Death Game Season 2: Extra Talent

The Man in Red

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"....you really shouldn't have gone out there in your actual body, sir." The exhausted voice of the only entity that the Man in Red would actually even halfway listen to spoke up. "That's why you have the puppets."

"The puppets...can only do so much, my dear little Cowl," the eccentric host all but whispered. His voice was barely heard over the incessant mish-mash of beeping and hissing machinery that worked to patch up his ruined and damaged body. "Like watching a video...or those absurd tactile feedback systems for video games... It doesn't live up to the real thing. I had to see it for myself. With my own...two...eyes."

"I...understand, sir." An exasperated sigh arose from Cowl. "But shouldn't you at least get some proper rest, so you can properly heal? Even for someone like you, this amount of damage is—"

"The show..." The Man in Red interrupted, with a sharp coughing wheeze cutting off his own voice. "...it cannot be delayed further. Not on my account. I have left the direct running and organizing of it to someone else...while I recover. But I must do my part, in selecting...additional participants."

"...very well, sir." Cowl's voice was quiet and resigned. "Shall I prepare the list of...likely candidates, then?"

"Yes. Please do." Over the breathing mask affixed to his face, the glimmering golden eyes of the deranged showman lit up with a merry twinkle. "And...fetch me the reports on...the city, as well."

"The...city reports, sir?" Even under the impenetrable shadows lurking under Cowl's hood, the quirking of an eyebrow was impossible to miss. "May I ask what for?"

"I need to...decide." The eyes of the Man in Red slowly drifted closed. "Which surprises to unleash. Which terrors would be...best suited. To force a survival instinct."

"...ah, yes. Your little 'work together and survive' aspect for this game." Cowl shook their head. "It's not going to work, you know. Everyone is still probably going to turn on and murder each other without even flinching."

"And if they do..." The host cackled, his mirth trailing off into labored and body-wracking coughing. "...then they...will still be useful. It will still be...a valuable lesson."

"....I think I understand." Cowl nodded. "I'll return with the reports and contestant files shortly, sir. Please excuse me." And with a bow, the hooded figure turned and swept out of the office.

"Soon...very soon..." The practically mummified body of the eccentric showman shifted slightly, his gaze falling upon the map displayed on a large screen before him. A live feed of the small city they had prepared for this new game. It looked...unassuming and almost peaceful so far. That would change all too soon once the surprises were let loose on it, however. A little acceleration of its flow of time...

And it would be ready.
 

The Man in Red

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The wonders of technology.

Even in his injured and nearly motion-deprived condition, all it took was a mere flick of one finger for the Man in Red to cycle through the files and information presented to him. And his eyes, at least...they still worked just fine. He could read and scan it all just as quickly as ever. Mere moments to take in entire pages of information and store it away in that deranged vault that passed for his mind.

"The swamp thing...the cannibal...the dreamer...the stalker...the behemoth..." he murmured, his eyes flitting here and there and everywhere across each page as he deliberated over each one.

No no no...none of them would do. They were all too...too obvious. Too direct and easily noticed and dealt with. Too easily figured out and opposed. There needed to be something more...esoteric. Something more difficult. Something that would bend their minds and try their bodies to their limits.

Something...

With a very slim chance of success.

The mad showman's eyes came to rest on a curious symbol occupying most of an entire page. Scrawled with shaking hands, several times over and upon itself. Some of lines were so light as to be almost not there at all, some so thick and heavy they almost tore through the page. All around it were scribbled messy ravings in an unsteady, increasingly messy handwriting.

"It watches"
"It's out there"
"They can't see it"
"It's in the trees"
"He's coming"
"Watching me"
"Can't escape"
"Always watching"
"Spies among us"
"The sickness

And then the very next page...a single image. Clear and in bright color. A foggy stretch of a forest trail. A small group of young folk clustered together, looking happy at their vacation idea.

And lurking behind them, far off in the mist...there was something else. Something that refused to properly be captured in the picture, the area around it fuzzing and blurring into a grainy, distorted field of static, even making the screen the image was displayed on have issues in its area.

The Man in Red smiled, and his eyes grew wide.

"The Operator."

Yes...yes, yes, yes. This would do nicely.

This one would be the test of their fortitude.
 

The Man in Red

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As he did his best to get a few fitful minutes of rest among all his tedious-but-necessary organizing work...the Man in Red was startled by the sound of a knock at the door to his office chambers.

"Not now, my dear Cowl..." he murmured in a weak voice. "Wait until the clock strikes, at least."

"I'm afraid that there is no cowl here, for it would prevent moi from being easily seen!" the voice that answered was...not that of the bed-ridden organizer's assistant.

"I'm not in the mood for guests...I've an appointment soon, and precious little time to—"

"Ah, but you see, that is why I am here!" And the door slowly creaked open, revealing framed in the momentary glare...an almost-imposing figure. Lithe and graceful, with a nearly shirtless body baring a stunning physique for all the world to see. Gleaming, bright red eyes shone from the silhouette of a face framed by dark, violet hair that swayed dramatically in the momentary breeze of sudden door opening. "For it is I that is the object of your appointment!"

The Man in Red gave an audible groan. "I hate it when you people are early..." he rasped. "...but I was hoping that after last year, you would be enticed to return again. Every game needs a suitable mid-boss."

"M-Mid-Boss?!" The flamboyant and suave demeanor vanished with a nearly audible record scratch, as the framed man lost his elegant silhouette and stomped further into the room. "Don't refer to me by such a vulgar title!" His eyes were positively alight with bright, glowing rage as embers of flame burned in them. A fang-toothed maw curled into an ugly snarl, as clawed fingers curled tightly into fists at his sides. "If you must refer to moi as anything, then let it be by that which I, the noble Vyers, have worked so hard to attain. I am simply nothing less than the Dark Adon—"

"....yes, yes. I'm quite done with this already." The disgruntled showman sighed, waving a hand dismissively. "Go parade around the facility and introduce yourself to the others...your placement in this game is already assured."

And with a snap of his fingers, the host of this entire mess opened a pit in the floor.

The so-called 'Dark Adonis' had only a moment to register his predicament before he went tumbling down into that pit, wailing in a manner most undignified the whole way down.
 

The Man in Red

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"...and in addition to the latest reports on participants, sir, we've just gotten word that the madness has begun to spread to neighboring areas. It's been mostly stymied by the water, but that doesn't do much when there's land easily connecting it all." Cowl lowered the tablet from before their hooded visage. "There isn't going to be much of a town left down there for them to run around in at this rate, sir."

"That is the idea of it all, you see." The Man in Red chortled quietly. His recuperation had gone swimmingly; already he could remove the breathing assistance, even if only for a short time. Within another day or two, it would no longer be necessary at all, he could feel it.

Why, soon enough, he was sure, he might even have both of his legs again.

"To place them all down in a ruined, crumbling city. One that was just weeks ago a perfectly normal, active and bustling place." His eyes twinkled and shone in the dim lighting as he slowly turned his gaze to rest on Cowl directly. "There won't be any direct signs of age. No overpowering neglect of months or years to make things crumble and fall apart. Just...abandonment. Desertion. Dereliction. A perfectly normal place, in a completely abnormal situation. Its people driven mad, terrified into hiding, butchered in places they shouldn't be."

His voice hit a new, feverish pitch of mirthful delight as he went on, slamming a long spindle-fingered hand down on his desk. Cowl visibly recoiled in spite of themselves, taking a step back. "It will all be so perfectly, delightfully wrong. All those little warning bells in the back of their heads, telling each and every one of them, whether they admit it or not, 'something isn't right, we should leave this place'. Their little primal, primitive, eons-old ancestral memories in that little lizard-brain screaming at them to get out and far away..." And his eyes shone, somehow taking on a predatory cast even in the shadows of the room. "...but they can't. They won't be able to leave my little game, until someone wins."

"They'll be forced to adapt. Scurry around. Survive. Both against this chaos and each other."

Cowl slowly regained their composure. "I...see. Less about the violence, and more...a study of them. How they react to that pressure."

The shadow-shrouded showman merely chuckled as his posture relaxed, slumping in his seat once more. "Precisely, my dear little Cowl. Precisely..."

"And what's to stop someone from just...barricading themselves in somewhere safe and doing nothing for the entire event, sir?" The hooded figure spoke up, waving a hand vaguely at the city map. "Just riding things out until there's nothing else left out there to compete against."

"The next surprise..." The Man in Red leaned forward over his desk, reaching for a chess board resting on a small table beside it. He plucked up one of the black knight pieces, and delicately placed it on a small 3D copy of the map unfurled over his desk, resting it upon the large letter marker for sector E. "...someone very good at forcing things out of hiding." And slowly he dragged the figure across the map, to area 40, and slammed his hand down upon it, reducing the piece to a fine black powder and staining the entire area with it. The depicted buildings were all smashed and ruined, their windows and doors blown out, barricades in the streets thrown aside and burst asunder.

"You can't hide when it's after you, mister Cowl." The golden glow of his eyes shone brightly. "No matter how hard you try."

Cowl studied the scene quizzically for a moment. Then he laughed. "A bit of an extreme measure, don't you think, sir? That one will certainly kill anyone it comes across."

"Only one, my dear Cowl. Unless others get in their way and cannot pay for their transgressions..."
 

The Man in Red

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"....and so we've got something a little different in mind, sir. Someone used to working together with unlikely allies, for a bigger cause." Cowl's voice was somewhat...amused, looking over the file before them. "I believe you will rather like this one. It seems whimsical and odd enough to fit right in with all the other madness we've got going on today."

"Oh? You seem to be laboring under a strange assertion I'm quite mad, my dear Cowl," the Man in Red chortled. Already, he was feeling far and away better than he had even the previous day. The full restoration of his legs still eluded him, but one arm was now fully working and the other only needed a simple sling. His breathing was now merely painful and labored, rather than excruciating and in dire need of external assistance. It was still unpleasant, but...now he could actually laugh again. And he had been doing so with great relish and frequency of late.

"Let's not say things that aren't true, sir," the hooded figure snickered. "Everyone knows you're not quite mad. You're completely mad."

"All too true, all too true." The showman waved a hand dismissively. "But enough of that; what of this delightful new player you've found for me?"

"Ah, yes. My apologies, sir." Cowl flicked through a few items on a datapad held in their gloved hands before flipping it around to present it to the organizer of the ongoing madness. "Here."

The Man in Red took the pad and quickly flicked and scrolled through the presented information. "Mmm...hmm...oh? My, my. How amusing! Invisibility and explosives, you say? And falling from the sky..." He burst into laughter. "Used to working with others for a bigger cause, indeed! And even a truly ancient family history of doing so. Quite the magnificent specimen, in all his silly glory."

"An archer won't be much good without his bow," Cowl noted. "But this one seems creative and clever enough to improvise. He wouldn't be able to not find some way to be useful and entertaining, regardless. His ego won't let him."

The masked showman nodded, placing the datapad down on the table beside him. "Very well, then. Bring him on board. I trust you will be able to find someone suitable to arrange his participation?"

"Of course, sir." Cowl placed a hand over their chest and bowed briefly. "Leave it to me."
 

The Man in Red

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Clack. Clack. Clunk.

Walking. He was walking again.

With the rather extensive aid of a cane, and two masked assistants within arms' reach just in case of an errant misstep or other mishap.

But he was walking again.

The Man in Red was positively elated.

"Tell me again of this...accident that has occurred within the city, Cowl."

"It's less of an accident, sir, and more of an...unexpected result," the hooded figure responded uneasily, slowly turning a few pages among a messy stack of them in their hands. "The viral samples we had prepared for the game got...left among the ingredients and components for Project Viridian." A momentary pause while the strange entity studied a page before turning it again. "The results have been...interesting."

"Project Viridian. Dear me...not exactly my favorite color, but it does do its job." The masked showman chortled behind his mask. "What were the results, then? It sounded promising in the preliminary reports."

"There were...very few survivors from the initial exposure. Mortality rate was...roughly eighty percent from the exposure alone. The entire facility had to be quarantined to prevent a mass breakout and infection. Of the original survivors...the death toll was ninety-five percent." Another slow turn of a page and Cowl visibly recoiled, staggering a pace. "Only one survivor of it all. You'll want to take a look at this, sir."

And from among the pad of papers, Cowl produced a small tablet. "Apparently the security footage survived, and they sent over a small sample for your entertainment."

The Man in Red took the offered tablet, and with the mere swipe of a thumb started the playback.

Behind his mask, his eyebrows shot up at the display. Something...that was once human crept through darkened hallways, methodically creeping along on all fours and slipping from shadow to shadow. Smashing out lights and leaping with tremendous speed and precision through windows and doorways, pouncing animal-like upon anyone and anything it caught sight of.

It was human, once, but now it displayed all the bestial aggression and mindless violent ferocity of a starving, enraged animal.

"And this one was just one of the interns...working in the stock area?" the scarlet showman mused, watching as the once-human creature let out an inhuman shrieking noise and leapt down a hallway like a shot from a gun, burying a frantically fleeing scientist under a writhing tangle of clawing nails and hammering fists, staining the filthy hoodie with even more blood.

It lifted its eyes toward the camera, baring a snarling grimace that stretched its face too wide. Blood leaked and drooled from too-tightly clenched teeth, and then it flung itself at the camera before it all went to static.

"Goodness!" The Man in Red laughed, crushing the tablet to useless scrap in his long-fingered hand. "This one is far more...direct than the others. But I feel as if it will serve adequately all the same."

"Few things can instill terror in someone like being hunted by an enraged animal, sir," Cowl agreed. "Shall I send word to have its stasis container dropped into the city?"

"Yes. See to it that it's dropped into...tight quarters. Let the hunter prowl its urban jungle."

"As you wish, sir."
 
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