The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round "1" - Crystal Mirage XIX

The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round "1" - Crystal Mirage XIX
Star  The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round "1" - Crystal Mirage XIX
“What do you remember?”

As her consciousness reformed the first thing that Franchesca was aware of was the delectable smell of something sweet baking nearby. One by one her senses returned to her. She became aware she was laid down on a hard surface, some kind of powder matted into her fur. The sound of a cheery pop song playing tinnily on a shoddy radio, occasionally distorting for a moment before there was the sound of an impact and the quality continued as it had been.

There had also been the sound of a voice. It had asked her what she remembered, which was a good question but she was at this point too busy getting her senses back online to worry about such things as memories. Luckily, from the way the voice was idly humming along to the radio (and singing the one or two scattered words its owner knew of the lyrics) it didn’t seem like it was desperately awaiting her response.

There was the muffled hum of a fan, which would intermittently become unmuffled with the sounds of something big and metal being pulled laboriously open. Lots of mouthwatering baking scents would be released by this as well. Franchesca was prepared to conclude that the noises she was hearing belonged to a particularly large oven - and hey wasn’t that a good step forward to be making conclusions again?

Now for the big one. Franchesca hesitantly opened her eyes. It took a moment for the world to come into focus. She was in a kitchen, easily the most well-appointed kitchen she’d ever seen, but with none of the impersonality that an industrial kitchen would have. The walls were cream and decorated with framed pictures of quaint kitchen slogans such as ‘Happiness is a small house, with a big kitchen - Alfred Hitchcock’ and ‘People who love to eat are always the best people - Julia Child’ and ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to bake and get baked in return - Elton John’.

There were numerous countertops littered with bags of ingredients and numerous utensils, some of which looked familiar to Franchesca, some of which she would struggle to even invent a use for. A sink in one corner was piled high with cake tins and rolling pins and mixing bowls and the like. In another corner was the huge oven she had deduced the existence of, only larger than she had thought reasonable to imagine. It was large enough that at first it just looked like a door to another room, until you noticed the steam pouring out of it, the tray racks and the shadow of the fan spinning. And probably the heat would be a fairly strong signifier that you weren’t just walking into another room but Franchesca wasn’t close enough to feel that.

Speaking of where she was, she couldn’t help but notice she was lying on a kitchen counter, in a small drift of what she was going to assume was flour. Her body was slow to respond as she tried to sit up, her limbs suddenly afflicted with pins and needles as sensation returned to them. Franchesca gasped out loud and in doing so attracted the attention of this kitchen’s owner.

She was tall, with no fur, just smooth skin, and shifting rainbow coloured hair, tied back in a nice neat bun. She had an indeterminate amount of arms. At any given time, though it didn’t seem to fit with her understanding of the space that the woman was operating in, Franchesca would have sworn she was kneading some dough over at the far counter with one pair of arms, chopping some mysterious glowing white fruit at an entirely different counter with a second pair of arms, washing plates over by the sink with a third and smoking a ratty looking joint with a fourth. She was wearing an apron with what appeared to be a simplified cartoon version of herself face-on with eight hands extended around her, each holding a different kitchen utensil.

“How are you doing Frannie? Remember anything yet?”

Franchesca searched her memories. Her name was Franchesca Fox. She was a resident of Roshain, the voyaging city that she herself had set upon its path into the stars. Her best friend was a little shapeshifting dream-being called Nova, who she had rescued from the machinations of Nightmare Queen Vamera. She remembered Valhart, the broken knight whose agony continued to compel them to try to destroy and remake the universe itself, and the many confrontations that the three of them had had as they journeyed to the Source of All Things. She remembered being close to a final confrontation, but getting stranded on a dismal world orbiting a dying sun, and then she remembered waking here in this incongruous kitchen. Feeling compelled to supply this intimidating lady with an answer she recounted her most recent memories out loud.

“We were so close to the Source, but Rochelle, she’s the mayor of our city, said she was picking up signs of Valhart’s forces on this planet and of course me and Nova are going to go down there and investigate.” Fran said. “But it was a trick, Valhart was nowhere to be seen, me and Nova get separated, and Rochelle flies Roshain off towards the Source without us.”

“Woah, spoilers.” The lady muttered.

“I need to get back there. I don’t know what Rochelle is thinking, if she really did betray us or if there’s something else going on but I need to get to the Source and save everyone.” Fran was getting herself into an agitated state, and simultaneously seemed to be reacquiring full motor control of her body. She was trying to get up, but the lady simply placed a pair of hands on her shoulders and pushed her back down.

“Okay, calm down Fran.” she said soothingly, and while that usually was not an effective tactic to stem someone’s rising panic, this time she did feel a calmness coming over her. With this tranquility settled over her the lady looked down at her appraisingly and then shrugged with all of her numerous arms. “You’re not perfect but you’re close enough. I don’t really have time to try again at this point.”

“Ideally you’d remember all this, but since you don’t I’ll give you the cliff notes. You were taken by a powerful multiversal entity - that’s me - to participate in a Big Fight - essentially a nine person battle to the death, each round takes place in some interesting location from throughout the multiverse, and the round changes every time someone dies. Mine was called The Delectable Confection. I thought it was pretty good but the rest of the Hosts were like ‘ohh its so boring. Everyone’s just hanging around and talking and eating cake. Where’s the big fighting? Etc Etc’ you know the vibe.”

“Anyway things were going pretty well up until the last round where you and the other remaining contestant… um… both died somehow. I don’t know what happened I swear I only looked away for a minute. But the thing is that The Battle of the Victors (terrible name I personally hate it) is almost ready to go and the rest of the Hosts are waiting on my battle. I don’t have time to start over from scratch. I need you to go and be the representative of the Delectable Confection in this climactic battle.”

“I… died…?” Fran asked blankly. “I’m dead?”

“No, don’t be silly, you’re not currently dead, you just were for a while. I rebaked you.”

“You… rebaked me?” This line of conversation did not seem to be making things any better.

“Yes. I’ve been at it all day, trying to get you just right. Honestly it’s a little embarrassing, I used to bake entire universes into existence, but just really been struggling with getting the detail on you just right. In my defence it has been eons since I last did this. Nowadays the most complicated thing I bake are tiered wedding cakes, mainly in a baroque style.”

“You… used to bake… universes?” Fran asked. “You’re a God?”

“Oh, Gods don’t have anything on me, dear.” The lady said. “I’m The Baker.”

“I’m… dreaming right?” Fran asked. “This isn’t happening. I’m still stranded on that planet and having one of the most intense dreams of my life.”

“I think we can speed this along a little bit.” The Baker said, placing her fingertips upon Fran’s head and showing her a glimpse of the creation of a universe, not her own, the maker of her own universe had been more mechanically minded, but one that was similar enough to be understandable to the fox.

The sensation was overwhelming, the scent of a newly baked universe full of possibility and wonder was indescribable. It was too much information for a mortal mind to hold at once. She could taste the fabric of space and time, she remembered sprinkling the night sky with stars like it was a coating of sugar.

Fran pulled away, taking deep breaths as she processed what she’d just experienced. It was far too vivid, far too much for this to be a dream, she was forced to admit that this all might have been true. Which meant it was time to process everything she’d been told about being taken to be in a battle to the death, and dying, and being asked now to go and participate in this Battle of the Victors.

It was all so abstract, especially when all she wanted to do was go home and finally finish the fight against Valhart and save her own universe. But instead here she was face to face with God who was a chef who wanted her to go and fight some people for a reason she didn't really understand.

“How did I die?” she asked.

“I don’t quite know. You and Ginger, the other finalist, I think you were both trying to make your escape and I turn my back for five minutes and you’re both dead.”

“We weren’t trying to kill one another? Isn’t that the point?”

“Its more fun when there’s a mix of characters in there and you get some alliances, some emnities. You and Ginger were thick as thieves, as they say.” She paused and glanced at a clock mounted on the wall. “Look, we’re running low on time, and I don’t really need to negotiate with you here. I can force you to be cooperative with me on this, but it’s messy and I don’t like messy.”

Fran clenched her fists. “I think if it’d get you the results you want you’d just do it, messiness be damned. I think that you’re worried people would notice that I don’t have all the memories I’m supposed to have and realize you botched your battle. I’ll do it, and I’ll do my best to pretend I know what’s going on, but I want this… Ginger? I want her with me. You can rebake her just as easily as you can rebake me right?”

“Are you sure? You don’t even know her?”

“Admittedly all I’m going off is your description of our relationship, but, if we were trying to escape together then I’m not going to leave her behind.”

“Fine. I can work with that. You have yourself a deal.”

“I’m not done yet. I want you to protect my universe while I’m doing this for you. I don’t know what form that takes, I’m not the God here, but I don’t want to fight this battle for you and then go back and find my universe has been remade in Valhart’s image while I’ve been gone.”

A small frown crossed The Baker’s face for a moment, but she says
“Deal. Any other stipulations or can I get back to work?”

Fran shook her head. “That’s everything.”

“Perfect. Then you should get your rest Fran. You’ve got a big day ahead of you.”

Star  The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 0? - Ill Fortune Theatre
The next thing Franchesca knew she was sat in a comfortable seat overlooking a bustling theatre. The show had not yet started; the curtains were down and the lights were still lit. She was looking down from above and slightly off to one side. This was probably a private box. The seats were filled with strange beings chattering to one another.

There were hazy humanoid shapes in black, red and green, enormous dice with eyes for every spot that rolled themselves down the aisles when they had to move. There were living casino chips in all variety of colours; everyone seemed to pay attention as the gold chip rolled down to the front row. There were playing cards shuffling down the aisles some of whom when they reached their seats they unzipped their rectangular edges like coats and took their seats as just the rotationally symmetrical representations of monarchs depicted upon them.

Franchesca almost felt like she was back in the dream dimension again and it was only noticing The Baker seated to her left that she managed to ground herself. She also noticed that someone was holding her hand, and glanced to the right to see a furless teenage girl with bright red hair in pigtails and a beat up lime green witches’ hat. Her eyes were gold and she was looking through the crowd in much the same way Fran had been, a wondrous grin upon her face. This must be Ginger.

“Hi. I’m Fran it’s nice to meet you.” she whispered.

“Oh, you don’t remember me?” Ginger looked a little disappointed. “Don’t worry Fran we’re going to be the best of friends.” Ginger squeezed her hand tight and Fran happily reciprocated.

“Hush girls it’s about to start.”

The house lights dimmed. The curtains drew back and revealed a rather unremarkable stage, with a small handful of real trees growing out of it for some reason. The only person on the stage was a furless woman in a deep blue suit and tie combination, with neatly combed bleached blonde hair and ridiculously shaped glasses (slanted triangles extending too far on either side of her head) with a bright pink tint to them. She looked patently ridiculous, caught at the exact intersection between two wildly incompatible aesthetics.

“Welcome to the Battle of the Victors, ladies.” she said with a smug grin. “I’m The Authority and I will be your Host for this climactic fight, given that I don’t have a winner of my own… yet. Anyway we all know why we’re here. I’m sure we’re all very excited to get to it and let our Victors finally battle it out. But first I would like to take a moment and pay tribute to the fallen hosts whose contributions to our craft will be remembered even if they will not be represented here tonight.”

A slideshow started up behind her, in somber black and white cycling through still images of a number of entities, mostly humanoid though that was the most they could say to have in common. Most of the names didn’t elicit much reaction from the crowd; The Gamer, The President, The Historian, The Gossipmonger, The Machinist, The Reaper. The Police got a couple of jeers, while The Infanta got a weird half cheer (as if several members of the audience were excited just to think of her and only remembered she was dead half way through their celebration) and several people calling out how much they missed her.

“The Infanta?” Fran accidentally murmured aloud. The Baker shot her a glance. That’s weird. The image looked a lot like someone she knew from her own world, only her Infanta was a deer with soft brown fur.

The final name The Dreamer lingered onscreen for longer than the others and The Authority bowed her head in mournful silence until it was gone.

“Now lets meet the returning contestants. I’ve been a little busy running The Bigger Fight-” a couple of chuckles from the audience “-so I haven’t had time to keep up with all of your individual fights. As such each contestant’s Host will introduce them. Here to represent The Big Fight is The Gambler.”

The Authority stepped off to one side and a pair of entities appeared on stage to a smattering of applause from the audience. The one stood closer to the front was a dull green essence in the rough shape of a human looming over a floating roulette table with a notebook and pencil embedded into their spectral form. The other was a small black machine, no larger than a toaster, with a couple of small aerials and a set of complicated mechanical legs.

“Hi. I’m The Gambler.” They said. “Thanks for coming. I’m just so happy to see that a concept I invented has brought so much pleasure and enjoyment to so many people over the years, and now we get to put an end to our first two seasons all at once. But of course, you know all that. And I’d assume most of you know Myrrh Curie, the victor of our very first ever Big Fight.” They gesture with one hand towards the black box behind them, while simultaneously restarting the spin of their roulette wheel with the other. “But for those of you who are contestants, or who don’t watch one anothers fights; she is a living modem. She can access the local internet, should one exist, wherever she goes, and provide access to a local network for anyone of her choice. She’s sent me several emails asking that she be allowed to keep some secrets to give her a fighting chance, so I will respect her wishes.”

Fran jumped in her seat as a dark grey envelope shape popped up in her peripheral vision. The Baker shushed her and Fran was lost for words as the envelope seemed to follow her gaze, right on the very edge of her vision, flickering on and off distractingly. With no idea what to do about that she simply tried to focus on the ongoing spectacle before her.

“One last note, for anyone who wants to make any wagers on the results of our climactic battle; I will be open for business, come and see me in Box 1 once the first round is officially in motion.”

The Gambler and Myrrh disappeared from the stage and stood empty for a moment as The Authority took a sip of a fancy cocktail. “Here to represent The Big Fight II is The High-Roller.”

Two entities appeared on stage once again. At the front stood The High-Roller; an enormous heap made entirely of coins, credit cards and paper money. Behind them stood a furless girl in her early twenties or late teens. She had olive skin and dark shaved-short hair. She was wearing a tank top, jeans, leather gloves and a backpack. In her hands she was holding a pair of wide black briefcases, and sheathed at her belt were multiple swords, three on each side of her body. Her visible skin was covered with the remnants of old shallow scars.

“Hello hi. I don’t want to take up too much of your time but seeing as The Gambler got to say a little piece about themselves, well I personally don’t think that big fights would have caught on to the extent that they have done were it not for my contribution to the art. You see I like to think of myself as something of a trendsetter.”

“Please can we get a move on we still have eight contestants to introduce.”

“Fine.” They said. “This is One-Million-Blades-”

“My name is One-Billion-Blades.” She stepped forward, drawing a black and red sword from her hip. “And don’t misunderstand what’s happening here. I’m here to kill all of you bastard Hosts who are responsible for the death of Winter.” She pointed with the blade, drawing it along the boxes where the Hosts and their contestants sat.

“Highroll? Could you get a handle on your contestant please?”

“Oh she’s harmless.” They said, as One-Billion-Blades plunged her sword into the heap of money that constituted their body. “See look, no harm done.” It was at that moment that the blade of her sword burst into flame and set alight The High-Roller. This did seem to produce a reaction. Enormous hands composed of the same physical currencies as the main body emerged from The High-Roller’s form and attempted to beat down the flame, only managing to cause themselves to be more on fire, and they ran (slid?) back and forth across the stage in a panic.

“Stand with me and we’ll make all these dickhead Hosts suffer before they die!” One-Billion-Blades screamed.

The Authority buried her face in her hands as the burning High-Roller and One-Billion-Blades vanished from the stage. “Heavens help us.” She said. “And oh great here’s The Oddball to represent The Mondo Ruction.”

Two entities again. The one at the front was almost certainly The Oddball. An enormous orange billiard ball with the number 5 instead of a face, wearing a multicoloured scarf and a fez. Behind it was a furless woman who appeared to be in her thirties. She had blue hair down to her shoulders and was wearing a black hoodie with a logo for something called My Chemical Romance and a pair of jeans. She looked pretty normal compared to everything so far.

“Worm Hotel!” it said and then gave no further indication that it wanted to say anything else.

The woman stepped forward, past the completely immobile Oddball and spoke up nervously. “Actually my name is Natasha. I’d rather not be called Worm Hotel. God it’s a little intimidating being up here. I’d prefer to go home again if that’s allowed, but otherwise nice to meet you all I suppose…” She glanced around, looking alternately at The Oddball and The Authority. “Is that good? Can I go and sit down again now?”

The Authority waved a hand and both Natasha/Worm Hotel and The Oddball disappeared from the stage. She glanced down at her notes, leafing through a couple of pages until finally she looked back up. “And to close off Season One’s offerings we have The Tormentrix to present the victor of The Inescapable Suffering.”

The head of an enormous wyrm appeared on stage. Its body was that of an enormous serpent so great that it all could not fit onto the stage and so just sort of disappeared off into the backstage area. Its scales were constantly changing colour, pulsing between all the colours of the rainbow and some colours that Fran had never seen before. Around its head were long strings of papers covered in sigils, hanging loose, and brightly blooming flowers tied together in chains.

Upon its arrival there were audible gasps and much murmuring from the audience. Up in the fifth box The Baker was frowning and looking down at her programme, and that was probably true of most of the other boxes.

“Look at how my beautiful my plaything has become.” The Tormentrix announced, and it was only at this point that it most of the audience noticed her. She was standing right up next to the wyrm’s head, giving them gentle strokes. The size of the thing was even more plain to see with someone for scale. She was about a third of the height of this thing and it looked as though it could easily swallow her whole if it chose. The Tormentrix herself had bright red skin, jet black eyes, huge twisted horns and razor sharp teeth. She was dressed entirely in not really enough leather.

“You really mean to claim that this is your contestant?” The Authority demanded.


“This is Snowflake Fluttermuse?”

“This is she.” The Tormentrix said simply. “In The Inescapable Suffering she was just a simple innocent sprite but since then she has willingly merged her soul with Faerynsormr. The World Devouring Serpent of the feyworlds. Bound and controlled by the fae queens, no longer. Now she will be my weapon for my ultimate victory. Say your prayers Victors, though they will not protect you from my punishment.”

And with that the Tormentrix and the wyrm both vanished from the stage.

“Well… I’m not quite sure how to respond to that. Good luck to the rest of our victors I suppose.” The Authority said. “Next up would be… well this is the point where I’d introduce my contestant if I had one. Let me just check.” Pause. “No, but they do need a yet another new round. They’re really exhausting my supply of fun not yet completely fucked locales. Just putting this out there, if you’ve got any spare round concepts let me know. For now though let’s call this Intermission. I’ll be right back.”

The Authority vanished and the crowd started to talk amongst themselves.

Fran turned to The Baker. “This is a little more intense than you led me to believe.” she said.

“Well that was a little more intense than I was anticipating also.” she admitted.

Ginger squeezed her hand and said:
“But you’re Franchesca Fox. There’s no obstacle you can’t overcome.”

“That’s a really powerful show of confidence but I don’t know that I can live up to that hype.”

RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 0? - Ill Fortune Theatre
Standing here, The way ahead's becoming clear
All across these new frontiers
In my hands I hold the ones I love
Walk forward through the cold dawn
Always to new horizons
Star  RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 0? - Ill Fortune Theatre
The corridor outside the private boxes was also dotted with trees growing inexplicably out of the carpet. Off to the right Fran could see a large crowd of various different entities clustered around the entrance to one of the boxes. Hovering just outside the doorway was the spirit bound to the roulette table; The Gambler.

“I’m not taking any bets on overall winner or even early elimination until we have our whole cast finalized. But we do have many interesting and potentially profitable side-bets. I’ll give you 5/1 that One-Billion-Blades kills a Host before the battle is through.” Many hands were raised with fists full of cash, one of the hands raised was a fist made of cash, The Gambler snatched it up and started writing hurried notes in their notebook.

“What about Thrillseeker?” Someone called out.

“Oh hmmm.” The Gambler set their roulette table spinning as they contemplated. “1/8 she kills at least one of us.” There’s a grumbling amongst the group, but a couple of hands go up. The Gambler grabs the cash, makes their notes and chuckles. “Tell you what, I’ll give you a solid 10/1 she kills every last one of us.” This one is met with a murmur of approval, and one person trying to ask who would pay the bet out if it did come to pass and receiving no response.

Not wanting to get involved in any of that Fran took a left instead. The next box along had a Do Not Disturb sign hung on the door. The one after that had a group of grey eyed people clustered around the open door. They watched her silently as she walked past.

Fran had needed a little space to process the magnitude of what was happening. She’d told The Baker she was going to go and get drinks for everyone and in response she had conjured a tray of refreshments for them out of nothing. She’d said she was just going to go for some fresh air and then the temperature of the box had dropped dramatically and a stiff wind had started blowing in from somewhere. Her next instinct had been to say she just wanted to stretch her legs but she’d wisely refrained from voicing that one out loud. Instead she’d just slipped away and neither The Baker nor Ginger had moved to stop her.

Eventually Fran reached the end of the corridor and pushed open the fire escape door. Outside there was a small railing where a couple of ladies where sharing a cigarette and beyond that was nothing but colourless infinity. Fran had seen space. She’d been voyaging through space for what felt like years now. This wasn’t that. This was oblivion, an emptiness that instinctively in her bones she knew was actively hostile towards life. It hurt to look directly at it.

“Evenin’ Franchesca.” One of the two ladies said. She was a furless woman with white skin and straight black hair reaching all the way down to her waist. Her eyes were hidden behind a small pair of rose-tinted glasses. She was wearing numerous necklaces, bracelets, dangling earrings, all of which were decorated with intricate symbols and sigils. She was wearing a loose tie-dye dress and a heavy pair of combat boots. Fran wouldn’t have liked to guess how old she was, that seemed impolite, but she had a sort of weariness of age about her, a state of perpetual ‘frick it’.

“You know me?” Fran asked.

“Of course. I used to read your exploits to the girls all the time.” she said. “I’m Cindy Sparkkle and my new friend here is Thrillseeker.”

Fran looked over at the other woman. She was also furless, her skin was tan, her eyes obscured behind a pair of aviator sunglasses with cherry red lenses, her lips a glossy black. Her hair was gelled up into a gaudy blood red pompadour. She was wearing a black t-shirt with a stylized logo of a lantern in white, a faded denim jacket, one fingerless black glove, a miniskirt and big black boots. Her legs were almost entirely covered in tattoos, images of awful nightmare creatures with bright red xs across their faces.

But the most immediately noticeable thing about her was her mechanical right arm. It was made from gleaming metal, bone white, with accents of black and red so dark that it was almost black. At its end it had a little cigarette holder, which was currently in use tightly clutching a roll-up. Thrillseeker gave Fran a nod but didn’t say anything. She held out her arm, offering her the cigarette.

“Oh no thanks.” she said. Cindy chuckled to herself, and took back the cigarette when Thrillseeker offered it back her way. With the cigarette out of her hand, it transformed, what had looked like an entirely solid piece of metal revealed it was a series of panels that slid apart to allow pieces to emerge and some pieces to retract. After a moment she had a rough hand shape comprised of two fingers and a thumb. She gave Franchesca a polite wave. “Nice to meet you both.” Fran said. “You’re contestants too?”

Thrillseeker nodded her response and Cindy said:
“Yeah, but I’m new. My nieces were in the Willowy Upsetting or something like that, and when they got back I insisted that I was joining the band so I could put a stop to all this nonsense.”

“You’re both looking to fight the Hosts?” Fran asked. “Is it really possible? They were practically laughing it off when One-Billion-Blades was trying to kill her Host earlier.”

“I know that it's possible.” Cindy grinned. “You remember that In Memoriam presentation earlier? That’s almost entirely the work of this girl right here.” She gestured towards Thrillseeker who took a small bow. Fran was stunned, she looked the girl up and down again but it wasn’t as though with this knowledge she gained some unexpected grandeur. She was still a weird aloof girl with a ridiculous haircut and what appeared to be a band t-shirt on.

Before Fran had time to respond or to really formulate her thoughts on the matter she was back in her box with The Baker and Ginger, who eagerly grabbed her hand once again.

“Welcome back ladies.” The Authority was back on-stage. “The good news is The Bigger Fight is back down to 30 contestants again. The bad news is its time to see what The Baker has prepared for us in The Delectable Confection.”

“Yes we all know my fight wasn’t the most thrilling to watch, but there’s no need to be rude about it Thora.” The Baker said. Suddenly she, Fran and Ginger were on stage together, looking out over the crowd of living gambling paraphernalia. Ginger was still holding Franchesca’s hand and she was grinning and waving at the crowd.

Franchesca was a anthropomorphic foxgirl with an athletic build and pale orange fur. She was wearing a pair of goggles perched atop her head, a simple blouse and skirt and a leather jacket. Strapped to her back was her faithful two handed blade Phaetix, which she was pretty sure hadn’t been there just a moment ago.

Ginger was a furless teen with bright red hair, tied back in pigtails, pale skin and freckles. She wore a lime green witches hat which was slightly too big for her, and crooked in the middle, leaning quite firmly off to one side. She wore a pink t-shirt, dark blue denim dungarees, and had a bulging satchel slung across her chest.

“The winners of The Delectable Confection are Franchesca Fox and Ginger. Fran is an accomplished swordswoman who has saved her world many times. I’m sure you’re all familiar with her work. Ginger is a descendant of a great witch and the inheritor of a tome of incredible power.”

“Baker, I hate to but in,” her tone indicated the opposite, “but your initial cast list indicates that Fran and Ginger are not affiliated with one another. If they are both alive the fight should be ongoing.”

“I appreciate that, but well we run out of time.” The Baker shrugged. “Look, the rest of the contestants got to go home for a year of perceived time, prepare themselves for battle. These two are coming straight from the fight. If you want to postpone this Battle of the Victors until circumstance finally kills one of these two girls and then the additional time required to give the survivor the appropriate preparation time…” The crowd was booing at the mere suggestion of postponing the fight. “Otherwise they fight as a team, and also to sweeten the deal I made everyone a cake. Even you Thora.”

Fran watched as across the crowd cakes popped into existence, ranging from simple cupcakes to plates with a single slice and a nice drizzle of sauce and across a wide variety of styles and flavours. The Authority was holding a plate with a full cake covered in white frosting with something shredded as a topping, her face held a look of extreme disdain.

“Considering we don’t wish to delay our climatic battle any longer I think we can overlook the circumstances of this pair character’s formation and accept them as a single combatant.” she said. “Go on, off with you.”

With that said Fran, Ginger and The Baker were now back in their box seats. In her hands Fran found herself holding a slice of cake with bright red sponge and a white cream icing. She took a bite and found it to be quite delicious, but the moment was rather ruined when Ginger whispered to her. “We were baked in the same ovens as these cakes. When you think about it we’re practically sisters.”

Back on the stage The Authority had placed the loathed cake on the floor and kicked it slightly away from herself. “Next up, speaking on behalf of The Sanguine Matrimony lets give a warm welcome to the newlyweds.”

As the crowd burst into applause as instructed, Two figures both wearing white appeared on stage. They were making out, their arms wrapped around each other, their bodies pressed tightly together. The taller of the two was in an ancient floor length white dress, with a couple of faded bloodstains here and there. Her veil was draped down so that it covered both of their faces.

The shorter of the two was wearing a full white suit and bowtie. It was much less worn and stained than that of her counterpart. The most immediately noticeable thing about her though was her mismatched wings; one of which was a pale white wing with a thin layer of frost upon it, and the other a deep red feathered wing that dripped blood intermittently onto the stage below her, and had left a bloody streak down the side of her suit jacket.

Eventually, after an uncomfortably long amount of time, they managed to pull themselves away from each other. The one in the dress continued to keep her face hidden behind the veil in a way that made Fran believe that the person she was just kissing was perhaps the only person who had seen what was beneath. The one in the suit was furless with dark green skin, cut short black hair and razor sharp teeth. She still had one hand tightly wrapped around her partner’s waist, and seemed a little irritated by the interruption.

“Thank you very much.” The Bride said. “I hardly have to introduce my partner. After all most of you were at our wedding. But I suppose… for the sake of the contestants I must. This is Urzov Godkiller - my dearest and most beloved darling wife, and also the living embodiment of predation. Anything she kills and eats becomes part of her. Please don’t keep her too long, we have a honeymoon to get to after this.”

In the moments before they disappeared from the stage it was clear to see that they were going straight back to making out again.

“You know… I’ve known The Bride a long time-” The Authority had found a microphone stand to lean against.

“You’re not our Best Woman Thora. We didn’t invite you to the wedding because we didn’t want you there. You cannot use this as an opportunity to give your speech.”

“Oh, I remember the times when she’d be going through grooms like it was going out of fashion. It really did seem like she was never going to find someone who could appreciate, and shall we say, withstand, her unique kind of beauty.” Hurrying down the aisles of the theatre was an entire wedding party of groomsmen and bridesmaids. “The bodies were piled high let me tell you. She brought a whole new meaning to the term 'ladykiller'.” They were on the stage, chasing The Authority who was now hiding behind one of the inexplicable trees. “And... and 'SangMat' was my idea actually!” They were grappling for the microphone and managed to pull it away but The Authority would not be deterred, and the microphone wasn’t really 100% necessary for her anyway. “I was just trying to make up the numbers, never really anticipated that it would bear fruit so to speak,” The wedding party was dragging her off-stage. “Still not one hundred percent convinced... I mean sure they've kissed but if she survives the honeymoon I'll be really impressed.” Her voice was getting quieter as she was dragged over to the exit. “No, wait this one's really good. Hear me out! So I was thinking that if Urzov becomes what she eats then-” and then silence as the door slammed shut after her.

The audience started to murmur impatiently as the stage remained empty

“Are we next?” A voice called out.

“No, it’s uhhhmm… The Scenic Scrap next. Then you lot, and then last up is the butcher herself.”

After a moment a number of figures appeared on stage, this time instead of the two or three that had been typical so far, the entire stage was full of people, and not just the stage, any free space in the theatre was now occupied, be it the aisles, empty seats or the space located at the foot of the stage. There was almost no commonality between any of the individual members of this sudden deluge of people. Adults and children of varying skin colours, varying professions, ages, body shapes, outfits, hairstyles, some were slouching, some sat cross-legged on the floor, some were standing bolt upright. There were only three things they had in common, which were one that they were all furless, two that they were all eating cake and three that they all had a glowing grey that filled their eyes entirely. When they spoke they spoke in eerie unison. “We are a contingent of The City. Sadly our requests to have the Ill Fortune Theatre extended to allow our main body to be present have been dismissed again.”

“Fuck's sake City. We all know you’re a city of infinite size fully occupying any space you enter.” The Gambler called out across the theatre. “Please stop trying to trick us into allowing your further expansion. We’re not falling for it.”

“Regretfully few will accommodate our need for perpetual expansion, but it is to be expected at this point. Our fight was designed to give those individuals who are locations a venue to have their stories heard. Our contestant is Mortis Woods, a haunted forest where the spirits live amongst, and have free control of, the trees.” As they spoke the lights seemed to dim, and the trees that had been present on the stage this entire time seemed to twist and move and cast a sinister silhouette. “All who die within the Mortis Woods add to its collection of souls. In their time since they won The Scenic Scrap they have been using their newly acquired treant body to gather more souls and prepare for the fight yet to come.”

Sounds of scraping and banging in the walls, something heavy moving with ponderous steps. The sound of something wet being dragged along behind it. The City stood on the stage motionless as the pounding footsteps got louder and louder. The audience before them started murmuring uncertainly, twisting around in their seats to watch the doors. Closer and closer and the doors vibrating with each impact. Finally one last thud, the doors slam open and there’s nothing there, just an empty corridor and bloodied carpets. When the audience turns back to the stage The City has vanished, though the, now slightly ominous, trees remain.

“I’m back.” The Authority announced as she sprinted back up onto the stage. “Many apologies for that. Don’t know what came over me there. Anyway, just two more to go. We’re on that home stretch. And next up to represent The Winnowing Unending we have ‘The Reaper’.” She made exaggerated air quotes as she said the Host’s name.

Seven figures appeared on stage this time. Four of them were hugging, one of them was the older lady she’d met on the balcony, another one was a disembodied hand, and the last was -

“Hey that looks just like The Infanta from the memorial presentation earlier.” Fran blurted out. The Baker glanced over and gave her a nod, but offered no explanation.

The small group that were hugging pulled away from one another and two of the group stepped forward. They were both wearing floor length black cloaks with their hoods down, pale makeup to give the aesthetic of bones and shining pink eyes.

“Hello there. Technically speaking we’re ‘The Reaper’ right now.” The one who spoke first had shoulder length black hair and a general demeanour that did not suit the aesthetic she was currently sporting even a single iota. “We’re working on a title that will really speak to who we are as Hosts, but we’ve not come to any decision yet. We’ll keep you all updated if we really find what we are embodying or representing or whatever. Until then just call me Sara, and my colleague here is Zaffy.”

“It’s Zafira if we’re not friends.” Zafira said, gruffly. Her arms were folded, her face set in a scowl. She had short untidy black hair, a small handful of piercings including a couple of lip rings, a septum ring, an eyebrow barbell and a pair of earrings with a dangling black skull ornamentation. She seemed much closer to the intended aesthetic, but didn’t display the solemnity that Franchesca was pretty sure the robes were supposed to indicate.

Sara nodded. “So our contestants are… well first of all they’re not our contestants. We didn’t choose them. Look, when we were achieving apotheosis we didn’t think we had to step directly into the shoes of the person who brought us here.” She sighed. “Lets try again, the winners of The Winnowing Unending are the Sparkklechix. Obviously the band has gone through a little restructuring since we first arrived. Their current members are Debbie Finch,”

Debbie had grey-green skin, mousy brown hair, dark red eyes hidden behind a battered pair of wire frame glasses and blood in her teeth. She was wearing a plain grey tank top and equally drab jogging bottoms and trainers. She looked surprisingly muscular for a girl who was giving off vibes of I would rather die than go outside.

“Atasha Jones,”

Atasha had dark skin, frizzy black hair tied back into a clumsy braid, and soft amber eyes. She was wearing a loose white shirt with puffed up sleeves and a knee length burgundy skirt with a slit in the side. In her hands she was holding a rapier, composed of bright purple-pink light and with glitter hanging in the air around it, as her name was called she gave a couple of slashes towards the audience.

“Aunt Cindy,”

Cindy was much the same as she had been when she and Franchesca had met out on the fire escape, only now she had a satchel slung across her chest and a pistol sheathed at her hip. She held out one hand and atop it was a disembodied left hand, standing up on its finger tips. The entire thing was covered in tattoos, tiny delicately inked runes arranged in overlapping concentric circles.

“Irabeth Argent (she’s the hand), and finally… well, she said she wanted to make her own introduction.”

The last member of the group, the one who looked so much like both The Infanta of this world and Franchesca’s own, stepped forward. She was furless, with golden skin, shining silver hair and emerald green eyes. Atop her head was a sleek silver crown, with wires connecting between the crown and going into her scalp. She was wearing a full length elaborate golden ballgown that almost perfectly matched the colour of her skin.

“My legal name is Jessica Hall but you might already know of me as The Infanta.” A brief burst of cheers from the audience. “I’ve met several different versions of myself from across the multiverse at this point, and I mourn with you for the loss of yours. But today I am going to show you something new, something bigger than these big fights. Today you can call me Transcendence and I guarantee the world will never be the same again.”

Behind her the rest of the group were shooting each other glances and offering shrugs as Transcendence made her speech, but nothing more was said before they all disappeared from the stage.

“I’m sure we all wish her the best of luck with... whatever that means.” The Authority said returning to the stage once more. “Finally, we have one last contender to introduce.” The crowd started jeering. “The winner of the Enigmatic Skirmish, the living blight upon our community, the butcher of Hosts herself, it’s Thrillseeker.”

Thrillseeker appeared on the stage alongside an enormous contraption; a human sized translucent vat of pale red liquid mounted to a platform atop four heavy hydraulic legs. The only difference between Thrillseeker now and as she had been out on the fire escape was the jet black scythe strapped to her back. It was almost as tall as she was and seemed to shimmer with a deep purple. In response to the boos and the jeers she said nothing, simply took an exaggerated bow.

“So as you might notice she’s here on her own, which makes sense given that her Host was The Recluse. For the benefit of the other contestants they are the one bastard who has never shown their face to anyone and when they contacted me hoping to host a big fight I thought maybe we were going to get the opportunity to know them.” She sighed. “Instead every single one of their rounds was the home of a different Host. At first were content to watch the spectacle. After all it was just The Gamer. Who cares about that asshole? Then The Police, honestly you were doing us a favour.”

As The Authority spoke she stalked around the stage. Any joviality in her voice had long gone replaced with a furious anguish. “Then you killed The Dreamer, my beloved Dream... One of the sweetest and kindest among us and you fucking killed her you monster! And what do you have to say about it?” Thrillseeker shrugged. “I should kill you right now. I would be doing a favour to everyone if I murdered you where you stand.”

As The Authority ranted Thrillseeker was reaching into her pocket and producing something that looked like a small coin. Fran was too far away to see it in any great detail but it was dimly glowing. Thrillseeker slotted it into her mechanical arm while The Authority continued her tirade and riled up the crowd. In moments her arm began to whirr as it processed whatever the heck that had been, the sudden noise cutting short The Authority’s diatribe.

Nothing happened for a moment. Both women on stage frozen for a second just looking at each other and then, bright white lights shot out of Thrillseeker’s arm; ropes that homed in on The Authority, wrapping themselves around her, gripping her by the arms, by the torso, by the neck. Thrillseeker braced herself against her enormous contraption and pulled. The light ropes tensed, vibrating louder and louder, deafening, hot and burning, shedding cruel energy like heckling laughter. The audience were on their feet, crying out for Thrillseeker’s head.

The Authority grimaced, raising one hand and making a well practiced motion to freeze Thrillseeker in place. Only nothing happened. Thrillseeker only pulled the ropes harder; they were biting into her skin. It was already too much, too painful to think. It was patently absurd, a mortal able to conjure this amount of power and yet, The Authority found she couldn’t stand.

As The Authority fell to her knees a bunch of things happened at once. The Tormentrix appeared onstage, an enormous rust-coloured claymore drawn, poised and ready to swing. Simultaneously One-Billion-Blades was there, a sword in each hand and four more floating around her. She was standing in defense of Thrillseeker, blocking The Tormentrix, parrying her blows and landing several of her own, before the Tormentrix’s claymore seemingly flung itself from her hands and embedded itself in one of the nearby trees, which Franchesca could have sworn was screaming.

The Bride and her groom Urzov appeared next to the definitely screaming immobile figure of The Authority. The Bride started hacking away at the burning bright ropes with a sickly green dagger. Urzov unfurled her wings and leapt, dodging past One-Billion-Blades hanging blades, to put herself right next to Thrillseeker. She didn’t immediately strike, but anything she was saying was inaudible over the racket of everything else that was going on.

And as all that was happening The Gambler was suddenly amongst the audience calling out odds for the ongoing conflict and scooping up handfuls of cash.

“We need to do something!” Fran exclaimed, watching the chaos unfold.

“Yes I do think this farce has gone on too long.” The Baker said, “Don’t you girls go anywhere.” and she disappeared down onto the stage below where The Sparkklechix, including the two that had ascended to Host status, but notably not including Transcendance, were on stage, holding off Urzov Godkiller and now The Baker as well.

Fran cried out in frustration, and hurried to the door, dragging Ginger along behind her. “We have to get out there and help.” There was movement in the corner of her eye. The weird envelope symbol that nobody else could see was flashing again.

“But it’s dangerous out there.” Ginger said, dragging her feet. Fran tried the door but it was locked tight.

“That’s why we have to do something. It’s always going to be dangerous to fight for our freedom but we have to if we want anything to change.”

“Life isn’t a storybook!” Ginger pleaded. “The good guys aren’t always who they seem and sometimes the bad guys win.”

Fran slammed her weight into the door, once, twice, three times. No luck. “Oh god do I know that to be the case.”

“No you don’t.” Ginger snapped. “You’re Franchesca Fox! You always win! You always save your friends. Even when it looks the darkest it always works out for the best. Nobody ever thinks you’re a monster just for existing. Just for being strong.”

“I really don’t know what we’re talking about at the moment.” Fran said, slamming into the door hopelessly again. “I have to go. I have to try and stop this while there is still a chance.”

“Fine! Go then!” The door slammed open. Fran hesitated.

“Come with me, please.” Ginger just shook her head. Fran hesitated for just a moment longer and then fled out into the corridor.
Information  RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 0? - Ill Fortune Theatre
Star  RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 0? - Ill Fortune Theatre
Fran turned right, past where the crowd had been betting earlier. If this place was symmetrical there would be stairs at the end of the corridor and this side would be closer. She ran past a bunch of burnt and still smouldering paper money, crawling along the floor, screaming in agony.

“We need to get out of here!” The voice came from behind her, she turned around to see the blue haired woman, Worm Hotel?? No she hated that, what was her actual name again? Frick, it just wasn’t as memorable as Worm Hotel. She was coming up behind her, grabbed her hand and they ran together until they reached the stairs. Worm Hotel was pulling on her arm, trying to pull her on further; past the stairs to the fire escape.

“No, there’s nothing out there.” Fran said. “The only way to stop this is to fight.”

Worm Hotel’s eyes were red and puffy, she’d definitely been crying since she’d been on-stage earlier.
“I’m not a fighter. I’ll never survive this for real. Running away is all I have right now.”

“Just!” Fran squeezed her fists tight. “Just hold on! Don’t do anything reckless just yet. Please.”

Worm Hotel bit her lip anxiously and averted her gaze.
“Okay. Be safe.” At that moment a bright orange worm about the size of a ferret or a weasel, emerged from her right shoulder and bounded down her arm, leaping over and disappearing into Fran’s chest in a moment. For a moment Worm Hotel looked sad and then she smiled slightly and said: “Keep her safe Nas.”

“What in the heck just happened?” Fran asked, but Worm Hotel (Natasha) was already heading out onto the fire escape. Something banged against the door of the nearest private box, and that irritating envelope popped up again. Fran screamed inwardly overwhelmed with all the stuff that was happening and forced herself to turn around and hurry down the stairs.

In the ground floor corridors there were throngs of dice people and card people and others all shoving their way down the corridor away from the auditorium. Fran had to fight to avoid being carried away in the tide, managing to slowly get herself closer to a doorway until she could force her way inside as the panicking audience was thinning.

Inside the auditorium, there were two major noteworthy developments, first was that up on the stage was some kind of genetic monstrosity, made of bone as sharp as a blade, thick bundles of exposed muscle and tumorous growths. It was fighting side by side with One-Billion-Blades against The Baker and the Tormentrix.

The other notable thing was that the place was now crowded with the grey eyed members of The City, most of whom were placidly standing around staring at the ongoing conflict, some of whom were wrestling with a blood-drenched living tree monster, and a couple of whom were fervently blocking Fran’s path to the action. “Let me through!” she demanded but they were not listening.

(I can help!) An errant thought popped into Fran’s mind, and almost immediately she felt strong, a power, a heat emanating from her chest. She clenched her hands into fists, and driven by mad impulse, she swung at the nearest grey eyed individual (a muscular lady with blonde hair and the look of a bouncer about her). It was a clumsy blow and the grey eyed lady easily blocked it with her forearms, but she clearly wasn’t expecting the sheer force of the blow and stumbled backwards, right into a couple of other members of the City, landing in a small pile, as every head nearby turned to stare at her.

“Careful whose side you choose to stand by little fox.” They said as one.

Fran ignored them, pushing her way into the gap she’d made and then climbing over the empty seats hurrying up to the stage. There was The Authority, lying flat on her face now and bleeding inky black fluid where Thrillseeker’s screaming light ropes were still cutting into her. The necrotic monstrosity was taking taking huge swings, forcing The Baker and The Tormentrix to brace themselves or get out of the way and One-Billion-Blades floating arsenal was seizing every opportunity to slice at them or outright impale them. Though none of it seemed to be having the same debilitating effect as Thrillseeker’s weapon.

The Bride and Urzov were off on the other side, facing off against Atasha and Irabeth. Irabeth, the disembodied hand, was crawling on Urzov’s back, drawing a complicated sigil in ink with her fingertips, and when she completed it, it exploded in a shower of blood, knocking Urzov limply to the ground and sending Irabeth flying off halfway across the stage. The Bride and Atasha were matching each other slash and block, parry and dodge. Which was all the more impressive given that Atasha had her eyes closed; the Bride had her veil raised, and even from this angle Fran could feel a chill running through her bones just glimpsing her from behind and knowing that whatever was underneath was exposed to the world. Undercutting it all was a cheery pop song, seemingly being sung by Atasha’s glittering sword.

Fran bounded from seat to seat, power flowing through her, she leapt and climbed up onto the stage, past the body of The Authority that tried to grab for her foot as she ran past and slammed into the back of The Bride, shutting her eyes tightly as they both toppled to the floor.

“Fran!” Atasha called out, with one eye cautiously open. “I called it! I knew you’d be on our side!”

Fran felt The Bride lurching underneath her. She scrambled up to her knees, pinning The Bride’s hands behind her back with one hand and preventing her from turning her head with the other.

“You just fucked up, Fox. I’m going to turn you into so much bloody confetti, no matter what your benefactor has to say about it.”

“Get your paws off my wife!” Urzov was struggling to her feet, bloodied and snarling. Atasha was quickly standing over her, her blade pressed against Urzov’s forehead.

“Don’t fight us, Urzov.” Atasha pleaded. “We both got pulled into this against our will. You don’t really love her, do you?”

Whatever answer Urzov might have been ready to give was cut short by a final scream of agony from The Authority. Fran looked around to see her body dissolving into a dark blue mist and then dissipating. Thrillseeker sprinted across the stage, her light ropes fading and dying now that their task was complete, she came to the spot where The Authority had passed and snatched at the air as though trying to pluck her essence back from the ether.

“I’m ending this.” The Tormentrix’s voice was drained of any of her cruel joy. As she spoke the building began to shake. In the distance there was the sound of wood splintering, the sounds of a being far too large to be contained bursting force and shattering corridors as they moved.

Beneath Fran The Bride renewed her struggle all the time spitting out vile invective about the fox. Fran felt her newfound power starting to leave her.
(I’m sorry…)

Behind her the doors of the theatre slammed open, falling away, crumbling like the walls beside them, as the monstrous serpent Faerynsormr burst into the room. The numerous grey eyed beings of The City were gone. At the front of the stage Thrillseeker drew her scythe and though Fran couldn’t see it from this angle she was sure she was grinning. The serpent crashed forward, swallowing whole the empty seats in its wake. The Baker and The Tormentrix were arguing amongst each other. It was taking everything Fran had to hold down The Bride, as her last reserves of power were drying up. The enormous monster of bone and viscera was shedding huge chunks of its body. The Reapers, Sara and Zafira, rematerialized and started to hurry to Thrillseeker’s side, but there was no time. The serpent was upon them. Thrillseeker swung her scythe and sliced off a tooth but it was futile in the face of that maw.

And then Fran found herself elsewhere, somewhere huge and open and perfectly flat. No longer struggling against The Bride, Fran collapsed to the floor, which was red and kind of soft and unpleasantly greasy.

“Pizza World.” The Oddball’s voice echoed inside her head, and Fran realized she was lying on an enormous piece of pepperoni.

“No no no. We are not doing Pizza World. Does anyone else have any better suggestions?”

“I suggest you both stop interfering and let me devour these pathetic miserable little maggots. These lowly creatures who have risen above their station.”

“Can we all just calm down for a minute-”

“One of us is dead Baker, need I remind you?”

“Has anyone seen The High-Roller since this unruliness began?”


“Excuse me. This is all valuable conversation but perhaps we could be having it in private where the contestants can’t hear?”

Abruptly the Hosts’ conversation stopped, or switched locales at the very least. Fran, more exhausted than she’d felt in a long time, lay atop the enormous pepperoni and rested her eyes for a minute.
Star  RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 1? - Pizza World?
Fran wasn’t sure how long she’d slept for. The sky was lit only by a red glow coming from one direction, which would be for a moment be eclipsed by an enormous spinning object roughly once a minute. Of course, if she was on an enormous world sized pizza it only followed that she was in an even more enormous universe sized oven.

And it was hot. She was already panting to try to draw cool air into her body when she woke up, but it wasn’t really helping. She quickly became aware of something prodding insistently at her chest and sat up with a start.

There, next to her, was the little machine that had been identified as Myrrh. Up close it was easier to see that it was a thin rectangular black box, with a number of little flashing lights, a pair of small antennas at either end, and it was covered in little stickers. The whole thing was affixed atop a complicated construction of ten mechanical legs, one of which was intermittently poking her side.

“Oh um hi.” Fran said, too hot and still too groggy to really form a coherent thought at this point. Which was to say nothing of the flickering envelope that was really going wild right now. She figured she should probably ask somebody about that at some point.

Myrrh wasn’t saying anything. Did she even have a mouth? The Gambler had been saying something about emails, whatever they were. Abruptly this train of thought was ended when Fran noticed, lying on the other side of her was her blade Phaetix, just dumped on the greasy ground like an afterthought. She scrabbled to her feet and grabbed her sword, wiping it down with a handful of her blouse. The thick glob of grease that schlooped onto the ground turned her stomach and she swore she was never eating pizza ever again.

There was the sound of mechanical clacking and Myrrh was poking her again, now in the foot. “Can I help you with something?” She asked. The envelope flickered again. “Is… is that you? The envelope thing?” Another flicker. “Is that what The Gambler meant when they said email?” Another flicker. “Okay.” she said. “Well… I don’t know what to do about that. Sorry.” The envelope flickering furiously. “Okay hold on.”

Fran knelt down and picked up Myrrh. She was a little heavier than Fran was anticipating, but not enough that she had to put her back down immediately. Fran drew her up to her eyeline and examined the stickers attached to the little router. Most of the stickers had lots of extremely small text, a couple of them had a stylized image of a girl with no fur, big eyes, a wide smile and a helmet with wings on the side. Most of these images only depicted her from the neck up but one was of her full body, in this one she was wearing a loose white toga and was making a v sign with her fingers. “Oh cute.” Fran murmured, but a flickering of the envelope reminded her of what she was looking for.

“Thank you for your purchase of an Impulse ‘97™ Direct Interface Router (DIR). For more information on the Impulse line of Instant Connectivity Equipment please visit-”

She skimmed ahead.

“If you are having trouble connecting please check the Internet Connectivity Status light and the Local Cognitive Network Status lights located on the front of the unit and refer to the table below for more information on next steps:”

Not that either.

“Instructions for use of the virtual interface:

The virtual interface can be controlled by hand gesture, eye movement, or by inputting commands either through concentrated thought or direct speech.”

And then there was a table of different functions and their inputs. Fran skimmed down the column… setting a desktop wallpaper… opening an internet browser… customizing the iconography of your virtual interface… hiding notifications… adding someone to your contact list… ahh, there it was, opening an email.

“Fran!” Fran only just had time to look up and see Ginger approaching before she slammed into her, wrapping her arms around her and holding her tight. Unstable on the greasy ground Fran was only just able to stop herself from dropping Myrrh. “I was so worried about you Fran.”

“I’m okay.” She said placatingly. “I won’t pretend it wasn’t a little touch and go, but everyone’s okay.”

“I want you to promise not to run off like that again.” Ginger insisted. “You could have died…” She trailed off, her eyes going to the router Fran was still awkwardly holding aloft. “You’ve not been talking to her have you?” she asked, looking back up at Fran.

“I’ve been trying, but I only just learned how to operate the interface.”

Ginger pulled away and tried to grab Myrrh out of her hands.
“It’s a good job I got here in time.” she said. “Myrrh is dangerous.” The email notification flickered up again.

“I think she’s kinda cute.” Fran said, refusing to let go of Myrrh.

“Don’t forget that she won her battle.” Ginger was insistent. “And she did it even without her little spider legs, and who knows what other tricks are in there.”

“Isn’t that true of all of us though?” Fran asked. “We wouldn’t be here if we hadn’t won.”

“How about we both put her down and then we go and have a private conversation about this.” Ginger suggested.

Fran was hesitant. “I don’t know, it really feels like she wants to talk to me.” Ginger sighed.

“This is what she does.” She said, finally letting go of Myrrh. “She’s a manipulator, Fran. She survived by turning everyone else against each other, breaking up friendships, leading them all to kill one another while she stood off on the side cute and sweet like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.” The email notification flashing on and off furiously again.

Fran looked down at the little router, the weight of her finally getting to be too much, and placed her back on the ground. “I don’t know.” Fran said uncertainly. It was true if she was here she was here for a reason. Myrrh seemed like the most harmless out of the competitors, followed up closely by the girl with the worms, Natasha. “Where did you hear this from?”

“The Baker told me.” A tiny moment of hesitation before she spoke. “When you were off on your walk.”

“I don’t think we can trust The Baker.” Fran said. “I’d be reluctant to take anything the Hosts have to say at face value.”

“The Baker isn’t like the rest of them. She’s nice. She’s trying to help us.” Ginger’s voice was quivering, her whole body shaking. “Please, just believe me on this one.”

Fran sighed, walked over and hugged Ginger. She still wasn’t convinced but it was clear that Ginger wasn’t backing down and Fran hated seeing her whipping herself up into a state like this. “Okay.” she said and immediately an email notification popped up. Fran turned her head back to the router and mouthed an apology.

“Thank you Fran, you’re the best.” Ginger said happily. “Oh! There was something I wanted to show you.” She shook herself free of Fran’s embrace and opened up her satchel.

Inside there were a number of scrolls, neatly stacked on their sides, a couple of spiral bound notebooks with pens shoved through the loops, a plastic looking wand with a big yellow star on the end, and a big thick book filled with bookmarks and sometimes stuffed with loose pages. It was thick and heavy enough that Ginger laid it down on the meaty ground and knelt down to leaf through it.

Fran stood next to her, unwilling to join her in kneeling on the pepperoni floor. All of the text within the book seemed to be written in symbols that Fran was unfamiliar with. As she found her page, Fran looked around. Myrrh was still hanging around nearby, not really making any move to come over or go away. Aside from a couple of trees, just regular trees, definitely not in-keeping with this worlds culinary aesthetic, it seemed featureless and flat in every direction.  If she really squinted it was possible to make out a silhouette of a shape in the sky in the direction of the oven light.

“Here.” Ginger said, showing her a page with lots of the indecipherable writing and a diagram of a circle with various lines connecting across it. “I think this should open a portal.”

“To where?” Fran asked. Ginger shrugged.

“I dunno, it’s a portal. They go wherever, right?”

“I think portals usually go somewhere specific.” Fran said. “Doesn’t it say?”

“I’m still learning the runes.” Ginger shook her head. “But if it’s in the book then it’s a good portal. I promise.”

“Maybe we should wait until we’ve got everyone together before we try it?” Fran asked.

“I think trying to get any significant number of us to agree on anything would be a bad time.” Ginger said simply. “Can you draw me out this circle?”

Fran shot Myrrh, still lurking nearby, a glance and asked: “Did The Baker tell you what happened to us last round.”

“We can’t talk about that here.” Ginger said, her gaze also drifting over to Myrrh. She got up from where she was kneeling, and stomped over to the router and started shooing her away. “This isn’t for you. You can’t come through here.”

“Aren’t you worried that maybe this,” Fran gestured to the book, “is what did that. The thing we’re not going to talk about.” An email notification.

“Nuh uh. No way.” Ginger said. “Its gonna be safe and maybe it even helps you get home. You were telling me all about your friends who were counting on you to get back and help them. Can they really afford to wait while we struggle our way through a big fight?”

Fran hesitated. She did want to go home. She did want to help her friends. The Baker had said she was taking care of it, but how trustworthy was her word? And not to be dismissive of Ginger's ability but she doubted some random portal from this book she couldn't really read was going to be the solution to all their problems. It'd be easier to let her try and maybe they'd get lucky and it would be something useful. And if not well, what's the worst that could come of it. Things were already pretty dire.

“Its a pretty big supposition you’re making there.” Fran said, but her reluctance didn’t stop her from scoring out the rough shape of the symbol (as depicted in Ginger’s book) in the pepperoni floor, using the tip of her blade.

“Okay now you stand here, and I’ll stand over here.” Ginger directed her into position as she took her own. A little way away Myrrh was slowly turning around on the spot. Ginger glanced in her direction and pulled a face. “Now you just hold still I’m going to start the incantation.”

As Ginger started to chant unfamiliar magical words Fran’s attention was fixed on the little router, finishing her rotation and then carefully adjusting her position. There was a part in Myrrh’s base she hadn’t noticed until now, a small circular protrusion that almost looked like… She went to lunge forward, to push Ginger out of the way, but found herself locked in position. “Ginger, watch out.” she cried. Ginger didn’t even stop her chant, she casually raised a hand in Myrrh’s direction as the crack of the shot thundered out. The bullet stopped in mid air at the edge of the circle before falling harmlessly to the ground.

Fran squirmed uselessly. Frick. Frick frick frick. What had she just been saying about not trusting The Baker? She’d only come to the conclusion that Ginger was to be trusted because she'd said they were friends in the first place.

Myrrh scurried towards the edge of the circle and started attempting to scratch lines in the meaty floor, probably hoping to disrupt whatever ritual Ginger was doing. Fran could do little else other than stand immobilized and swear internally. Until she noticed the email notification symbol that she’d mostly managed to tune out at this point.

Myrrh’s guide said she could open it with intense concentration. She just needed the right phrase. Show email did nothing. Display email likewise. Her head was starting to throb and she was feeling a tingling pain in her feet and her hands. Read email, nope. Look at email nothing. Open email and finally a long list of emails opened ordered from newest to oldest.

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Ding! Ding! Ding! Correct Answer. Please for the love of God Fran read your fucking emails.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Maybe at least give me an opportunity to defend myself?”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: She is lying to your face.”

It felt as though her entire body was emptying. She almost wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d looked down and her feet and hands were gone. Her head was pounding, her eyes struggling to stay open, every breath was excruciating.

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: This is lies. This is slander, do not listen to her.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: You’re not going to just believe her just like that are you?”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: She’s calling me dangerous when she’s the one whose already killed you once. That’s-”

There was shouting from nearby. Fran tried to turn her head, but through her dimming vision and the email overlay she couldn’t really tell what was happening.

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: If you could get a move on, she’s probably already noticed we’re together.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Well I fucking tried I suppose.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: You’re just giving up then?”

It would have been easy to give up. The pain was in her torso now. She felt like she was dissolving. She felt like she was a sheet of paper trying to stand up to a hurricane. Everything felt so far away now, yet she clung on because how could she stop?

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Oh god she has no idea what an email is. We’re fucked.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Yes it’s called an email.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: We could help one another if you would just open your emails.”

She couldn’t keep her eyes open any more. The text of the emails hung white and crisp in the blackness behind her eyes.

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: No but really it is kind of urgent.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Really would appreciate it if you could take a look at these.”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Nice to meet you in person.”

Barely able to keep her focus any more she found herself thinking of her friends, of Rochelle and Nova and all the rest of them. Of Valhart and their schemes. Of a world that she wasn’t going to be able to protect any more.

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Could you open the door please?”

“To Franchesca@LCN From: Myrrh@LCN Subject: Important information about Ginger. Please open.”


Ginger finished her incantation and Franchesca fell to the floor, an empty shell. She waited for the inrushing of power, the culmination of everything she’d been promised. And there was nothing. Just like last time.

Ginger turned and glared at Urzov. “What do you want?”

“No 'thank you'?” Urzov asked, affronted.

“For what?” Ginger snapped back. “Distracting me while I was carrying out the most important incantation of my life?”

“Hey I just thought you wouldn’t want Myrrh broadcasting your whole shit to everyone.” Urzov said. “Though given your actions maybe you’ve given up on trying to stay low-key.”

“I’d have held off if I could but Myrrh forced my hand.” Ginger said defensively. “What did you do with her?”

“Just flung her. Ummm over that way I think.” Urzov pointed off in one of the many near identical directions. “She should be okay I think. Worst case she’s in the cheese and next round she’s just a solid block of cheese sending everyone very irate emails about it. Maybe it even distracts her from this shitshow.”

“Whatever, she’s not important. I don’t think.” Ginger said. She wiped the grease off her tome and stuffed it back into her satchel. “Can you help me with that?” she gestured towards Franchesca’s corpse.

“I’m not your lackey. If you want my help you tell me what the fuck you’re actually doing.” Urzov said, crossing her arms.

“I can do it on my own then, as usual.” Ginger walked over to Franchesca’s body and struggled pathetically to pick it up for a solid minute before dropping it akwardly.

Urzov sighed.
“Fine. Just this once.” She gathered up Franchesca’s body in her arms and looked expectantly over at Ginger.

The world shifted around them, in one easy movement the empty void of the pizza world blurs and resolves into the half-destroyed auditorium of the Ill-Fortune Theatre.

“I’ve kind of changed my mind on this Pizza round.” The Gambler was saying. “It kind of has an old school sort of vibe to it. Rounds these days are all so uhh what’s the word?” None of the gathered hosts deigned to offer them a suggestion. “So… fleshed out. Everyone wants rounds that feel like part of understandable worlds, nobody wants just an abstract place with no inhabitants. No distractions just good old fashioned contestants fighting each other."

“There are inhabitants.” The High-Roller was maybe a tenth of their original size. Their vast bulk was now highly charred and slightly melted coins, with only a couple of burnt credit cards and money notes left. “Look, Worm Hotel has found a village of mushroom people.”

The Gambler and The High-Roller were sat in the wreckage of the front row watching the events of the round on projected screens. The Baker, The Bride and The Tormentrix were all sat off to the other side of the auditorium passing around a binder full of round concepts and arguing over what they should actually do. The Oddball was up on stage spinning in place. For all their self-righteousness nobody seemed to actually care that The Authority was dead. Ginger certainly wasn’t going to be one to buck that trend.

Ginger grabbed Urzov by the elbow and pulled her into the backstage area. It was a dusty empty space with some old painted stage dressing scattered haphazardly. “Stay here for a minute while I get The Baker.”

“Sure. I love doing what I’m told with no context.” Urzov sulked, and then with a grin. “Think I’d get anything useful from eating her?”

Ginger was already walking back out onto the stage. “Don’t you dare.”

“Don’t I dare?” Urzov muttered to herself bitterly.

Ginger approached the trio of the Bride, the Baker and the Tormentrix.

“Look I know everything’s really intense right now. That’s why I’m advocating so hard for Aeternus Viva. Just look at those gorgeous views, that selection of entertainment, to say nothing of their spa options. Isn’t it just what we all need to get our mind off this unpleasantness?”

“You’re painfully transparently trying to extend your honeymoon through our victors battle. You didn’t even like Thora.”

“Nobody liked Thora.”

“True, but we should at least try to run this fight like a fight in her stead.”

“I think this stopped being a ‘big fight’ when The Recluse joined in.” The Tormentrix interrupted. “Now we should be doing damage control, not pretending everything is fine.”

Ginger cleared her throat. “Excuse me.” The Tormentrix rolled her eyes.

“You’re really going to stand there and accuse me of having an agenda when you’re doing whatever the fuck this is with your contestants?” The Bride snatched back the round binder from The Baker.

“I’ll just be a moment.” she said, slithering over Ginger and grabbing her with one of her sets of arms.

“Backstage.” Ginger whispered and they walked back there together in silence, passing by an empty handed Urzov who just winked at her and kept on walking. When they got back there they found Franchesca’s body, still in tact, laid down on a dusty table.

“Another failure? Really you should just let me see Trina’s-”

“It’s mine.” Ginger snapped. “I can get it to work.”

“Of course, Princess.” The Baker took Ginger in her arms and hugged her tight, while simultaneously she examined Franchesca’s body. “Empty.” she said.

In a moment they were back in The Baker’s extensive kitchens. She opened a cupboard and inside was a stack of books, ten in total. The top two showed some charring and warping from heat. The Baker grabbed the next one down. On the cover was a picture of Franchesca and her nemesis Valhart in a withered field of flowers. ‘The Love of the Void’.

“Are you sure it has to be her?”

Ginger pulled herself loose of the hug. “It has to be her.” she said.

“Only, we can’t keep doing this. You know that right? People are going to start noticing if we keep unmaking her stories.”

“I know!” Ginger snapped. “I get that, I’m gonna get it right this time.” Without further comment The Baker popped The Love of the Void onto a person sized baking tray and slid it into the oven.
Exclamation  The Enigmatic Skirmish - (S2G8) - Final Round: The Tomb of All Things
Thrillseeker sat upon the steps of the grey mausoleum and idly ran her fingers along the surface of the crystallized soul of Black Angel Azazel, her final opponent. It was a small glowing stone, round and flat and it seemed to contain a swirling purple mist. The last remaining dregs of her Lifeblood, the elixir that had kept her alive throughout this campaign, were soaking into her stump, mixing with her blood and dripping to the floor beside her. Her flesh was knitting back together and it fucking stung.

That had been closer than usual. Normally when she was fighting she always had a backup; as long as she was in range of her cauldron she was able to resurrect and try again. Ever since it had broken in the battle against The Historian in his moonbase, she’d been running on fumes.

She was lucky Azazel had only taken her arm; it had only been fair to return the favour in death. She looked down at the mechanical arm on her lap, bone white with black accents, and a wildly adjustable appendage. Back home she knew just the girl who could outfit her with it, and even make a couple of modifications that she’d been considering.

That was, if The Recluse was thinking of sending her home. Her final explicit opponent was dead, and her final implicit opponent was also mostly dead. The two girls who had absorbed its soul were still running around, but they didn’t seem to be fighters. Thrillseeker really didn’t think there would be any satisfaction to bring their stories to an end. But it was starting to look like if she didn’t do something she’d be forced to try to adjust to life in this dead world.

Right now, on the bone white gravel paths before her the final confrontation of the Winnowing Unending seemed to be coming to a head. And for some reason that was taking the form of an argument between the world’s least coherently themed girl band and a volleyball team that looked like it had stepped out of a Mad Max movie.

“Look I’ve talked to the boys, we’re all pretty regretful over burning the cupboard your friend was in.” The volleyball team’s coach was stood in front of the group as they endeavoured to put on their most contrite expressions. “But to be fair she was sending out a lot of elf assassins after us.”

“Nobody’s disputing that Mindy went a little bit mad with power.” Thrillseeker hadn’t bothered to learn their names, but this was one of the two that absorbed The Reaper’s power, the one she’d come to think of as the leader of the group. “We just think that was something of an overreaction. We could have talked her down.”

“We’re going to take your criticism on board, and next time we’ll really do our best to open communications before we destroy entire pocket dimensions.” The coach replied.

Gods, they’re even talking out their differences. How did a Host like The Reaper manage to run a big fight that ended in such a damp squib?

Another one of the girl group stepped forward, it was the Infanta. Even Thrillseeker’s, some would call it a nightmare-world had a version of the Infanta. In her world she’d been an opportunist who’d merged with the Night to become more powerful, this one was evidently president of Earth in her own timeline. God the multiverse was so fucking weird sometimes.

As she stepped forward the volleyball team were all rolling their eyes and the coach got immediately on the defensive.
“Yes we appreciate that we can’t make up for murdering your entire staff, yes we know even Kevin, but that was round two us. We’ve grown and learn since then. Back then we were just in it for the adrenaline but now we’ve really come to believe that the real treasure is friendship.”

Thrillseeker pocketed Azazel’s soul, and her arm, grabbed the pitch black Scythe of Iaoael from where it lay and pushed herself to her feet. Evidently she was not going home until this fight was over as well and she was starting to get impatient.

As she approached they turned to watch. Their coach hurried in her direction.
“The boys and I would like to offer our thanks to you Miss Thrill. The way you and that Azazel lady carved up that unsavoury Reaper character. A real inspiration. When we work out how to get back home, we’re going to be running a lot of plays directly inspired by your skills out there on the field, and we’ll make sure to give you all the appropriate credit.”

Thrillseeker swung her scythe and sliced the coach’s head clean from his body in one simple movement.

“Coach! Noooo!” The ‘boys’ of the Something Scorpions cried out. It should be pointed out that despite their coach’s insistence on the terminology and their willingness to sit back and let him speak for them these were adult men of a professional deathsport team and not a high school volleyball team who’d won a lifetime’s supply of barbed wire and spikes and were just having fun with it.

In the time before they scrambled into formation Thrillseeker put on a little spurt of speed and got to the blonde haired catcher, swinging upwards and slicing him apart hot dog style. The other boys were on their feet, the pair of shockers (equipped with electric whips to redirect the death volley) and the remaining catcher (equipped with thick metal gauntlets to allow them to handle the death volley), hurried to get some distance, while the blockers (with jet boots and metal kite shields as tall as they are) rushed towards her, hoping to hit her with a pincer attack.

Thrillseeker did an easy dodge backwards, swinging her scythe around from behind her as landed, and piercing the black haired blocker from behind as he and his counterpart crashed together.

Dispatching the volleyball team was far from a real challenge for Thrillseeker. Even with her recent loss of an arm, she was faster, deadlier and unwavering in her objective. The only part that gave her any trouble was when only the remaining catcher was left and she was forced to chase him off into the graveyard.

As she fought the chix stood frozen. “Should we do something?” Atasha asked. Her legendary blade, Glitter, hummed to life as she laid her hand upon it.

“I’m not sure there’s anything we could be doing to stop her.” Zaffy said. “And she certainly doesn’t need our help.”

“It really doesn’t feel like we should be condoning this kind of behaviour.” Sara argued.

“Preferable to sitting around in this graveyard for the rest of time.” Jessica said dismissively.

“We’d die of starvation long before the end of time.” Debbie pointed out. Irabeth who had been perched on Debbie’s shoulder, pressed a finger to Debbie’s neck. She said:
“Honestly I don’t think consolidation was ever a real option with the Scorpions, even without the bad blood between us.” a momentary pause, “Anybody else finding this kinda hot?” There was a round of murmured agreement, Zaffy the most enthusiastic, Debbie herself the most reluctant.

Thrillseeker stalked amongst the graves. The gravestones here were sometimes for people but sometimes for obsolete ideas, extinct species, lost media, dead languages, anything that once had flourished but now had passed. And the gravestones were proportionately sized, the largest of which bore the names of planets, and full etchings that depicted them. Most of them looked more or less the same. One planet pretty much looks like any other when all you have is outlines in carved stone.

This was just like the fight with 'Ilchwise - Touched by the Infinite' back in her homeworld. At least this volleyball boy wasn’t periodically summoning waves of adds for her to deal with. Just like she had with Ilchwise, Thrillseeker quickly tired of this game of hide and seek and started cutting down any gravestone she passed that was large enough to cower behind.

As a particularly weighty stone labelled Ectopistes migratorius fell the last of the Scorpions scurried out of the way, leaping at Thrillseeker and knocking her to the floor. Her scythe was knocked away, clattering across the cold stone path before landing out of reach. The catcher had his thick metal gauntlet around her throat and was squeezing.

She groped blindly for her scythe for a moment, before changing tactics. Her head was already pounding, if there was ever a time to burn some consumables it was right now. She pulled free the first thing she could get hold of from her pockets, the empty phial that had contained her Lifeblood, without time or capability to reassess she swung the empty flask, slamming it into the side of the boy’s head and shattering it upon impact. The pressure on her neck relented and the boy went awkwardly limp on top of her.

The last of the Sareta Scorpions was dead. The Sparkklechix were the victors of the Winnowing Unending, but they were not shuttled home as intended.

Thrillseeker soon returned to the group with quite an extensive bruise blossoming around her neck and her scythe returned to its place strapped behind her.

“They’re all dead?” The leader asked.

Thrillseeker simply took a bow.

“Well now what?” The goth one chimed in.

Thrillseeker shrugged. She pulled forth a small board and a glowing lump of chalk and wrote for a second. ‘Still no brief respite? Why is it always you don’t have the right?’

“Well, seeing as you killed our Host, I suppose it makes sense that we’re still here.” The Infanta said. “Though I’d have thought you’d more than done whatever you were sent here to do.”

‘Weak foe ahead therefore I can’t take this.’

“Are you saying you can’t go until you’ve killed us?” The swordswoman asked. Thrillseeker shrugged and wrote a final message ‘Time for sleep in short Good luck!’ before putting away the slate and slouching off in the direction of the mausoleum to find something resembling a bed to lie down on.

Thrillseeker awoke on a wooden bench to the sound of gently trickling water. She turned over, tried and failed to get comfortable and return to that much needed rest. Eventually she admitted she was awake and sat up. The Recluse’s cottage stood before her. A small stone house in the middle of a pleasant forest. A gentle water feature stood to her left, to her right a garden filled with a variety of flowers, all of which were blooming a pleasant maroon.

She’d been here in this garden before, stood alongside a number of powerful enemies, most of whom she really shouldn’t have stood a chance in hell of defeating but all of whom she had prevailed instead of. Every time that she had been here before though the doors and windows of the cottage before her had been shut, and not just shut but boarded over from the inside, not allowing a single speck of light to enter.

Now the cottage before her was open, the door literally hanging open, all of the windows unboarded and inside it was possible to view a very normal little house.

Thrillseeker rolled her shoulders, stretched the fatigue out of her remaining arm, drew her scythe and stood up. Her gait was casual as she entered the house. It would be fitting at the end of a campaign against numerous Hosts that the last challenge she had to face was that of the Host that had brought her here. But such a prospect, though daunting, was not enough to cause her pause.

Nothing inside seemed out of the ordinary. There were no obvious shrines of hatred, or conspiracy boards filled with other Hosts faces. It was all very domestic. It seemed that the Recluse had led a simple life until they’d decided to force eight individuals to systematically murder their peers.

In the living room, the only items on the dark wood coffee table were a hand written letter and what looked like a small glowing coin.

“Dearest Thrillseeker.

Lamentably I will not be there to congratulate you on your victory. Nothing can last forever. Not even we Hosts have the right to eternity. I offer you two things: knowledge that there are more beings out there as strong and cruel as those you have slain, and of course me myself. In one year from now you will be returned to this arena to compete against the victors of other battles similar to mine. I ask that you seize this opportunity to show the Hosts that puppeteer innocents for their own enjoyment that they are not beyond the reach of mortality.

The other gift I give you is myself, the remnants of my power, of my fading soul. Take it into yourself and ascend to Hosthood as you saw Sara and Zafira do so with the soul of The Reaper. Use my power to put an end to the games we have played with the lives of mortals and when you are done, live and treasure your life in the knowledge that eventually you, like all things, will be no more.

Thank you,
The Recluse.”

Thrillseeker picked up the coin; the crystallized soul of the Recluse, and she considered it. The potential within herself she could unlock if she was The Thrillseeker instead of just a Thrillseeker. But where would the joy be in that? To become so powerful would remove the challenge, would remove the thrill she chased. In doing so she would feel as though somehow she had cheated herself. As though she had taken a shortcut and gained nothing. Any victories from that point on would seem hollow. Nothing would be risked, nothing would be gained. Thankfully she knew better.

She pocketed the coin and went to looking for a way out of this place.

Thrillseeker had been living in The Recluse’s cottage for a month before another Host showed up to see what was happening. The blue suited woman who had introduced herself as The Authority had shown barely hidden contempt for both Thrillseeker and The Recluse. She’d not really seemed to consider The Recluse’s absence from their own house to be particularly noteworthy and had only complained that ‘of course they left their contestant for me to deal with’.

Thrillseeker considered taking on The Authority then and there, but if she won she would only be resigning herself to even more time spent in this dull little cottage.

Ilmire was a welcome change after the pleasant pastoral nightmare she’d been enduring; a cozy grimy neon city nestled in the underbelly of the White Labyrinth. It was a place that bustled with thrillseekers like herself; all here to try their might against the everpresent threat of the Night for honour and yes, for the thrill of it.

The city mechanic was a woman most easily described as a walking vessel for piercings and chains, known to all as Sister Agony. She had been so excited to see the exotic material that was the arm of Black Angel Azazel that she hadn’t even charged for the adaptation and fitting of Thrillseeker’s new arm. Thrillseeker, had essentially lived there in the shop with her for the next week or two, as the arm went through multiple designs and reconfigurations before both Thrillseeker and Sister Agony were happy with it.

An important part of the process was making it easily detachable, so that in the event of her death and rebirth through the cauldrons of Ilmire she was able to easily reclaim and reattach it when she fully reformed.

When eventually it was complete Sister Agony dubbed it the Soulgrinder Arm of Castigation. Thrillseeker usually just thought of it as ‘my cool new arm’.

Thrillseeker made her first expedition back into the White Labyrinth approximately two months after she’d defeated The Reaper. She climbed the newly emerged Profane Column, fought an enormous many legged horror, Caxrax The Diaphanous Horror, that hunted her through dilapidated half flooded corridors and debilitating miasma, before encountering the foul beast’s kin and its queen, Caxrax The Insatiable Swarm, in a central chamber full of putrid waters.

Overwhelmed by the inhospitable conditions and the ceaseless attack of many boss level monstrosities she’d chosen to use the special aspect of her new arm for the first time. She produced the shining purple soul of Black Angel Azazel and slid it into a discreet slot upon her Soulgrinder Arm. It whirred to life, processing the essence of her former competitor, and its former owner, taking just a moment before it burst to life.

Thrillseeker found her body empowered with a violet flame, adorned with blades from every limb and angelic wings made from blazing indigo inferno. She was the image of Azazel herself, and like she would have, she leapt and soared through the sky, spearing the bastards, slicing and tearing them, ripping loose the spawning pods on the walls where new ones were being grown in a constant cycle. Thrillseeker slaughtered her way through the chamber and by the time that the power granted by Azazel’s soul was running low she had only the Caxrax Queen left to destroy. It was almost too easy.

When she was done she returned to Ilmire with her pockets full of souls and more than a couple unique finds. It was a good day for Thrillseeker. It was just another day in Ilmire.
Star  RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round 1? - Pizza World?
On the day she was taken for the Battle of the Victors Thrillseeker had been ready and waiting. The Authority begrudged her duty to collect her and once again couldn’t help but make it obvious that this was the case. She was shown to the private box reserved for her and The Recluse and then promptly ignored.

There was a couple of hours spent hanging around before the last Host, The Baker, deigned to arrive with her victor(s). In that period she went to wander the theatre, and the only people she encountered who wouldn’t immediately flee from her presence were the Sparrklechix, and even then they seemed a little nervous around her. Only Cindy actually seemed to enjoy her company, and Franchesca who she met during the impromptu intermission/smoke break.

Finally she was the last one on stage. The Authority was going on and on about how awful she was for fighting the monsters that had been put in front of her. She really hated it when boss fights started trying to chastise her for her actions. On the spur of the moment she had taken the Recluse’s soul and fed it into her arm, and it had launched out burning ropes of light that bound The Authority and killed her with the inescapability and inevitability of mortality itself. All hell had broke loose around her, but Thrillseeker had been entirely preoccupied with trying to keep the last remnants of The Recluse from overloading her arm and doing night only knows what.

Obviously she had known that the power of a Host was greater than the power of any regular soul she might feed into the arm, but feeling it for real had been a lot even still. She could feel The Recluse’s desire to drag everyone around her into their inevitable graves. She could feel The Recluse trying to slip a noose around her own heart. It was some kind of miracle that she managed to hold that pull towards the grave off as well as she had.

When The Authority was finally dead and The Recluse’s soul expended, she ran to the front of the stage, grasping at air, grasping for where the crystallized remnants of The Authority should have been. And then the serpent had happened, and then pizza world.

In Pizza World Thrillseeker found her way down into the depleted sauce thoroughfare that ran through the crust of the world, she uncovered an underground civilization of beings made from chunks of ham and defeated the Rancid Pineapple Beast that had been terrorizing them, but again its soul just seemed to dissipate into nothingness. It was very annoying.

Franchesca was feeling disorientated. She’d been in the middle of one of Valhart’s schemes, trying to fight her way out of an illusory world and return to her friends in Roshain, and now this. It felt real, when she plucked at her fur it hurt, but it also felt patently ridiculous. This woman, this goddess or something stronger than that seemed to be expecting her to take a lot on faith, or a combination of faith and some really intense hallucinatory trips.

The Baker had given her the basic gist of things; the overall goal of what was happening (even if the point remained a mystery), and what had happened before her mysterious death in a world made of pizza. It had taken a lot of reiterating and confirmation for her to believe that The Baker was being serious about the pizza world. She’d given her the lightning fast rundown of her competitors, too quickly for anything to really land, and she’d impressed upon her the importance of sticking with her partner Ginger who could help fill her in on anything she’d missed.

If this was real, and Fran wasn’t one hundred percent convinced that it was at the moment, then she’d told The Baker that she’d be willing to play along if, after all this was done, she could get her to the Source, the heart of her own universe, and help defend it from Valhart. The Baker had agreed in a heartbeat.

One by one the competitors of The Battle of the Victors were teleported. They found themselves in varying locales, some in dingy dungeons, some in empty cities, some in barren plains populated by cute little monsters.

“Welcome Victors, to your first round.” rang out the many voices of The City.

“Surely this is the second round?”

“No. The Oddball’s nonsense worlds are flat lifeless places. They have no heart, no soul. We refuse to acknowledge them as real rounds.”

“Also nobody died yet. Or, well… none of the contestants anyway.”

“Regardless of its numbering, we present to you your new round. The empty world of Crystal Mirage XIX: A Universe Unmade. It was once a very popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, many people from around the world dedicated countless hours to exploring this world, interacting with its characters, building homes within its districts.”

“Yet now it is empty, not from catastrophe. No great annihilation has befallen this world. Simple disinterest of fickle gamers. This loving crafted world and all that time invested to become part of it, abandoned just because there is something new to play.”

“We find it distasteful, and we invite you breathe life once again into this universe. Bring it new life, or at least let it end its existence with some dignity and one final hurrah.”
Star  RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round "1" - Crystal Mirage XIX
Moments after teleporting into an all pizza world Franchesca and Ginger were teleported again. This time they found themselves in an enormous underground space lit by the dim light of hundreds maybe thousands of flickering lamps. They were stood in an open plaza surrounded by simple stone buildings and in the centre a huge sea-green crystal that sparkled with a latent energy. Off in the distance they could see that atop a rise (the only real change of elevation in this entire underground city) was a more ornately designed building with spires and distant statuary.

Four wide open paths led off from the plaza, one towards the aforementioned raised building, one towards a very noticeable if plainly designed tower, one towards a long sloping path leading upwards and disappearing into the wall of the cavern and one towards a small docks area where it was possible to see a small boat just floating in the harbour.

“Woah.” Ginger taking in the enormity of the cave around her, and bracing herself against Fran as she stared up into the distant cave roof, only visible by the occasional scrap of light reflected off a low hanging stalactite. Fran had to admit it was kind of breathtaking, and even though their host had said it wasn’t real, as she ran a hand along the crystal it felt real enough. Vibrant green light within the crystal swirled to meet her touch.

“This place is beautiful.” Ginger had let go of her hand and was running around the plaza, peering into the various buildings, a tavern, a bank, an auction house, a little shop with piles of adventuring supplies. Off in one corner of the plaza was a pine tree decorated with gaudy little ornaments and tangles of flashing lights, and beneath it a pile of brightly wrapped boxes, tied with equally vibrant bows. The floor in that particular area, and nowhere else, was decorated with drifts of snow. Despite everything there was an undermining emptiness to the place.

It was incorrect to say that the city was entirely empty. There were occasional little scaled beings (generally between three and four foot tall) clustered at the edges of paths, behind the counters of the shops and stores and behind the bar of the local tavern. In the undeniably festive area of the plaza there was a furless person of ambiguous gender with faintly red skin dressed in bright red robes, sitting atop a softly chittering white spider creature. They were seated next to a comically large sack of objects, it was impossible to really see inside, and  they were intermittently calling out:
“Happy Renewal Festival to All!” to nobody in particular.

But overall the inhabitants seemed to have an incuriosity to them. None of them acknowledged Fran or Ginger’s sudden existence, none of them seemed to be interested in going anywhere or doing anything. A couple of them had floating green exclamation points over their heads that looked completely incongruous with their surroundings.

Ginger hurried over to the snowy corner of the plaza, scooped up some of the snow in her hands, patted it into a ball, turned and playfully threw it at Fran.
“Think fast!” she called and Fran, a moment too late, raised a hand to protect herself. The snowball didn’t so much hit as dissipate upon impact with a distinct lack of any coldness or wetness.

Fran hurried over and joined her teammate as she wandered over to the red robed figure.
“Happy Renewal Festival to you.”

“Happy Renewal Festival to you too.” Ginger repeated back to them. “We’re new in town, can you tell us about your festival?”

“Of course!” They bellowed. They didn’t seem capable of speaking in a more subdued tone of voice. “As you know the magic of the crystals is important to maintaining order here in the realm of Makvelia. Yet once a year when the nights become long and the weather becomes cold, the magic of the crystals can begin to wane. That’s where I come in.” They gestured two thumbs towards themself. “I’m Chromagicus the Archon of Renewal.” They paused for a moment as if to denote that this was a big deal. Ginger made appropriately impressed oohs and they moved on.

“Every year I descend from the heavens on my trusty steed Janjirica,” they gave their spider mount a gentle stroke as they mentioned her, “and we ride across Makvelia, bringing renewal to the Crystal Nexus and joy to the people of the land. Of course even this simple pleasure is opposed by the Dark Archon Nittelaus and his Monochrome Legions, and so occasionally I will ask for help from Heroes like yourselves.” There was an obvious expectant tone to the statement.

“We’re probably going to be a little busy.” Ginger said. “But it does sound like a lot of fun. Count us in.”

Chromagicus laughed and started rooting through their huge sack. “Wonderful to hear. Simply wonderful. It’s been so long since there have been any Heroes around to help me on my task.” They glanced at Fran and Ginger. “What are your favourite colours?”

“Green.” Ginger said without hesitating. Chromagicus looked at Fran expectantly.

“Orange I guess, why-” Chromagicus produced from their bag two fistfuls of paint and threw them at Ginger and Fran, who instinctively both raised their arms to protect themselves.

The balls hit with a jingling of bells but no real physical impact. Fran looked down at herself, now dressed in a low cut bright orange jerkin, matching miniskirt and orange and black striped knee high stockings. She was probably giving more of an autumnal vibe if anything.

“I was hoping for more of a lime.” Ginger said, “To match my hat.” Ginger was in a very similar outfit to her own but with a darkish green and a red and green stripe on the stockings. She still had her witch hat and satchel, though the hat was now a darker green than it had been. Upon seeing this Fran reached up to confirm, yes her goggles were still there, and then she reached behind her and drew her blade, Phaetix, now coloured an ugly grey-orange with a candy-cane striped handle.

“I don’t mind the ensemble, would have loved a heads up, but could you change Phaetix back? Not a fan of the stickiness.”

“I don’t normally fine tune these things, but you’re the first Heroes I’ve seen in years so why not? It's not as though there is a queue forming.” Chromagicus laughed loudly as they rooted around in their bag again, pulling out one handful of lime green paint and one handful of nothing. They slung the lime green at Ginger, who even though she was expecting it still instinctively raised her hands to protect herself and doused Fran’s blade with the nothing and it returned thankfully to normal.

“Perfect.” Ginger said. Her hat was now more or less exactly the colour it had been previously, and the rest of her outfit was coordinated to match it. “Thanks Mx. Christmas Wizard. Any other presents for us?”

“I have wands of renewal which will allow you to give any crystals you see a boost of magical energy, and temporarily change them to your chosen colour.” Chromagicus produced a pair of paintbrushes from their sack and handed one to each of the girls. “Every time you renew a crystal you’ll receive a Mystery Winter Treatbox, which could contain one of a number of different festive items.”

Ginger was immediately running over to the crystal in the middle of the plaza and splattering it with lime green paint. The crystal was already green, but a darker green, so the transformation wasn’t spectacular, but it did glow a little brighter. Within seconds a green and red treatbox was in her hands and she was pulling it open to find a small pile of snowballs.

“Snowballs? Lame. I could just pick them up off the ground.” She threw one at Fran, who instinctively flinched to block it. This time it hit and she actually felt the cold crisp snow impact her hands. As though somehow the snowballs she was holding now were more real than the one she’d made herself earlier.

“I think…” she started to try to tell Ginger about the different properties of the snowballs, but had absolutely no idea how to phrase it to make it make any sense, and so opted instead to gather up a snowball of her own from the ambient snow and throw it at Ginger. Ginger flinched and then frowned when it didn’t have any real impact.

“Oh I get it.” Ginger said, with a grin. “Fran, come and renew this crystal and see what you get.”

“Thank you for your time Chromagicus.” Fran said. “As Ginger said we’re probably going to be busy with our own issues but we’ll try to renew any crystals we see for you.”

“Happy Renewal Festival to the both of you.” Chromagicus called as Fran hurried back over to Ginger. She slathered the crystal with her paintbrush and as promised it turned a vibrant orange, and then a matching treatbox manifested in her hands. She opened it up and there was a little fanfare as she examined a small mechanical replica of Chromagicus’ white spider steed.

“Ooh.” Ginger snatched it out of her hands and examined it closely, leaving Fran with a one page manual for the item; what the manual referred to as a Crashin’ Thrashin’ Janjirica. After a moment spent reading, and then retrieving the item from Ginger, she placed it down on the floor and with focus and a gesture she was able to control it directly. Ginger laughed happily as Fran directed it over to where she was now sat cross legged, and had it climb up to her shoulder, but then she started pouting because all she got were a couple of stupid snowballs.

“I’m sure if we travel around we’ll see more crystals, find something fun for you.” Fran said reassuringly.

“No. It’s stupid. I don’t want to wander around doing seasonal quests.” Ginger complained. They sat in silence together, the awkwardness interrupted only by Chromagicus calling out a Happy Renewal Festival to the empty city.

“What do you want to do?” Fran asked. “We’re supposed to be fighting the other participants, right?”

“I mean, technically. But we’re just a small handful of people dumped into an entire world. Odds are good we don’t just bump into anybody.” Ginger said. “And even if we did…” she trailed off. “What would you do if you kept messing something up? Something important?”

“I don’t know, depends on the context.” Fran said. “But I think asking for help is always a good idea.”

“I’m not asking The Baker for help!” Ginger snapped. “I have to do this on my own.”

“Sure, I don’t know that I’d ask The Baker’s help for anything either.” Fran said. “She’s a little too comfortable with the idea of making people fight to the death to really be trustworthy… But that doesn’t mean there’s nobody you could ask. Maybe I could help?”

“Nuh uh.” Ginger said quickly, and then somewhat apologetically she added: “Its a magicky thing. Its not really your area of expertise.” The pair sat in silence for a while before Ginger continued. “But maybe there’s someone in this world who can help me! This is a pretty magicky world after all.”

“We did just get appointed as like assistants to some sort of holiday spirit or something.” Fran pointed out. “That’s pretty magicky.”

Ginger shook her head obstinately.
“We’re going to the Mages Guild!” she announced, getting to her feet and marching over to one of the lizard creatures. Fran hurried after her. The lizard creature she approached was wearing an entire suit of plate armour (with a silver symbol of a soaring dragon upon their breastplate) that showed no hint of the person underneath. Beside them, firmly planted in the ground, they held a spear a little taller than they were. Fran supposed that they were a member of the city guard.

“Mages Guild please.” Ginger said without any word of introduction. The guard's only response was to gesture with their spear and suddenly there was a beam of green light shooting up from the base of the distant tower. Ginger wheeled off in that direction leaving Fran to say a hurried “Thank you.” before chasing after her again.

Ginger stopped at the edge of the plaza and turned back to Fran.
“I’m going to go ask some mages about an important, and um… private, matter. Would you mind staying here for a bit? Asking around, seeing if anything interesting is going on?”

Fran hesitated. She certainly didn’t need Ginger to hold her hand, but she did feel part of her role here was implicitly to stick around with the girl and… um… keep her out of trouble maybe? The Baker had explained about the fight to the death elements but didn’t seem particularly interested in them. It left her really wondering what the point of any of this was.

“Yeah I’ll just-” Oh Ginger was already running off down the street.

“Come and find me if any of the other participants show up.” Ginger called back to her and then hurried along towards the distant tower. Though she’d already asked The Baker to take care of Myrrh for the time being it didn’t hurt to be careful.
RE: The Battle of the Victors (*S1/2*) - Round "1" - Crystal Mirage XIX
The Whole Hog

Kill rampaging hoggrels (1/15)
Set the explosives (0/4)


Young <char_class>! The hoggrels are attacking! Mysterious holes in the ground opened up and hoggrels have been pouring out ever since. Redchurch is just a simple little village, we don’t have anyone skilled in combat here to help protect us from the hoggrel threat! It’s all up to you. Please defeat as many of them as you can and if you can use some of the explosium we use for mining to seal up their tunnels then that’s even better.

Redchurch really was just a simple village. A couple of houses, the eponymous church, a small handful of villagers (anthropomorphic foxes, similar to Franchesca but lacking the muzzle and the claws) standing around complaining about the hoggrels. The hoggrels themselves were, in Thrillseeker’s opinion, just boars. The only thing about them that might have signalled they were anything more than this was the claim that they were capable of launching a coordinated assault using some kind of tunnelling system, and given that all the hoggrels were doing was wandering back and forth on the spot that was seeming kinda doubtful.

The surrounding area was all dense impassable forest (if this village was involved in a mining operation Thrillseeker had no idea where that was supposed to be located), the only real path out was located on the far side of the village. This, combined with the fact that the hoggrels disintegrated at the slightest touch from her scythe led Thrillseeker to the inevitable conclusion that she’d been dumped into the low level tutorial zone. Dull. Time to relocate somewhere more interesting.

Ignoring any obligation to the foxgirl who had asked her to help defend the village, Thrillseeker strolled past the 'rampaging' hoggrels, her cauldron trailing slowly behind her with uncertain mechanical steps. As she walked she tried making small gestures to see if she could pull up the world map or the in-game menu. There had to be some way to do that after all, and if she was going to find some strong foes to fight she probably wasn’t just going to run into them by chance.

As she walked she hadn’t noticed the gentle pull upon her scythe, safely sheathed at her back, getting stronger with every step, until it was strong enough that it caused her to trip and stumble slightly. Staggering forward, her scythe slid loose from its sheath and flew ahead, heading straight for the red stone church, clattering uselessly into the wall and then sliding frantically left and right seemingly looking for a way through this solid wall. A foxgirl nun (dressed in a blood red habit) standing by the church’s heavy closed doors, hadn’t really reacted to the flying scythe but did spring into life as Thrillseeker hurried after it.

“Beware young hero for beyond here lies the catacombs in which we have contained the Emperor Hoggrel. Venturing below is not recommended for the new arrivals in our realm. If you should ever seek to destroy this ancient foe please return when you are greatly experienced.”

Thrillseeker ignored her, futilely struggling to lever her scythe from the wall. She was still attempting this as the doors of the church burst open and out stumbled One-Billion-Blades, her black briefcases in her hands and her sheaths empty. As she emerged from the building Thrillseeker’s black scythe dislodged itself from the wall and flew to her side, dragging Thrillseeker along with it.

There was a moment while One-Billion-Blades stood, breathless and Thrillseeker continued to try to wrench back control of her weapon, that neither girl was really cognizant of the other. As One-Billion-Blades got her breath back and saw Thrillseeker still wrestling to free her scythe from her xiphokinetic grip, she gasped, and let the scythe loose.

“Thrillseeker.” she said, a clear level of awe in her voice, and then she seemed to struggle for what to say or do next. Behind her, her swords, coated in blood and viscera, clattered clumsily through the church door and found their positions hovering around her.

Thrillseeker, scythe in hand, simply bowed.

“Thrillseeker.” Again she hesitated long enough that it seemed as though she was done, but finally she reached out and grabbed Thrillseeker’s hand. “Teach me how to do it.” she said. “I want to murder those bastards for what they’ve done, but… evidently I couldn’t even manage to kill The High-Roller. I’ll do anything, whatever you need from me, whatever you want from me. Consider me your tool, your weapon. Just so long as eventually me and you together can destroy every last one of those bastards.”

Thrillseeker considered her thoughtfully, disentangling her hand and sheathing her scythe to grab her slate and chalk. ‘Could this be a thrillseeker? Be wary of revenge.’

This seemed to give One-Billion-Blades pause.
“I’m angry, yeah. They took away from me the only person who-” She stopped short and tried again. “Even if I put that aside, what they are doing is wrong. Crosses a whole new threshold of wrongness that I didn’t even know about before this whole damn thing started. Fighting them is the right thing to do and I’m not going to stand by while I could have helped just because you think having personal stakes in this matter is somehow a problem.”

Thrillseeker made a small adjustment and flipped the slate back around. ’Could this be a thrillseeker? Be wary of right.’

“If I can’t fight for Winter, and I can’t fight for what’s right, what’s left?” One-Billion-Blades demanded. “What are you fighting for Thrillseeker?”

‘Victory, O joy therefore madness required ahead’

“Just fighting for the sake of fighting?” One-Billion-Blades asked carefully, her blades ceasing their slow ambient movements to hang perfectly frozen for a moment. Thrillseeker gave her a grin and a nod. “You’d be just as likely to kill a monster as a person?”

’Seek strong foe. Behold, monster!’

One-Billion-Blades considered this and produced a cloth to clean off her hanging blades.
“Any strong foe? What if a girl just wanted to live her life but she’d been born too powerful? Is she a monster?” she asked. Thrillseeker shook her head in response.

’No enemy ahead. Praise the battle!’

One-Billion-Blades considered it and gave a soft smile as she sheathed her blades.
“I still think maybe you need someone keeping an eye on you, but I’m counting all this as a yes. Whatever your stated motivations we both want to fight the Hosts we stand a better chance of actually managing it if we stick together.”

’Madness required ahead all the more time for friendship.’

Thrillseeker extended a hand to One-Billion-Blades, who took it and then pulled her in for a hug. Thrillseeker, fought against it for a moment before just hugging her back.

“So Thrill, any plans currently in the works to force the Hosts out into the open?” One-Billion-Blades asked. “Is Thrill okay? You can call me Billie if you- nevermind.” She chuckled slightly and Thrillseeker gave her a shrug and a nod at the same time, which probably meant it was fine to call her whatever.

’Visions of futility, let there be research.’ Thrillseeker walked over to her cauldron and started messing with the control panel upon it.

One-Billion-Blades decided to leave her to it, and walked back over to the church, glimpsing once again the inside, the now vanished remains of the hoggrels that had chased her out, the deep crevice down into the earth where at the heart of it the creature had been chained.

“Beware young hero for beyond here lies the catacombs in which we have contained the Emperor Hoggrel. Venturing below is not recommended for the new arrivals in our realm. If you should ever seek to destroy this ancient foe please return when you are greatly experienced.”

One-Billion-Blades was closing the church doors but she actively bristled as the foxgirl said her piece. “What did that poor creature ever do to you? You think it’s okay to imprison someone, to treat them as an object just because they’re strong?”

“The Emperor Hoggrel has been our enemy for many generations. Even still they direct their hoggrel soldiers to attack our homes.”

“Yeah because you have them chained up in a dungeon for no good reason.” One-Billion-Blades grabbed the foxgirl by her shoulders and squeezed. “What do you think the hoggrels should do? Just sit back and allow themselves to be hunted, killed, imprisoned?”

“I-I I’m just here to warn people about the Emperor Hoggrel.” They said. “I wasn’t there at the sealing. They’re bad, they’re evil, they hurt people. It’s just what hoggrels do.”

One of her blades unsheathed itself from her hip, and slowly but deliberately reorientated itself in the air, its point coming to rest by the foxgirl’s throat. “No person or being is inherently evil just by who or what they are. We’re going to go down there and let this Emperor Hoggrel free and you’re going to apologize for-”

There was the sound of metal clanging against metal. One-Billion-Blades turned around to see Thrillseeker stood atop her cauldron, its lid open, her scythe in her hand. She made a gesture towards the controls of her cauldron and then stepping directly over the open vat Thrillseeker brought her scythe round and slit her own throat. Her body plummeted directly into the vat and One-Billion-Blades immediately abandoned her grudge against this foxgirl npc and hurried over to Thrillseeker’s vat.

Resting atop the controls was Thrillseeker’s slate on which she had written.
'Time for research. Seek Thrillseeker.’ Above the slate was a small simple monitor showing a cross labelled: cauldron and a dot far off to the west labelled: Thrillseeker.

“Dramatic bitch.”