja was heavy, mostly due to the apparatus on his back. After struggling for what seemed like ten minutes, he dropped Kaja onto a bed and then, once again following orders, started slowly walking back, locking the door on his way out.

When he returned, he saw that the children were all sitting down, save for the one who had marked him, who was standing on a stool behind a lectern. The scene reminded Zom of a classroom, but he suspected it was something far less benign.

"Oh, good! You're back. I was just about to ask Ymirhoggr to guide us to a new sacrifice." The boy picked up a piece of chalk from the lectern. "Stay there and watch, would you? That's a good servant."

Zom had little choice but to obey. About all he could do was make snide remarks, but that hardly seemed helpful under the circumstances. So instead, he watched quietly as the boy walked over to a chalkboard - where had they even gotten that? - and started chanting something strange.

As he chanted, a strange red aura appeared around his hand, seeming to guide it across the chalkboard. Slowly, he drew a crude image - a muscular man with an axe, leaping high in the air. An odd structure was near him - Zom didn't recognize it, but then, he hadn't exactly seen a lot of this world. Zach had done the scouting, and Zom had been unconscious when he was captured.

The red glow vanished from the boy's hand. He turned to his fellow children - perhaps students? - and smiled.

"Ymirhoggr has shown us the way. Come, my army! We shall claim our next sacrifice!" he shouted. "That means you, too, by the way," he added, pointing to Zom.
"I thought it might," the zombie sighed. He found himself following the children out, and wondered how exactly he was going to face Kargrek.

***

The first thing Zach noticed when he returned to the city was the street lamp sliced in two. Then the remains of a car. Then the leaking fire hydrant.

"Oh dear," he sighed. Before he could say anything else, however, he found Dr. Stassen running up to him.

"You've returned!" the doctor shouted. "And just in time. Some creature made of musical notes has been tearing through the city. Luron thought he recognized it, he's been chasing after it. Can you help?"

"Ah. Well. Er. I... that is..."

The train of thought Zach was trying to recapture was soon lost when he heard Luron shouting.

"She's making another pass! Everyone, out of the way!"

Zach leapt aside, and saw Symphonia rocketing through. She was moving quickly, and from what he could see, she was now not simply a cloud of musical notes, but a somewhat larger cloud of musical notes and debris.

"Help me out here, Zach!" Luron shouted as he ran past. "I don't know what's gotten into her, but she'll destroy the city at this rate!"

Zach sighed as he picked himself up. How did he get roped into these things?

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

She was suddenly in an entire city filled with mature, adult, (mostly) healthily-sane minds. And she still couldn’t eat any sanity. She really wanted to. Sanity was delicious, or at least she couldn’t help but think it was, and yet this desire was not at all accompanied by any real knowledge of how to do it.

Honestly, though, they all seemed to be also sort of dead, but there was so many of them it was like being in a candy store except the candy was dead. So what could she do beyond throw a tantrum?

Yeah, it was a bit childish. But Simphonia had never been the most mature music-ghost in the multiverse.

Simphonia looked down (however bits of music looks down) and saw that man she recognized as the one who was nice to her once, at least it could be him, or maybe she was misremembering and this wasn’t the guy at all or there had never been a guy who was actually nice to her but in any case, she decided to say hello.

By launching a bit of building at him.

He dodged it very nicely. She found it impressive. But then she forgot all about him in favor of tearing open another bit of nasty, stupid building.

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

Luron’s death, although gruesome, was rather quick. He barely had any time to even recognize that it was Simphonia who was his killer. I mean, there wasn’t much else that could’ve killed him, so there was not much ambiguity there, but still. The point was it was rather quick.

Luron never considered himself to be a vengeful man. He liked to think himself much more reasonable than that. Even as all his friends had died before him, he figured it was better not to focus on avenging their deaths, as much as he would like to. Letting these things get too personal was a dangerous thing to do. This was something he knew very well.

Also, he had thought Symphonia to be a nice, if not ditzy, gal, at least for the short time he actually knew her.

Maybe that’s why he was hoping that someone would say the words, ‘We have no choice.’ Maybe that’s why he was looking forward to planning and seeing her destruction. She was a nice gal. And then she killed him.

Maybe it was a little petty.

Zach soon ran up to him. “Oh, good, you’re here. Do you have any ideas on how to deal with this?”

Zach could only wince as more rubble rained down nearby. “How could I have any ideas? How could anybody conceivably have any ideas on how to handle a ghost made of very destructive music?”

“Well, we have to stop her somehow,” Luron said rather nonchalantly.

“…But…there’s nothing that can contain her, really…we could lead her back outside…but nothing’s stopping her from going back in. There must be some way we could knock her back into her senses, right? But I don’t even know what knocked her out of her senses…”

“Sooooo,” Luron continued, hoping to push the conversation along the way he wanted it to go, “what sort of options would you say we have, then…?”

Zach stared up and sighed, rubbing his head. “I – I don’t…I really don’t know anything…I mean…but maybe…I can’t think of anything else except…”

“Hey! Kid, get outta there! Don’t just stand there, kid!”

The boy, who was indeed just standing there, glanced towards the two men. “She’s possessed,” he said, before staring back up again at the torrential music above.

Luron and Zach glanced at each other.

“…How in the world does a ghost get possessed?” was the first thought.

"...Do you think we could...ah...exorcise her?" was the second.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Pinary.

Carter, if the thought had occurred to him, would've welcomed some sort of possessed-ghost scenario. As it stood, he was stuck babysitting a herd of decidedly-sane children while some guy in a cape looked over his damaged shuttle and talked science with the person that had somehow been transmitted into one of the devices the cape guy had had with him. The conversation was all "causal string" this and "higgs suspension" that, and as much as he might've been interested from a practical perspective, the two science types were managing to go on and on so much that Carter couldn't even bring himself to pay attention to anything potentially useful.

He was content to stay with the kids, anyway. They were calm enough, now that they'd figured out that he wasn't dead, and they were mostly running around and playing indeterminate, constantly-shifting games. They were kids being kids, and Carter-

Wait, shit.

"Hey, uh, Steve? I just remem-"

"Scott."

"Sure, sorry, whatever, it's not important. Have you opened the cargo hold at all?"

Scott frowned at him. "No, not yet. It's pretty much intact, along with most of the hardware. It's mostly-"

Carter swore to himself. "Stay there, I'm going to open it up."

"Why, what-"

"The kids," the pilot said, clambering through the hole sheared into the cockpit and reaching for the controls, "the ones being shipped in, they're still in there."

"...Shit, right." Somehow, he realized, he'd been so busy yelling at Carter about how bad it was to transport kids to feed to the creature in the planet that he'd forgotten that that actually meant that Carter was transporting kids to feed to the creature in the planet.

As the pilot worked the controls, the side hatch on the ship began to slide open, and as it did, Scott braced himself for another chorus of childrens' wails. The kids in the ship were going to start crying, then the kids outside would join in, and he'd have to deal with screeching for at least an hour.

Once the door was halfway open, Scott's confident pessimism faltered slightly. They should've been crying by that point, shouldn't they? Was there a second door inside that wasn't open yet? No, it was still opening, and Scott could see some of the kids' feet. The kids outside hadn't noticed, as they'd gotten bored when the door had taken longer than a few seconds to slide up and open, but the kids being shipped didn't seem to be moving at all.

Slowly, carefully, Scott took a step forward, going to move under the door. If he could, he didn't want to risk waking-

"Mister Thandov?"

-

Once Carter got the door all the way open and double-checked the stasis fields' integrity, he went through the process of shutting it down. One by one, kids in the back began to wail.

It was easier when the soundproof cockpit didn't have a big hole in it to let all the kids' crying in. Hearing them loud and clear, from right around the corner... It damn near killed him.

When the process was complete, he left the cockpit and headed around back. The restraints were supposed to automatically release, but with the ship as banged up as it was, he wanted to double-check.

All was well, however; the older kids were helping the younger ones out of the ship, and the group that apparently lived in the jungle gym was slowly, cautiously making introductions in that awkward way kids had of doing such things.

There wasn't much for him to do, the pilot realized, so he started back for the cockpit. Maybe he and the guy in the cape-

The guy in the cape. Where'd the guy in the cape gone?

"Hey," he said, pointing to a pair of the local kids who looked older than the others, "do you know where the guy in the cape went?"

The kids look at each other and shrugged. "Mister Thandov just left," one of them said.

"Poof," the other agreed.

-

Looking back on it, immediately organizing the kids into a search party and heading off into the jungle (the only real place nearby the guy could've run off to) might not have been the best of ideas. For one thing, he didn't even know the guy, and if he wanted to just run off, it was his own business. Carter didn't need to be out there looking for him, and he was just too big to move through the jungle gym jungle as fast as any of the kids could.

Mostly, though, Carter just didn't like being lost on a planet with a known sanity-devouring entity stuck in the middle. If he could've figured out the way back to the ship, he might've been able to get off in time to not just go completely nuts, but that relied on him having a spaceworthy ship, and spaceworthy the shuttle he'd brought was not, not with a big hole in it.

He sighed, trying to think positive thoughts. At least he wouldn't have to sentence any more kids to being lunch, right?

-

When he reappeared, Scott found himself about where he'd been when he left. His watch didn't show any other hims existing at the time, and though the ship was still sitting where it had been before, neither Carter nor any of the kids were around.

"Alright, so..." Searching his mind, he came up blank. "What exactly do we do now?"

"Well," Will said, speaking as though he were stating the obvious, "there's this abandoned ship with some superficial damage and a big hole in the cockpit."

"True, true..."

There was a pause for a moment while Scott tried to get his thoughts in order and Will waited for him to put things together.

"Oh, right. Other fighters."

-

Carter sighed. He should've expected it to fly away, he really should have. Some local kids probably got into it or something, knowing his luck.

Oh, well. Nothing for it but to follow the jungle kids back to their hideout, he supposed.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by SleepingOrange.

As he leapt across the still-confusing landscape, Kargrek did relish the sensation of unbridled freedom. For a time, at least. As he skidded across sand and tarmac and strange padded ground, he felt himself becoming frustrated. At first, it was just a mild, undirected annoyance, but as time went on it gre in intensity and purpose. His face set itself into a deeper scowl as he fumed about Zaire and his stupid game, his lip curled into a sneer as he considered the foolish cowardice of his so-called competitors, his heart sped as he railed against the injustice of his kidnap from Gorkella and inability to confront his tormentor. He even became angry with himself for apparently misjudging his direction.

By the time he caught sight of Bellona – he HAD picked the right way, after all, but it didn't make him any less angry – he was a barely-restrained man-shaped lump of fury. The gladiatrix was leaning on her spear, testing her ankle against the ground and surveying the bodies that surrounded her. There were quite a lot of them, and they were all... Small.

For a moment after he skidded to a stop, Kargrek simply goggled and took in the scene, uncomprehending. Even in his current state and with his general intellect, it didn't take him long to put two and two together.

"Bellona!" He roared. She hadn't even noticed his arrival until then, and she spun around to look at him. "You... You've killed these children! What kind of monster have you become?"

She snarled in return, waving at the bodies with her spear and spitting on the sand at her feet.

"Children? These beasts are no children. Look into their eyes, see their true nature. They adopt the guise of childishness to lull you, then they strike."

Kargrek looked, but saw only children with black eyes, not demons in childish form.

"You fool! In the last world we landed, the men were metal and their eyes glass. That didn't make them monsters! These pitiful creatures are just children, cursed with dark sight, cursed to live in a land unlike ours. You have murdered them!"

She raised her spear threateningly.
"You've seen them dead. You weren't here when they lived. They attacked, they screamed, they threatened."

"If they were truly monsters," he rumbled, hefting his axe, "how did you dispatch them so bloodlessly? Where are the claw scars on your flesh, the bites at your neck?"

"If I am truly a monster," she hissed, "how have you not struck me down yet? Where is your fighting spirit, you cowardly half man?"

He roared again, this time a guttural word of command, and swung Strombald in Bellona's direction. A wave of fire sprayed off its edge, but she deftly raised her shield to block it.

"Speak of me again in that manner," he shouted, "and I will see that I do!"

There was a tense pause as neither saw anything to say and had to actively fight the urge to simply lunge at the other and spill their blood without provocation. Perhaps fortunately, perhaps tragically, another group of the underground-dwelling children was tentatively peeking above their holes, attracted by the noise. They'd gotten word from deeper in the tunnels that a sacrifice hunt was coming this way; it seemed obvious that one of these two was the target. If the children were to catch them, then they could play human sacrifice too!

Seemingly reaching the same conclusion at the same time, the children swarmed out of their dim hovels, intent on subduing the tantalizing bigtalls. Kargrek and Bellona both swung their heads around at the sound of their approach; their nature and experience had been struggling against the aggressive insanity that was pushing its way through their fairly unprotected minds, and it was a lot easier for them to internally rationalize attacking a swarm of demon-children than each other. They gleefully gave into the bloodlust, charging the largely-unarmed masses of children, weapons swinging.

Bellona was the first to reach one, and impaled its calf neatly before swinging the spear wide, toppling the boy she'd struck and tangling the kids that had been unfortunate enough to be near him. She quickly withdrew her polearm and set upon the fallen crowd, finishing them off mercilessly and enthusiastically.

Kargrek, unsurprisingly, was favoring much less finesse in his attacks, simply decapitating or dismembering or disembowling anyone who got close to his whirling blade, setting those who survived contact ablaze. A few makeshift spears grazed his torso, but he was too deep in the throes of externally stimulated battle frenzy to care much; he simply cut down those who got close enough to damage him, and when one spear managed to lodge itself firmly in his side, he simply ripped it out with his off hand with a bellow and hurled it into the still-approaching crowd.

There were many of the children, and they were all old enough – and subterranean enough – that Ymirhoggr's influence had pushed them even farther than it had Bellona and Kargrek. It also meant that despite their wiry frames and lack of combat training, they were strong and fast and above all numerous enough to pose a not-insignificant threat to even experienced adults. Unfortunately for them, the adults they faced weren't average, and they'd already been stripped of inhibition and caution by the beast at the center of the artificial planet. The pair did lose their share of blood and flesh, but for every ounce they lost, they made the swarm of gangly limbs and black eyes pay in scores.

Eventually, more simply stopped coming out of the ground, and those that still had enough sense or self to flee had done so. Not long after more stopped arriving, the last of those already there fell, lifeless.

Kargrek turned to Bellona, who looked back. Both were dripping in their own blood and others', both were rocking as their chests heaved, but they were both filled with the same perverse mixture of furious rage and exhilerated excitement.


"Do you hear that?"

Kargrek cocked his head, and after a moment, he heard it. There were voices, shuffling, movement. They were coming from the tunnels yet. There were more.

"There are more."


"We can't let something like them live. We've been shown we're the only ones who will kill monsters even if those monsters are menacing an obvious threat."

"No. We can't, and we are."

They both smiled and looked towards the largest tunnel nearby.

"I'm sorry I doubted you. These things are evil."

She shook her head.
"That's all in the past. You couldn't have known. They trick you. I was tricked at first, too. I thought one of them talked to me, thought it felt pain."

"But they're just beasts."

"They're just beasts."

Kargrek took Bellona's spear hand, making it vanish inside the bulky square of meat he called his own hand. She gave him the tenderest smile she could manage under the circumstances, and he withdrew, a surprisingly soft expression suffusing his blocky features.

Limping slightly from their injuries, they both disappeared into the darkness. They couldn't have known that the human sacrifice party was specifically hunting them, but even if they had, it wouldn't have changed anything. Together, the two warriors descended into the earth to hunt evil children.

No, to hunt evil beasts.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by MalkyTop.

It used to be a little itch in the back of her mind. Just started as a small nuisance, a small grievance. But then it erupted into pain. Horrible pain. She could feel death and the dying and the absence, the absolute nothing where there should have been something and the children, someone was killing, massacring…

The pain tasted like blood. Flashes of colors burst across what could be called her body.

Simphonia stopped. She collected herself. And then she started throwing herself against the ceiling.

It was far, yes, but she reached it in a rather short time. Her entire mass thudded against the surface with an unimpressively dull sound. She seemed to have expected some sort of shaking, but it barely rattled.

She rammed herself into another spot, but it was just the same. She tried another spot. And another. She would find a weakness even if it killed her.

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

“Ah…do you think that ceiling could hold…?”

“Well, I cannot say I have ever thought about what would happen in the event that a cloud of sentient musical notes would start banging on the inside,” Strassen coughed.

“So you don’t know.”

“No.”

Luron shrugged from where he stood, not even bothering to crane his neck anymore. “Well, nothing’s falling from the sky, and it’s not like she’s hurting anybody up there. So we can go back to focusing on something more important.”

The doctor coughed again. “I cannot say that I am very confident that she would remain so tenacious and not lose her temper. If she gets frustrated, it’s no stretch of the imagination what she would do next…”

“Yeah, but if we all manage to not be stuck in a battery by then, it doesn’t matter much at all, does it?”

Zach was still looking up nervously as Simphonia, who now looked more like a cloud of flies, continued hammering against the ceiling. “It would be nice to, ah, exorcise her though. Or at least get her out of here, since she seems to want that anyways.”

“So have any ideas on how to lure her to the door, exactly?”

Strassen only shrugged and looked at Zach expectantly. Zach didn’t do anything different and shrugged as well.

“So there you go. Let her waste her time up there and we can move on with other stuff. Things are probably crazier out there anyways.”

“I don’t know how that’s supposed to encourage me,” Zach muttered, but he was already moving to the window outside. He still didn’t really know where his more corporeal half was and his headache wasn’t getting any better, honestly. He almost wanted to forget about the things he was juggling around, but his damn innate curiosity kept getting in his way, curiosity about the everything that was going on. So he stepped out.

Simphonia continued reaching for her goal, realizing that if there weren’t any weak spots to exploit, she would have to make one on her own. The one spot she chose to collide with again and again definitely was feeling weaker to her. Sparks of color spun about her, the color of delirium. The ceiling showed no sign of giving away, but it must be weaker, it had to be, she had to get out, the murderers must pay.

The ceiling remained impassive.

Quote
Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

Zach was actually slightly disappointed when he emerged and found only Maxwell, still staring at the box.

"Where have you been?" Maxwell sighed. "I've been so bored. Nothing's happened at all!"

"That's a change," Zach replied. "I suppose all the horrible things out here are busy."

*whoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooosh*

Zach blinked.

"What was that noise?" he asked.

"Oh, probably the spaceship that just flew over us," Maxwell replied. "Can we play Twenty Questions again?"

"In a minute," Zach said as he floated upwards. "Did you see which way the spaceship went?"

Maxwell pointed over towards a nearby forest. Zach thanked him and flew away.

He wasn't sure if he could actually float faster than a spaceship, but he decided he might as well find out.

***

"Why did you just slow down?" Will asked.

"I saw something and I want to get a better look. I suppose you can't see it too well from down there."

"Well, what is it?"

Scott held a hand over his glasses and leaned forward trying to get a better look.

"It looks like...a lot of people. More children, most likely." He squinted some more. "And... oh. I think most of them aren't moving any more. Or, ah, intact."

There was an uncomfortable pause.

"I don't think Dr. Stassen will be happy to see them," Zach said. Scott turned to the co-pilot's seat in surprise.

"When did you get here?" he asked.

"Just a moment ago," Zach replied. "Thanks for slowing down, that helped quite a bit. By the way, if it's not too much trouble, could you turn around? There's another passenger I'd like you to pick up."

***

Zom wasn't sure how long he had been walking through the tunnels. An hour? Twenty minutes? It made little difference to him; time simply seemed meaningless now. Perhaps it was the similarity of the tunnels, perhaps it was the lack of new orders to at least take some of the monotony away.

It was actually somewhat eerie; the children, even the leader, had been silent since the march began. They seemed more like a millitary unit, thoroughly disciplined and with a total focus on their mission.

Suddenly, they stopped. Zom found himself unable to, however, which prompted a hastily-whispered order to "Stay!" from his new master. He stood still.

"Why have we stopped?" he asked.

"I hear footsteps. Intruders have entered our tunnels." The boy laughed, though he still kept his voice low. "But that just makes it easier for us. We'll split into two groups. I'll lead my half down another route and catch them from behind. The rest of you, including my new servant, keep going this way and attack from the front."

Zom found himself shuffling along, following behind half of the children. The leader cackled quietly again and guided the rest down another tunnel.

It wasn't long before they came across Kargrek and Bellona. Zom was horrified to see that their eyes had grown dark, just like the children and Kaja's. As the warriors saw the advancing children, they readied their weapons and screamed something about how the "monsters should die".

Zom sighed. Was this how it was to end? With all of them enslaved by Ymirhoggr, either directly or through a magic spell?

That seemed an even worse fate than being pulled into this battle in the first place. But Zom had no way to resist. He could not defy his master's orders.

Then he smiled slightly as he realized an order that his "master" had forgotten to give.

"Kargrek! Bellona! Behind you!" he shouted. The pair turned around swiftly, and saw the young boy and another few dozen children. The dark-eyed boy glared past them, staring directly at Zom.

"That isn't how you ambush someone at all!"

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Re: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
Originally posted on MSPA by SleepingOrange.

They hadn't been the most impressive last words, but then, he probably hadn't expected them to be his last. Perhaps he hadn't ever had cause to consider the concept of "last" as it related him. Children were notoriously unprone to existentialism or serious cogitation on the nature of mortality, and that was doubly true of children that had been deemed "inadequate" and had their sanity devoured by ur-beings from beyond the reaches of space.

Nevertheless, impressive or not, they were the leader's last coherent utterances in the land of the living. Oh, he made quite a few more noises between the spike of garish metal Kargrek hurled striking him in the neck and his eventual death, but none of those muffled, gurgling screeches could be considered words. As such. He clawed at the projectile, at his neck, at the blood gushing out through his fingers, and he fell to the ground where he was promptly forgotten and trampled by those who had moments ago lead.

As the hunters behind him surged forward, mirrored by the other group swarming around Zom, they probably gave no more thought than the leader had to the possibility that they might lose or die. Nevertheless and in spite of their better equipment and higher average age compared to the group Kargrek and Bellona had encountered on the surface – most of them too old even to be called children anymore – they fared even more poorly than that last group had. The sole advantage the children had, given that Ymirhoogr's influence had removed fear and doubt and pain from the warriors as much as the sacrificed, had been numbers; even people as well-trained and supernaturally-talented as Bellona and Kargrek couldn't simultaneously hold off a dozen charging berserkers. Here in the tunnels though, they wasted no time in adopting defensive stances with their backs to each other; they were easily able to force the attackers to come in ones and twos, and no amount of adolescent wiriness or sharpened playground equipment could compare with steel and years.


In short, it was a slaughter. Zom wanted nothing more than to look away, to run away, but he was rooted to the spot by horror as much as by the spell that bound him. The worst part – if there could truly be said to be a worst part of watching waves of children cut down brutally and mercilessly – was the bloody glee that suffused the warriors as they killed. Bellona and Kargrek laughed and joked, their faces briefly twisting into demonic rictuses whenever a lucky hunter scored a blow before returning to sadistic jollity as the offender was bifurcated or impaled. Zom had long ago dismissed the fighters as simple and perhaps dangerous – although more likely to endanger themselves than him as long as he kept his distance – but this brutality and beastliness had never seemed part of their character. He briefly regretted warning them, but his mind wandered back to what he had seen the children do to each other and themselves, to rooms full of eldritch tentacles and eyes without faces. It was near-impossible to reconcile the emotional, visceral response of seeing the warriors cut their foes down so cruelly with the knowledge that it wasn't truly Kargrek and Bellona doing it. Were it not for the fact that death was probably a blessing for these poor child-shaped things, the spectacle would have been impossible to bear. As it was, it was merely sickening.

Sickening was exactly the word Zom would have used to describe it, too. He'd assumed nausea, like unconsciousness, was simply something that didn't happen to the undead; indeed, it was possible the retching sensation he was feeling was all in his head, but either way he wanted to vomit, to purge himself of everything and forget. He inwardly cursed his fate and the beings that had conspired to bring it about, saving special resentment for both Zaire and the boy that had bound his body and will. Actually... He glanced down at the erstwhile leader. He hadn't tried disobeying his standing orders since the boy had stopped writhing and coughing up blood. With trepidation, he willed his leg to slide back a step. And then again. And again. Soon, he was shuffling backwards as quickly as the terrain and his stiff joints would allow; it seemed that the blood magic had been undone once the blood it stemmed from had been spilled and stilled.

Still, there were too many children behind him for Zom to beat a real retreat; they continued to surge forward even as their ostensible friends and companions were cut down, and there was no way to push through the throng to escape. Instead, Zom ducked into the nearest alcove he could spot and turned his head away, not even wanting to watch the rush of bodies hurrying to their doom.

After some minutes, the sounds of battle stopped. Taking a deep breath and carefully avoiding looking at the floor, Zom peeked out into the corridor beyond. There were no more children standing; all that remained were one man and one woman, bloodied and leaning against each other. Zom was briefly surprised by the way Bellona rested her head on Kargrek's chest and the almost-deferential way the barbarian wiped a smear of unknowable ichor off her cheek with his meaty slab of a fist. Until now, everything he'd seen of the pair had involved her being begrudging or openly disdainful of him, and him being too focused on his quest to overcome the Redeemer to notice much of anyone else. All in all though, Zom didn't have a lot of time to ponder on the probably inconsequential scene: as soon as he moved into the tunnel, their heads snapped towards him.


"It's another one!"

Bellona narrowed her unnaturally-dark eyes and shook her head. "... No. He's too big, his eyes too clear."

Zom glanced back down the corridor; there was no way his zombified legs could outrun either of them if they turned violent, so it was probably best to try to make himself as helpful as possible.

"And I warned you before they attacked, remember?"

They were silent for a few moments, but neither of them moved.

"I'm glad to see you're both–" Zom hesitated for a moment, looking as the cuts and scrapes on both of them and the handful of open wounds on Kargrek's chest and sides, before finishing "– okay."


"Why?"

He swallowed. "Haha, well, we're all in this together, right? Gotta... Gotta defeat Zaire, and so forth. All for one and all that."

They still weren't attacking, so Zom wasn't sure why he was more filled with dread now than when he'd been facing down obviously-murderous children. It was hard to read the pair's expression with their eyes so clouded, but both seemed passive and lost in thought.


In fact, though Zom couldn't have known it, Kargrek was internally struggling against the urge to cheerfully disembowel the man despite having no cogent reason to do so. Never in his life had he killed simply because he felt like it: the men and monsters that had died by his blade had always been enemy soldiers or perverters of nature or mindless killing machines; even the children had been twisted in his perceptions until they were nothing more than corrupting, evil demons. So this unarmed, shambling corpse of a thing before him gave him no reason to fight, and gave no purchase for Ymirhoggr's madness to push off of. But he wanted to kill him so badly.

"So, I was thinking, you know... We should probably go find something. To do. Back the way I came, there's a bunch of stuff. That the, uh, that these guys collected and made. Maybe it could tell us a bit more about this place? Or where to find Zaire? Or how to, uh, get out?"

It made sense in a feeble, forced way. And it certainly wasn't any kind of rationalization to murder. Kargrek pulled Bellona slightly closer to himself and grunted in a vague approximation of assent.

And then a phrase clicked in the barbarian's mind: "acceptable to kill if a round needs ending for some reason".

Of course, the pervasive insanity that had by now thoroughly ingrained itself in Kargrek's mind didn't make it past the first few words. Zom was acceptable to kill! He'd already decided as much!

With a roar, he pushed Bellona out of his way and lunged at the zombie, Strombald screaming through the air.

"Oh, bugger."

He turned and ran, but he knew it was hopeless. He'd been right: his undead gait simply couldn't outrun a living human, especially not one with a stride like Kargrek's.

For the umpteenth time since the contestants arrived and Ymirhoggr began feeding, the sound of metal cleaving through flesh, splintering bone, and coming out the other side rang out.

Quote
 
Originally posted on MSPA by Dragon Fogel.

It took about five minutes for Zach to catch up to the shuttlecraft. By comparison, it had taken only thirty seconds for Maxwell to get tired of waiting. He decided to see if there was anyone else around to play Twenty Questions with.

His wandering took him past several groups of children, but as usual, they paid no attention to him.

"This is boring," he grumbled. "Why isn't there anything fun to play with around here?"

Then he spied the jungle gym.

"Never tried that before," he mused. He began walking over to it.

***

Had she been saner, Bellona might have asked Kargrek what the hell he was thinking. But under Ymirhoggr's influence, the first question on her mind was "Why didn't I do that first?"

In fact, it was Kargrek who was more shaken by his own actions, though only slightly. It wasn't that he had any more presence of mind than Bellona, but rather that he had done the deed with his own hands; for the briefest of moments, he was aware that he had attacked a man who intended him no harm. He had slaughtered dozens of children, of course, but they had been out to do the same to him; with his thoughts twisted by Ymirhoggr, that was enough to give him no pause.

He stared down at Zom's decapitated head, mostly in pride but with a small measure of disgust at himself.

"It isn't over," Bellona suddenly said. "They came from deeper in the tunnels. Surely there must be more of them."

Kargrek nodded. Yes. There must be more. More monsters to destroy. More enemies to fight.

"Then we'll slaughter them all until this tunnel runs red with their wicked blood," he said simply. "No monster will escape us."

They ran down the tunnels, laughing.

Zom waited for the laughter to die down, then picked up his head and began walking in the opposite direction.

"This isn't going to end well," he muttered to himself. "I'd best get away from here while I'm still in just two pieces."

***

Kaja watched in horror as the two monsters slaughtered his friends, his comrades. One by one, they fell to the axe and spear of the abominations. Finally, only Kaja was left, alone and trapped, as the monsters made their way towards him.

He awoke with a scream.

It was no dream, he knew. It was a vision.

He was alone, and he had to destroy the monsters, by himself, with no one to aid him.

The door was locked, no doubt to protect him. But now was no time to cower in fear.

Now was the time for vengeance.

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RE: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 3: The Infinite Playground!)
As Scott politely complied with Zach’s request, the two started bringing each other up to speed on what they knew. Zach did this while looking out the window for Maxwell. It was a little rude, but what could you do.

“…You wanted to pick everybody up and just fly out…?” Zach repeated, giving a skeptical glance to the hole in the cockpit.

“At the least, it’d be nice to gather. Or something. Divided we fall and all that? Except less metaphorical.”

“Probably not with Simph,” said Zach, going back to looking out the window. “She’s kinda gone…y’know.”

“Weeeeell,” said Scott, drawing out the ‘e’ in an attempt to think of a nice way to say the thing he was going to say. He gave up rather quickly. “Hasn’t she always been a little…y’know?”

“Not like this. She’s more homicidal, I’d say.”

“Oh,” said Scott, not sure how to respond to such a matter-of-fact statement.

“Right now she’s trapped in the ghost battery though.”

“…Oh,” said Scott. His forehead was starting to crease.

Hearing the slight change in tone, Zach held up his hands to form a little rectangle. “Black box about this big. Runs on ghosts. There’s a ghost city inside it.”

Scott didn’t bother to justify this with a response. A few seconds passed in silence before Zach sighed. “Why did I even expect him to stay in one place. Christ. Look, can you land here? He couldn’t have gone far. Maxwell’s the one with the battery, and by extension, Simph. Luron’s there too, actually.”

“Uh,” said Scott.

“Not a good idea,” said Will, who finally found a point in the conversation that he felt able to contribute to. “This is pretty close to where we stole this ship from.”

It took a while, it seemed, for Zach to process this new bit of information. “’Stole.’ You stole this ship.”

“Sort of?” Scott said.

“You can’t ‘sort of’ steal a ship!”

“What, you just thought we happened to find a ship lying on the ground? The point is that we don’t want the owner stealing it back,” Will said rather smoothly.

“’Stealing it back.’” The expression on Zach’s face was cloudy, and Scott could recognize a coming storm when he saw one. In an attempt to separate himself from the conversation, he tried to look very busy with staring out the window. “I think you mean ‘taking it back.’ Also, that isn’t the point! The point is you wanted to pick up the other contestants, and one of them is down there! I mean what were you planning to do with the others, huh? Fly around and hope they can jump on?!”

“Oh my god,” said Scott, unnoticed.

“It would have been different if we weren’t so close to where we had taken off. Like I said, since we’re most likely nearby that guy, it’s more likely that he’ll see our ship and try to get it back if we land here and go look for your kid. If you could actually direct us to someone else who happened to be on the other side of the planet, well, we could work with that.”

“Look, it’s not like it’ll take long to find him, we were only away for a few minutes!”

“Oh, yeah, I’m really going to believe that. I’m sure that if we land, we’ll find him easy.” Somehow, without even having a displayed body, Will was able to give the impression that he was giving some rather sarcastic hand gestures. “Unless you can tell us exactly where he is, I don’t feel the need to risk our transport, especially for someone who you said yourself was hostile.”

In contrast, Zach had a perfectly visible body, although rather transparent, and he utilized it for maximum expression of his exasperation. “Seriously. And how do you expect me to come up with that?”

“I think I can come up with somewhere to look,” said Scott, pointing out the window. Zach looked. Will waited patiently for someone to explain what was going on.

It was a jungle gym. Or rather, the twisted and convoluted knot of pipes that was an approximation of a jungle gym. It had been rather irregular before, but it was now exhibiting a trait that made it even more so.

It was walking.

“Are you kidding me.”

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

Landing on a giant, walking jungle gym had been a hell of a trick, but it somehow worked out. While Scott slowly got used to walking on such shaky and holey ground, Zach flew up right to the figure they had seen riding on top. Surprise surprise, it was Maxwell.

“Okay,” said Zach, worried that he wasn’t going to like any answers to his many questions. “What did you do.

Maxwell beamed up at him and tapped the black box. Somehow, it seemed to have melded with one of the bars of the jungle gym. Oh boy.

At this point, Scott had managed to channel his inner child and crawled his way to join the conversation. “So that’s the…ghost city you were talking about?”

Zach nodded, a small grimace on his face. How was this even affecting the ghosts inside? “Maxwell, how about you...stop, okay?” Oh god, could he stop it?

Maxwell blinked slowly, much too slowly, and then wrapped a hand around the battery. A few seconds later, the whole monstrosity shuddered to a stop. “Are we gonna go ride in that thing instead?” he asked brightly, pointing back to the ship (which had miraculously not fallen yet).

Zach rubbed his forehead and tried to remember that he was talking to a child. “Well, can you detach the box from that bar?” he replied with minimal testiness. Maxwell blinked again, then half-heartedly tugged on the melded box.

“I think it’s stuck,” he said. “Can we ride that other thing now?”

Zach covered his face with both hands. “Uuuuuuugh.”

Scott, thankful that everything had stopped shaking but still uneasy with heights, said, “It’s probably safe to just leave it here, right? It’s not like anybody else can get it off. Probably.”

Look,” said Zach, testiness levels rising. “There are people in there. People who happen to be counting on me to help them out. And I may not really like it, but I don’t particularly want to be the guy who lets them down, alright?”

Scott fell silent. Maxwell started kicking his feet, waiting for all the boring adult talk to finish. Will sighed.

“So then what do you suggest?”

Zach opened his mouth to let out a witty retort, but unfortunately had none. He closed it again, mind racing to come up with something to say, some sort of idea, or at least some sort of quip. The silence dragged embarrassingly long.

And then someone else broke the silence for him with a very familiar voice.

“Couldn’t you guy have been on the ground?” Zom complained. “Would have been easier to get to you.”

Zach turned towards the voice, smiling in relief. His smile soon dropped when he actually saw Zom. “Oh my god.”

Maxwell held his nose. Scott turned around to retch.

“I feel so welcomed,” said Zom, pulling himself slowly over the top of the jungle gym like an old man undergoing rigor mortis, which was probably true at this point. He tried to sound sarcastic, but he actually did look hurt.

“Sorry,” said Zach, not sounding particularly sorry, but only because he was distracted by the fact that he was talking to someone (himself) who had his head under his arm. Scott turned around again, but quickly turned back to retch some more. As Zom settled himself on a bar, Maxwell scooted away, wrinkling his nose.

“You smell,” the child complained. Zom ignored him.

Seeing as he was the only one without a sense of smell, it fell upon Zach to ask, “What happened?

“Kargrek,” Zom said with a sigh. “Him and Bellona are a bit…” He gave a casual gesture to his own neck, much too casual for Zach’s taste. The ghost almost retched himself.

Scott turned around, hand over his mouth. He still avoided looking directly at Zom. “Insane? Great. Those are the last two people I’d want to see insane.”

“Kaja too.”

Shit,” said Scott, before his eyes darted towards Maxwell. The boy didn’t seem to pay any attention.

“So we’re the only ones left then,” Zach said blankly. Zom shrugged. It was interesting to watch, if ‘interesting’ meant ‘entirely unwelcome.’

Scott snapped with his free hand. “Hold up. The whole ‘turn people insane’ thing can’t get through this mess of metal pipes, I think. Maybe if we move this to where they are, they’ll get better?”

“Why not use the jungle gym to cut out the problem at its source?” Will piped up. Everybody turned to look towards him, which made Scott a little uncomfortable.

Maxwell scrunched up his eyes. “Y’mean…Ymirhoggr…?”
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