Death Game Season 2: Registration

The Man in Red

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Note: Before you sign up, make sure you have read and understand all the rules, as posted here, especially part 10 and those pertaining to signing up and joining.

All across the Crossroads, once more the eccentric (and sometimes frightening) agents of the Carnivale Rosa have spread out. Slinking into every nook and cranny out there, setting up their little tents and structures and sites for accepting voluntary signups.

Their scouts and 'recruiters' are likewise out and about, tracking down and observing potential parties of interest. Directing them to the relevant sites, or forcibly acquiring them for participation.

They will always do their best to remind everyone to make the necessary...preparations before joining. But they will not turn anyone down.

Threads for the pre-show/staging/warm-up will be up sometime today or tonight, as I can get them written up.
This thread (and the staging areas) are technically not open until tomorrow (January 14, according to EST time) but I'm getting them up now for...reasons.
 

Klarion

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The Uncanny Valley. A creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky blot of inky darkness on an otherwise disgustingly sunshine-y world. Not many willingly chose to journey into the valley, and fewer still returned— which made this little venture all the more absolutely bumfuck insane, in Wallace Snipe’s opinion.

See, Mister Snipe was a capital ‘H’ hunter. He was good at his job, professional to a fault, and overall willing to do everything in his power to take down and drag in a mark, usually with a lot of kicking and screaming involved. Being a man only a few degrees short of gargantuan, Snipe was practically built for this line of work. His mop of unwashed hair and the thick beard bristling from his chin only added to the layer of menace he sought to exude, and upon his face were writ decades of injuries and broken bones scarred over and healed all wrong, resulting in a fierce countenance that could rival that of most junkyard dogs.

Point being, Snipe looked the part and played it well. He was no shrinking violet, and this trip into the Uncanny Valley wasn’t his first hunt by any means. This job should’ve been a piece of cake… keyword being should have been. Instead, he’d been lost for four hours, kicking up chunks of tar-like mud with his worn leather boots as he stomped around, searching in vain for his target or maybe—just maybe!—a way out.

Everything was dark, eerily quiet. A little sliver of moonlight crept through the skeletal branches of the dead trees surrounding him on all sides, their twiggy limbs scraping at his fur-lined coat and leaving faint, stinging scratches on his burly arms and legs as he tore through the brush. His machete split through the brittle bark with ease, a silver crescent cutting through the night as he hacked away at the rotting vegetation barring his path. Yet, as his boots sank inch by goddamn inch into the murky earth, it became evident that the man’s impressive height and bodybuilder’s physique certainly wasn’t doing him any favors in such a swampy, dreary environment. His dry cleaning bill was going to be through the roof.

Snipe paused in his forward march, breathing hard, flinty grey eyes glaring around at the gnarled trees and twisting shadows. His sharp gaze noted a familiar knot of wood on a nearby tree, confirming his fears— he’d come this way before, possibly even wandered in a big ol’ circle. Damn!

A snarl curled upon the hunter’s lip, deepening the marks of age and battles past marring his face. His hands balled into tight fists, trembling with the urge to lash out at something, anything. A growl slipped out of him, a curse tumbling from his lips as the absurdity of his situation sank in.

“Where the hell is he?” Snipe hissed, grip white-knuckled on his machete as he trembled with rage.

“Where’s who?”

Startling, Snipe spun around, machete whistling as it cut a fierce arc through the air. He balked as it caught nothing but shadow, feet stumbling as his own attack threw him slightly off balance. But the voice came from behind him— no, above!

The hunter glanced up, jaw dropping a little. There, hanging upside-down from the branch of a crooked tree with more knots than a ship’s rigging, was a boy. And not just any boy. The boy!

Snipe took a moment to mentally cross reference the kid’s appearance with the dossier he’d been given. Obnoxiously-styled hair shaped like horns, check. Pale skin—Snipe squinted, noting a bit of a bluish tinge on the kid’s cheeks—check. A total weirdo hanging by his legs from a tree, acting like he was in some retro vampire flick… check. The only thing missing was the little kitty, but he’d be surprised if anything so small and helpless could survive in this place, even if they were the familiar of a so-called Lord of Chaos.

Teeth glinting as he grinned in satisfaction, Snipe slowly lowered his machete. “Klarion the Witch Boy. I’ve been lookin’ fer you.”

The witch kid barely perked up, head tilting to the side as he stared down at Snipe. Even when upside-down, the intensity of the kid’s gaze was a little eerie, his eyes flashing like a cat’s in the darkness. “I know. Half of the Valley knows. You’ve been tearing through here loud enough to wake the dirt!”

There was a pause, a wave of awkwardness rushing in to fill the dialogue-shaped hole left behind. Snipe stood there, blatantly confused. “Wake the… the dirt?”

Klarion sighed loudly in exasperation. His entire body moved with it in very standard teenager-like fashion, but Snipe wasn’t fooled. Those glaring red eyes didn’t leave him for a second.

“Yes, that thing all you loser mortals do…” the witch boy sniffed, giving a flippant wave of his hand. “Un-alive people.”

More silence, enough that Snipe began to feel slightly embarrassed on behalf of this little asshole. Glancing over his shoulder as if to check for an audience to this fiasco of a conversation, Snipe decided to bite the bullet. “Kid… do you mean wake the dead?”

Klarion spluttered, and just like that, the threatening aura he’d had going on vanished. “The dead, the dead! You know what I meant!”

Snipe scratched at the back of his head. “Yeah, sure, kid. Well, I’m here from the Carnivale Rosa… to give you an invitation to this year’s festivities.”

An offer you can’t refuse, he added in the privacy of his head.

“Never heard of it,” said Klarion. He vanished in a flash of searing red light, and when Snipe blinked, the kid was seated cross-legged on the branch he’d previously been using as a makeshift jungle gym. “It sounds boring, though. What is it, a flower show?”

Shaking his head, Snipe grinned an ugly grin. “Nah, nah, not at all. And I promise you it ain’t boring. Why don’t you come down here? We can talk all about it, man to man!”

The witch kid’s eyes narrowed, sweeping him over from head to foot. Considering. Eventually, though, Klarion shook his head firmly in the negative, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring. “No way, Stranger Danger. I can hear you juuuust fine from up here.”

Damn. Smart kid. Snipe put his hands up, placating, and then abruptly remembered that he was still brandishing a machete. With a sigh, he slooowly knelt and set it down on the ground, the witch boy clearly following the movement with his eyes. Unbeknownst to Klarion, though, Snipe’s other hand was also occupied— the silent weight of a firearm dropping into the curve of his hand from beneath his thick, fur-lined coat.

Straightening up, Snipe tucked his coat closer around himself, feigning having caught a chill. “There, now I’m unarmed. I meant no offense— I’d just hate to make you uncomfortable in your own home. But it’s as you said, you don’t need to come down here to hear me, so with your permission...?”

The hunter smiled winningly. Klarion relaxed a smidge, hackles lowering. “Okay then. Tell me about your little… flower show thingy.”

“First of all, it’s not a flower show,” Snipe laughed, good-natured. “This is a… a competition, of sorts.”

Klarion leaned forward, reluctantly interested. “Of sorts?”

Trying to seem abashed, Snipe shrugged. “Well, I’ll admit, this year’s a little different. You won’t know quite what to expect until you’re there. But, the competition is called the Death Game. We gather a few participants, throw them into various hair-raising situations, and see how they do. A bunch of people enter to win big, and only a few make it out alive. Making friends is a good way to go, if you know the right people to trust. But after all the fighting and the struggle, you’ll receive all kinds of prizes. Anything you could imagine, really. Money… fame… babes—“

“I don’t have any use for money, fame OR infant children,” Klarion spat, sneering down at him. “When does this get interesting?”

“Well, there’s also the weapons of unspeakable power.”

Quite abruptly, Klarion’s eyes lit up, his claw-tipped hands clasping together in apparent delight. “Oohhh! Now we’re talking! Tell me more, tell me!”

Snipe shrugged. “There’s not much to tell aside from that, I’m afraid… I did hear that we have a few magical artifacts in stock this year, though… something about a…” he racked his brain to remember the exact name. “Helmet of Nabu?”

He saw the moment the kid fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.

With a wave of the witch boy’s hand, a black portal ringed with red appeared over Klarion’s head, swallowing him up. It reopened a few feet in front of Snipe, depositing the witch there, out in the open, completely within range.

“That’s impossible!” Klarion accused, keeping his distance for now even though it seemed as if he longed to draw closer. “The Helmet of Fate… that hasn’t been sighted for… well, it has to have been thousands of years. That’s an ancient, extremely powerful mystical item you’re talking about!”

“Yeah, well…” Snipe shrugged, offering up a sheepish grin. “We’ve got it.”

A pause. Klarion’s head canted slowly to the side.

“You’re lying,” he hissed, and suddenly Snipe noticed that the kid’s teeth were much sharper than he previously thought, his nails elongated and hooked into claws, eyes glowing bright with demonic fervor. “You can’t have it! There’s no way— you’re lying!”

His arm raised, a flicker of fiery chaos energy pulsing about his fingertips, and that was when Snipe struck— living up to his name in more ways than one, really.

Moments later, lying prostrate on the ground with a tranquilizer dart jutting out from his neck, Klarion regretted everything.

“That’s what we call a paralytic,” Snipe informed him gleefully, busying himself with tying the witch boy’s arms and legs together. “Nothing personal, kid, but the boss gets what he wants. And what he wants is apparently some kind of emo pilgrim.”

“M’not a pilgrim,” Klarion slurred venomously, not able to put up a fight as he was dragged across the ground by his tied-up ankles. He couldn’t even move his jaw, a fun fact he learned when he tried to sink his teeth into Snipe’s jugular after being unceremoniously tossed over the behemoth's shoulder like a sack of potatoes.

Snipe chuckled. “Huh. Could’ve sworn that the vocal chords’re what goes first, normally…”

Having successfully caught his prize, the man began to walk, feeling in much better spirits than he had at the start of this hunt. He was thus unprepared for the screeching, writhing mass of fur, claws and fangs that launched from the darkness to latch onto his ankle, hissing and spitting all the while as it fought to free its master.

“Ah, was wondering where the familiar went!” Snipe gritted out through clenched teeth. Shifting his burden, the man aimed a well-timed kick at his feline attacker, his boot connecting with its side with a solid thunk. A pained yowl rang out as the cat went flying, landing in a jumbled heap at the foot of a nearby tree.

“T’eeekllll…” the witch kid whined.

Panting slightly, Snipe warily eyed the dazed, orange-furred lump. When it became clear after several moments that the cat would not be getting up again, he sighed, turned, and resumed walking.

“Damned cat.”

*

Gradually, the impenetrable shadow of the Uncanny Valley gave way to light. It was kind of hard to tell how many hours had passed, even more difficult to remain awake and aware, so for a long time Klarion just kind of… drifted, lulled into a light doze by the steady lurch of his captor’s gait and the drug coursing through his system. It was almost restful, were it not for the whole, you know, kidnapping thing.

So after some indeterminate amount of time, Klarion awoke to find himself being unceremoniously dumped onto the ground, his spine colliding harshly with a cool, hard surface. It took him nearly two seconds to realize that he could move all his limbs again, and only one second to use that to his advantage.

Klarion shrieked, hurling himself in a mindless rage at the retreating form of Snipe. Unfortunately, an invisible barrier stopped him just in time, sending him careening back onto the floor.

For a moment, the witch boy could only lay there, staring blankly up at the ceiling of his new prison. It was powerfully bright in there, and when he thought to listen for them, chattering voices rang from all around, muffled through the invisible, slightly reflective walls caging him in. Where was he…? What was this place?

Turning his head against the wave of nausea burning in his throat, Klarion caught sight of Snipe. The man was apparently deeply engaged in conversation with some random woman in a fancy red uniform, but Klarion didn’t care. The witch boy was on his feet in seconds, eager to give his captors a piece of his mind.

“I can’t believe you would hurt an innocent little pussycat!” Klarion raged, slamming his fists against the thick pane of glass between them. The material shivered, but otherwise hardly budged under his abuse. “When I get out of here, I’m gonna—“

“Oh, you must be Klarion! The witch boy, right? Are you ready for your interview?” the uniformed woman stepped in front of Snipe, smoothly cutting Klarion off, an eerily calm smile on her face.

Klarion’s jaw snapped shut with an audible click. His eyes darted around a little, straining to make sense of his surroundings. Why was it so bright in here? “My what?”

“Oh, it’s simple really,” the woman babbled to him, adjusting some kind of… calculator? Typewriter? in her hands. Whatever it was, she leveled it in his direction, a little red light blinking back at his surprised expression. “Just tell us who you are and what you’re all about!”

“My name,” Klarion seethed, his befuddlement gradually melting into rage. “Is Klarion the Witch Boy! And when I get out of here… which will be soon, very soon… I will unzip your ankles and steal ALL of your body hair!”

The woman blinked, her ever-present smile faltering somewhat in her confusion. “You’ll…”

But Klarion was no longer listening. No, he was just getting started! Gaining steam, really!

“I’m gonna orbit your brains! Blackmail your nostrils! I will make you question that your kneecaps ever even existed,” he spat, voice a sibilant hiss. “I’ll make you wish you’d never crossed me! And that goes double for you.”

The witch kid jabbed a bony, long-nailed finger at Snipe, who stood just over the woman’s shoulder, waving to keep Klarion’s eyes pointed in the camera’s general direction.

“Right, well, I think that’s about enough,” the woman chirped, putting her typewriter-calculator-whatsit-thingamajig away. “All we need to do is transport him to the teleporter… Mr. Snipe, if you would?”

“Sure thing,” Snipe chuckled, revealing his tranq gun. Klarion’s stomach dropped, a cold trickle of dread creeping up his spine. “Just give me a sec. I’ll have him right out.”
 

Aquarius

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Some ruins were just that. Rubble with hardly a memorable piece of the thing or place they once represented. Statues with inscriptions rubbed off and the figure cut off at the ankles. Cities now buried in rot and moss that were completely unrecognizable even to those who once resided there. A pity that these ruins were forgotten in such a hurry for whatever reason. Aquarius found it sad; it reminded him of Arcadia's current state. Erde Nona was littered with points of interest like this. So many names erased and homes uprooted, their glory to never return to what it was.

The mechanical warrior walked upon one such place. No name, no shape, just a mass of writhing steel and cobblestone. It frustrated him to even see some of this material jut out towards the sky as if it were asking for help. A solitary and immobile arm. Fingerless and hoping one would help fix it. No one did and Aquarius wouldn't either. He would just pity the fallen kingdom and hope it found it's rest. It no longer had denizens to bear on it's shoulders.

Peace washed over the once royal guard. His metallic feet meeting earthy shards made a crunch that felt familiar and comforting. Memories of journey flashed. Long stretches of time when he'd just walk around Arcadia. Leaves then, rubble now. It was curious how different and how similar it felt. What it must be like to know the exact change in feeling. He wished for a moment, and only a moment, that his foot was honest flesh.

What he had been doing here remained a mystery even to him. Wanderlust, nostalgia, change of scenery, all viable answers, yet none of them the answer. He stopped a moment to ponder it. What had exactly drawn him here? The Hinterlands were an expanse that held many secrets but he’d not cared for any of them. Something else drew him here.

A quick unveiling of The Teeth as he heard more rubble fall. Not from his steps.

“I thought someone else was here. You dare follow me?”

Another scatter of mangled rock. This time much more deliberate. Footsteps headed towards him. He sensed no bloodlust nor anger. Unusual.

“I do not mean to offend, Aquarius, sir.“ A robust and mechanical voice spoke from behind him. More abnormalities. Formality and respect were also things he was unaccustomed to.

The murderous machine turned around to find himself face to face with another automaton. One who was much larger and rounder, built and modeled as if he was a bouncer for a steampunk bar. He held his bowler hat to his chest as he bowed Aquarius’ way. Aquarius pointed an electrical end of The Teeth towards the stranger.

“Then tell me, what is it you mean to do after following me to a desolate area? One void of law and atop a veritable burial site.“

The machine rose from its bow and placed it‘s hat back on it‘s head.

”Who are you to speak of the law to me, Aquarius?” No change in tone nor cadence. This thing did not fear him and the way it spoke meant it knew about him. A great deal more than anticipated, it seemed. Hearing his name on its buzzing tongue was discomforting.

“Answer.” Aquarius grew irate.

“But of course, sir. I’m here on business. To offer you the chance to involve yourself in a competition that is soon to be here. Known as the Death Game.”

What was this? Trickery? Lure? Arrogance was often aligned maliciously with paranoia. Both ran rampant inside of Aquarius’ mind. He did not trust this machine.

“You expect me to trust a name such as that? You could be more clever if you wanted to lead me to my death.“

“You’re absolutely right, sir. I could be much more clever.“


There was a moment of silence. This machine unwavering in the face of the one-eyed devil. It impressed and stressed Aquarius equally. He noted the way he spoke, the things he said. This thing wouldn’t take no for an answer. Aquarius swung his weapon behind him and sheathed it on his back.

“What are we waiting for, then?”

Better to walk to the teleport with a partner in conversation, rather than be taken in need of repairs.

Besides, if anyone could win it, it would be him.
 

Sigmund Vrell

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Recruiter 48 glanced down at the address that she had been given, then at the house she had found herself in front of. Back to the address. Back to the house. Yep, this was, apparently, the place. Quite possibly the most innocent little home that you could imagine, tucked away in some random neighborhood on Opealon. Had she not known for a fact that she was in the right place, she would never have suspected who actually lived there. Nonetheless, 48 walked up to the door and gave it a quick knock. There was no immediate answer, silence hanging in the air just long enough for the recruiter to raise her fist for another knock, only for the door to swing inwards before her knuckles could touch the wood.

A blast of frigid air swept from inside, sending a small shiver down 48’s spine despite the tropical heat around her. As she stepped inside, it was quickly evident that that wasn’t the only unusual element of the house. From the outside, it was a small, quaint place. Once the agent stepped inside, however, it felt more like she had found herself in some grand, fancy mansion. Were it not for the sounds of squabbling coming from further in, she was skeptical that she would be able to find her target in half-decent time.

“Like hell I'm trusting Tobias with a knife.” A feminine voice scoffed incredulously. “He’ll probably go lose it in another water temple.”

“I think it’s in everyone’s best interests if we don’t let you cook, Reginleif.” A masculine voice shot back. “Worst case scenario you poison us all, best case scenario you poison us all accidentally.”

Recruiter 48 followed the voices until she came to a large dining room, though it may have been more accurate to call it a hall. At the far end was a doorway, through which the agent could see a tanned man and an albino woman wrestling over a knife. Aside from those two, a tired looking woman with raven hair massaged her temples while sitting at the far end of the massive dining table.

“Ahem.” 48 said, clearing her throat as she approached the stranger. “Sorry to pop in unannounced, but I’m looking for a certain dimension-hopping rogue. I know that’s vague but I’ve only been given a pseudonym, he goes by-”

The young woman glanced up at her as if her presence was the most normal thing in the world. “Don’t worry, you’re in the right place. He heard you coming and decided that it was a good idea to play hide and seek right before preparing breakfast and leave it to us. Which is going fantastically, by the way.”

“Oh, Gods! Lady Alva, help me!” Tobias cried. “Reginleif is getting salt everywhere, even more than normal!”

“I see.” Recruiter 48 said, deciding to ignore that fiasco. She knew that her target was a master of stealth, so it was no surprise that he had decided to slip into the shadows. “So he is here then? We really would love to have him in our… competition.”

“Yes, he’s here. You’re looking for him.” Alva sighed, gesturing over to a pile of sand that was inexplicably laying on the floor only a few feet away. The recruiter’s reaction was surprisingly tame, a simple raised eyebrow at the pile. When did that get there? The mound remained motionless for a few moments, the two awkwardly looking at each other every now and then. “Hey, there’s someone here for you!”

Nothing.

“Urgh… Uncle, there’s someone here for you.”

“Ohoho, I see that you’ve come to recruit only the best of the best for your competition, something that I can only commend you for!” A voice announced as a figure suddenly rose from the pile like a zombie from the grave, debris pouring from his ragged, sand-coloured cloak and getting caught in his hair. 48 continued to stand her ground. She had faced much, much worse in her career, even if this was on the more… surreal side.

“I take it that you a-“

“If you’re looking for the great Sand Hawk, leader of the flying viper clan, voyager of worlds, best friend of Erik Vrell, uncle of three, then yes, you have come to the right place!” The man crowed, readjusting his bizarre, multi-eyed goggles as he shook the last of the sand from his person. This was the guy alright. Her knowledge was… surprisingly comprehensive about his eccentricities. Even down to the order of the titles he introduced himself with.

“Excellent, excellent.” 48 said. “Well, Mr. Hawk, we from Carnivale Rosa would love to have you onboard. We’re offerin-“

“Of course, I shall join!” Sand Hawk declared. Behind him, Alva leaned over and mouthed the words ‘Good luck’ to the agent.

“Are you sure that you don’t want to hear about the rewards that we-“

“Of course not, I shall join!”

“Very well then. Ah, and before we go, I’ll give you the chance to leave your equipment here. You’ll not be taking it into the Carnivale.”

At that, Sand Hawk appeared to visibly deflate, and dozens upon dozens of knives poured from his cloak in a deluge, a pile forming at his feet big enough to reach his knees. 48 couldn’t help but marvel at that. The reports weren’t exaggerating a bit. Finally, the bandit took his goggles off, quickly slipping on a pair of shades with such speed that the agent couldn’t even get a glimpse of his eyes.

“Ok, I believe that should be everything, let us depart!”

“Yes, let’s.” The recruiter said.

——-

“And the wicked mage-king of Ouroboros declared that all psychic-ery would become conceptually illegal, which was bad news for my buddy, so I told him, ‘I shall challenge your declaration!’ and I met him in the court of physical and verbal violence for a duel of wits and fists, where I unleashed the moves I learned in the boxing ring and also at law school, such as ‘presentation of evidence’,”

Sand Hawk began shadow boxing in the interview booth, throwing a devastating right hook.

“‘Rebuttal’,”

A swift left uppercut.

“‘Ad hominem attack’,”

This time, Sand Hawk pretended to draw a knife from a thigh sheath and shank his invisible opponent.

“But they were afraid of my prowess, and the bailiff attempted to remove me, at which point-“

“It has been literally 45 minutes.” One of the interviewers said, banging his head repeatedly on his desk.

“It’s still the same sentence. How is this just one sentence?!” The other interviewer asked, visibly weeping. “Fuck this, just send him through.”

“So of course I-“ Sand Hawk was cut off by a pair of guards each grabbing him by an arm and tossing him onto the teleporter. “WAIT LET ME FINISH THE STORY I’M ABOUT HALFWAY THROU-“

And he was gone.
 

Dr. Caustic

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"Turf - Huervo"

I was approaching low orbit, high above Erde Nona. It was a few days after the caper, and It was agreed that sticking together would be a fool's errand immediately afterwards. I decided to go offplanet, with the option to pick up either Anders or Aquarius if they requested it. The pilot MRVN was doing it's job admirably, although I needed to be at the seat myself if anything beyond a straight flight path were required.

BEEEEP
"Proximity Alert. Prepare to be Boarded."

The MRVN buzzed from it's seat, powering down as arcs of static burst from the console. I was being jammed.

There was a gentle impact that rocked the ship, the whine of my engines powering down as the vessel decelerated along with the mystery ship. I could hear the access hatch interlocking with another ship's airlock, and the hiss of atmosphere being pumped in to allow the intruder to enter. None of my weapons were at hand, having stowed them in the armory locker while I was aboard. What fool would carry a sidearm in flight with the risk of an accidental discharge scuttling the whole ship? I folded my arms to await my guest.

"Doctor!" A voice purred, the image of a vaguely familiar face stepping into the main hull of the Tonegawa. Yellow eyes from under a hooded cape worn tastefully over a tailored suit jacket. This was one of the Carnivale's erstwhile minions. The same that had "recruited" me the year previous. Delight crossed their leonine face as they saw that I recognized them. "Wonderful. This year you get to learn my name! It's Louran!"

I stared back passively. "I'm flattered you decided to hijack my ship to invite me back. Is it really that time again? The masses do need their bread and circuses, especially in this Age of Darkseid."

Louran chuckles and withdraws the teleportation disk, tossing it onto the floor in front of me. "You know the drill, Doctor Caustic! You're a fan favorite, you know. Did very well last round, you're one of the options to win it this year in the betting pools! Isn't that exciting? You could buy a bigger ship!"

I don't move.

"Oh come now! We promised, no one will disturb your vessel while you compete. I'll tow it to one of our garages, and you'll have a slip to claim it once you finish!"

Rolling my eyes, I step forward. I did enjoy these games, after all. And after having to work with allies so recently, I relished the chance to make sure I had not lost my edge. "Very well."

As I step forward onto the pad, the Carnivale's reclaimer pulls out two things. A button and a medical syringe. My eyes widen as I see it, but the strange youth is too fast and too agile as they jab it into my neck. "This year's batch of nullifier. Arrivederci!"

It feels like burning ice in my veins. A slow, cold drip that spreads through my entire body. Something feels off, as my body dematerializes and I blank out for a moment.

~~~~~~~~

"Auuugghh!" I clutch my chest, my lungs spasming and flaring up. I can feel the masses of scar tissue clinging to them, more acutely than I have in a while. Coughing, I remove my mask and spit bloody mucus onto the floor. An attendant reaches out a hand to help me stand, but I thrash to my feet, swinging wildly in rage. "Agggh! Fools! Your drug is reacting with my unique biochemistry!"

The cancer. I can feel the cancer killing me, cell by cell. It's worse than when the undead king made me feel it in the temple. I wave off any offer of help, taking a moment to steady my breathing before wiping the blood from my lips. It hurt. But not badly enough to impede me. Just a constant, throbbing ache around my lungs and heart, like a fist squeezing them at random intervals.

I step through the doors into the interview studio, pain clouding my thoughts and stabbing at my nerves. I have done a million of these insipid pre fight interviews, and I sleepwalk through the minute or so of bland, moronic questions. If anyone notices my condition while interviewing me, they don't mention it. I'm sure the people backstage would gossip. Perhaps they'd lower the odds on my survival.

I would show them what it meant to be a Legend.
 

Shallan Davar

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Shallan sat with her back against a wagon’s wheel, remaining on the edge of the campsite. Her place among the refugees was a tenuous one. They had all fled the gem raid, but she clearly hadn’t been part of the farmstead prior to the attack, which made her explanations of escaping their captivity seem more than a little flimsy. At least one or two of the farmers had outright called her a gem spy, but they didn’t have enough reason to chase her off that they would consign her to her death wandering in this desert. For her part, Shallan was attempting to stay out of the way, keep quiet, don’t cause a scene. A sort of social invisibility that she’d gotten unpleasantly good at back home. Best not to draw attention to herself, then she would be on her way once there was some sort of civilization. From what Pattern had overheard, they were still enroute to Karim, but there was some sort of argument about the course they were taking, and whether they’d have enough supplies to get there or not. It only seemed to be getting more heated as the days progressed.

She shouldn’t have asked Pattern to even do something like that yet. It had tired him tremendously to stray even that far from her, and he was not clinging to her sleeve silently, shifting slowly as he rested. It concerned her to think that Spren could tire, there had never been any indication they could back on Roshar, but the more she brought up that point the more she was forced to really face the fact that she couldn’t count on the rules from her homeland applying here. This wasn’t Roshar.

Shallan pulled the makeshift blanket-shawl tighter around her shoulders and turned her attention back to the stars, charcoal and notebook in hand. It was a profoundly strange experience looking up at such an alien nightscape. These stars did not appear to be the same as Roshars, not in the least. The farmers had explained to her the basics of how the Crossroads worked, and it stood to reason now that Roshar was out there somewhere as well. If these stars were just other points out in the darkness of the night then they would have to look different from a distant perspective. She had hoped to be able to make a guess at her relative location off of some landmarks… Well, perhaps landmarks wasn’t the best term to use in this instance…

Her musing and scribbling was interrupted by a boisterous trumpet sounding from the hilltop near the camp of circled wagons. The band of Refugees leapt to their feet, some going for weapons, others grabbing hold of nearby children. Shallan forced herself to remain still. Jasnah always chided her for not taking the time to consider before she acted. She shifted slightly, readying to act, but remained seated. The Trumpet blower looked like a traveling minstrel of sorts, and for a brief instant, Shallan even entertained the possibility that it might be Wit, but as the newcomer slid down the sand dune towards the campsite she became certain he was not. Did she really expect Wit would always be there to help her every time she needed his advice? Shallan retreated slightly, Veil slouching a bit lower in the blanket, watching the man carefully.

The minstrel was putting on too much of an act. He leapt atop one of the uncovered wagons, regaling the group of refugees with a jovial air, weaving pretty enough words of well-wishes and commiseration with their position, offering to play them some tunes in exchange for a meal. They were short on supplies, but they still agreed readily. Veil shook her head, watching the newcomer’s calculating eyes as he wined and dined the refugees with their own food. He was skilled at the manipulation, she would give him that, but his musical skills were only middling. She shook her head faintly, Veil didn’t care about musical skills beyond whether the tune was jaunty enough, that was still Shallan judging there.

Veil narrowed her eyes as the minstrel strode over to her with a flagon of the wine the refugees had been planning to barter with once they reached Karim. He plopped himself down unceremoniously in front of Veil with a self-satisfied grin that she instinctively wanted to punch.
“Not too shabby, friend.” He said a faint nod, “They don’t even seem to be planning to turn you in when you get to Karim. Guess it helps that they’re all running scared from the Gems. All the same, good job.”

He took a large swig of the flagon and Veil narrowed her eyes.

“I’m not sure what you think you’re implying, friend.” She parroted with a bit of a sneer, “But it doesn’t seem like something I want to hear. I’m busy.”

“With your scratching?” the Minstrel gestured to Shallan’s sketchpad that Veil was still holding, and Veil glanced down at her amateurish doodles. Veil was terrible at art. She hadn’t had all of Shallan’s training, but Shallan had been better at it even before that, surely. With a scowl she tossed the pad of paper and piece of charcoal aside.

“What do you want, faker?” she asked. The man made an affronted look.

“I am only providing you an opportunity, Madam! Or should I say, Brightness?”

Veil frowned at the Rosharin title, wondering why he had called Veil a lighteyes before she remembered that without Stormlight, Veil had to continue looking like Shallan.

“I know enough that people like you never provide things without a catch. Don’t just tell me what you’re offering, I want to know what’s in it for you as well.”

“Fair enough.” The man shrugged, emptying a pouch onto the ground between them. Veil’s eyes locked onto the spheres, flush with Stormlight and glowing with rainbow hues. How had this man acquired it? Was there a way to get more Stormlight even away from Roshar? How did he know to show it to her? Veil shut out all of the questions that Shallan was forming. This was exactly the man’s intent, to distract her from whatever he was after. When she focused on him again she could tell he was gauging her reaction to the sight carefully.

“You’ve made your pitch well enough,” Veil shrugged, wishing she had a hat to help hide Shallan’s emotion-prone face better, “What’s the job?”

“A little carnival of sorts that’s on the lookout for contestants to their new game. All you have to do is agree to participate and I’ll wisk us both away there. Once you’re done, the spheres are yours!”

“Too easy.” Veil responded unimpressed, “You wouldn’t be looking for contestants out here in the desert.”

“Ah, yes. Well, there is another small detail regarding the game that does tend to hamper our recruitment. As you might expect from a show that labels itself as… er… The Death Game… There is a somewhat higher mortality rate than most contests.”
He was still looking for emotional cues, Veil thought, keeping her face impassive as he let the statement hang in the air.

“Not interested.” She said eventually.

“Not even for Stormlight? Well, I suppose you’re not quite as desperate as it appeared. My apologies.” He sat back onto his haunches, still smiling, “But are you desperate enough to refuse, friend?”

“Refuse a death sentence you mean? I should reckon that my desperation is rather more to do with my desire to avoid that outcome than-” Veil bit down on the statement before continuing further, She wasn’t Shallan right now. This wasn’t the time for her childish flippancy.

“Consider again would you?” The minstrel only smiled wider, “These farmers are rather a good bit more fond of me than of you right now. I doubt they would object much to my requests for help in ridding them of the trouble you bring. I’d be doing them a favor, wouldn’t I?”

He swept his arms out wider. “And let us propose that you steal the stormlight I showed you just now somehow and best the lot of us! Well done and truely fought! You are once again lost in a desert you have yet to understand, with a rapidly thinning list of potential allies. What will you do, hm?”

He leaned forwards on the balls of his feet.

“Why not just make things easier for all of us involved and come along. I can promise it’ll be something quite unlike what you're accustomed to! You want to see the true face of the Crossroads? Come to the Carnavale…”

Shallan was in a near panic, she didn’t have an escape. Radiant wanted to fight regardless of the foolish implications of that response. Fortunately Veil was able to keep a cool head. If she was going to escape it would be easier to do later, perhaps she could pocket some of the stormlight before whatever this game was started. This insufferably smug man in front of her was right, however. She was out of options here.

She rolled her neck in what was meant to appear a nonchalant gesture. “The point has been made, I’ll come along with you. No need to bother these folks any further.”

The Minstrel clapped his hands together with that same false joviality.

“Splendid!”

---​

Veil had retreated back to Shallan by the time she was sat down in the dark room. The chair was metal and far from comfortable, doing nothing to erase the weariness Shallan felt after the journey. All that walking, just to end up in a collection of tents and shacks in the middle of the desert. If Shallan never saw another sand dune in her lift it would be too soon! Shallan squinted to make out the figures behind the large lights blaring in her face.

“What’s your name, love?” A voice came from one of the figures. If this was supposed to be some sort of public event, why didn't they give her time to recover first? She could barely keep her head from lolling, but with a mustering of effort installed into her by her years of training, she sat up straight and composed. Jasnah would meet this with her head held up, not dozing off as Shallan wanted to do.

“Shallan of House Davar.” She responded properly, gripping her satchel in front of her as she sat.

“And what’re your talents? Anything you can bring to the table for this year’s event?”

“I’ve been told my art is quite good and my scholarly training under-”

“Wonderful.” the figure interrupted with a thoroughly unimpressed tone, “But I’m talking about what makes you a spectacle. This is a show darling, we try to keep people interested.”

Shallan squinted into the lights. “That’s a strange line of reasoning, Sir. You’re cajoling contestants into what will likely be their deaths, with or without their interest in participating to begin with. And you have the gall to make sure they won’t be boring deaths first!”

She laughed, aiming for the sort of condescending laughter that is generally the realm of the most stuck-up of royal party attendees.

“I can promise you right now that I intend to be the most tedious and uninteresting contestant that you’ve ever had. I would posit that I might be the most boring person at the event, but I wouldn’t want to presume too much. Contesting your own personal titles so soon after my arrival might be a bit careless.“

The figures behind the floodlights conversed quietly for a moment. Shallan fluctuated between irritation and nervousness in equal measure.

“Catch!”

there was a blur of movement from behind the floodlights and a shining orb of green light arced towards her face. Shallan caught the sphere by reflex, drawing in the Stormlight it held almost without thinking about it. Her weariness vanished in an instant, and as she brought her freehand back down she saw that the floodlights had been turned off, leaving only the soft blue glow of the Stormlight wafting off of her.

“Eh, that’ll work. You any good at screaming, dear?”

“Beg pardon?”

“Nothing. Hold on to that chair now!”

There was a flash, and the room darkened as Shallan vanished in a matter translocation. The figure conducting the interview shrugged at the minstrel.

“Not exactly exciting. The glowing was neat, but she doesn’t seem like much of a warrior.”

“Eh, it takes all sorts, friend!” The Minstrel waved a placating hand, “Besides, you wanted more down-to-earth folks for this year, didn’t you?”

“I suppose. We’ll give you eighty percent for your finders fee.”

The Minstrel sighed dramatically and held out a hand.

“Truly, the sacrifices we all must make in this life.”
 

Karl Jak

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The attendant went about their job. It was a thankless and potentially dangerous job, but if someone could do a whole year’s worth of work in a few weeks, what do you think the odds are that they’d turn down the opportunity? What else was Sally supposed to do here in Markov? Join the army? The trade organizations? Employment in any of those fields would pay less and have just as much potential to kill her on any given Sunday.

Truth be told, this gig had barely started, and while she’d sent a few run-of-the-mill schmucks on their way to the event staging ground, she hadn’t really enjoyed much of this charade. Yes, she was supposed to be some sort of recruiter, but in reality, she was just going at handling and processing information. Her field was personal assistant, and the snake oil salesman bit that many of her peers performed on the daily was just… exhausting to watch.

With the recruitment station having slumped into a bit of a quite stretch with many in this part of town returning to dead-end jobs, Sally had allowed herself to indulge in a math puzzle. While she normally had top-tier hearing, she had failed to hear the sound of beat-up combat boots on the concrete floor of the station. Her only clue that something may have been different was the momentary scent of tobacco just a moment or so before her silence was broken into a thousand glittering pieces.

“Six. You’re look for a six,” the voice sounded as if it had to scrape its way up through the man’s windpipe. It was a laborious, guttural thing that caused Sally Jenkins to nearly leap backwards out of her wicker chair. When she gathered herself, she looked up to see that the overly gruff intonations were from a worn down, middle-aged man who seemed as if he hadn’t slept since Sally’s second year of elementary school. A cigarette hung from the corner of his mouth and dangled there between his cracked lips for a few brief moments before it was plucked free.

“Hello, Sir,” she replied with a strained smile as she tried to glimpse the office from the corner of her eye. Her guest took a puff as she continued to fidget. Was Steve back from his lunch break yet?

“Your coworker is still gone,” the man spoke, once more causing Sally to feel a shiver down her spine as she turned and tried to maintain her store-front grin. “Probably out in the alleyway with that side piece,” the man paused to take a drag on his cigarette. “Those types that’ll blow a man to pay for their crack habits are a dime a dozen in places like this.”

“How may I help you today?” Sally inquired as the man adjusted the military-style beret that sat snugly above his weary eyes and brows that sported specs of gray. Her guest was clad in an old duster made of leather that looked as if it had seen better days. Unbuttoned, the long coat was overlaid atop what seemed to be an old military vest and otherwise nondescript dark clothes. While looking black at a distance, Sally couldn’t help but notice that the fabric was actually purple, albeit just a few shades removed from otherwise matching your everyday shadows.

“I’m here for the… contest,” the man intoned as he took a final drag on his cigarette, tossed the still-burning remains to the ground, and blew a wide ring around Sally’s face. The recruiter clenched her jaws to keep herself from coughing.

“You’re looking to head to the Carnivale Rosa? You’re aware that it’s a survival competition and there are a lot of fatal hazards there, Sir?”

The man chuckled a few times before brushing dragging his callous hands across his face and down the salt-and-pepper shadows of a beard that clung to the lower half of his visage. “Lady? My luck ran out a long time ago. My life has been hell, and I’m looking to dance with the devil one last time before my number’s punched.”

“Are you sure?”

“I’m not the man I was when I was younger, Lady, and if we’re talking truths here… that man wasn’t much to begin with.”

Sally reached for the paperwork as the man shook his head. “I don’t do paperwork.”

“It’s required.”

The man leaned forward, prompting Sally to recoil as she feared the introduction of some hidden gun or blade. Instead, she heard the latch slide free as her guest slid away the little divider that kept her separated, but even as she tried to press herself through the wall to the left, the jacketed figure just made his way passed her toward the machinery that connected this site to the waystation to the Carnivale.

“I’ll at least need your name.”

Her visitor turned after stepping up onto the pad. He adjusted his beret, and she noticed that his head was bald beneath the snug piece of headwear.

“Karl Jak,” the old man shouted over the hum of the machinery. With a flash of light, he was gone—teleported off to one of the Crossroad’s many euthanasia centers that masqueraded as entertainment.
 

Izuku Midoriya

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Everything is black. The chilly winds of Inverxe had lulled her to sleep, whispered her into a false sense of security. As long as she could stay in a safe spot, she could take a break from being alert, maybe. The wilds of this planet hadn’t proven any more or less dangerous than the streets of Japan she’d roamed with her brother, or the caverns of the underworld she’d traversed with the other demons before that boy had brought her here.

The demon girl knows that she is different. She knows that she has to watch herself here because not everyone’s going to understand. But people… she trusts them, implicitly, until they give her reason not to, so she hopes she will be afforded the same kindness. She hopes she will be kept safe, kept out of the clutches of those that would do her harm.

Perhaps, she knows, this is not meant to be. Perhaps evil is too widespread in this new universe. She doesn’t blame people for being afraid of her, but…

She wishes they wouldn’t.

She hears the snow crunching before she has full control of her faculties.

Something slams her into the ground once, twice, three times. It keeps happening, over and over, and she’s unable to steady herself. Getting a grasp on her surroundings just doesn’t seem possible, doesn’t seem within her reach.

Nezuko’s eyes snap open but she can still see nothing. She hears the crunching, feels the slamming, but everything is dark. She tries to move, struggles against the confines of… wherever she is, and then suddenly she realizes: she’s inside something. Like her brother’s box from before, but she hasn’t given her permission to be inside this. It’s suffocating.

Urghhhhhhh, something rubs against her pale skin. Scratchy. Itchy, tasty. Whatever’s rubbing against her rubs her skin raw, making pain, making anger – she growls without thinking.

“Shut up in there,” someone says from outside. “Nasty-ass demon.”

She blinks. Whoever’s outside is… mean.

Where is she? Where’s the green-haired boy from before, or the flower-filled cave? Who are the people outside? Where’s the light? Where’s the –

OUCH – there’s the light! She flies out of the open end of the bag and slams against the cold, metal floor of the inside of a big box. Back of a… truck, maybe? Pain explodes. Head’s numb. Fingers clutch her temples, squeezing. She groans, wanting to scream but still not being quite awake enough. The light rushing in all of a sudden makes her vision blurry, makes her feel shaky and unsure. She looks out the back of the truck, sees the two figures that had dragged her here, or… six figures? They keep phasing in and out, and she feels woozy. Are there two of them or four of them or six of them? Impossible to tell.

The two or four or six figures lift up their arms and bring the door down with a tinny, metallic clang, which reverberates in Nezuko’s ears.

She squeezes her temples more. Gotta squeeze out the pain, gotta squeeze, gotta…

…what’s that smell?

She sniffs.

What’s that smell?!

She sniffs again, and this time there’s no mistaking it. It’s palpable, it’s gross, it’s human. But not sweet human, no – not sweet like the green-haired boy, or like her brother. Nasty, rotten human, stinking through the layers of metal trapping her in here. Evil human. Nasty.

Kill them, her instincts almost order her, almost demand. Without even thinking, a growl escapes her lips and she lunges at the wall. She slams into it with a thunk.

That… didn’t… work…

“We need to hurry up and get her to the teleporter on the Hub,” a voice echoes through the wall. Nezuko blinks again, and bounds toward the edge of the box, pressing an ear against the metal and trying her best to discern the conversation. “Cowl’s gonna be really fucking pleased with us. Got an actual, verifiable demon to roam around this crusty old town.”

“She doesn’t seem as vicious as we thought,” another voice muses. “Defensive, sure, but… I’m not sure. You do this job for long enough, you can tell when they’re bloodthirsty.”

“Whatever,” the first voice says. “She’s a fuckin’ demon. We’re absolutely getting promoted.”

Nezuko’s nails dig into the metal. It’s chilly to the touch, but the pink talons at the end of her fingers make short work of the material, no matter how tough it is. She pushes through, watching as the steel bends and finally breaks beneath her iron grip, and then she tugs, pulling a chunk of the wall off with ease. She rips another off, making a hole big enough for her to crawl through. She clambers out of the truck’s storage compartment and leaps onto the cab. It shakes upon her body’s impact.

Inside the cab, the driver glances back. “Fuck.”

The passenger sits calmly, looking towards the driver’s side window as the demon girl appears there. He smirks a bit, but Nezuko doesn’t notice him yet – the driver’s the smell she remembers from being in the burlap sack, so she smashes through the window and digs her claws into his neck without hesitation.

The driver screams, and the passenger watches.

The truck careens off to one side as the petite demon tears into the driver’s skin, ripping lengthy gashes into his chest before lifting a fist back and bringing it down, hard, into his head.

The passenger leans forward as the driver’s neck bone snaps and his head is separated cleanly from his body. It flies behind him, breaking through the passenger’s side window and rolling almost comically out into the snow. The truck tips over, and the passenger quickly climbs out of the newly broken window and leaps out as the entire vehicle slams onto the demon girl. Nezuko weaves into the cab, barely avoiding being crushed, and follows the passenger out of the other window.

For a moment, she just crouches in the frost, staring him down. He brushes himself off, turning back toward their prize.

“You’re feisty,” he nods. “But are you a… monster?”

He lifts up an arm and unbuttons his sleeve, rolling it up and exposing his bare skin. He holds it out towards Nezuko.

“Go ahead,” he says. “Feast on me. Or go. Those are your choices.”

For a moment, Nezuko stares at him. It’s a clear choice for her, but she wonders what the test is – she wonders if, perhaps, this man has more of a plan for her. She doesn’t want him.

She wants to go. So she does.

She turns away, and starts to sprint back in the direction of the boy she’d been accompanying. Back toward her chance at a new life, back toward something more peaceful than whatever this… human, this evil-smelling human, has in mind.

She stops short when a tranquilizer dart plunges into her neck. Her big, pink eyes go wide, and she lets out a bit of a surprised sound, almost a purr, as she collapses into the snow. She feels the entire world begin to go around her, begin to fade. She wants to call out for help, but she can’t speak. She hasn’t been able to speak for a long time, ever since Muzan Kibutsuji turned her into whatever she is now, and so without any other options, she slides into unconsciousness, splayed out in the cold, Inverxian snow.

The passenger creeps up behind her, communication device at his ear.

“Change of plans,” he says. “No monsters today, but I think I may have found a new contestant. Get the teleporter ready for us, will you?”
 

Nico Cinder

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"Damn cigarette smokin' robots. Tired of getting roped up into shit that doesn't even make sense. How does that even work, man? You got meat in your chest? Or is it kinda just like filling the ac vents up with smoke? You got a smoke alarm somewhere in there?" Nico grumbled most of the way here, and he was grumbling now. The alleys began to run together. The metallic man and Nico had been walking for about half a can's worth of Synister Energy. The bandaged recruiter looks back at his catch with a warm smirk.

"Trade secret," he said back. "Some habits stick with you, even in the next life. You oughta know something about that."

Nico shot him some eyebrows. "So you had a completely separate and different life before you were a crazy cyborg cigarette smoking badass? I mean, don't get me wrong, crazier things have happened, and smoking definitely kills and isn't actually cool. Christ I hate to say it, but all this 'legal business' I'm caught up in might as well be proof of a soul, o-or magic, something close to it - and that's not even counting all the shit I've seen and done since I signed. Still, that's an awful specific piece of philosoperty you're buying there, my cybernetic cohort. You still got what you came into the world with? Whatever's keeping me in my current line of employment? And was that you saying you feel more machine than man these days, but somehow managed to keep them nasty little human habits?"

"Whoa, whoa there, kid. I think I can only process so many sci-fi cliches at once." The recruiting agent rubs his chin thoughtfully, but keeps pace, and keeps puffing. Nico has decided to abstain from this particular smoke break. "Instead, I'll tell you what you just told me; crazier things have happened. And if everything you've experienced since being ah...transferred here for work is any indication, they will continue to happen. Because things work differently from where all you folks come from, respectively. Something tells me you're used to it though, and that will serve you well in this game. Things work differently everywhere, you'll find. Including here! Here we are, in fact."

It's true, they were here, but Nico had no idea where here was. Looked like a dirty alley full of trash to him, and he'd seen more than a few of those in his time. "Where's here?" the new talent asked aloud.

"There. Good luck, Nico Cinder." A cold, heavy hand forces Nico forward by the small of his back, and after stumbling forward a few steps, the ground beneath his feet lit up like another sci-fi cliche. "Hope to be taking a look at that contract you signed soon."

There was a noise and a flash, before a swaddling of robes and bandage wrappings shuffled out of the dirty alleyway alone, kicking a mostly empty energy drink can into the mostly empty road.
 

The Living

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“Yeah, sorry. Tell all my fans that I will be there next time!” Mirage smiled meekly as Wraith called from further inside the ship.

“And tell Karl to fuck off! Thanks.” They quickly shut the door.

The recruiter sighed. Of course it was his luck that the former champ wasn’t feeling up to a return. If only that didn’t mean going up against Wraith and the Titan they gave him from his victory last time. Then again, there was the other option, and the Boss did say whatever means necessary. At least it was better than trying to outwit the legends in their home turf. The recruiter hopped back into their small ship and flew back down to the surface of Cevanti. In the back seat, the headless corpse of the former competitor flopped about.

“Goddamn seatbelt, I knew I should have strapped you in.” He fumbled around with the body, taking his eyes off the controls for just a moment before suddenly losing control, the vehicle plummeting from the sky.


“Oh, fuck, FUCK.” He exclaimed before snatching back the controls and attempting to recover the ship, failing as it struck into a nearby junkyard. The crash jolted his entire body, shattered the windshield, and sent the DA memorabilia flying through the air. The recruiter held his head and unclipped his belt, realizing all too late that he had been upside down.

The man fell on his back and gasped, laying for a moment on the dusty dirt floor before gathering back his energy. He stood slowly and looked around, trying to spy his only way out of this mess. He needed to get that body to someone that could get it moving again. Maybe some wacked-out doctor or scientist from Markov could probably get it going with a brand new head too. The whole operation was expensive as shit, but at least it would get the job done and get him home.

He spotted the corpse a bit in the distance, sitting upon what seemed like a bunch of alien snot.

“Ugh, great.”

Upon approaching his prize, he noticed that the green sludge jiggled on its own.

“Even better, send me directly to Hell, why don’t you, I’d have a better time…”

The hissing creature began to swallow up the corpse, prompting a hasty response.

“W-w-wait! Don’t eat it! Please understand me!” He called out, becoming quite surprised when the creature seemed to spit the body back out.

The low growl was barely understandable.

“What do you have to offer that I cannot take from you now.”

The man gulped. “I uh, I can get you in on a tournament! Get you money! Maybe a sacrifice or two?”

The growl deepened.

“Pathetic. There is no time for games when I need to consume.”

“Nonono! Listen, there’s great prizes! Powerful prizes!”

It hummed for a moment. Maybe it was curious? Was it listening?

He continued on, “I just need that body, I don’t need it to win or anything, but I’m as dead as he is if he doesn’t come back with me.”

“Stop speaking.”

He obeyed.

The silence that hung in the air was deafening to the recruiter. Whether he would die here or be killed for his incompetence he could not predict.

“What is the competition?”

“Look I can’t just,” another hiss made him shudder. “Alright! Look, you are going to need a body or something, I don’t know if we accept slime-forms or whatever. All you need to know is that you need to be the last one standing, and you have to fight others to survive. That’s it.”

“A body?”

The recruiter realized his choice of words.

“Wait I-”

It was too late. The slime shrunk down and began to shove itself into the corpse atop it. It poured into the rotting body and crawled into each orifice, giving the skin outside a sickly green color. The recruiter looked away, hearing only the slurping sounds it made as it filled its host. It was only when the shadow was cast in his vision that he turned to look up at the headless monstrosity in front of him. From the decapitated neck, the slime seemed to aid the body in regenerating a full head, pushing out bone and sinew to serve its purpose. At least he wouldn’t have to pay a doctor or a necromancer.

The zombified corpse smiled wickedly, “You will take my new form to this game now.”
 

Ezrihel

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“General Althaus?” Meng’s voice rang clearly over the blonde andromedan’s communications device, yanking him out of the deep focus he had fostered over solving the newest implacable error in one of many thousand-upon-thousands of strings of code. He’d been pouring over the lines of programming for the better part of the day, working over it with the metaphorical fine toothed comb, and the amusingly very real rubber ducky perched under his monitor screen.

“Yes, you have permission to speak, Meng. What is it?”

“There’s a strange clown individual here, asking to see you personally, sir.”

He grumbled quietly, wrenching his eyes away from his monitor to focus on her words. “Excuse me, but what?”

“Well, they’re dressed in these odd looking red robes and-”

“Are they affiliated with the Hopers’ press?” Ezrihel sharply cut her off. “They’re the real clowns around here.” He muttered under his breath with a marked level of dismissive disdain.

“I- er... hey are you- no no, nevermind- Honestly, General, I doubt it. They look like they’re straight out of some carnival.”

“You’re bothering me over homeless carnies blowing in with the wind? Close the ramp then. I shouldn’t have to tell you this.”

“No sir, I-”

“Meng, please dear.” He sighed breathily, plucking at another line of code. “I am trying to get work done. I don’t need these sorts of distractions.”

“General, they are being very persistent.” She chimed firmly.

He rolled his catty eyes. “Then make them leave. We have guards, you’re a commander. Put two and two together.”

“Sir, you really don’t understa- huh? Look, I’m trying- Sir, they are threatening that they will make the meeting happen.”

“Augh!” He groaned loudly, dragging his gloved hand down his face in a rather dramatic fashion. “Does this weirdo hippie-dippie have a name at least?”

Meng was silent for a moment. “Recruiter number thirty-seven.”

“Recruiter number thirty-seven?” He repeated like a dry breeze, utterly exasperated. “That’s their name, and they’re dressed like some clown?”

“Yessir. I wish I was making this up, but I really wouldn’t be bothering you if it was something I knew how to navigate.”

The aristocrat let out a long, unamused sigh. “I trust you’ve already put them through security.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Send them in, I guess.” He saved the document he was working over, and closed the program out. After a moment he felt a particular buzzing in his head, a buzzing that only got more annoying as it went on.

“What, P’thaeyl? Are you going to bother me now, too? You know, I was really looking forward to relaxing a little bit, enjoying my time off, fix all the bugs in this update for you, spend some time with Ellie... But no. No no no, I am just far too desirable for every flimflam and floozie this side of the crossroads.” He waited a moment, then impatiently waved his hand in a circle.

>_ I was planning to wait until you were done bemoaning your hero status before I started.

“Augh, you are simply insufferable.”

>_ Like humans, I am made in your image, by your design and will.

“Don’t remind me.”

Just as his last word faded into silence, the door to his office hissed open. A short masked figure glided across the breadth of his floor and stood in front of his desk holding some sort of tablet device. Ezrihel stared at them in plain indifference for a few moments, perfectly rigid like a feline who’d just perceived a possible threat. They felt different, odd, off. Unreadable, like a cold spot in the room, or an unwelcoming but non-hostile void.

“You are Aza’zayl, Sire of Eli, Master of the Althaus, Light of Anva, General of the Forsaken Ones.”


>_ Guards flagged to stand by.

’Make sure our systems are locked down tight, I don’t want any snooping.’

>_ Affirmative.


His skin prickled as his breath caught in his throat. Whoever this was had clearly done some research, far too much research in his opinion. His eyes narrowed into dangerous slits, though his voice was shockingly even, “and who might you be, wayfarer? You look like you tumbled in from the circus.”

“I have already told you, I am Recruiter: thirty-seven. I am here to seek you as an entrant for the Carnivale Rosa.”

“What is that, some sort of fashion show or broadcast program? Your version of a romance game or reality show? I’m busy. Far too busy to be showing up to Abysses of Dante or other such Syntech nonsense.”

“The Carnivale Rosa is not related to the Syntech®™ brand, nor is it a fashion show. I have come to offer you the chance to participate in this year’s Death Games-”

“Oh yes, ‘Death Games’, sounds absolutely lovely. Not.”

They elected to ignore his protests. “The Man in Red is a generous host, more than willing to compensate you heavily for your time performing in the Games. Surely the Hero of Hope wouldn’t let his reputation out-do him. You seemingly handled an arbiter, correct?”

“If you already know so much about me, why ask that question.”

The floating jester chuckled behind their plain mask, and its hoarse, grating noise jolted him down to his stoney bones. “The people want to see more of you.”

Ezrihel had pulled far back and away from the figure by this point, a look of suspicion and discomfort coloring his expression clearly. I am far more than some show animal meant to entertain the unwashed masses. “You must be joking. Surely you understand that a General can not just leave his post to prance around for the crowd’s amusement. I’d say this almost feels belittling for someone like me.”

“Then you will send someone in your stead, of course.” The psychic couldn’t tell if it was a suggestion, or a veiled command, and he nearly bristled before managing to calm himself.

>_ I have taken the liberty of summoning Sari al-Waheed to your office.

’Why, might I ask?’

>_ You can not afford to turn down this offer.
>_ You can not leave while under medical watch.
>_ You can not stand leaving Eliza.
>_ You must send someone you trust.
>_ They must be loyal and willing to replace you.
>_ They must be available to receive your directive.
>_ They must perform well.

>_ The parameters were clear: he is the most viable option.



>_ Your biometrics indicate that this conversation is eliciting a sympathetic nervous response from you. Should I alert Chief Medical Officer-

’For the love of the gods, no. Not every internal emotional reaction I have has to be micromanaged by the damned man! Or treated like some wretched illness! Why can’t I have permission to express my emotions like everyone else always seems to? You know, sometimes I despise your medical access.’

>_ You understand that my access is imperative to your long term health management. That is why you gave me such permissions.

‘Ugh... You make things terribly complicated for me some days, bot.’


Again the hydraulics of the door hissed open as an azure-haired, dark-skinned man hustled through the door. He walked with quite the pep in his step as his plain green saree flowed behind him like a cape. “Yessir, mister top-brass? You called for me?” He chuckled softly and rubbed the back of his head, “what’s going on, Boss?”

Well... He was here already. “Sari, I need you to take on an assignment for me.”

“Of course. Does it have to do with the floating circus fairy, by any chance?”

Ezrihel rolled his eyes.

~ * * * ~​

“What do you mean you’re going to a ‘Death Game’? You’re not some suave-ass actor or something, Sari. You’re a merc with a set of soft-beating hearts.” Asmo gave a sharp scoff and rolled her golden eyes, tossing her dark magenta hair back and out of her face. She was glaring up at him, her thick lips stuck out in a pout that made the assassin want to grab her face and kiss them.

He shifted, leaning up against the wall next to her. "I don't know what you're expecting me to do, cupcake. When the bossman gives you a job, there's no arguing it... Unless you think your claws are more convincing~?"

“Why’s he gotta go and send you off, of all people.” She sulked visibly, her shoulders drooping. He couldn’t help but smirk. It was always this song and dance with her, always the same steps. He knew why she was acting so stand-offish.

He leaned down closer, his warm voice softening as he gazed at her. “Look, babe. I understand that you want me all to yourself and everything. Don’t want me getting any more admirers and would-be lovers so you can keep me all to yourself...” He brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek as she leaned against his hand. Sari’s tone suddenly curled playfully, “but I think I deserve the attention for all the good work I put in-”

She smacked her lips, somehow managing to look more dangerous than before, as if it were a valid counter to the man’s unshakable vibe.

Come on kitten, you gotta admit that I’m incredibly entertaining to watch pull off hijinks. You certainly seem to have plenty of fun trying to play catch up with me.”

Asmo laughed. “Catch up to you? As if. We both know that I kick your ass hun.”

“Nooo. Just admit it, gorgeous. You don’t like it when I get sent out because I’m just too damn sexy; the guys, the gals, the pals, they can’t resist trying to get a piece. You hate the competition~” His bluntly honest teases coiled mischievously in the space between them.

She pulled away from his dumb, idiot-grinning face and punched him hard in his upper arm, smirking as he visibly winced and sucked in a breath at the sudden whack. Served him right. “If you were good, you would have dodged that.”

Sari rubbed at the sore spot on his arm, already feeling the area turn hot as he gave a breathy chuckle. “What, and let you punch the metal wall that hard? I’m a good boyfriend, I’m saving you from breaking your pretty hands, hot stuff. Just don’t turn me even more black and blue before I get to the interview.”

“Oh, or what? You’re gonna go boo-hoo and cry about it?” She stuck her tongue out at him as she mockingly rubbed her eyes.

“You just enjoy breaking my heart, don’t you Asmo?”

Sari al-Waheed!”

The aforementioned man’s head swiveled as a voice called out for him from across the lobby.

“You’re the heartbreaker, fucker.”

“Give yourself some credit babe.” He sighed wistful as he stepped away from the wall, moving backwards towards his interviewer as she stayed put. “You always break up with me first.” He waved his goodbye jovially, his sideways smirk stretched across his face as he called out again, “don’t let yourself forget that record~!”

The last thing he saw of his amor before he was spun around and directed to a chair was her flipping him the double bird.

Sometimes, you just can’t help but love the things that never change.​
 
Last edited:

Amalia Eckern

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“...what are you doing in my house?” Amalia asked the well-dressed woman who was currently toying with one of Juno’s new additions.

The woman, who was wearing a bright yellow and well-trimmed suit, looked shockingly out of place on a wharf filled to the brim with pirates and sea scum. She set the solarpunk trinket down beside Amalia’s bed and offered her a warm smile. Amalia kept her hand on the door, ready to bolt out at any moment, but the woman’s smile did not seem inauthentic.

“Good evening, Miss Eckern,” Her voice was velvety and warm, “I’ve come with a proposition, one that I think someone in your position would be hard pressed to refuse.”

Amalia shuddered. Something about this was off. This was more than just some late night intruder. Her black hair grew pale and Erin materialized from her writhing locks. The dog-sized bird sat perched on Amalia’s shoulder, regarding the intruder with a wary side-eyes stare.

“Shall I gouge her eyes out, Amalia?” Erin asked softly.

“No… not yet anyways,” Amalia said, gently patting the bird’s beak, “Uhm… What do you want from me?”

“Excellent question Miss Eckern, excellent question indeed,” The stranger answered, “But, before I reveal my desires, let’s talk about yours. You’re suffering, darling, and I can see it plain on your face. Your body is riddled with spirits that are gnawing away at your insides, and the pain, well it must be unbearable, Algea if I’m not mistaken..”

“How… how do you know all of this?”

“And, not only that, you’re still processing your parent’s betrayal, aren’t you? Arbiter knows I would be, how could someone be so heartless as to offer up their own child as a sacrifice?” She continued, “I could offer you reprieve from your pain, I could remove The Algea from your body, I could erase the memories of your parents from existence, I could offer you so many things.”

For a moment Amalia considered the offer. For the past month phantom pains had plagued her body as the little gremlin spirits chewed away at her nervous system. She’d wake up in the middle of the night feeling as if someone had injected molten lead into her spinal column. Even then, what little sleep she did get was a luxury. Her father’s smile as he praised Darkseid was permanently burned into the backs of her eyelids. But, what was the cost? She didn’t want to forget her parents, as much as the memories pained her. And even the ninja doctor’s holy lozenge had failed to purge The Algea from her system. This was some sort of elaborate scam.

“I think you should leave…” Amalia said, nudging Erin onto the ground between them.

The woman merely smiled, “I could offer you so many things, but there is only one thing that your heart of hearts is truly interested in. I could bring your sister back.”
Amalia froze, her heart skipping a beat, “You’re, you’re lying, you can’t do that.”

“Death is far from a one-way street Amalia,” She smiled, “And to bring your sister back across the metaphorical road, all you need to do is participate in the greatest show in The Crossroads.”

Amalia thought for a moment, “...Dante’s Abyss?”

The woman laughed, “No, no, Karl Jak’s little bloodsport pales in comparison to the festivities we have planned, he does have a certain panache, but ultimately the Abyss lacks the substance of The Death Games. You’ll compete with other hand-picked contestants, each of you fighting for your lives all in the name of putting on an excellent show.”

To Amalia that sounded very similar to Dante’s Abyss, and that similarity gave her pause. Yes she’d give almost anything to see her sister again, but she wasn’t a killer. And, even more important - she didn’t want to die. She cracked open the door to her cabin.

“Sorry, I’m not interested,” She answered, “Please leave.”

At this the woman sighed and seemed to deflate. Her jovial face took on a sharper edge. She retrieved a set of soft white gloves from her vest pocket and carefully tugged them onto her fingers. A network of silver thread twinkled across their surface.

“Miss Eckern, you seem to have misunderstood me. Yes, I’m offering you a prize, but you’ve already been casted into the role… it’s be quite rude to snub our invitation.”

“Leave… please,” Amalia said again.

Erin spread her wings and screeched, “Leave now you well-dressed cretin or I will gouge--”

*Snap*

Erin vanished into thin air as the woman snapped her fingers. A pulse of energy traced through the cabin walls and forced the door shut. Amalia screamed for a moment before the woman snapped her fingers for a final time.

--

Amalia’s head felt like it was filled with chalk. Bright lights washed down on her from all angles and the wooden chair she sat in was quite uncomfortable. She tried to swallow, but found her throat dried out. A glass of water caught her eye on a table nearby and she took a few greedy swallows. As her senses returned she become aware of her surroundings. A man sat in a director’s chair, his button-up shirt rolled up to purposefully reveal his hairy forearms. A fat gold watch clung desperately to his thick wrist. It was an old analog type thing and she could hear it ticking from where she sat.
“Ahh, you’re finally awake,” The director said.

“Where am I?”

“Sorry kiddo, but you’re in the lion’s den,” He said, shifting in his chair, “If it makes you feel any better you’re not the only one who came here by force.”

Amalia’s eyes widened and she frantically glanced around the room. There was no exit in sight, just her, the director, and a dozen or so strategically placed stage lights. She moved to stand, but the director spoke.

“Ah, ah, ah, relax, sit down,” He chuckled, “Easier said than done I know, but this room doesn’t have an exit.”

Amalia stood anyways, rushing past him and into the darkness. Light spots still burned into her retinas she blindly stumbled around, feeling against the wall for a doorknob. For a few minutes she scrabbled about, unable to find so much as a seam in the walls. They were basically inside of a sealed box.

“Where am I? What is going on, what is going on?” She said, her breath quickening.

“Ma’am, will ya please sit down?” He said, “I’ve got a job to do, and the only way you’re going to get out is if you let me do my job.”

Reluctantly Amalia sat in the hard wooden chair, hating everything about this.

“Look, I ain’t here to hurt ya,” He stretched his leg out. Around his ankle was a chain. He smiled and said, “I’m not exactly a willing participant in this whole shindig either, but eh, what can ya do right?”

Amalia looked away.

“I’m going to ask you some questions and then you’ll be set along your way, okay?”

“...fine.”

“What’s your name?”

“Amalia.”

“Amaliaaaa who?” He asked, clearly annoyed at her lack of enthusiasm.

“Amalia Eckern,” She said.

“And what sets you apart from the other candidates?”

She fought back tears, “I want to go home.”

“Don’t we all kid, don’t we all,” The man said with a half-hearted chuckle before reaching down and adjusting his ankle chain. He sighed and added, “I’ve got more questions, but, uh, I think we’ll just call it here. Good luck kid, hope it works out for you.”

In the moment the teleporter activated all Amalia could think was that there truly was no hope for the hopeless.
 

Cho

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The dim light of dusk addled the Hunter’s vision. Even with their goggles and the Eyes of the Allfather, the thin haze of fog that descended from the canopy and mingled with the mist below had created a barrier between Bloodhound and their target. They had tracked their quarry quite some way and, finally, found its nest clutched between the roots of the great tree they had scouted out a few hours prior.

Kraw was a perfect hunting ground. Each beast was larger than the last. They were slowly making their way up the food chain until they found the apex predator, the most feared creature within these woods and they alone would bring the beast down and solidify their legendary status here, in the Crossroads, as it was in the Outlands.

A single raven’s caw resounded from nearby the nest, Artur’s whereabouts shrouded by the mist.

The Hunter pressed a sequence of buttons on their wristpad. The Eyes scanned the area below, revealing innumerable entities. But they were unphased, prepared. One single creature skittered above the rest. A behemoth arachnid, as agile as any of its kind but the size of a Trident. The entire surrounding area was wrapped in a thin weave of sticky webs. The Hunter winced and lowered their head in prayer as they caught sight of a number of humanoid shapes, each suspended from the branches above by thick webs.

The Eyes of the Allfather faded, the red outline of the arachnid and it’s clutch of innumerable eggs dissipated into nothing. They sighed. At least now they would be able to return to the University of Abraxas with answers as to the fate of their researchers. Bloodhound inhaled deeply, steadying themselves as they levelled the Kraber on the gargantuan spider.

A single shot echoed through the woods, startling the nearby wildlife into silence. The Arachnid let out a blood curdling screech as the bullet tore through its carapace and exploded out of the other side of its cephalothorax, spraying its nest with gore and ichor. It’s legs curled up under its body as it fell, lifeless.

The Hunter approached its prey and dropped to a knee. They placed a hand on one of its legs and muttered it’s last rites, honouring the fallen creature before the Allfather and their felagi fighters. Artur landed on the spider’s abdomen and pecked at its thick exoskeleton, seeking the softer flesh beneath.

“Artur..” Bloodhound snapped, “Enough.. we will get you some food when we return. Do not dishonour the fallen..”

The crow cawed and clacked it’s beak in indignation but stopped regardless.

“Come, we will return with the vehicle and haul the spider and the researchers back to Abraxas.” Bloodhound gestured for the crow to perch on their shoulder. Artur complied as the Hunter spun on heel and set off to retrieve their vehicle.

The sounds of life began to return to the area as Bloodhound trudged through the forest floor for some time before coming across their vehicle; close enough to a Trident to be familiar but of different origin. They’d requested a trailer as well, to save dragging their quarry back to camp. The buggy’s gravtech whirred to life and it floated a few meters above the ground. Bloodhound clambered atop the vehicle and sped back to the nest.

The Hunter groaned and hauled the spider into the trailer with laboured breaths. They shook their hands away from their body, flicking a bloody mess onto the ground with a huff. As they loaded the desiccated corpses of the researchers into the trailer, the whir of shuttle engines far above the trees caught the Hunter’s ear. They scanned the sparse gaps in the canopy and spotted a few intermittently flashing lights on the undercarriage of a vessel in the sky.

The jungles of Kraw descended into pitch darkness over the course of the couple of hours it took for Bloodhound to return to New Abraxas. They dismounted the hoverbuggy in front of the University and called their contact within the establishment.

Soon enough a scrawny, diminutive male exited the University and approached the Hunter. He paled, considerably, upon catching sight of the spider and the corpses. Bloodhound saw the efforts the man went through to not drop to his knees and pass out. Their respirator disguised an exasperated sigh as they explained the circumstances of the researchers deaths.

“Hopefully, you and yours will be able to conduct research on this creature. I am sorry for your loss, truly. I will honour them.”

“Thanks.. we’ll reach out if we need anything further from you..”

Bloodhound nodded slowly and turned to the commotion in the center of the town.

“You can’t just land here!” Someone shouted out, jabbing a finger into the chest of a man in a vaguely familiar uniform, “We have a designated landing area.. not just in the middle of town!”

“Look,” the uniformed man began, “I’m not interested in your landing area.. I just wanna get a hold of our contestant and get the fuck outta this backwater shithole.”

“Backwa- why you-“ the local clenched a fist and raised it ready to strike out at the uniformed man.. were it not for the trio of burly, heavily armed guards burst out of the ship and levelled their rifles on the local.

“I think.. this has gone far enough..” Bloodhound called out as they sauntered towards the pair and the surrounding crowd, hands raised and gesturing for calm, “Who is this contestant you are looking for?”

“Well, you, actually.” The uniformed man beamed a smile and gestured widely, “Your antics in the last Games were somewhat memorable, I came to see if you’d be willing to take part once again. Obviously, you will be rewarded for your hard work and the risk involved, much the same as the last Games. What do you say?”

Bloodhound folded their arms across their chest and considered the proposition a moment, “I will take part in your Slatra. To honour the Allfather and my felagi fighters who put their lives before my own. I will show them what it means to be hunted by a Legend.”
 

Lilith

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Scalding hot water trickled down Lilith's lush, bare body, rivulets of moisture streaming across her toned back muscles, dribbling past her round, robust rear, flowing all the way to her silky, lusty legs. She tilted her face up to the shower head, combing her fingers through her slick, black hair. The heat washed over her like a deep, all-encompassing massage, teasing and relaxing every inch of her pearlescent skin.

Lilith couldn't remember the last time she'd taken a nice, long bath. It wasn't necessary, as a quick dip in her corrosive goo would brush off all those superficial stains, and yet it felt so natural to enjoy the sensation. She earned it after the sweat she worked up at the gym. Of course, a little rinse could never scrub clean her innumerable marks of sin.

And really, what's wrong with being dirty? The most exciting activities always mottled her with blood, grime, and other lewd substances. A fresh body was like a blank canvas begging to be painted, a story waiting to be told. And Lilith's was just getting started.

She became aware of the deafening silence, hearing only the ambient sound of water splashing on tiled floor. With a quick glance she discovered the locker rooms to be vacant. Strange. The gym was packed just a minute ago. It's not like everyone cleared out when she bustled in; she was a regular at this private workout spot. Still, most people preferred to keep their distance.

Out of the corner of her eye, a figure appeared—a husky, short-haired woman, casually showering next to her.

The stranger didn't waste time getting to the point. "Sup. Name's Maria Wolff. I already know I don't need any convincing you to join our Death Game. I understand you had quite the following back in your home world."

This was quite the surprise. Well, no, not really. Lilith couldn't help drawing attention to herself. If anything, she should expect random requests, whether it's a request to participate in bloodsport or to die an excruciating death. It's the Crossroads; omniscient and omnipotent beings were a dime a dozen. "Yup, I was an international celebrity. Not nearly as famous here though… Ahh…"

"I have a role that you'd be perfect for, since you're so used to being on camera. It'll only take about 30 minutes. We got an outfit for you and everything. Then we'll do your interview after."

Lilith wouldn't pass on an opportunity to spread her fame. "You've got my interest. So what’ll I be doing, cutting someone up or…?"

"No no, this won't be anything like your usual performances. It's more… scripted. For the audience's particular tastes." The recruiter hid her shrewd smile.

"I'm all for trying something new." She cranked off the shower with a pleased hum.

Lilith’s full-bodied physique was sizzling to the touch. Her sultry body glistened in the swathes of humidity, cloaked in a cloud of searing steam. Twirling out of the showers and into the drying station, she sighed in bliss. Jets of air billowed her hair in haphazard directions, mutating it into a mass of writhing tendrils. From top to bottom the cool breeze caressed and tightened up her skin.

After polishing her marble exterior, Lilith suited up in the gear provided by Maria. Latex tights, a studded leather bra with pentagram straps, a spiked collar, and a pair of combat boots. The black clothes contrasted perfectly with her monochrome palette, flaunting her figure all the while. "This is a step up from my usual style. I totally rock this look!" She pirouetted in front of a mirror.

"Exactly to your preferences." Maria slipped on a white muscle shirt and grey sweatpants. "Let's give them as great of a show ASS we can."

Both actors took their positions.



The scene opens with a wide shot of the locker room. The walls and floors are gray, drawing attention to the two isolated occupants. In the center lies a large square mat. A towering female rounds a corner into frame.

Before reaching her locker, Lilith stops. Her scarlet eyes gloss over the only other person in the room.

Maria Wolff sits on the edge of a bench. Her mission is simple—teaching this costumed freak a lesson.

Lilith locks eyes with the cocky looking woman, tension sparking between the two. Judging from their expression and posture, they were waiting for her. She proceeds to open her locker with a clank.

Maria sets down a water bottle.

"Hey buddy, I think you've got the wrong door, the leather club's two blocks down." She gestures to her side.

Lilith takes an audacious stance, shoulders broad with one knee raised, appalled at the woman's insult to her fashion. Mouth agape, her outrage and disgust surge into a two-part percussion.

"Fuck ♂️ You."

Maria flings her towel aside. Approaching her disgracefully dressed rival, she retorts, "Oh, fuck you, leather girl. Maybe you and I should settle it right here on the ring if you think you're so tough."

"Oh yeah?" Lilith gets in range to lay the smackdown on this overconfident amateur.

"Yeah—"

"I'm gonna kick your ass!" Lilith shoves them off.

An amused Maria returns the shove, chuckling. "Ha! Yeah right man. Let's go! Why don't you get out of that leather stuff? I'll strip down out of this and we'll settle it right here in the ring. What do you say?" She slaps her BDSM-geared opponent's bust.

"Yeah, no problem buddy!" A slap across their bust confirms the match.

"You got it."

To their respective corners the two bodybuilding women return.

"Get out of that uh, jabroni outfit," Maria remarks.

"Yeah, smartass."

Lifting her shirt, Maria makes one thing certain.

"I'll show you who's boss of this gym."



Clank.

Clank.


Having stripped down to just the bare essentials, the two wrestlers each close their lockers.

Maria slams the gray metal with two fists, making an energetic pivot as she steps into the arena.

"Come on, let's go!" challenges the short-haired brunette.

"Yeah?"

"Let's see what you got!"

The sweat-soaked women collide in the center of the ring, clapping each other's palms together in a contest of strength.

"Hrrnnghhh…!"

"Aeerghhh…! Think you can take me leather girl? C'mon leather girl let's see whatcha got!"

Breaking free, Lilith sidesteps behind Maria and pulls them into a choking grapple.

"Ngh, you're pretty quick!" Maria compliments.

"Yeah?! Augh…!"


A gale of grunts and groans erupts, echoing throughout the locker room.


"Ahnn…! You can't handle this!" Lilith taunts.

"Hrrgh, ufff, vrhg!" To counter, Maria jerks her arm back with a swift elbow. While Lilith recoils, she takes on the offensive, grappling the larger woman and forcing them to the ground with a SPANK.

As Maria pins her down, Lilith struggles to shake them off, wildly bucking her hips.

Not so easily would Maria let the fetishist get off. She traps them in a leg lock, constricting around their torso.

"Hrghhh, phew, c'mon! Trouble breathing?!" Maria mocks.

"Unnff, vreaaaaaagh…!"

"Why don't you give up now, huh?!"

"Fuck you!"

"You should give up!"

"...Fuck you...!" mutters Lilith, refusing to relent.

"Hyeaghh… BOOM!" After dropping an elbow on Lilith, Maria hoists them up and hooks an arm under each shoulder. She maintains the nelson hold for a solid minute before pushing them to the ground.

Not out for the count yet, Lilith recovers and circles Maria.

"Phew, you get up pretty quick."

"You're pretty good, short stuff."


Though they fight earnestly, both their compliments seem more sincere than backhanded.


With a flying knee, Lilith lunges and tackles Maria, retaliating with a leg lock of her own. "You gonna give up?"

"Ughnn… Yeah right!"


Continuing their back-and-forth competition, the two become a mess of lustrous limbs, vying for the dominant position.


Maria goes for a sharpshooter, tying up Lilith's legs in a merciless stretch. "How's that feel?!"

Using her superior height to her advantage, Lilith reverses into an ankle lock. "Gagh, take it!"

Maria sends the giantess off-balance with a leg sweep, then follows up with an arm bar. "Haah, give it up!"

Lilith yells and grits her teeth. The pressure mounting, she stuns Maria with a punch to the groin.

"Bauuw, that was fuckin' dirty man…"

It's no holds barred now. Maria wouldn't hold back. "That's how you wanna play, huh?!"


Both women began targeting each other's nether regions.


Lilith slides Maria's head between her legs, clamping down with her thighs. "Vrrghh…! You gonna give up?!"

Blood rushed to Maria's face as she endures the cranium crush, screaming out, "AIIYYGH!!... I give… I give!"

After securing the submission, Lilith lays Maria out and stands over them, gloating and kicking them around. She strikes a victory pose, flexing her throbbing muscles.

"WOOP!"





The bawdy bout continues for another round, although with significantly more skin-on-skin contact and penetrating blows. By the end, the pale woman is completely tapped out. Perhaps the world will see the extended excursion another time.


SCHLCK. FUMP.

Panting, nearly out of breath, Lilith collapses on the mat, now noticeably damp. Most of it isn't sweat.

The champ leans down, cupping the defeated woman's chin. "Who owns your ass?"

"Mmh… You do~"

"That's what I thought." She backs up. "Knew you weren't that tough, leather girl."


Aaaand cut.
 
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