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!)
Zach wasted no time sharing his opinion.

"No. No! No. No, no, no, no!"

"Why the strong objection?" Scott asked.

"First of all, there are people in that battery - living, breathing people... er, well, technically they're not living and probably don't need to breathe but that's not the point. The point is, that battery is going to consume them if we turn it on again... um, it is off, isn't it?"

"Yes," Maxwell said, clearly bored of all the adults talking.

"Right, good. Anyhow, I'm not about to just use them as a power source when I promised to help them. Or at least try. And besides that, this Ymirhoggr has caused enough problems as it is, and I for one do not want to find out what it does if we actually provoke it by sending a soul-powered jungle gym after it."

"You're not tangible, though," Zom noted. "You probably have the least to worry about it of anyone here."

"It eats sanity! For all I know, it can eat ghosts too! Besides, do we even know where Ymirhoggr is?"

"Oh, that's easy," Maxwell said. "It's underneath the caverns over there. That's where its influence is strongest, you see."

"I can believe that," Zom muttered. "I just came from there. I was captured and enslaved by a cult of children who worshipped that thing."

"Enslaved?" Zach said, turning to his other self. "Wait, what exactly were you up to while I was in the city?"

"Oh, nothing much. First they tried to sacrifice me, but stabbing me in the heart didn't work too well. So instead they put a blood sigil on my forehead and commanded me. Then they tried to ambush Kargrek and Bellona and every last one of them died."

There was an awkward pause.

"Well, I'm sold," Will's voice spoke up. "However many dead people there are in that battery, the fact of the matter is that this Ymirhoggr is ruining the lives of living people. Those children were torn away from their families to keep this thing sated, had their minds twisted into following it, and then were simply killed for their trouble. What's to stop that from happening again?"

"I don't know," Scott said. "I suppose sacrificing the dead instead of the living is a step up, but the more I think about it, the less comfortable I am about it."

"Well, personally, if I were dead and had the chance to give up my soul to put an end to the shipments, I'd go for it," Will replied.

"I suppose I would, too. But they're not even getting a chance to answer the question for themselves. Or even a warning that they're being sacrificed!"

Zach groaned.

"So you want me to go into that city and tell them, hello, some people I know want to consume your souls in a possibly futile attempt to kill a nearly unkillable sanity-eating monster, please let me know what you think. I'm sure they'll be delighted about that."

"Look, we can argue all day about whether they'll object or not, but we'll never know for sure unless someone asks," Zom said. "And last I checked, you were the only one who could pay them a visit. Unless you think Simphonia will make a better ambassador."

"Oh, all right. But you'd better not turn that battery on before I get back!"

Zach popped into the battery, leaving the others to wait.

"This is boring," Maxwell said after a few minutes. "Can we ride the shuttle until he gets back?"


The moment Zach stepped through the window, a child in dark clothes screamed at him. Then the boy started waving his arms, and the next thing Zach knew, he couldn't move and the child was dragging him away.

Zach would have asked where they were going, but he couldn't speak either. It was just as well; he soon found his answer. The boy pulled him towards a large crowd of spirits, who were surrounded by similarly-dressed children; Zach could see Strassen and Luron among the crowd. The spirits in the middle were completely still, and one child seemed to be ordering the rest around.

"Boss!" Zach's captor shouted. "We found another one! He just appeared out of nowhere! Maybe he's the one who made that big beam appear that sucked up that building!"

"I told you, it's not Boss any more!" the leader cried back. "I'm the Grand High Prophet! Really, is it so hard to remember that?"

"Boss is quicker to say, though."

"Shut up! Ymirhoggr said to call me Grand High Prophet, so you're going to call me Grand High Prophet! Now quit wasting time and see if there are any other stragglers..."

The leader stared at Zach. Recognition slowly dawned on him.

"You! You're that traitor we couldn't sacrifice! What, you weren't satisfied with ruining our ambush, now you've followed us to wherever here is too?"

Zach didn't say anything, because he couldn't.

"Oh, right, binding incantation. One second." The boy made a few strange motions as he chanted. "There, now you can speak. And you have to answer my questions, and you can't lie! How did you get in here?"

"I just came in from outside," Zach was forced to say.

"What are you talking about? We haven't found a way out. Or figured out how we came in, exactly."

"There's a window leading out. It only works for me," Zach said. "Well, as far as I know, anyhow. I suppose it could work for the other ghost, the one attacking the ceiling up there, but I couldn't say for sure."

The Grand High Prophet looked upwards.

"Oh, that one. Our spells can't reach her. Not that it matters, she's not really doing anything. Anyhow, what do you mean it only works for you? Where is this place, exactly?"

"It's a city of dead people, somehow formed inside a battery that runs on souls," Zach answered.

"Oh, that explains how the last thing I remember before coming here is being torn apart by an axe," the boy said dismissively. "So what's this battery powering?"

"Nothing at the moment."

The boy glared.

"The spell says you're hiding something from me. Well, you can cut that out right now. What would it be powering if it were powering something?"

"A moving jungle gym."

The boy didn't say anything. He just glared. It was enough.

"...which some of my associates were planning to use as a weapon against Ymirhoggr."

"Well, we can't have that. Of course, I have no doubts that Ymirhoggr could crush your silly jungle gym, but I don't see why we should just sit around and wait for that to happen."

The boy chanted something, and Zach felt strange. He couldn't see anything, or hear anything, or feel anything.


Kaja was almost paralyzed with fear.

These two monsters had wiped out all of his comrades. Kaja was the last one left to stand against them. And even if he won, what if there were more of them?

Kargrek and Bellona were not so afraid. Yes, they had come face to face with the monster that the crazed children worshipped, but it was just one creature, and they were both skilled warriors. Even with the exertion of their last battles, they were still ready for this fight.

Kargrek raised his axe and began to charge. Bellona thrust out her spear, ready to strike the demon if it evaded Kargrek's blow. Kaja reached into his pockets, hoping the explosive he prepared would be enough.

And then, suddenly, all three stood very still.

The realization dawned slowly. Kargrek carefully lowered his axe, Bellona her lance. Kaja took his hands out of his pockets.

"What did I almost do?" Kargrek shrieked. "What did... what did that thing almost make me do?"

Kaja was only slightly less afraid, but he was determined not to let it show.

"I can't believe it," he said. "I thought I was home... that you were monsters..."

"We have to destroy the beast," Bellona said. "What it's done to us cannot be forgiven."

"You're right. We have to destroy it now. Something must have weakened it, given us our minds again. If we move fast enough, maybe we can destroy it."

"It's in the depths of these tunnels, I think," Kaja said. "Even deeper than we are."

The ground began to shake.

"Not for long, I fear," Kargrek said, rushing down a tunnel. "We need to hurry."

Bellona quickly followed, but Kaja hesitated.

Was he really ready to face this monster? All he had were a few herbs and his machine. Kargrek and Bellona were warriors, but he was not. True, he had fought monsters before, out of necessity, but nothing like this.

He stared down the tunnel, where he could still see Kargrek and Bellona running.

In fact, they didn't seem to be moving very far.

They seemed to be getting closer to him.

That line of thought was cut short as Kaja ran after them through the tunnel. Yes, of course he was going to fight. He couldn't stand by and let another world suffer as his own had.

Certain of his decision, Kaja felt full of energy. His frantic run, even with the heavy equipment on his back, felt effortless.

It was as easy as if he were standing still.


"It's waking up," Maxwell said suddenly.

"What? What do you mean..."

Scott's question was answered before he finished asking it. Something enormous burst out of the nearby caverns with a piercing shriek.

It was monstrous and bizarre. If pressed to describe the creature, Scott would only have been able to say that it had tentacles. He was quite clear on this point, because two of said tentacles were moving towards the jungle gym disconcertingly fast.

"I think that shuttle ride may be a good idea right about now," he said.

"Yes, I think that's our best course of action," Will agreed. "We'll turn this thing back on and..."

"Ahem. Turn it back on while my ghostly half is still inside there? I mean, I'm not entirely sure what's going to happen to me if he gets converted to energy, but I'd rather not find out."

"Do you have a better idea?"

Zom sighed.

"Well, I wouldn't call it 'better', exactly, but it's the only other idea I've got. You two... or three, I suppose... go on ahead and get out of here, I'll turn the thing on once Zach gets out. Or, er, sooner if I really must."

"You realize Ymirhoggr is already on its way here."

"Yes, well, look, just go! I'll worry about that. I'd just rather not give up on myself if I don't have to."

Scott nodded.

"Fair enough. I'll try to fly close and pick you up once you've got it moving."

"Yes, fine, whatever, just go!"

With no further prompting, Scott and Maxwell rushed to the shuttle. Moments after it took off, the first tentacle reached the jungle gym.

It was carrying passengers. Three of them, to be exact. They hopped off and landed on the upper deck.

Zom was about to rush to the battery and turn it on, Zach or no Zach, when his body suddenly fell over and dropped his head.

Zom looked at his fallen body, and saw the tip of Bellona's spear embedded in its heel.

"We need to destroy the heart!" Kaja said, pointing at the battery.

"You go for it. We'll take care of this monster," Kargrek replied.

Zom's head sighed, and watched helplessly as Kaja walked past. His body was trying to pick itself up, but that became considerably harder when Kargrek chopped off one of its arms.

"Maybe my body can still crawl toward the battery," Zom muttered. "And if I can just find a way to roll myself into Kaja's feet, there might even still be a battery by the time it gets there."

Before Zom could reflect further on the apparent hopelessness of the situation, he spotted someone climbing up a ladder.

"You there, whoever you are!" Zom called out. "Stop the man with the machine on his back!"

Carter was surprised by the severed head shouting at him, but to be fair, he was also surprised by the barbarian, the gladiatrix, and the aforementioned man with the machine on his back. Not to mention the terrifying beast that he knew must be Ymirhoggr.

He had only come in the first place to find out what was causing the jungle gym to shake, in order to reassure the children. What he had found was definitely not reassuring at all.

In the end, he decided to just listen to the head. He didn't have any other ideas, and besides which, the man with the machine wasn't armed with an axe or spear and wasn't a sanity-eating monster that would forever haunt his nightmares.

Carter rushed forward and tackled Kaja to the ground, knocking out the poor alchemist.

Then he saw Kargrek and Bellona drop the mangled corpse they were mangling further and turn their eyes on him, and he wondered if perhaps it would have been better not to get involved at all.

Kargrek was angry. At the monster that had just slain Kaja, of course, but also at himself for only focusing on the monster he could see.

Why had he assumed there would only be one monster? This was the beast's most vulnerable point, after all. It would surely be well-protected.

And his carelessness had cost them not only their best chance to destroy the heart, but also Kaja's life.

His first instinct was to charge at the monster, but then he realized he'd just expose himself to a surprise attack, or perhaps leave Bellona open to one.

She was already running forward. Kargrek followed her at a distance, keeping his eyes out for another surprise.

He soon saw it. A monstrous claw struck from nowhere, grabbing Bellona. Kargrek tried to attack it, but it moved much faster than he expected, and his swing missed completely. The claw was gone, and so was Bellona.

Kargrek was alone now. It was all up to him.

He let out a shout as he rushed for the other monster, but tripped on the severed limb that had caught itself on his leg.

What had looked like a claw to Kargrek was, in fact, Carter's shuttle. Scott had flown it right into Bellona, and she was currently clinging to the front, screaming with pure rage.

"Die, foul beast!"

She tried to stab her spear into the shuttle. It was ineffective, but in her mind, she had just made the beast release her. Now she could pull herself up onto its limb and fight back.

From Scott's perspective, this meant that she was standing on the front of the shuttle and about to rush up and attack him.

"Well, this is a problem," he said.

"No it isn't. Just shake her off," Will said.

"We're too high! That would kill her!"

"Would you rather she kill you?"

"It's all right," Maxwell said. "Her spear looks like it's steel, much weaker than the transparent alloy these windows are made from. We just need to be ready to disarm her when she gets tired and looks for another way in, which will probably be that hole in the side."

Scott stared at him.

"How exactly do you know all that?"

Maxwell shrugged.

"Just do," he said. "Can you go faster? I like watching the trees zip by."

Carter hadn't been expecting the shuttle to swoop in, and he certainly hadn't expected the barbarian to trip and drop his axe.

But he also wasn't about to lose the one thing that might help him even the odds. He wasn't in the best of shape, after all, and the barbarian looked strong enough that he likely didn't even need a weapon.

Kargrek got up and stomped the severed hand under his foot as he snarled at Carter.

In that moment, Carter was keenly aware that he had no idea how to wield an axe.

Fortunately, his imminent doom was delayed by Zom's body, which had picked itself up and was awkwardly trying to hold down Kargrek with its one remaining arm, while barely being able to stand.

It wasn't a long delay. Kargrek simply grabbed the zombie, and flung it right at Carter's hand. Carter was knocked over, and Zom's body and the axe continued through the air, striking the bar with the battery on it.

Zom watched as his body slid down to the deck, and winced as the axe nicked the battery slightly on the way. Fortunately, nothing exploded when it did.

"On the bright side, most of me is close enough to turn the thing on now," he muttered, watching his body slowly pick itself up again. "Shame about poor Zach, but there's not much choice..."

Before Zom could say anything else, Zach emerged from the battery.

"Oh, good. No need to dilly-dally, then," Zom said. "I don't suppose you've got a way to give my body a little hand?"

"Silence, slave!" Zach said, in a familiar voice that wasn't his own.

Zom groaned as he felt an unpleasantly familiar sensation on his forehead.

"Wonderful. Being dead hasn't given you any new perspective, then?"

"It's all part of Ymirhoggr's grand plan. I'm in here so I can show everyone that Ymirhoggr can't be defeated. Now, smash up that battery! Look, there's an axe right there, this will be easy!"

"The one your soul is inside?"

"Yes, that one! Do it! You're still bound to obey my orders, slave!"

Zom groaned.

"Well, all right. Perhaps you could help me up?"

"It's too hard to possess things this way. Now get up!"

Zom's body obliged, and untangled itself enough to stand.

"Good. Now, pick up that axe and start smashing."

Zom's body turned towards the axe.

Then it slapped a hand on the battery, which began glowing. Moments later, the jungle gym began to move, and sliced right through Ymirhoggr's tentacles with stray bars.

"That's not what I ordered you to do! How are you disobeying?"

"Oh, I'm not," Zom said, smirking. "But as it turns out, my body doesn't have to listen to me any more."

Kargrek had numerous advantages over Carter. He was nimbler, stronger, and more experienced in battle.

But Carter was a good deal heavier than Kargrek, a fact that was quite helpful when the jungle gym's motion knocked him down on top of the barbarian.

Still, he knew it wouldn't last. Kargrek was working hard to push him off, and he didn't especially want to think about what would happen after that.

Simphonia was annoyed. There was a bright light and a lot of screaming down below. Something about setting up wards or something. Didn't anyone realize that breaking a ceiling needed a lot of concentration? Honestly.

She moved along, hoping that perhaps she could find a weaker piece of ceiling.

And then she did. She made a nice big hole and flew through it.

"I'll make you pay for this - no, put the wards up over there! No, you maintain the binding spells!"

"I take it things aren't going so well in there," Zom said.

"Shut up! I ought to destroy you, but I've got too many things to do in here! Stop distracting me!"

Zom was about to say something, but the sigil on his head forced him to stop.

He couldn't even say anything when the small nick from Kargrek's axe began glowing and Simphonia flew out.

He did notice, however, that the shaking seemed to be calming down.

Kargrek noticed as well. As the jungle gym's movement calmed, he found himself able to shake off Carter's weight.

There wasn't time to get his axe, he reasoned. This monster might get up at any moment. He'd have to destroy it before going for the heart, even if that meant using his bare hands.

Simphonia was glad to be outside again but that leak in the battery might not be enough do you even know how fast this thing is moving it's going to reach the core in just a few minutes

and what is that fool barbarian doing if he kills that man we'll have another soul in the battery and it's hard enough for the cultists to manage things in there as it is don't kill him go for the heart

why is he so stubborn well no matter we'll just hold him back and start eating that other man's delicious sanity

Suddenly, Kargrek found himself surrounded by strange vines. He struggled to free himself, but their grip was intense. The monster slowly stood up, and Kargrek was sure it would finish him.

He was baffled when it walked away. What was it doing?

Carter had been doubting his sanity since the severed head shouted at him. When he saw the jungle gym turn into a bizarre cavern filled with monsters, he was just self-aware enough to suspect what was really going on.

That might not have lasted for long, if not for the stroke of good fortune that the jungle gym had just struck a blow on Ymirhoggr's main body. It screeched in pain, giving Carter enough time to flee down what looked like a snakepit, before Ymirhoggr could taunt him into fighting instead.

His head started to clear. He was surrounded by metal now. From what he remembered the children telling him, he was relatively safe.

That also meant he was safe from Kargrek. Simphonia released her grip, and just sort of floated around awkwardly. Ymirhoggr didn't have a use for her any more - she was too spiritual, and destroying the battery with her risked catching her inside, where its control was weaker.

Kargrek, on the other hand, was quite physical. He wasn't sure where the monster had gone, but now that he had freed himself from the vines, it was best to finish what he started. He ran over to his axe, which had landed near the heart.

Unfortunately, the near-corpse of the other monster was also near there, and it began trying to strangle him with its one hand.

Kargrek simply chopped the other arm off, and wrenched it from his neck. He couldn't risk leaving this monster alone either, it seemed; it was far from dead.

Of course, Zom knew he was already quite dead, and getting deader. He was also becoming aware of how much slower the jungle gym was moving.

And of the unpleasantness of his surroundings, for that matter. He could no longer see the sky, and presumed that they had ended up inside Ymirhoggr.

He didn't particularly want to know what would happen to them if the jungle gym lost its power now.

"No, not that ward, the other one! No... What the? Let go of me! Someone bind this fool."

"Zach, can you hear me?" Luron's voice called out from the battery. "A new arrival named Carol told us about Ymirhoggr. If you're using us against it, I just want you to know we're behind you all the way."

"No, don't walk into the light, you--"

"Farewell, Zach!"

Zach blinked. He'd only been dimly aware of what was going on, but he could see the strange not-sky, Kargrek chopping Zom's body apart, Kaja lying unconscious under his machine, and his own head rolling around.

"Zach!" Zom screamed, as he felt the sigil vanish from his head. "This thing's slowing down! I think the battery's leaking!""


"This is Dr. Stassen!" a voice shouted from the battery. "Simphonia made a hole in the ceiling, somehow! I'm not sure, but I think it's affecting our performance! It looks like it might be possible to hold it shut from in here, but none of us can reach that high! Can you do something?"

"Er, what?" Zach asked.

"I don't think he can hear you," Zom said.

"I suppose I'd better have a look for myself, then," Zach sighed. "It's probably too much to hope that I might be able to come back."

"I haven't got much longer myself," Zom said. "Not with what Kargrek's doing."

"I suppose this is goodbye for us both, then."

"Probably. Shame we don't have anyone sane to say it to, except each other."

"And we're arguably the same person."

"I'd nod right now, but it's rather difficult."

"See you in the next life, Zom. If that's how it works."

"You as well."

Zach dove into the battery, and Zom watched as the crack closed behind his ghostly self, accompanied by a groan of "this is much heavier than it looks".

It was the last thing Zom saw before Kargrek tore his heart out and stepped on his head.

If he had been facing the opposite direction, his last sight might have been the jungle gym tearing open Ymirhoggr's heart instead.
RE: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 4: The Huntsman's Garden)
Ymirhoggr’s screams bellowed out across the multicoloured planet. All around children began to shriek in unison as their ears began to bleed profusely. The air around the dying beast seemed to warp and shift unnaturally as everyone around it became insane, then sane, then insane again as the gargantuan writhed in its final death throes. It’s blood danced in the cloudless sky, tinted in a colour that by all right shouldn't really exist. Were anyone sane enough to be in such a spectacles presence they would no doubt call it strangely beautiful.

Time slowed down to a crawl. Techni-coloured pipe, blood and the corpses of children glid through the air until eventually all things came to a stop. Atop a monolithic spire of a slide stood the silhouette of a man, clad in deep red and smiling a wide, cruel grin.

“I must say you certainly aren't short of surprises” His insidious voice echoed in the heads of the contestants, all paused by Zaire’s magic. “I never thought you would actually kill the thing! You have quite the penchant for destruction I see, I'm very proud of you.” The Redeemer finished his sentence as if addressing a gaggle of small children. “Alas, playtime is over. I’m sure you have all terribly missed me, have you not?” Zaire cackled to himself, whatever damage had been done through his previous excursion had been evidently reversed. “But enough with the sentimentalities! We have a busy schedule ahead of us! Come along now children!”

With a flash of red glyphs The contestants found themselves whisked away from the Infinite Playground, leaving a still dying Ymirhoggr alone with its children.


The participants of The Redeemers game found themselves instantly in a new locale, their heads still ringing from Ymirhoggr’s influence. Zaire appeared in front of them a mere moment later, poised to introduce the new arena to his combatants. “Welcome to The Huntsman’s Garden!” Zaire shouted with a flourish. The contestants darted their eyes around to see their environs, it was only thing that Zaire allowed them to move.

Surrounding them was vast forest covered in a bewildering array of flora, some recognisable, others considerably less so. A soft grass laid beneath their feet, as their eyes glanced across the floor the grass faded from natural greens to purples and reds. Birches and Oaks stand by vastly more alien and bizarre trees. The landscape was dotted by the occasional stone structure, completely covered in moss and eroded by time, the remnants of an ancient civilisation long since past. The gentle sounds of nature ebbed all around them, bird softly chirp their songs high in the trees and insects buzz and click throughout the wood. The constant din of a small bubbling river could be heard in the distance. To come from somewhere so fake and dead to a land so full of life was jarring to say the least.

“Now you’re probably wondering why they call this place The Huntsman’s Garden, no?” Zaire chimed in; the very presence of his magic charred the grass underneath his feet. “Well, this forest is where the greatest hunters of this Galaxy hunt down the most ferocious and deadly predators of this Galaxy.” As if on cue, a guttural roar pierced through the calm of the forest. The sound of scattering birds and creatures pitter-patter across the landscape, followed by the howl of a less fortunate creature, succumbing to a grizzly fate. Zaire’s eyes widened and he smiled like a madman. “Don’t let the ambience fool you now! This is a true arena of death!” The Redeemer howled and snorted like some cruel jester. “Oh but that is not all, you see this wood is filled to the brim with-“ The Grand Master gave a gentle tap to a nearby tree, from seemingly out of nowhere a bolt of iron ripped through the air and pierced the bark mere millimetres by Zaire’s hand, naturally, the man didn’t even flinch. “-Traps. Lots and lots of deadly traps.”

Zaire teleported with a flash of red atop a small rock, twirling the cruelly barbed bolt between his fingertips. “But that’s the not the most dangerous thing here, not by a long shot!” He hovered the bolt above his hand, red symbols dancing around it. “I will be with you of course. Watching and waiting.” With a click of his fingers the bolt was reduced to nothing but a fine dust. “Don’t disappoint me now.”

The contestants could feel The Redeemer’s magic loosen its grip upon their bodies, but not before being whisked away to a random place in this ‘Garden’ they found themselves in.

RE: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 4: The Huntsman's Garden)
Kaja felt rough. Like, really rough. He felt even worse than the morning after that one night, back home, when he'd gone out to the local tavern celebrating the success of his new apothecary and he'd ended up spending the entirety of his first week's profits on the most expensive stuff they had. He felt even worse than that one night, shortly after his accident when he discovered that alcohol and the chemical mixture that was keeping him alive really did not mix. His head felt as though someone had been rummaging around in there and hadn't bothered to put anything back where it belonged, and if he moved too suddenly it started throbbing with pain. His entire body was sore, but especially around the pipes that connected him to his contraption. He could taste blood, and in fact it was encrusted around his mouth. He felt like he was going to throw up. His vision was bleary and his eyes sensitive to even the dim light of... wherever it was that he was, but slowly his eyes adjusted.

He was in a small shaded copse of trees the like of which he had never seen before. If he'd been in a better mood he might have described this place as wondrous; thick lush grass, vividly coloured trees bearing even more vividly coloured fruits and above a canopy of vines stretching from tree to tree. It was everything Kaja had wanted; an alchemist's paradise almost, if it wasn't for how insanely perilous Zaire had made it sound. Able to see clearly again Kaja couldn't help but notice the blood that stained his hands, and had splattered here and there on his coat. He idly rubbed his hands together, peeling off some of the dried blood as he scanned the immediate vicinity for- aha there it was. He spotted Zaire's crimson sword half buried in the long grass and grabbed it. Sure he was no swordsman and now he had at his disposal what was surely enough herbs to concoct whatever mixture he could devise, but he was loathe to leave it behind. It could still be useful.

Using the sword, half buried in the dirt, for support Kaja climbed carefully to his feet. He took in a deep breath of fresh forest air, coughed up a gobbet of dried blood, and now about as thoroughly revitalized as he could manage without chemical aid he set about gathering herbs. He let his instinct lead him; he had always had this uncanny knack of knowing just what effects might be produced from any given ingredient and that instinct was telling him he really needed a scraping of flame red moss from the nearest tree and one of those sapphire coloured fruits that hung from a tree a little further away.

Whilst Kaja wasn't alert and thoughtful enough to wonder if the long grass he was walking through might contain traps he did recall Zaire's demonstration and so prodded hesitantly at the moss covered tree with Zaire's blade. Nothing happened but he gave it another prod anyway just to be sure and then scraped a good handful of moss. At the other tree he almost stumbled over an already sprung, yet empty, beartrap. Cautiously he picked a couple of fallen fruits, and hoping that his instincts were still on good form he mixed himself an off purple potion from the two ingredients and downed it in one. It tasted foul. These things generally did.

Apart from rinsing the taste of blood there was no immediate effect, not that Kaja had thought there would be. As much as he would have liked to have a little rest for five minutes he knew that he couldn't afford to stop. He had to take advantage of this opportunity before something got in the way, and grab as many ingredients as he could reasonably carry while he still could. He couldn't remember a lot of what happened in the previous round, but the things he could remember and the state of himself convinced him that that was probably a good thing. As he worked gathering ingredients he gradually started to feel a bit better and at the same time he heard something moving nearby.

He turned to see a hunter, or well he presumed it was a hunter. It was a small red cube suspended in a humanoid shaped translucent cloud of red energy, wearing ill fitting camouflaged hunting gear and carrying some kind of futuristic weapon. As he turned the hunter raised its weapon.

"Woah woah." Kaja croaked. "Hey hold up there."

The cube sighed.
I WILL GIVE YOU A HEAD START it seemed to say somehow

"Hold on, lets not be hasty here." Kaja said. "I'm a human being, not a wild animal. I understand I don't exactly look like it at the moment but trust me I am sentient."


"Oh." said Kaja somewhat dumbfounded. He quickly recovered though, "Well you see, the thing is I'm not from this universe. I'm afraid I'm just passing through."


Kaja glanced around desperately. Even if he did flee he wasn't probably wasn't going to get far without springing some trap or running into a deadly predator. He could reason with a talking cube who wanted to kill him for sport, at least in theory.

"Hold on a minute." He said. "You're here for the sport, right? For the thrill of the hunt all that?"


"Well exactly." Kaja replied. "I'm no sport whatsoever. Have you seen all this equipment I'm carrying? You have no idea how heavy this all is. I can barely run anywhere with this thing on."


"It's part of my body; it doesn't come off." Kaja said. "Yeah, weird I know. I'm sorry there's not really anything I can do about it." he paused. "But... I do know someone who would be good sport. He's quick, resourceful, he would be much more suited to your skills than I am."

GO ON...

"His name's Zaire." Kaja said. "He's a little taller than I am, wears black leather clothing, a red cloak and has black spiky hair. He has a sort of perpetual smugness about him."


"I don't know." Kaja admitted. "He's almost definitely around here somewhere though." He paused for a moment, mindful of the myriad dangers which this round promised. Perhaps it wouldn't be the worst thing having this guy around. "I could help locate him if you'd like."

AS IF I NEED YOUR HELP. The cube scoffed. BTW IF YOU REALLY ARE JUST PASSING THROUGH THIS UNIVERSE I WOULD HURRY UP AND GET OUT ASAP. And then without any further ado the cube folded in on itself and was gone completely.

"Yeah I was just thinking that myself."
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RE: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 4: The Huntsman's Garden)
Kargrek fell to his knees. The elucidating inrush of sanity was the most abominable thing he'd experienced in his lifetime or even in his comparatively-horrifying afterlifetime. It wasn't the clarity itself, of course, but the brutal light it cast his last hours in. The blood that soaked his skin and axe and even his clothes – such as they were – was spilled from the bodies of children. He leaned forward, retching. He couldn't even bring himself to care about his slaughter of the amiable-if-useless zombie; concerns of alliances and rebellion and the battle itself fell from his mind in the shadow of the enormity of his crimes. Children. He'd killed children. Scores of them. His stomach heaved again, despite having long since emptied itself of even traces of Gorkella's finest meats and ales. He kept choking, again and again, fingers digging into the soft earth as his mouth filled with the taste of bile and blood.

This went on for some minutes before he felt a soft hand rest itself between his shoulder blades. He didn't look up, but he at least stilled himself.


Without warning, he jerked away, roaring. "Do not speak to me!"

"Kargrek, calm yourself."

"No! Be silent! You… you're as guilty as I am."

She complied for a moment, waiting for his pulse to slow and some rationality to reassert itself.

"We do not deserve even this mockery of life for what we've done."

"But we did not do it."

For the first time since regaining his senses, he looked at her, eyes red and slitted. She'd lowered herself onto her haunches beside him, elbows on her knees and hands loosely clasped between them. Her face was blank, but gaunt.

"You're speaking nonsense. You saw as well as I did the blood we spilled. You must have."

"That much is true. Our hands held weapons and our weapons were bent to cruel ends. But we were not truly present; our minds were clouded, our actions not our own."

He gathered himself up enough to sit rather than kneel and leaned against her side. "How can you say that?"

"How can you not see it yourself? We are tainted by our actions, but the guilt is not our own. We can be redeemed. As when Heracles was maddened by jealous Hera, we must simply take great labors upon ourselves and find salvation in it. Heracles slew his own children, an even graver deed than ours, and still managed ascension."

"I do not know of these men. What are you talking about?"

Bellona did sigh internally at that; she kept letting herself forget the barbarian's ignorance and lack of civilization. This should at least distract him long enough to see the sense of her words, though.

"It began when Zeus coveted Alcmene, wife of Amphitryon. While Amphitryon was at war with the Taphians, Zeus took his shape, and…"


It was some time later. Time enough for Bellona to be proven right about the calming power of her story; time enough for them to seek out the other survivors and discuss the situation with them; time enough for things to change. Kargrek had taken readily to the idea of redemption through labor, and had predictably decided that the only labor suitable for the magnitude of their sins was the slaying of the Redeemer. She found that she really couldn't disagree with him, and neither Scott nor Kaja had been keen to try to kill the people they'd been commanded to. Scott had predictably been hesitant to reinvolve himself in a direct confrontation; Kaja had been cryptic and evasive and seemed to have plans of his own.

Despite their disagreements, though, all four had come to roughly the same conclusion, and a tenuous accord: they would avoid endangering each other, keeping in contact only enough to ensure their safety and inform each other of anything noteworthy. The pair of ancient warriors hoped this armistice would force Zaire to act again, as he'd always been most vulnerable when attempting to force their hands; Scott had hoped he would have the time to discover a safer, less violent way to escape; Kaja had volunteered little, but seemed like he might be relied on if things came down to a fight. Probably.

That all just made it stranger that the hours had turned to days had turned to weeks. No-one had expected Zaire to have more patience than he'd shown before, but somehow he'd failed to interfere for what was now hundreds of times longer than he'd ever gone before. There hadn't even been any threatening messages, or runically-enhanced minions sent after them. It was as though they had completely lost his interest. Equally mysterious was Simphonia's apparent absence; for all anyone knew, she might have died at Ymirhoggr's tentacles, or might simply have been lost or hiding. For the first few weeks, Bellona and Kargrek were constantly tense: every rustle in the brush was the Redeemer coming for them, every distant voice was a taunt or a curse. But it was always just one of the monstrous beasts that inhabited this place, or more rarely one of the hunters that flocked to it for sport.

Compared to robots or actual monsters or terrifying near-omnipotent overlords, those threats were just shy of ignorable. They certainly didn't pose a real risk two people who had spent their whole lives in caution and combat. Gradually, the settled into something that could be called a gross parody of domesticity; gradually, they found themselves approaching something that could look like happiness in the right light.


Scott wiped the grime from his sweating forehead; in actuality, he merely achieved a more even measure of grime between his sleeve and his skin. He'd always been a cosmopolitan man, which had made the transition to a subsistence existence in the wilderness much more jarring for him than for any of the other survivors; it was still much better than actively fighting for his life, though.

At the moment, he was wrist-deep in a tangle of cobbled-together machinery. His occasional meetups with the pair he had begun to think of as Mr. and Mrs. Achillia mostly consisted of them handing over all the technology and weaponry they'd gathered from "neutralized" hunters to him. He thought of it as a mutually-beneficial arrangement: they kept him safe, he repaid them by seeking a way to escape their captor without getting them all killed. He hadn't had great success yet, in part because his tools were extremely limited and in part because he really had little idea of how to accomplish his goals, but he was sure he'd get there eventually. Between him, himself, and Will, it would happen. The only stipulation was whether it would happen before or after Zaire got fed up and slaughtered somebody. Or they all died of old age, for that matter.

For several promising seconds, there was the whir of a component spinning to life, but that was cut short by the flash of an arc and the pop of a broken circuit. Scott swore. It was always setback after setback. And on top of that, his stomach chose that moment to growl loudly; he'd been concentrating so hard, he'd forgotten to eat for who knew how many hours. With a scowl at his gently-smoking experiment, he decided there wasn't much to be gained from further fiddling at the moment, and headed out to get some food.

When he returned to the hidden underground hovel Kargrek had helped him dig out, arms laden with the garish fruit this forest was littered with, he quickly found that for the first time in days he wasn't alone.

"I have to admit, Scott, as disappointed as I am, I'm pretty impressed too. I mean, I wouldn't have guessed that you guys would manage to not only stay peaceful this long, but also just to survive this long! I'm not even mad, I'm so impressed. Well, not very mad."

The time traveller had tried to flee, but the camouflaged brush and logs he called a door was suddenly lined with red runes and refused to budge.

"Still, though, I've really run out of patience for letting this thing run its course. I expect violence, and I intend to get what I expect. But the last few times I've put myself on your level, you've just disappointed me even more! Someone should be able to figure out it's a waste of time to fight me, but you all just keep doing it. Such a waste!"

Scott hadn't known what to say, but found his jaw wouldn't work to let him say it anyway.

"So I thought, what can I do to make sure you folks get nice and murderous, without letting you get distracted trying to send that murderousness my way? And it took a while, but I came up with a new plan, and I've decided it's a good one. Not really what you might call within the rules of these things, I guess, but between you and me I find the rest of the guys that run them to be total bores. A bunch of sticks in the mud! Huge wastes of cosmic power, really. So I'm not going to let their opinion of me change things. I'm going to do what it takes to get this battle on track."

"And that's where you come in."
RE: The Fatal Conflict (GBS2G7) (Round 4: The Huntsman's Garden)
Making his careful way through the underbrush, several weeks past since his first arrival in this place, Kaja had a sense of assuredness to his movements. Though he had tried his best to keep himself looking more or less respectable, his time spent in this wild place had taken a very visible toll upon him.

His hair was long, thick and matted, in some places chopped abruptly short. His beard was in much the same state, though he’d made more of an effort to keep it trimmed short he’d lacked the appropriate tools. The only shaving implement he had was Zaire’s crimson blade and though he had become more comfortable wielding it, he still did not like to bring it too close to his throat. He was a mess, his contraption scuffed and marked with clumps of mud, his clothing stained a dour rainbow of colours from the various reagents he had been experimenting with, his shoes just missing lost somewhere in this forest.

He moved slowly, keeping one hand on Zaire’s blade which he kept sheathed through his belt at his waist. His eyes darted around as he made careful progress through what was by this point very well worn ground. Occasionally he would spot a track left in the earth and squat down to scrutinize it closer. Kaja had no formal knowledge in the art of tracking, just what he had been forced to learn over the past few weeks. He had become reasonably adept in identifying the different tracks of the various different beasts that roamed the Huntsman’s Garden. Over the course of an hour or so he identified the paths of a pair of battering tortoises, one particularly meandering trail left by a crystal knife wolf and finally at long last the tracks of a warpbird.

Warpbirds were huge ostrich-like birds, replete with vibrantly coloured plumage and razor sharp beaks. The most noticeable thing about them was their capacity to teleport short distances in order to close in on their prey, or hapless alchemists who might be lingering nearby in certain circumstances. Following his initial painful encounter with a warpbird Kaja had been trying to work out some way to utilize their teleportation capabilities. A couple of weeks ago he had managed to get hold of a warpbird corpse and had spent some time ascertaining that no part of their anatomy acted as an alchemical reagent for teleportation. Last week he had made a number of attempts to capture one of the murderous bastards alive in the hope that domestication might be possible. While he had eventually been successful, he was later forced to conclude that Niji had at some point lost their teleportation abilities.

Kaja had one hypothesis left; there was something in the environment that was giving the warpbirds their teleportation abilities. Niji, isolated from this power source, had lost their powers and reverted to being just an ordinary bird… albeit an enormous and murderous ordinary bird. The trail of a warpbird was a tough one to follow, if anything after having spotted the initial track Kaja only slowed down as he painstakingly searched each subsequent one, which could be close by or, if the warpbird was doing as its name suggested and warping, could be several meters away. It would have been so much easier to follow Niji to this teleportation power source, indeed Kaja had tried and the bird had led him in circles for an entire day. The search he was currently undertaking was one borne of desperation. This entire endeavour was built on the unfounded hope that if he was to finally get his hands on the source of this teleportation he would be able to use it to brew up some potion to get them out of this place and home again; an astronomically large supposition. Regardless of the odds of success he forced himself to try, it was the only hope that he had for the moment.

He made progress painstakingly slowly, but eventually the trail of the warpbird led through a dense thicket of trees and out into a small clearing. Kaja froze at the edge of the treeline, just concealed enough to not be immediately noticed by the throng of warpbirds gathered in the centre. They were gathered around a massive white-barked tree. From just a glance it was clear to see how fragile the bark was, there were places where the neon-blue sap inside the tree had oozed out of the cracked bark and formed enormous hanging polyps. The warpbirds were each scratching around the base of the tree, wetting their beaks on the shining blue sap within. This had to be it, Kaja reasoned. Now all he needed were some samples of the sap and then… he wasn’t sure how to even begin conceptualize the process of learning how to teleport effectively enough to escape from the battle entirely, the actual steps that doing so would take. Those considerations could wait until he safely had the sample back at his makeshift lab, for now he had to focus.

Kaja’s hand tightened around the handle of Zaire’s crimson sword as he focused on the group of warpbirds surrounding the tree. The effect would not be immediately obvious to anyone who wasn’t already listening for it; slowly something that had been background noise so quiet as to be almost imperceptible grew louder and louder. It was the sound of violins, tranquil, perhaps melancholic with only occasional notes of discord. Simphonia flowed from out of the trees behind Kaja, a shapeless cloud of musical notation and blood red runes moving in unison.

Three out of five of the warpbirds had turned and vanished out of the clearing as Simphonia broke through the treeline. The other two planted their feet and honked menacingly at the intruder. Simphonia hesitated at the treeline, as if having to be prompted to move any further. Behind her Kaja was stood stock still, both hands gripping Zaire’s crimson blade. In a moment Simphonia’s song grew more discordant; with her hesitation quelled she advanced upon the warpbirds.

The larger of the two sprung forward, jabbing at the cloud of music with its beak. Simphonia’s razor sharp notes scratched and tore at the bird as she continued to flow forward regardless of the creature. The warpbird vanished with an alarmed honk, reappearing somewhere in the trees to Kaja’s right, whereupon it immediately turned tail and fled. The remaining warpbird honked again at the implacable wall of notes, when this failed to produce the desired result the bird vanished and reappeared behind her. Immediately it pounced, attacking with its sharp beak, and suffering the same injuries as the warpbird before it, before it too teleported to safety and fled in the same direction.

With the clearing emptied Kaja allowed himself to relax, removing one hand from the grip he maintained on Zaire’s blade. Simphonia’s discordant noise calmed until it had resumed the melancholic refrain from earlier, while her physical form reshaped itself into the vague human silhouette she favoured. “My apologies Simphonia. You know I hate to inflict that abhorrant state upon you once again, but I assure you that it was towards a noble end.” Simphonia’s tone remained the same, perhaps indicating an unease with his methods or maybe more likely simply unconcerned with anything that he had to say. It was seldom clear how invested in the world around her surroundings she was.

Kaja had found Simphonia a couple of days after their arrival in this place. She had been furiously tearing apart a grove of ironvine trees, though perhaps not furiously as it infers a certain amount of intent usually absent from Simphonia even at her most violently discordant. Kaja had considered the eventuality that he might encounter her, and the outside possibility that Zaire’s crimson blade might yet hold some connection to the blood red runes within her. Hidden from sight he had gripped the blade tight and focused on calming those runes and it had worked, to a certain degree. As long as he held the blade he could keep the runes under control, giving her back control of herself, but if he let go she would revert back to that uncontrolled violent state immediately, and so he had maintained that physical contact continuously almost unbroken ever since.

Over the weeks he had gotten used to Simphonia’s company. It was difficult to have a conversation with her, but every now and again she would reply with a change in tempo or refrain that made him feel as though perhaps there was some kind of understanding between the two of them. He really did hate to use Simphonia as a weapon as he had done, he would rationalize it away. This place was dangerous, with fearsome predators and he was simply doing what he had to to survive. It was ultimately to Simphonia’s benefit, if he was to die then she would be back to her violent discordant form, a form which he was fairly sure was unpleasant for her to exist as.

Kaja stepped up close to the tree, to the spot where the bark had been broke open and the warpbirds had been drinking their fill. With his free hand he reached to his alchemic apparatus behind him and pulled free a small glass vial. “Now with this remarkable sap we will be one fairly significant step closer to making our escape from this wretched confront-” Suddenly the vial he was holding shattered in his hand. Startled, Kaja spun around, almost letting go of Zaire’s blade in the momentary panic. “Oh for fuck’s sake Derek!”

Standing in the clearing behind where Kaja and Simphonia had entered was a familiar red cube holding a futuristic looking hunting rifle.

“Seriously Derek, we are so very close to working out a solution to extricating ourselves from this damnable place. Then we’re out of your hair permanently and without unnecessary bloodshed.” Kaja sounded exasperated.


“I know you’re not a bad person. You don’t want to hunt and kill sentient beings. You don’t need to do this Derek.”


“What about… what about… umm… Zaire. Remember how we talked about how he would be far more fitting prey than I would?” Kaja kept his gaze focused on the cube being and tightened his grip upon Zaire’s sword.

AT THIS POINT I’M NOT CONVINCED THERE IS ANY “ZAIRE”. I’M STARTING TO THINK I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE JUST KILLED YOU THE FIRST TIME THAT I SAW YOU FLESH BEING. Slowly the downbeat background music underscoring this standoff became more and more discordant. DH’£R**3K didn’t seem to notice as the form of Simphonia gathered behind him. ANY LAST WORDS FLESH BEING?

“Just…” Kaja trailed off. “Just fuck off Derek.” With that Simphonia’s form crashed down onto the humanoid red cube and several things happened very quickly. Simphonia’s razor sharp notes shredded through DH’£R**3K’s hunting outfit, and through the translucent red energy cloud that was his body. He cried out in wordless psychic pain and fired wildly in Kaja’s direction. Kaja meanwhile had flung himself to the floor the moment he told the multiversal hunter to fuck off. He landed heavily on his stomach, the weight of his alchemical apparatus knocking the wind out of him. DH’£R**3K’s shots whizzed over Kaja’s prone body and slammed into the huge white tree, splintering the fragile bark and causing the glowing blue sap to splash out across the clearing. The tree shook, shuddered, creaked loudly and then vanished entirely leaving nothing but an empty space in the centre of the clearing.

DH’£R**3K had spun around and was firing shots wildly at the engulfing cloud of music.
 FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK he cried out as Simphonia’s whirling notes tore at the cube at the heart of his being. DH’£R**3K threw down the rifle and tried just to bat Simphonia away with his insubstantial hands. OKAY FINE FUCK THIS he screamed and then made like a tree and completely disappeared.


In a distant world of rolling sands an entity lay perfectly still atop the dunes. A humanoid being, with strange featureless skin that changed its colour to match whatever was around it. They were wearing camouflage gear significantly less effective than their own skin and clutched in their hands an enormous gun crackling with energy. Their eye pressed up to the scope, their finger tensed upon the trigger, just waiting for the right-


They jerked up at the exact moment their finger pulled the trigger sending a streak of golden energy across the sky. Grumbling they put the gun to one side and pulled out their phone. Another negative review for universe EQ48… They opened the review and skimmed it. Lots of invective and complaints about sentient flesh beings ruining the atmosphere, and something about a very loud and very sharp cloud that very nearly caused permanent damage.

The Huntsman was thoughtful. They’d received a couple of complaints like this recently, but there was always someone ready to complain about something. Perhaps it was time to handle this matter personally?
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