Betting on the US Masters Golf Championship ...

Masters Betting Pool

My friends and I have been doing this pool for a few years now, I thought I'd explain it to you guys in case anyone else wants to do it.
It's a fun way to make the greatest sporting event of the year even more interesting and it gives you something to root for even if your favorite player is sucking it up.
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Does anyone have some Masters pool sheets that would be accessible online? Or if anyone has some recommendations on how I can bet on the Masters other than Draftkings or just betting on a winner on sportsbook.

submitted by golfpro76 to golf [link] [comments]

Bets.net Masters with $100,000 prize pool, offline finals in Kiev

Bets.net Masters with $100,000 prize pool, offline finals in Kiev submitted by hulksreddit to GlobalOffensive [link] [comments]

Fusion.bet Masters announced with $10,000 prize-pool

Fusion.bet Masters announced with $10,000 prize-pool submitted by FusionBet to FusionBet [link] [comments]

Fusion.bet Masters announced with $10,000 prize-pool

Fusion.bet Masters announced with $10,000 prize-pool submitted by eSportsNewsBot to csgo [link] [comments]

Is there an easy way to get scorecard data this year's The Masters? Have prop bets in our Tournament Pool for most birdies, pars, eagles, bogeys, etc.

Hey gang,
We put together a pool for our golf group, and it was our first year doing anything like this. It is actually pretty exciting because it has a mix of fun (prop bets) and some more complex choices (22-player stroke play & stableford teams).
Anyway, I was wondering if there is an easy way to get the scorecard data for every player from The Masters' rounds. If you know of anything, it'd be extremely helpful and save me time from entering in 89 scorecards manually!
Also, if anyone's interested, I'll share the pool format just so you can get a better idea.
Thanks, corp
submitted by fckthecorporate to golf [link] [comments]

Wizard Tournament: Chapter 10

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      The crowd gave a whoop of delight when Peter dropped dead. Most of them did anyway. Sylnya jumped up and booed loudly. “Go fuck yourself, Korack!” she shouted.
      The bell chimed high in the stands from the judge’s stand. “Peter is dead,” Maeve announced. “Korack wins.
      “You can’t really say you didn’t expect that,” Draevin told Sylnya when she returned to her seat.
      “No, but he could’ve at least brought his damn scroll with him,” she said.
      On the arena floor below Korack waved his arms excitedly to his fans and blew out a gout of flames from his mouth. It made a showy flash and the small pocket of lizard-kin who’d made the long trip from Kreet started a chant of, “Kᴏ-Ʀᴀᴄᴋ! Kᴏ-Ʀᴀᴄᴋ!” that rippled around the arena and was adopted by all but the stubborn group of humans way in the back.
      Another pair of white-robed medical wizards marched on stage to haul off Peter’s body, but this time none of the engineering acolytes even bothered to show up since the battleground had been completely undamaged by the brief attack. With a final wave to the crowd, Korack stepped off the stage.
      The bell chimed from the judge’s stand. Again.
      All the cheering from the crowd stopped and a buzz of conversation broke out. “The hell was that?” Sylnya asked.
      “I don’t know. I’ve never heard it chime twice. I thought it was magically tuned to the arena.”
      “Quiet down,” Maeve announced. For once everyone listened. “It seems… Korack has left the arena boundary. He is eliminated. We ask that Peter reveal himself and make his way to the judge’s stand. In the meantime, please stand by while the judges deliberate their ruling.
      When Maeve finished her speech, Peter suddenly appeared. He was lying on the ground in the dirt right where he’d stepped out of his box. In the same moment he appeared, the nearby medical wizards carting his “body” away disappeared. Peter stood up and dusted himself off. He tried to give a wave to the crowd, but as soon as everyone realized he wasn’t really dead the shouting started. A low-pitched roar of disapproval resounded from all around and a few of the lizard-kin in the crowd even tried to rush the field. They were held back by purple-robed Guild acolytes, while a pair of guards approached Peter to march him off-stage.
      “What just happened?” Draevin asked. “Are you seeing this?”
      “I have no idea,” Sylnya answered. “That looked like high-level sensomancy to me though.”
      “Senso—” Draevin sputtered. “Is he secretly an illusionist? How is that possible!”
      “I don’t have a fuckin’ clue, Drae. He never said anything to me.”
      Peter and his escort were just reaching the higher level where an elected judge from each of the major nations sat; a dwarf from Kundreil, a lizard-kin from Kreet, an elf from Caldenia, a dryad from Setsya and an eldrin from Eldesia. Though they normally each sat on well-spaced chairs they now crowded around Peter in a huddle. Korack came storming up the stairs after them huffing smoke out of his nose. Draevin was too far away to hear, but if he knew anything about Korack he knew he was probably shouting profanities in Kreetish by now.
      “Hahaha! Just look at him!” Draevin said in abject glee. “He can’t believe it!”
      “I can’t either. Do you think they’ll rescind his elimination?”
      Draevin’s smile froze on his face. “They better not. With Korack out, I’ve got a clean shot of reaching the finals this year.”
      Out in the stands the crowd was getting riled up; ambient conversations were starting to approach the volume of a shout. The meeting between Peter and the judges reached a fever pitch up in the judge’s stand as well. Draevin spotted the lizard-kin judge grab Peter by his shirt and yell in his face. “That doesn’t look very professional,” he commented.
      Sylnya didn’t have a chance to reply. A high pitched ringing suddenly ripped through the air accompanied by an earthquake of some kind that shook the stands. All around the arena onlookers were falling to their knees and clutching at their ears. Draevin couldn’t help but join them. It felt like someone had put his head in a vice. Just when he thought he was going to start bleeding out his ears it stopped as suddenly as it had started.
      “Whatthefuckwasthat?” Sylnya blurted too fast to make out any individual words. She was rubbing the side of her face, though she had managed to stay in her seat, unlike Draevin.
      Draevin pulled himself off the ground and looked around the field. Spectators were coming to their feet everywhere. “That felt like a sonamancy attack,” Draevin answered. “Was that Maeve?”
      “I don’t know,” Sylnya replied. “I didn’t think she was that powerful. But if she was trying to calm down the crowd that definitely did the trick.”
      “Attention ladies and gentlemen,” Maeve announced into the calm that followed. “The judges have made a ruling. Neither contestant will be allowed to advance. However, as a concession to Peter for having not been eliminated he will be allowed to continue competing as an alternate for Drant’ro. The schedule will be updated accordingly.
      This news got the crowd buzzing again, though at a more subdued volume this time.
      “I’ve never heard a ruling like that,” Draevin told Sylnya. “Sounds like a fair compromise though.”
      “Fair?” Sylnya objected in a voice too loud for Draevin’s suddenly-sensitive ears. “Peter’s going to have to compete in round one twice after beating last year’s champion! How is that fair?”
      “Well he wasn’t disqualified,” Draevin pointed out. “Considering that was on the table I think he can count himself lucky.”
      “May I have your attention,” Maeve announced once more. “There seems to be some confusion regarding the results of that last match. While Peter did not advance he is still considered to be the victor for betting purposes.
      “Nᴏᴏᴏᴏ!” Sylnya shouted into the air. She clenched her fists and shook them at the sky. “How could they do this to me!”
      “What? Don’t tell me you bet on Korack. You’d make better money digging through trash cans with those odds.”
      “That’s not it,” Sylnya pouted. “I just realized I could have paid off all my debts! Those odds were insane!”
      Draevin just chuckled. “Can we talk about Peter now?”
      “What about him?”
      “The fact that he clearly used magic!” Draevin kicked Peter’s leather satchel and it jangled with all the empty glass bottles inside. “And now I’m thinking he must’ve drank all the empty mana potions in his bag. Is he a wizard?”
      “I mean this is a wizard tournament, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched to me. What makes you think I would know though? He never once brought up the topic of his own strategy.”
      “And you never asked?”
      “You want to know so bad? You ask him! He might even tell you if you weren’t such an insufferable prick to him for once.”
      “I’m not a—”
      “Oh come on Drae, you barely give the kid the time of day. I distinctly remember you celebrating when he went off to his match because you thought you were finally done with him.”
      “Well that’s because I thought he was just a useless human. I didn’t know he was a wizard.”
      “The next match between Dwyra and Pellanrae will begin shortly as normal,” Maeve announced while they waited for Peter to return.
      “By the way,” Draevin added, “did you see Peter cast a spell before Korack hit him?”
      “No.”
      “Hmmm,” Draevin pondered that thought with some concern. He hadn’t either. He didn’t want to admit it, but the evidence seemed to suggest that not only was Peter capable of magic—something humans weren’t supposed to be capable of—but that he was… “You don’t think it’s possible he’s a master illusionist, do you Syl?”
      “I mean he told me he was twenty six years old. Didn’t it take you more than a century to master cryomancy?”
      “What? It wasn’t that long!” Draevin said defensively. If he only tallied up the hours he spent practicing and not the total days it was far less than a century. He found the thought that Peter might have accomplished the feat faster than him disquieting.
      Peter quietly slid inside the booth a moment later. “What took you so long?” Sylnya asked him right away.
      “I had to talk to… someone about a… thing,” he answered evasively.
      “That was a neat trick with Korack,” Sylnya told him cheerfully.
      Peter’s face went hard. He sat down in his seat rougher than strictly necessary and glared at his notepad without actually opening it. “For nothing! All that and they just make me fight in round one a second time!”
      Draevin saw an opportunity to ingratiate himself with this new human wizard. “I was actually impressed,” he said. “Whatever else happens, you managed to eliminate Korack. That’s something even I can’t do.” He was actually pretty sure his new wand would have done the trick, but he knew ingratiation required at least the outward appearance of humility.
      Peter looked up from his glowering with a confused look on his face. Sylnya actually smirked. Draevin made sure to move in before she could make a snide comment and undermine his compliment. “So, does this mean you were secretly a master illusionist this whole time?” He reached out and touched Peter’s ears. They felt round. “You’re not really a half-elf or something, are you?”
      Peter batted his hand away. “No, just a regular human. But…” He trailed off and seemed to consider his next words carefully. “I am a master illusionist. I thought it would give me an edge if nobody knew what I could do, but I guess the secret is out now. It was just a one-time trick, but I was hoping it would get me past the first round.”
      “What was that trick exactly?” Draevin asked.
      Peter self-consciously fiddled with his glasses while he answered. “Just Invisibility coupled with a Mirror Image. The judges got mad because I tricked them into ringing the bell with an illusion up in their stand. Maeve’s first announcement was just a bonus.”
      Draevin was delighted with himself. Sylnya was right, all he needed to do was be a bit nicer and the human was suddenly telling him everything. “So,” Draevin added next, “you going to tell us how it is you’re able to cast magic in the first place? I was under the impression humans weren’t capable.”
      “Have you ever tried to teach one?” Peter snapped. There was a hint of hostility in his voice.
      “Well no. But you don’t have a mana pool, and from what I’ve heard you people can’t even feel mana.”
      “Sure,” Peter agreed. “But someone deaf can learn to sing can’t they? It just takes more work is all.”
      “But the mana!” Draevin pointed out.
      Peter looked him in the eye. If he was trying for gravitas the effect was somewhat diminished when he had to push his glasses back up his nose. “What makes you think humans don’t have any mana?”
      “Because you don’t,” he answered simply. “I saw you at The Pot this morning. It went right through you.”
      “Can you not put mana in a scroll? A potion? Just because our bodies can’t hold very much doesn’t mean they can’t hold any.”
      That actually did make a bit of sense. “So is that why you’re an illusionist then?” Draevin asked. “Because illusions use such a small amount of mana?”
      Peter shrugged. “It’s my natural harmonic,” he said easily. “That it’s cheap to cast is just a happy coincidence.”
      Draevin had so many more questions. How did he learn magic? How did he become a master so quickly? He would have to save his questions for later. The crowd was quieting down for the next match.
      Sylnya playfully slugged Draevin in the arm. “I had almost given up on you,” she said. “Maybe I can make a decent person out of you yet.”
      “Very funny Syl.”
      Down on the field the next two contestants were taking their positions. Draevin pointed to the red, speckled one. “So is Dwyra a dryad or not?” He asked Sylnya. After the mix up with Grrbraa earlier he figured it would be safer just to ask.
      “Oh-my-gods Draevin, do you live under a rock? How do you not know about Dwyra? She’s Setsyan royalty! Of course she’s a dryad!”
      “Well you can’t expect me to follow all your weird politics, and she’s some kind of mushroom, not... wait a second. Setsya doesn’t have a monarchy!”
      “Ex-royalty,” Sylnya corrected. She then shushed Draevin with an upheld finger.
      “Dwyra is a dryad fungomancer representing the Setsya’s rightful ruling Monarchy,” Maeve said with her enhanced voice. Draevin was glad to hear a bit of muttering from the crowd at this announcement. At least he wasn’t the only one confused. ”She is carrying High Cleric Grendel’s Censer of Gentle Mists and her wish if she wins this year’s tournament is to permanently kill Necro-King Brorn and return the land he stole to the Setsyan Federation. Dwyra wants everyone to know that Brornia’s spread has gone on long enough. She hopes that Necro-King Brorn watches her match closely before he considers another incursion into her territory.” Dwyra’s red-speckled form held up a small metal incense burner on the end of a chain that looped around her neck. The censer. It was a famous artifact, but not one that Draevin had ever seen used in combat.
      “You dryad’s okay with her going around calling your nation hers like that?” Draevin asked.
      Sylnya shrugged. “I don’t have a problem with it. Dwyra’s a badass, just you wait and see!”
      Dwyra’s opponent was announced next. “Pellanrae is a dwarf metallurgist representing the Kundreil Weaponry Company. She is carrying a supply of adamantine sand and her wish is to turn the disputed territory of Trenal into a non-magical zone so Caldenia and Eldesia can settle their conflict without spilling wizard blood. Pellanrae wants everyone to ‘Remember, you can’t spell dwarf without war,’ and to pick up an authentic dwarf-forged axe or breastplate today! All axes are 25% off until the 25th!” The announcer, Maeve, managed to make a cheerful voice while reading this sales pitch, unlike she had with Peter’s sponsor. The large burlap sack that the stout little dwarf woman hoisted over her shoulder didn’t look very impressive, but indestructible metal sand was a powerful tool in the hands of a metallurgist.
      “What does that item Dwyra has do?” Peter asked Sylnya just before the match started.
      Sylnya was focused intensely on the field and didn’t spare Peter a moment’s glance when she answered. “It makes healing mists, shhh! I have money riding on this match!”
      Draevin chuckled to himself. Of course she did. The bell chimed and the next match began.
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Special Author’s Note in the comment section.
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GeForce RTX 3090 Review Megathread

GeForce RTX 3090 Review Megathread

GeForce RTX 3090 reviews are up.

Image Link - GeForce RTX 3090 Founders Edition

Reminder: Do NOT buy from 3rd Party Marketplace Seller on Ebay/Amazon/Newegg (unless you want to pay more). Assume all the 3rd party sellers are scalping. If it's not being sold by the actual retailer (e.g. Amazon selling on Amazon.com or Newegg selling on Newegg.com) then you should treat the product as sold out and wait.

Below is the compilation of all the reviews that have been posted so far. I will be updating this continuously throughout the day with the conclusion of each publications and any new review links. This will be sorted alphabetically.

Written Articles

Anandtech - TBD

Arstechnica - TBD

Babeltechreviews

NVIDIA says that the RTX 3080 is the gaming card and the RTX 3090 is the hybrid creative card – but we respectfully disagree. The RTX 3090 is the flagship gaming card that can also run intensive creative apps very well, especially by virtue of its huge 24GB framebuffer. But it is still not an RTX TITAN nor a Quadro. These cards cost a lot more and are optimized specifically for workstations and also for professional and creative apps.
However, for RTX 2080 Ti gamers who paid $1199 and who have disposable cash for their hobby – although it has been eclipsed by the RTX 3080 – the RTX 3090 Founders Edition which costs $1500 is the card to maximize their upgrade. And for high-end gamers who also use creative apps, this card may become a very good value. Hobbies are very expensive to maintain, and the expense of PC gaming pales in comparison to what golfers, skiers, audiophiles, and many other hobbyists pay for their entertainment. But for high-end gamers on a budget, the $699 RTX 3080 will provide the most value of the two cards. We cannot call the $1500 RTX 3090 a “good value” generally for gamers as it is a halo card and it absolutely does not provide anywhere close to double the performance of a $700 RTX 3080.
However, for some professionals, two RTX 3090s may give them exactly what they need as it is the only Ampere gaming card to support NVLink providing up to 112.5 GB/s of total bandwidth between two GPUs which when SLI’d together will allow them to access a massive 48GB of vRAM. SLI is no longer supported by NVIDIA for gaming, and emphasis will be placed on mGPU only as implemented by game developers.

Digital Foundry Article

Digital Foundry Video

So there we have it. The RTX 3090 delivers - at best - 15 to 16 per cent more gaming performance than the RTX 3080. In terms of price vs performance, there is only one winner here. And suffice to say, we would expect to see factory overclocked RTX 3080 cards bite into the already fairly slender advantage delivered by Nvidia's new GPU king. Certainly in gaming terms then, the smart money would be spend on an RTX 3080, and if you're on a 1440p high refresh rate monitor and you're looking to maximise price vs performance, I'd urge you to look at the RTX 2080 Ti numbers in this review: if Nvidia's claims pan out, you'll be getting that and potentially more from the cheaper still RTX 3070. All of which raises the question - why make an RTX 3090 at all?
The answers are numerous. First of all, PC gaming has never adhered to offering performance increases in line with the actual amount of money spent. Whether it's Titans, Intel Extreme processors, high-end motherboards or performance RAM, if you want the best, you'll end up paying a huge amount of money to attain it. This is only a problem where there are no alternatives and in the case of the RTX 3090, there is one - the RTX 3080 at almost half of the price.
But more compelling is the fact that Nvidia is now blurring the lines between the gaming GeForce line and the prosumer-orientated Quadro offerings. High-end Quadro cards are similar to RTX 3090 and Titan RTX in several respects - usually in that they deliver the fully unlocked Nvidia silicon paired with huge amounts of VRAM. Where they differ is in support and drivers, something that creatives, streamers or video editors may not wish to pay even more of a premium for. In short, RTX 3090 looks massively expensive as a gamer card, but compared to the professional Quadro line, there are clear savings.
In the meantime, RTX 3090 delivers the Titan experience for the new generation of graphics hardware. Its appeal is niche, the halo product factor is huge and the performance boost - while not exactly huge - is likely enough to convince the cash rich to invest and for the creator audience to seriously consider it. For my use cases, the extra money is obviously worth it. I also think that the way Nvidia packages and markets the product is appealing: the RTX 3090 looks and feels special, its gigantic form factor and swish aesthetic will score points with those that take pride in their PC looking good and its thermal and especially acoustic performance are excellent. It's really, really quiet. All told then, RTX 3090 is the traditional hard sell for the mainstream gamer but the high-end crowd will likely lap it up. But it leaves me with a simple question: where next for the Titan and Ti brands? You don't retire powerhouse product tiers for no good reason and I can only wonder: is something even more powerful cooking?

Guru3D

When we had our first experience with the GeForce RTX 3080, we were nothing short of impressed. Testing the GeForce RTX 3090 is yet another step up. But we're not sure if the 3090 is the better option though, as you'll need very stringent requirements in order for it to see a good performance benefit. Granted, and I have written this many times in the past with the Titans and the like, a graphics card like this is bound to run into bottlenecks much faster than your normal graphics cards. Three factors come into play here, CPU bottlenecks, low-resolution bottlenecks, and the actual game (API). The GeForce RTX 3090 is the kind of product that needs to be free from all three aforementioned factors. Thus, you need to have a spicy processor that can keep up with the card, you need lovely GPU bound games preferably with DX12 ASYNC compute and, of course, if you are not gaming at the very least in Ultra HD, then why even bother, right? The flipside of the coin is that when you have these three musketeers applied and in effect, well, then there is no card faster than the 3090, trust me; it's a freakfest of performance, but granted, also bitter-sweet when weighing all factors in.
NVIDIA's Ampere product line up has been impressive all the way, there's nothing other to conclude than that. Is it all perfect? Well, performance-wise in the year 2020 we cannot complain. Of course, there is an energy consumption factor to weigh in as a negative factor and, yes, there's pricing to consider. Both are far too high for the product to make any real sense. For gaming, we do not feel the 3090 makes a substantial enough difference over the RTX 3080 with 10 to 15% differentials, and that's mainly due to system bottlenecks really. You need to game at Ultra HD and beyond for this card to make a bit of sense. We also recognize that the two factors do not need to make sense for quite a bunch of you as the product sits in a very extreme niche. But I stated enough about that. I like this chunk of hardware sitting inside a PC though as, no matter how you look at it, it is a majestic product. Please make sure you have plenty of ventilation though as the RTX 3090 will dump lots of heat. It is big but still looks terrific. And the performance, oh man... that performance, it is all good all the way as long as you uphold my three musketeers remark. Where I could nag a little about the 10 GB VRAM on the GeForce RTX 3080, we cannot complain even the slightest bit about the whopping big mac feature of the 3090, 24 GB of the fastest GDDR6X your money can get you, take that Flight Sim 2020! This is an Ultra HD card, in that domain, it shines whether that is using shading (regular rendered games) or when using hybrid ray-tracing + DLSS. It's a purebred but unfortunately very power-hungry product that will reach only a select group of people. But it is formidable if you deliver it to the right circumstances. Would we recommend this product? Ehm no, you are better off with GeForce RTX 3070 or 3080 as, money-wise, this doesn't make much sense. But it is genuinely a startling product worthy of a top pick award, an award we hand out so rarely for a reference or Founder product but we also have to acknowledge that NVIDIA really is stepping up on their 'reference' designs and is now setting a new and better standard.

Hexus

This commentary puts the RTX 3090 into a difficult spot. It's 10 percent faster for gaming yet costs over twice as much as the RTX 3080. Value for money is poor when examined from a gaming point of view. Part of that huge cost rests with the 24GB of GDDR6X memory that has limited real-world benefit in games. Rather, it's more useful in professional rendering as the larger pool can speed-up time to completion massively.
And here's the rub. Given its characteristics, this card ought to be called the RTX Titan or GeForce RTX Studio and positioned more diligently for the creatoprofessional community where computational power and large VRAM go hand in hand. The real RTX 3090, meanwhile, gaming focussed first and foremost, ought to arrive with 12GB of memory and a $999 price point, thereby offering a compelling upgrade without resorting to Titan-esque pricing. Yet all that said, the insatiable appetite and apparent deep pockets of enthusiasts will mean Nvidia sells out of these $1,500 boards today: demand far outstrips supply. And does it matter what it's called, how much memory it has, or even what price it is? Not in the big scheme of things because there is a market for it.
Being part of the GeForce RTX firmament has opened up the way for add-in card partners to produce their own boards. The Gigabyte Gaming OC does most things right. It's built well and looks good, and duly tops all the important gaming charts at 4K. We'd encourage a lower noise profile through a relaxation of temps, but if you have the means by which to buy graphics performance hegemony, the Gaming OC isn't a bad shout... if you can find it in stock.

Hot Hardware

Summarizing the GeForce RTX 3090's performance is simple -- it's the single fastest GPU on the market currently, bar none. There's nuance to consider here, though. Versus the GeForce RTX 3080, disregarding CPU limited situations or corner cases, the more powerful RTX 3090's advantages over the 3080 only range from about 4% to 20%. Versus the Titan RTX, the GeForce RTX 3090's advantages increase to approximately 6% to 40%. Consider complex creator workloads which can leverage the GeForce RTX 3090's additional resources and memory, however, and it is simply in another class altogether and can be many times faster than either the RTX 3080 or Titan RTX.
Obviously, the $1,499 GeForce RTX 3090 Founder's Edition isn't an overall value play for the vast majority of users. If you're a gamer shopping for a new high-end GPU, the GeForce RTX 3080 at less than 1/2 the price is the much better buy. Compared to the $2,500 Titan RTX or $1,300 - $1,500-ish GeForce RTX 2080 Ti though, the GeForce RTX 3090 is the significantly better choice. Your perspective on the GeForce RTX 3090's value proposition is ultimately going to depend on your particular use case. Unless they've got unlimited budgets and want the best-of-the-best, regardless of cost, hardcore gamers may scoff at the RTX 3090. Anyone utilizing the horsepower of the previous generation Titan RTX though, may be chomping at the bit.
The GeForce RTX 3090's ultimate appeal is going to depend on the use-case, but whether or not you'll actually be able to get one is another story. The GeForce RTX 3090 is going to be available in limited quantities today -- NVIDIA said as much in yesterday's performance tease. NVIDIA pledges to make more available direct and through partners ASAP, however. We'll see how things shake out in the weeks ahead, and all bets are off when AMD's makes its RDNA2 announcements next month. NVIDIA's got a lot of wiggle room with Ampere and will likely react swiftly to anything AMD has in store. And let's not forget we still have the GeForce RTX 3070 inbound, which is going to have extremely broad appeal if NVIDIA's performance claims hold up.

Igor's Lab

In Summary: this card is a real giant, especially at higher resolutions, because even if the lead over the GeForce RTX 3080 isn’t always as high as dreamed, it’s always enough to reach the top position in playability. Right stop of many quality controllers included. Especially when the games of the GeForce RTX 3090 and the new architecture are on the line, the mail really goes off, which one must admit without envy, whereby the actual gain is not visible in pure FPS numbers.
If you have looked at the page with the variances, you will quickly understand that the image is much better because it is softer. The FPS or percentiles are still much too coarse intervals to be able to reproduce this very subjective impression well. A blind test with 3 perons has completely confirmed my impression, because there is nothing better than a lot of memory, at most even more memory. Seen in this light, the RTX 3080 with 10 GB is more like Cinderella, who later has to make herself look more like Cinderella with 10 GB if she wants to get on the prince’s roller.
But the customer always has something to complain about anyway (which is good by the way and keeps the suppliers on their toes) and NVIDIA keeps all options open in return to be able to top a possible Navi2x card with 16 GB memory expansion with 20 GB later. And does anyone still remember the mysterious SKU20 between the GeForce RTX 3080 and RTX 3090? If AMD doesn’t screw it up again this time, this SKU20 is sure to become a tie-break in pixel tennis. We’ll see.
For a long time I have been wrestling with myself, which is probably the most important thing in this test. I have also tested 8K resolutions, but due to the lack of current practical relevance, I put this part on the back burner. If anyone can find someone who has a spare 8K TV, I’ll be happy to do so, if only because I’m also very interested in 8K-DLSS. But that’s like sucking on an ice cream that you’ve only printed out on a laser printer before.
The increase in value of the RTX 3090 in relation to the RTX 3080 for the only gamer is, up to the memory extension, to be rather neglected and one understands also, why many critics will never pay the double price for 10 to 15% more gaming performance. Because I wouldn’t either. Only this is then exactly the target group for the circulated RTX 3080 (Ti) with double memory expansion. Their price should increase visibly in comparison to the 10 GB variant, but still be significantly below that of a GeForce RTX 3090. This is not defamatory or fraudulent, but simply follows the laws of the market. A top dog always costs a little more than pure scaling, logic and reason would allow.
And the non-gamer or the not-only-gamer? The added value can be seen above all in the productive area, whether workstation or creation. Studio is the new GeForce RTX wonderland away from the Triple A games, and the Quadros can slowly return to the professional corner of certified specialty programs. What AMD started back then with the Vega Frontier Edition and unfortunately didn’t continue (why not?), NVIDIA has long since taken up and consistently perfected. The market has changed and studio is no longer an exotic phrase. Then even those from about 1500 Euro can survive without a headache tablet again.

KitGuru Article

KitGuru Video

RTX 3080 was heralded by many as an excellent value graphics card, delivering performance gains of around 30% compared to the RTX 2080 Ti, despite being several hundred pounds cheaper. With the RTX 3090, Nvidia isn’t chasing value for money, but the overall performance crown.
And that is exactly what it has achieved. MSI’s RTX 3090 Gaming X Trio, for instance, is 14% faster than the RTX 3080 and 50% faster than the RTX 2080 Ti, when tested at 4K. No other GPU even comes close to matching its performance.
At this point, many of you reading this may be thinking something along the line of ‘well, yes, it is 14% faster than an RTX 3080 – but it is also over double the price, so surely it is terrible value?’ And you would be 100% correct in thinking that. The thing is, Nvidia knows that too – RTX 3090 is simply not about value for money, and if that is something you prioritise when buying a new graphics card, don’t buy a 3090.
Rather, RTX 3090 is purely aimed at those who don’t give a toss about value. It’s for the gamers who want the fastest card going, and they will pay whatever price to claim those bragging rights. In this case of the MSI Gaming X Trio, the cost of this GPU’s unrivalled performance comes to £1530 here in the UK.
Alongside gamers, I can also see professionals or creators looking past its steep asking price. If the increased render performance of this GPU could end up saving you an hour, two hours per week, for many that initial cost will pay for itself with increased productivity, especially if you need as much VRAM as you can get.

OC3D

As with any launch, the primary details are in the GPU itself, and so the first half of this conclusion is the same for both of the AIB RTX 3090 graphics cards that we are reviewing today. If you want to know specifics of this particular card, skip down the page.
Last week we saw the release of the RTX 3080. A card that combined next-gen performance with a remarkably attractive price point, and was one of the easiest products to recommend we've ever seen. 4K gaming for around the £700 mark might be expensive if you're just used to consoles, but if you're a diehard member of the "PC Gaming Master Race", then you know how much you had to spend to achieve the magical 4K60 mark. It's an absolute no brainer purchase.
The RTX 3090 though, that comes with more asterisks and caveats than a Lance Armstrong win on the Tour de France. Make no mistake; the RTX 3090 is brutally fast. If performance is your thing, or performance without consideration of cost, or you want to flex on forums across the internet, then yeah, go for it. For everyone else, and that's most of us, there is a lot it does well, but it's a seriously niche product.
We can go to Nvidia themselves for their key phraseology. With a tiny bit of paraphrasing, they say "The RTX 3090 is for 8K gaming, or heavy workload content creators. For 4K Gaming the RTX 3080 is, with current and immediate future titles, more than enough". If you want the best gaming experience, then as we saw last week, the clear choice is the RTX 3080. If you've been following the results today then clearly the RTX 3090 isn't enough of a leap forwards to justify being twice the price of the RTX 3080. It's often around 5% faster, sometimes 10%, sometimes not much faster at all. Turns out that Gears 5 in particular looked unhappy but it was an 'auto' setting on animation increasing its own settings so we will go back with it fixed to ultra and retest. The RTX 3090 is still though, whisper it, a bit of a comedown after the heights of our first Ampere experience.
To justify the staggering cost of the RTX 3090 you need to fit into one of the following groups; Someone who games at 8K, either natively or via Nvidia's DSR technology. Someone who renders enormous amounts of 3D work. We're not just talking a 3D texture or model for a game; we're talking animated short films. Although even here the reality is that you need a professional solution far beyond the price or scope of the RTX 3090. Lastly, it would be best if you were someone who renders massive, RAW, 8K video footage regularly and has the memory and storage capacity to feed such a voracious data throughput. If you fall into one of those categories, then you'll already have the hardware necessary - 8K screen or 8K video camera - that the cost of the RTX 3090 is small potatoes. In which case you'll love the extra freedom and performance it can bring to your workload, smoothing out the waiting that is such a time-consuming element of the creative process. This logic holds true for both the Gigabyte and MSI cards we're looking at on launch.

PC Perspective - TBD

PC World

There’s no doubt that the $1,500 GeForce RTX 3090 is indeed a “big ferocious GPU,” and the most powerful consumer graphics card ever created. The Nvidia Founders Edition delivers unprecedented performance for 4K gaming, frequently maxes out games at 1440p, and can even play at ludicrous 8K resolution in some games. It’s a beast for 3440x1440 ultrawide gaming too, as our separate ultrawide benchmarks piece shows. Support for HDMI 2.1 and AV1 decoding are delicious cherries on top.
If you’re a pure gamer, though, you shouldn’t buy it, unless you’ve got deep pockets and want the best possible gaming performance, value be damned. The $700 GeForce RTX 3080 offers between 85 and 90 percent of the RTX 3090’s 4K gaming performance (depending on the game) for well under half the cost. It’s even closer at 1440p.
If you’re only worried about raw gaming frame rates, the GeForce RTX 3080 is by far the better buy, because it also kicks all kinds of ass at 4K and high refresh rate 1440p and even offers the same HDMI 2.1 and AV1 decode support as its bigger brother. Nvidia likes to boast that the RTX 3090 is the first 8K gaming card, and while that’s true in some games, it falls far short of the 60 frames per second mark in many triple-A titles. Consider 8K gaming a nice occasional bonus more than a core feature.
If you mix work and play, though, the GeForce RTX 3090 is a stunning value—especially if your workloads tap into CUDA. It’s significantly faster than the previous-gen RTX 2080 Ti, which fell within spitting distance of the RTX Titan, and offers the same 24GB VRAM capacity of that Titan. But it does so for $1,000 less than the RTX Titan’s cost.
The GeForce RTX 3090 stomps all over most of our content creation benchmarks. Performance there is highly workload-dependent, of course, but we saw speed increases of anywhere from 30 to over 100 percent over the RTX 2080 Ti in several tasks, with many falling in the 50 to 80 percent range. That’s an uplift that will make your projects render tangibly faster—putting more money in your pocket. The lofty 24GB of GDDR6X memory makes the RTX 3090 a must-have in some scenarios where the 10GB to 12GB found in standard gaming cards flat-out can’t cut it, such as 8K media editing or AI training with large data sets. That alone will make it worth buying for some people, along with the NVLink connector that no other RTX 30-series GPU includes. If you don’t need those, the RTX 3080 comes close to the RTX 3090 in raw GPU power in many tests.

TechGage - Workstation benchmark!

NVIDIA’s GeForce RTX 3090 is an interesting card for many reasons, and it’s harder to summarize than the RTX 3080 was, simply due to its top-end price and goals. The RTX 3080, priced at $699, was really easy to recommend to anyone wanting a new top-end gaming solution, because compared to the last-gen 2080S, 2080 Ti, or even TITAN RTX, the new card simply trounced them all.
The GeForce RTX 3090, with its $1,499 price tag, caters to a different crowd. First, there are going to be those folks who simply want the best gaming or creator GPU possible, regardless of its premium price. We saw throughout our performance results that the RTX 3090 does manage to take a healthy lead in many cases, but the gains over RTX 3080 are not likely as pronounced as many were hoping.
The biggest selling-point of the RTX 3090 is undoubtedly its massive frame buffer. For creators, having 24GB on tap likely means you will never run out during this generation, and if you manage to, we’re going to be mighty impressed. We do see more than 24GB being useful for deep-learning and AI research, but even there, it’s plenty for the vast majority of users.
Interestingly, this GeForce is capable of taking advantage of NVLink, so those wanting to plug two of them into a machine could likewise combine their VRAM, activating a single 48GB frame buffer. Two of these cards would cost $500 more than the TITAN RTX, and obliterate it in rendering and deep-learning workloads (but of course draw a lot more power at the same time).
For those wanting to push things even harder with single GPU, we suspect NVIDIA will likely release a new TITAN at some point with even more memory. Or, that’s at least our hope, because we don’t want to see the TITAN series just up and disappear.
For gamers, a 24GB frame buffer can only be justified if you’re using top-end resolutions. Not even 4K is going to be problematic for most people with a 10GB frame buffer, but as we move up the scale, to 5K and 8K, that memory is going to become a lot more useful.
By now, you likely know whether or not the monstrous GeForce RTX 3090 is for you. Fortunately, if it isn’t, the RTX 3080 hasn’t gone anywhere, and it still proves to be of great value (you know – if you can find it in stock) for its $699 price. NVIDIA also has a $499 RTX 3070 en route next month, so all told, the company is going to be taking good care of its enthusiast fans with this trio of GPUs. Saying that, we still look forward to the even lower-end parts, as those could ooze value even more than the bigger cards.

Techpowerup - MSI Gaming X Trio

Techpowerup - Zotac Trinity

Techpowerup - Asus Strix OC

Techpowerup - MSI Gaming X Trio

Still, the performance offered by the RTX 3090 is impressive; the Gaming X is 53% faster than RTX 2080 Ti, 81% faster than RTX 2080 Super. AMD's Radeon RX 5700 XT is less than half as fast, the performance uplift vs the 3090 is 227%! AMD Big Navi better be a success. With those performance numbers RTX 3090 is definitely suited for 4K resolution gaming. Many games will run over 90 FPS, at highest details, in 4K, nearly all over 60, only Control is slightly below that, but DLSS will easily boost FPS beyond that.
With RTX 3090 NVIDIA is introducing "playable 8K", which rests on several pillars. In order to connect an 8K display you previously had to use multiple cables, now you can use just a single HDMI 2.1 cable. At higher resolution, the VRAM usage goes up, RTX 3090 has you covered, offering 24 GB of memory, which is more than twice that of the 10 GB RTX 3080. Last but not least, on the software side, they added the capability to capture 8K gameplay with Shadow Play. In order to improve framerates (remember, 8K processes 16x the pixels as Full HD), NVIDIA created DLSS 8K, which renders the game at 1440p native, and scales the output by x3, in each direction, using machine learning. All of these technologies are still in its infancy, game support is limited and displays are expensive, we'll look into this in more detail in the future.
24 GB VRAM is definitely future-proof, but I'm having doubts whether you really need that much memory. Sure, more is always better, but unless you are using professional applications, you'll have a hard time finding a noteworthy difference between performance with 10 GB vs 24 GB. Games won't be an issue, because you'll run out of shading power long before you run out of VRAM, just like with older cards today, which can't handle 4K, no matter how much VRAM they have. Next-gen consoles also don't have as much VRAM, so it's hard to image that you'll miss out on any meaningful gaming experience if you have less than 24 GB VRAM. NVIDIA demonstrated several use cases in their reviewer's guide: OctaneRender, DaVinci Resolve and Blender can certainly benefit from more memory, GPU compute applications, too, but these are very niche use cases. I'm not aware of any creators who were stuck and couldn't create, because they ran out of VRAM. On the other hand the RTX 3090 could definitely turn out to be a good alternative to Quadro, or Tesla, unless you need double-precision math (you don't).
Pricing of the RTX 3090 is just way too high, and a tough pill to swallow. At a starting price of $1500, it is more than twice as expensive as the RTX 3080, but not nearly twice as fast. MSI asking another $100 on top for their fantastic Gaming X Trio cooler, plus the overclock out of the box doesn't seem that unreasonable to me. We're talking about 6.6% here. The 6% performance increase due to factory OC / higher power limit can almost justify that, with the better cooler it's almost a no-brainer. While an additional 14 GB of GDDR6X memory aren't free, the $1500 base price still doesn't feel right. On the other hand, the card is significantly better than RTX 2080 Ti in every regard, and that sold for well over $1000, too. NVIDIA emphasizes that RTX 3090 is a Titan replacement—Titan RTX launched at $2500, so $1500 must be a steal for the new 3090. Part of the disappointment about the price is that RTX 3080 is so impressive, at such disruptive pricing. If RTX 3080 was $1000, then $1500 wouldn't feel as crazy—I would say $1000 is a fair price for the RTX 3090. Either way, Turing showed us that people are willing to pay up to have the best, and I have no doubt that all RTX 3090 cards will sell out today, just like RTX 3080.
Obviously the "Recommended" award in this context is not for the average gamer. Rather it means, if you have that much money to spend, and are looking for a RTX 3090, then you should consider this card.

The FPS Review - TBD

Tomshardware

Let's be clear: the GeForce RTX 3090 is now the fastest GPU around for gaming purposes. It's also mostly overkill for gaming purposes, and at more than twice the price of the RTX 3080, it's very much in the category of GPUs formerly occupied by the Titan brand. If you're the type of gamer who has to have the absolute best, and price isn't an object, this is the new 'best.' For the rest of us, the RTX 3090 might be drool-worthy, but it's arguably of more interest to content creators who can benefit from the added performance and memory.
We didn't specifically test any workloads where a 10GB card simply failed, but it's possible to find them — not so much in games, but in professional apps. We also weren't able to test 8K (or simulated 8K) yet, though some early results show that it's definitely possible to get the 3080 into a state where performance plummets. If you want to play on an 8K TV, the 3090 with its 24GB VRAM will be a better experience than the 3080. How many people fall into that bracket of gamers? Not many, but then again, $300 more than the previous generation RTX 2080 Ti likely isn't going to dissuade those with deep pockets.
Back to the content creation bit, while gaming performance at 4K ultra was typically 10-15% faster with the 3090 than the 3080, and up to 20% faster in a few cases, performance in several professional applications was consistently 20-30% faster — Blender, Octane, and Vray all fall into this group. Considering such applications usually fall into the category of "time is money," the RTX 3090 could very well pay for itself in short order compared to the 3080 for such use cases. And compared to an RTX 2080 Ti or Titan RTX? It's not even close. The RTX 3090 often delivered more than double the rendering performance of the previous generation in Blender, and 50-90% better performance in Octane and Vray.
The bottom line is that the RTX 3090 is the new high-end gaming champion, delivering truly next-gen performance without a massive price increase. If you've been sitting on a GTX 1080 Ti or lower, waiting for a good time to upgrade, that time has arrived. The only remaining question is just how competitive AMD's RX 6000, aka Big Navi, will be. Even with 80 CUs, on paper, it looks like Nvidia's RTX 3090 may trump the top Navi 2x cards, thanks to GDDR6X and the doubling down on FP32 capability. AMD might offer 16GB of memory, but it's going to be paired with a 256-bit bus and clocked quite a bit lower than 19 Gbps, which may limit performance.

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[Cryoverse] The Last Precursor 030: Soren the Savior

The Last Precursor is an HFY-exclusive web-serial which focuses on the exploits of the last living human amidst a galaxy of unknown aliens. With his species all but extinct and now only known as the ancient Precursors, how will Admiral José Rodriguez survive in this hostile universe? Make sure to read the earlier chapters first if you missed them!
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Previous Part
Part 001
.......................................
Salt and Pepper zip through the underground catacombs toward the source of the 'bomb' detonation they detected moments before. Due to the pitch-blackness surrounding them, these two Shades move at unbelievable speeds, crossing five miles of total darkness in the blink of an eye. They stop a few hundred feet away from a tremendous pile of collapsed rubble and pause to examine the scene.
The cave roof appears sunken in, as if something had crashed through the entire mountain down to these lower levels, more than half a mile below sea level. Where there should be a hole leading to the surface, the mountain has instead collapsed in on itself, blockading the roof with tens of thousands of tons of solidly packed dirt and stone. A cloud of dust hangs in the air, recently stirred up by whatever strange object forced its way into the underground caverns. The two Shades creep a little closer, their expressions turning to bewilderment. Before them, a giant metal cylinder sits embedded several feet in the ground, with only a couple of feet of its upper portion sticking out of the cave floor. A vibrating noise hums in the air, as if a beast were slumbering within the planet's bowels.
"What the devil is that?" Pepper asks. "Did it fall from the sky?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Salt retorts. "How could anything dig through the mountain so quickly? We would have noticed within seconds! The explosion was nearly instantaneous! I bet that tricky human somehow planted this weird... this weird thing here earlier."
"But... but we watched him the whole time," Pepper says skeptically, her confusion only increasing further. "How could we have missed something that big?"
"Dunno. Master says the fleshbags are tricky. We have to watch out for them. They nearly wiped out our entire species, after all."
"Mmm. True that. Hey, do you hear something?"
Suddenly and without warning, the circular metal object's 'lid' erupts outward, blasting off the cylinder's top. It flies backward, strikes the ceiling, and embeds half a foot into the stone roof, vibrating for a moment afterward.
Then, a gigantic, unthinkably huge metal 'hand' emerges from the canister. Both Shades go on the alert, gazing with wide-eyed fascination, and a tinge of horror, as a metal 'monster' begins to climb out of its metallic embryo.
Salt shrinks back, her eyes wide with shock, as the bipedal machine escapes its containment unit, revealing a shiny, silver body hidden within the darkness. Thanks to her incredible vision and perception, she can easily see every inch of its thick, powerful frame. Two gigantic railgun cannons rest upon the metal monster's shoulders. Its gauntlets appear powerful enough to effortlessly crush stone into dust, while its single glowing-red eye focuses on them, a tiny laser observing their movements. Having never seen such a terrifying giant, Salt can only begin to imagine what sort of terrifying beast must have spawned this behemoth.
"That thing must be six meters tall!" Pepper gasps. "What is it?!"
"M-Master... I think he mentioned these once..." Salt whispers. "It's... it's a human weapon. A killing machine!"
At that moment, one hundred and fifty front-facing lights activate on the robot's body, blasting out tens of thousands of lumens worth of solar energy. The entire cavern system for a mile behind the Shades becomes as bright as if a star had ignited within the underground depths.
"AHHHHHHHH!!!"
"IT BURNS! NOOOOO!!!"
Salt and Pepper scream in horror, their voices echoing into the distance with the volume of a thousand melting witches. Both Shades mindlessly leap backward, their bodies decomposing at terrifying rates. Unable to withstand the horrific bombardment of light upon their shadowy forms, they retreat as fast as possible, but only make it five steps before their bodies explode into smoke. A second later, they reform and fall to the ground, their limbs continuously melting due to the corrosive solar energy ripping them apart at the atomic level.
Thrice, the Shades explode, reform, and fall to the floor.
After the third time, they release high-pitched shrieks, their dying screams mirroring the agony within their souls. Then, they disappear for the rest of eternity, consumed by the all-encompassing light engulfing them.
...
Soren Mudrose, Chief Tactical Officer aboard the Bloodbearer, merely stands and watches for a moment as the Shades perish. Their deaths happen within the span of several seconds, giving her just enough time to witness their fall.
"Do not become complacent, Officer Mudrose," The synthmind, Umi, says. "Due to the imminent threat to the Admiral's life, you have not been able to properly learn to control the Titan-class Battlesuit. For now, I will initiate Automated Assault Mode. Your task is to guide the Battlesuit to the Admiral's location. Leave the combat to me."
"I understand," Soren says, taking a deep breath. "I'm not much for fighting... so I'll go with that. Let's move!"
Like an Olympic swimmer diving into a pool, Soren charges forward, her movement inside the giant, clunky, and seemingly unwieldy Titan-class Battlesuit quickly becoming smoother every second.
Boom-boom-boom!
The ten-ton Battlesuit smashes its feet against the floor as she stomps forward, rapidly increasing her running speed from five miles per hour to more than thirty.
"Officer Soren," Umi says, her computerized voice speaking within the Battlesuit's cockpit. "You must move with haste. The Admiral's vital signs have ceased, but his body has begun to move. I suspect the demonic entities intend to capture him and drag him further into their underground lair. You must bring him back in as little time as possible."
"I understand!" Soren answers. "Don't worry. I will not let the Admiral down!"
Despite running at insane speeds far beyond what her body could ever pull off, compared to the Shades within the world of darkness, Soren's movement is as slow as a turtle's. She travels toward the Admiral's blinking vital signs, which appear as a red dot superimposed over the Titan's holographic imaging interface.
"Seven hundred meters to the Admiral's current location," Umi says. "I am detecting multiple Giant-class demonic entities, as well as several hundred Hunter-class enemies. Threat rating: 0.01."
"Giant-class entities?" Soren repeats. "Like Trolls? The ones I fought in the simulation?"
"Affirmative. However, you have nothing to worry about. Inside a Titan-class Battlesuit, it is all but impossible for biological entities to injure you. Only Duke and Emperor-class demons will pose a threat, and only if they catch you off-guard. Should a Battlesuit utilize Automated Assault Mode, it will only perform with a 5% combat efficiency when compared to the control of a seasoned and veteran pilot. This loss of efficiency is unavoidable, but it will still prove more than adequate for dealing with low-level demonic entities."
...
Not far away, at Admiral Rodriguez's body.
A dozen Shades linger near the fallen Terran, having been told to stay behind with the human, just in case anything happens. All of them grumble and moan, complaining as loudly as possible about their bad luck.
"This stinks!"
"I wanted to watch Master break and train that little hussy. Now I'm stuck here, babysitting a dead man."
"Maybe we should mess with the orcs. That's always good for a laugh!"
"Oh, shut up, Prankster. Only babies like that stuff."
"Nuh-uh!"
"Uh-huh!"
Several of the Shades argue among each other as they trail behind a pair of orcs. The two monsters hold the human by his arms and legs to roughly carry him through the underground catacombs. José hangs limp in their grasp, his entire body unmoving and unable to sense the world around him. Countless nanites swim throughout his bloodstream, their movements slowing more and more every minute due to his unmoving hearts.
Without a doubt, the Terran has perished.
Unfortunately, none of the monsters or Shades recognize this simple fact. They continue traveling deeper into the underground levels, dragging the Terran's corpse along to some awful, distant torture chamber.
As they do, a few of the goblins at the front perk their pointy ears up. They swivel their heads toward a main passage up ahead, where a faint trickle of light begins to slowly expand and brighten that particular exit. In the distance, a sound greets their ears.
Boom, boom, boom, boom.
The sound of something heavy smashing the ground at regular intervals makes them hesitate.
The lead goblin frowns. "What that noise?"
"Dunno," his nearest companion replies. "It sound really angry though!"
One of the Shades flickers toward the front. Her expression darkens. "I can't sense Salt and Pepper! Where did they go? Ah! Don't tell me... don't tell me they died?!"
A second Shade jumps in alarm. "No way! How can that be? Those two are always so cautious!"
Within seconds, the distant light becomes brighter than ever. The unmistakable sounds of titanic footsteps makes all of the Shades turn to one another in a panic. Not knowing what the hell is coming, the duly appointed leader barks an order. "Y-you, orcs! Gobbys! Take the trolls and find out what's making all that noise. Hurry!"
The four remaining thirty-foot-tall trolls stare dully as their miniature companions zip between their legs and follow the head Shade's orders. By the time the Trolls start moving, the light up ahead has become astoundingly bright, while the heavy footsteps grow ever more frightening and oppressive.
All at once, a metal giant rounds the corner, its 150 unthinkably bright headlamps blasting down the corridors. The Shades scream in pain and retreat as quickly as possible, while the charging goblins and orcs screech to a halt and shield their eyes. Despite how the light doesn't injure their bodies like it does the Shades, it's still bright enough to blind them and destroy their retinas.
"Aaargh! Big sun underground! Where come from?!"
The oncoming robotic warrior doesn't slow down. Soren Mudrose charges at full speed like a stampeding bull. She smashes through the frontlines, stomping anyone in her path into patches of bloody mulch, while swinging the Battlesuit's arms from side to side. Each swing shatters spines, crushes skulls, and sends the helpless orcs and goblins flying, their comparatively tiny bodies about as threatening to the Titan-class Battlesuit as a toothpick to a T-Rex.
The Trolls, still lagging behind the orcs and goblins, don't suffer nearly as badly. Perhaps thanks to their tiny pea-brains, they somehow ignore the pain in their eyes to charge at Soren's oncoming form. They raise their fists high and swing down, intending to crush the Battlesuit into spare parts. Given how its size is only 2/3rd's the height of the Trolls, their victory seems inevitable.
However, before the Trolls can land their crushing blows, the two automated railguns mounted atop the Titan's shoulders swivel toward the fleshy giants.
Thoomph! Thoomph!
With two simultaneous shots, a power unlike anything seen in the galactic community for one hundred millions years blasts out of the turrets' barrels. The two nearest Trolls detonate like bombs as two miniature shells rip through their bodies at 5% the speed of light. Their ribs explode backward in horrific showers of gore, splattering their companions behind them. The railgun shell tears into the mountainside and causes a localized earthquake, sending shockwaves in all directions. The deafening concussive blasts blow out the eardrums of the remaining two Trolls, making them stumble in pain while howling soundlessly.
By the time the two remaining Trolls manage to open their eyes, all they see is a stupendously blinding light flying at their faces. Soren raises two fists and smashes the Trolls' skulls, killing them before they have a chance to react.
Within ten seconds of her arrival, Soren murders every monster in the area, leaving lakes of blood and gore in her wake.
"Haah... haaah...." Soren gasps, her adrenaline pumping like crazy. "Did... did I do that?! This suit is incredible!"
"Now is not the time for self-congratulations!" Umi says, her tone authoritative. "The Admiral's body rests only seventy meters from your position. Fetch him as quickly as possible and return to the shuttle."
Soren nods. She starts to walk toward the Admiral's 'blip,' only to pause. "Wait, what about Megla? I have to rescue my sister and the Kessu too!"
"Negative," Umi replies. "Admiral Rodriguez is your top priority. You must bring the last Terran to the Bloodbearer at once. He is the last of his species. If he perishes, there will be no others. However, there are still countless Kraktol and Kessu elsewhere in the galaxy."
Soren continues walking toward the Admiral, but her ecstasy from killing all of the monsters disappears, replaced instead with a mixture of horror and outrage. "How could you say that?! Megla is my sister! I will not leave her behind, synthmind!"
"You will follow my orders," Umi replies. The synthmind's tone becomes noticeably colder than before. "The Admiral's survival is my top priority. The sooner you bring him back-"
"I'll bring the Admiral back as soon as possible!" Soren shouts, fury building in her chest. "But I will also rescue my sister and the Kessu first! Don't you dare try to stop me!"
"Officer Mudrose. Your conduct is unbecoming-"
"Shut up!" Soren shouts, her voice becoming increasingly venomous. She slows to a stop beside the Admiral's unmoving body and grits her teeth. "Not another damned word! If you think I don't know how critical the Admiral's condition is, you've got another thing coming! Now, how can I bring him along with me safely? I'm liable to crush him to death if I'm not careful."
Umi falls silent for several seconds, as if calculating a response. When she does reply, her tone is noticeably more curt than before.
"Before you entered the Titan-class Battlesuit, you also obtained numerous auxiliary attachments. One of those is the Temporary Medical Stasis Device. The TMSD will envelop the Admiral in a protective force-field. Place him inside and it will temporarily preserve his vitals as they are now. However, this effect will only last for thirty minutes."
One of the magnetically attached devices on Soren's Battlesuit glows with a golden hue thanks to her HUD. She grabs the circular object, activates it with a command, and places it on the Admiral's chest. A faint blue film rapidly envelops the Terran's body, sealing him in its protective embrace. Moments later, he levitates into the air, and an invisible 'chain' of energy connects him to the Battlesuit's torso.
"Once again," Umi says, "I must demand that you return to the Bloodbearer at once. The Admiral's life is incomparably valuable. If he perishes, it will mean the extinction of his entire species."
Soren hesitates.
"...You think I don't know that? If I could, I would! No matter what, I'm not going to leave my sister down here! End of discussion."
Soren starts stomping in the direction of Megla and the Kessu, following the general direction of their vital signs. As she does, Umi beeps with disappointment.
"Originally, I calculated that you would be an officer who prioritized logic over petty emotions."
"I never expected myself to act this way either," Soren retorts. "But now that I've made the choice, I'll never regret it. Logic is irrelevant once my family's safety is at stake!"
"...In that regard, I suppose Admiral Rodriguez would commend you. By all accounts, were your roles switched, I am 100% certain he would make the same choice."
Soren snorts. "Good. That's the nicest thing you've said all day."
.......................................
A few miles away, inside the tucked-away Kessu cave.
Megla hovers over little Lele's shoulder, wringing her claws together. "Come on, hurry up! What's taking you so long?"
Lele, still disassembling Megla's rifle into a new device, releases a long meow of annoyance. "Mraaaaw! Every time you ask, you slow me down, scale-face! Just be quiet and let me focus, jeez!"
The yellow-scaled Kraktol flicks her eyes around the room. Already, her eyes seem to be playing tricks on her, as the flickering shadows appear to slowly move around, bit by bit. Like pitch-black lava lamps, dozens of 'shadow globs' slowly float across the ceiling, making Megla feel extremely uneasy.
I swear to the galaxies, it feels like a bunch of creepy monsters are looking at me! Are those the Shades that little furball mentioned? Augh! If this brat is trying to prank me, I'll shave her fur and dunk her in a bath!
Megla listens intently, but no matter how she strains, she doesn't hear the sounds of combat outside. Her nerves tighten more and more every second.
Is the Admiral okay? Maybe he escaped! Yeah. He'll leave and come back with a... with a rescue thingy! Yeah! He wouldn't just leave us here, would he? Oh, gosh, I hope he didn't lose the battle! He has to be okay, he just has to!
"Kyargh! Hurry up, fuzz-brain!" Megla hisses. "I have a terrible feeling something bad is about to happen!"
Hardly have the words left Megla's mouth, before a shudder goes down her spine. She whirls around and screams in a shrill, terror-stricken voice. "Eeeeyaaah!!!"
Behind her, on the wall, a gigantic face comprised entirely of shadow smiles at her, its creepy and sinister expression revealing nothing but delight in her squeamishness.
"Ehehehe!" The face cackles. "Listen to that delightful scream! You seem to be afraid of little old 'us,' you pretty little reptile. What's the matter? Do we scare you?"
The face increases in size, swallowing up the entire sidewall. Megla loses her footing and falls to the ground, panic pulsing through her veins. The Kessu behind her appear to be even worse condition, with all of the children having fainted from terror, and Baaru simply unable to move. The Matriarch's legs tremble and shake, while her knees knock together.
"Sh-shadow monster! Mreeooww!! Hiss!"
All of Baaru's fur stands on end. She hunches down low and raises her claws as if to attack, but it only takes one look at her expression to see she wants nothing more than to flee.
Even Lele's father, Ruuki, barely manages to hold it together. His teeth click together as he trembles and chatters nervously. "Maaoww! I do not like this! No, no, not one bit!"
As the Shade, Yama, indulges in his twisted fear fetish, his expression sours slightly. In between all of the frightened and screaming Kessu and Megla, one creature remains completely impassive to his presence. Little Lele continues to tinker away with her Hypo-spanner, slowly building what looks like a radio antenna with a tripod base. The barrel of Megla's old rifle points straight up in the air, and the whole thing only stands about one and a half feet tall.
Yama frowns. "Hmm. Why is this child not cowering in fear? What a brave little girl! Perhaps she has not yet noticed our majesty and splendor!"
Lele raises her head for a moment. She glances behind herself at the horrifying face on the wall. After staring at it for a moment, she returns to what she was doing, her expression not changing in the slightest. Her reaction appears about as startled or impressed as if a leaf had blown past her face.
The Emperor of Shadows begins to feel annoyed. He doesn't draw any nearer, due to Megla's glowing force-field, but he skirts around the battlefield, his gigantic head continuing to swallow up the walls. "You there! Little girl! Did your parents not teach you to look at your elders when they talked to you?!"
Bzzt, brrt.
Lele continues to quietly work on her little science project. "Sorry, can't. I'm busy right now."
"B-busy?!" Yama sputters. Countless other Shades materialize on the walls around him, their expressions unsightly. "How dare you ignore us?! We have ruled this underground world for countless years! We have tortured and defiled countless females, making them scream in terror before succumbing to our power!"
Rather than intimidating and scaring Lele, the Shade Emperor's words have the opposite effect. She glances at his shadow for a moment and snorts. "Oh, geez. What a dumb, poopy-looking shadow! Look at the big, scary guy, picking on little girls and women. You're just a stupid, weak little bully. You're not scary at all!"
Lele's words make the other Kessu jump in alarm. Ruuki quickly drops down and presses his paw against her mouth. "What are you saying?! This shadow is about to kill us all! Didn't you hear what he did to the other Kessu?! We're in dire straits, sweet child of mine!"
"Hahaha, well spoken!" Yama cackles. "You should be afraid, large male! We are going to tie your females down, violate them endlessly, make them beg for death, and then convert them to our harem! As for the males, we will flay the skin off their bones and feed their blood to our wargs! Your pain has only just begun!!"
Lele rolls her eyes. She pulls her father's paw off her mouth. "You don't scare me. If you were a real man, you'd wait one minute and fifteen seconds for me to finish my Discombobulating Tickle Poker. Too bad you're even more of a scaredy-cat than my daddy."
"What?! You insolent little brat! How dare you insult this Emperor's majesty! Do you think we are afraid of a tiny little baby like you?!"
"I dunno. Are you?"
Even as Lele talks, she continues to screw and weld pieces into place, slowly finishing her assembly of whatever device she happens to be working on. Megla's fear subsides somewhat, and a thought forms in the back of her mind as she notices how the conversation has shifted.
The furball is oddly confident. Could it be? Does she really have some means to hurt or kill these Shades?
A flash of light appears in the Kraktol's eyes. She stands up a little taller and presses her fists against her waist.
"Kyargh! Well said, little furball! Hahaha! How could I be so blind? It's no wonder this shadow-blob taunts us from a distance! He's too scared of us to let you finish your infamous Tickle Poker! Even the weakest males of the Kraktol wouldn't be afraid of a few tiny little cats and women! This so-called 'Emperor' is truly nothing in my eyes!"
Yama hesitates.
The Shadow Emperor glowers at Megla with the rage of a thousand charging bulls.
"Shut your mouth, woman! Soon, we'll have you screaming and begging for mercy!"
"Sure, sure," Megla says, slowly building back her confidence. "I'm not denying you can and you will. But does it matter? If all you can do is bully the weak, then you aren't worth a drop of my spit. My Admiral is a thousand times the man you will ever be!"
At these words, the Shadow Emperor's unsightly expression shifts dramatically. Once again, his confidence comes roaring back, along with a sinister grin. "Hehehe. Your Admiral, hm? Haven't you noticed yet, worthless woman? We have defeated him! He's all but dead now, a meat puppet in our claws! We defeated that fleshbag, and now we have come for you! Tremble and despair, for no matter how you taunt this Emperor, you cannot leave here as anything but our helpless pet!"
Megla's expression sinks. Indeed, Yama's words have the intended effect, making her heartbeat slow to a stop.
"W-what? You... you beat the Admiral?! No! That's not possible! The Admiral... he's invincible! You can't possibly...!"
"Hehehe, we can, and we have! This Emperor crushed the fleshbag with relative ease. He killed a few minor members of our harem, but it matters not! Now that he has fallen, nobody can save you! Nobody!!"
As Yama brags, Lele's paws move with ruthless efficiency. She slides the last bolt into place on her 'Discombobulating Tickle Device' and nods with satisfaction.
"Okay, done! You can die now!"
Without hesitation, Lele jumps to her feet while ignoring the Emperor's cackling. She lifts the odd antenna-shaped device over her head and presses a button on its underside, causing it to vibrate and build up power.
Click, whirrrrrrrr...
Yama stops laughing. The Shade Emperor immediately looks at the device in Lele's hands with confusion. "Hm? Die? Wahaha! Does this silly baby think she can tickle us to death?! This Emperor has heard many jokes in our life, but none have been as funny as this!"
"It's not a tickling device, you dummy," Lele says, her voice cold. "It's a weapon. And you let me build it."
At that moment, a faint ball of light appears atop the antenna.
Fwip!
The light-orb instantly fires upward and slams against the ceiling.
FWEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!
A high-pitched noise erupts underground, like a thousand banshees uttering their dying screams. At the same time, the luminous orb detonates, bathing the cave with an astonishingly bright light, one which mirrors the beginning of creation.
"EEEEYAAAAARGHHHH!!"
Yama, the haughty Emperor of Shadows, screams in agony as the scorching brightness bathes him for 1.34 seconds, irradiating not only him, but all of the Shades present with the lethal cosmic rays. They instantly lose their formlessness, explode into smoke, and reform a moment later as biped-shaped creatures of varying species, landing on the floor to crawl around and scream in pain.
"Aaaargh! You little BITCH!! This Emperor will kill you!!"
Yama screams incoherently, only managing to put his body together after a few more seconds.
Meanwhile, other than the sudden brightness forcing Megla and the Kessu to quickly cover their eyes, they don't suffer any harm at all. The Kraktol quickly swivels to face the enemies around her, looking at them with astonishment.
"What?! Furball, you did this?!"
"Mhm," Lele answers, shrugging nonchalantly. "No biggie. Oh hey, shadow-bully! Here's another."
Click, whirrrrrrrr...
The antenna rapidly builds up energy for another ball of light, making the Shadow Emperor become livid. He recoils in horror and flees to the furthest point in the room, but in his heart of hearts, he knows he cannot hide from that all-encompassing light.
"No, please! Aahhh! Have mercy! The light burns us! We do not like it, not one bit!"
"Too bad!" Lele laughs. "Like my Aunt Lorrie always says... if someone's gonna hurt me or my daddy, I have to hurt them first! Now die, please!"
The orb atop the antenna fires once again. It instantly strikes the roof and detonates into another light-blast of god-like intensity.
"AAAAAHHHHHH!!"
Yama screams once again, along with all the other members of his harem. This time, when the light recedes, two of his Shades explode into smoke and don't reappear. The rest flee the room as quickly as they can, skirting around the edges to avoid Megla's glowing Survival Suit.
Yama joins them in his flight, his last panicked words being, "Y-you'll regret this, little girl! You'll regret this!!"
...
A moment later, the cave falls silent.
Lele glances at Megla.
"Okay! We can leave now. Let's go find Big Baldy!"
Megla sighs.
"Alright. You got me. You're not bad, kid."
"Thanks!"
.......................................
Author Note:
If you enjoy what you've just read, please consider subscribing to my Patreon! I am very poor and presently jobless due to Coronavirus, so every dollar helps. You get access to Cryopod artwork, and plenty of other exclusive posts, with more to come soon.
Also consider reading The Cryopod to Hell, the primary story in the Cryoverse! I'll be returning to TCTH for the next week or two after this TLP part. Both stories are part of the Cryoverse, so they're deeply interlinked. You don't wanna miss them!
Thank you!
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[Hallows 7] The Guardian

October MWC Entry for [Old Traditions]

Grunli walked down the ancient trail arm in arm with his grandfather. His brothers and sisters had shunned the activity long ago, but he enjoyed the time he got to spend with the old man. As they made the daily trek to the crumbling old ruin, his grandfather would regale him with all the ancient myths and legends of their people. It was a fascinating look into the superstitions and culture of generations long past, plus he enjoyed the sound of his Grandpa’s voice. Almost nobody believed in the Old Ways anymore. Modern science and technology had taken residence in the imaginations of the people and forced out such simple beliefs.
The old sagas were fanciful stories of primeval beings born of the night and giving laws, agriculture, and technology. Now, with the recent invention of the Steam Engine by the Engineer’s Guild, his people were entering into a fascinating new modern age. Just five years ago they had discovered how to generate and harness Electricity for lighting using water wheels. If you were lucky, you could even see one of the new lighter-than-air sky ships as it carried passengers from city to city. Progress and abundance were promised with every new discovery.
Yet, there was something captivating, and maybe even a little magical, about slowing down and taking the time to walk the beaten old path. The deep antiquity of the daily tradition infused a mysterious kind of meaning into it. For over three thousand years his people, and his family in particular, had performed the rituals of the Ou’ardayeen, the Ancient Ones. His grandfather was the last of an unbroken line of priests reaching all the way back to the construction of the temple.
“What are you thinking about in that sharp mind of yours, Grunli? You have been quiet the whole time and we are almost half way there.”
His head jerked a little as he glanced over to see his grandfather looking at him. Even though he was old, his eyes were as lively and sharp as when he was a young man.
“Oh, nothing really. I was just thinking of how much I enjoy walking the trail with you every day and hearing the old stories.”
The old man patted Grunli’s arm and said, “Yes, not many left to tell them these days. Maybe just me.”
They walked a few more steps before he continued, “The belief in the Ancient Ones is like this trail we walk. Back in my youth, it was a broad, and easy. Many trod it to honor the Old Ways. Now, the trail is nearly overgrown, and roots tangle my old feet if I go it alone. But, in spite of all that, the trail remains. It will remain, as long as someone is there to walk it. It is important we never lose the path.”
As if the old man planned it, and he probably did, they both stepped over a vine-like root crossing the trail.
“Grandpa, I have been accepted into the Technological Institute in Brodenia. I will be leaving next month.”
The old man stopped walking for a moment and looked at Grunli. For just a moment, he saw a vapor of sadness and regret cross the old man’s face, before it was replaced by a warm smile.
The elderly priest shook his arm and beamed, “That’s wonderful my boy, simply wonderful! You have been studying to get in for what, two years now?”
“Two and a half, yes. It is a great opportunity.”
“Indeed it is. I am very proud of you. And your parents, may they rest peacefully in the Ancient’s Embrace, would have been too. I am sure you will make a very fine engineer.”
He appreciated his grandfather’s words, but despite his optimism Grunli knew he had wounded the old man. Ever since his parents died in the accident, the family had grown apart. It was obvious that none of his siblings wanted to take on the mantle of being a Priest of the Old Ways. All it meant was a paltry stipend from the government covering the barest of essentials, and a commitment to a mythology becoming more irrelevant with each passing day.
“I’m sorry, Grandfather. I know you were hoping I would take your place as the priest one day. I just don’t think that is the life I want for myself.”
He felt the old man squeeze his arm tightly as he said, “There’s nothing you need to apologize for. It’s a new world out there, an exciting world. There is little a daily walk to an old pile of stones and reciting ancient incantations can do to compare with that. If you could humor an old man though, there is something I should show you at the temple today.”
“Sure, Grandpa. Of course.”
The path opened up and they saw the ancient building. It was a large pyramid made of huge grey cut masonry blocks set in a courtyard of stone. The jungle would have overtaken many of the old buildings but for Grandfather. There were neither intrusive vines crawling up the side of the structure, nor upstart weeds growing in the cracks of the pavers. The man had spent a lifetime carefully tending the area, and it was a testament to the seriousness with which he took his task as priest and caretaker.
As they entered the dark foyer, Grunli walked to a shelf and retrieved an oil lamp. Lighting it, they proceeded down the dark hallways to the central chamber.
He always liked this part. It felt like he was traveling back in time to descent into the dark interior. When he was younger, he thought if he strained hard enough he could hear the echoes of the ancient chants and rituals that once honored this place. Beautiful murals adorned the walls, still as vibrant as the day they were painted thanks to their never seeing the face of the sun.
Vivid images showing the digging of irrigation canals, the construction of buildings, and the formation of government were masterfully portrayed. As the visitor traveled down the hallway it told a story to them. Subtle textures in the walls made the images seem to move as the unsteady light of the lamp passed by.
When they reached the end of the hallway, above the door was the image of the Ou’ardayen. It had strange, long limbs and was surrounded by a pantheon of other celestial beings depicted in stylized animal motifs. In all the murals, the Ancient Ones were always represented as smaller than the rest, even than one of his own people.
He stood staring at the image and said, “It’s strange. I never thought about it before, but the Ancient Ones are always portrayed as being small. They are almost diminutive compared to the other divine beings, and even smaller than us. That doesn’t make much sense. I would think the artists would have portrayed them stronger, and larger.”
“Good!” his grandfather replied, “You see the lesson in it?”
Turning his head away from the image he said, “I’m afraid I don’t, Grandpa.”
Gesturing broadly at the hallway paintings the priest said, “These things were not done through strength of arm, but of mind. The Ancient Ones were not conquerors; they were teachers, instructing us in how to live better. They were powerful, to be sure, but that is not what made them mighty.”
Grunli nodded slightly and said, “You’ve told the story so many times I know it by heart. In the Before Times, famine, disease, and war plagued the land. Then, servants of the darkness came and enslaved the world. After uncounted centuries of captivity, our tears and cries went unanswered and we stopped asking. Hope was lost, until one night a new star was born to die in the constellation of the Huntress, Harlana. From the night sky came the Ou’ardayeen. They fell upon our enslavers and banished them from our lands. They then gave us the gifts of civilization and promised never to abandon us to the darkness again.”
His grandfather walked in front of him and faced him with a smile. The angle of the light highlighted his wrinkles and suddenly the old priest looked tired, and worn.
“You have learned the old truths well, my grandson. These words weren’t made for the dusty tomes of old libraries, to sit awaiting rediscovery by some future scholar so they might one day see the sun again. They were spoken in the beginning, and spoken they have remained since the beginning. At least I can go to my grave knowing these ancient truths have found a home in a living, breathing mind and heart.”
At this, the old man sat heavily on one of the stone benches, “Could you do me a favor?”
“Of course, what is it?”
Gesturing around the room, he said, “My knee has been acting up with the weather lately. Do you think you could perform the ritual today?”
Grunli was stunned. His grandfather had never asked him to do it before, despite years of sitting to the side on that very bench and watching.
“Are you sure? Isn’t that against the rules or something?”
At this the old man straightened up and said, “Oh, you may be right. Let me see if it is okay with the other priests.”
He looked to his left and then to his right asking, “Does anyone have a problem with my grandson performing the ritual today? If so, speak up.”
He waited for a moment, putting a hand to his ear and straining toward the darkness.
He lowered his hand and said, “Well, it looks like they aren’t answering. I’m pretty sure it’s because they’re all dead.”
He broke into a broad smile and started laughing. Grunli joined him and they filled the ancient hall with a rare sound in the dark and hallowed chamber.
When they were done, Grandfather waved a hand at the boy and said, “You have seen it so many times I bet you could do it blindfolded.”
Grunli, still recovering from the laughter, said, “Yeah, you’re probably right.”
“Care to make a wager on it?”
Grunli quirked his head to the side and asked, “A wager? What do you have to wager with? No offense Grandpa, but your stipend doesn’t even cover new sandals every season.”
The old priest leaned forward and said, “If you are able to do the ritual blindfolded, I will show you a part of the temple you have never seen before.”
He was skeptical at that offer. He had been to this temple every day with the old man for years. He was positive there was nowhere he hadn’t seen.
“Come on, there’s no such place. I know every square inch of this place and you know as much.”
Grandfather’s eyes sparkled now as he said, “I stand by my bet. Take it or leave it.”
The idea of seeing something new in the temple intrigued him, and he said, “Yeah, you have a bet.”
“Good, come over here then and let’s get started.”
They two of them moved over to the entry doorway, and the Priest took off the sash from around his waist and tied it around the head of the younger man.
“There you go,” Grandfather said, “No peeking now or the bet is off.”
Grunli felt a small thrill of excitement as he began.
From his position in the entry doorway, he took twelve steps forward and reached out his left hand to touch the Pillar of Self.
He solemnly recited the words of the ritual in the Ancient Tongue, “The knowledge of self begins the journey.”
He turned to his right and took three steps forward and placed his right hand on the Table of Light.
“May the Light of The Ancients guide my way.”
He took six steps backward, and spun to face the opposite direction to touch the Pedestal of Sight.
“With eyes unclouded, I see all things.”
Sidestepping to the left, he placed both hands on the Altar of War.
“To battle the darkness that threatens life.”
Taking three steps back and turning to the right, he put his right hand on the Podium of the Promise.
“With the help of the Ancients, shall I overcome all evil.”
He waited for a moment, and after a handful of seconds his grandfather began clapping.
“Well done! Well done indeed my boy!”
He reached up and took the blindfold off.
His grandfather walked over to him without any hint of pain in his knee and said, “Now, I have a debt to pay.”
The old priest guided him to one of the antechambers off the main hall. It was a map room he had been in countless times before. On the floor was a miniature representation of the main hall, down to the tiniest detail.
“Uh, Grandpa, I have been in here before.”
Smiling at him, the priest said, “Do you know the name of this room?”
“Yeah, it has the name inscribed above the doorway. This is the Keyless Gate.”
The priest smiled at him and said, “It gladdens my heart to know you remember what I taught you about the Old Tongue. What do you think it means?”
“Honestly, I always thought it was some kind of metaphor or something.”
He paused for a moment then continued, “My main memory of this place was when I was playing as a little boy in here and I broke the miniatures. I always appreciated you for fixing it and not telling mom and dad.”
Surprise shone clearly on Grandfather’s face as he asked, “What are you talking about?”
“You don’t remember? A whole bunch of them got pushed into the floor.”
“Not in the least, what are you talking-“
They were interrupted by a distant booming sound that echoed through the halls. They exchanged a glance and Grandfather said, “I think we need to see what that was. I will show you the rest tomorrow.”
Together they made their way out of the ancient structure and were soon back on the path.
Grunli asked as he assisted the older man, “Do you think one of the sky ships exploded?”
Looking aloft, Grandfather said, “No, what we heard was more like thunder, but the sky is clear today.”
They made their way toward the ancient stone house. The huge standing stone in the front of the house greeted them through the trees. It had carved into it the symbol of the Ou’ardayeen. It was nearly as old as the temple, and the house was apparently built not long after.
The structure was terribly out of date by modern standards. Even to the casual observer, however, the marks of improvements and renovations done over the ages could be seen. It was in a horrible state of disrepair; its only positive attributes were the high ceilings and exquisite antique stained glass windows. That didn’t really make up for the drawbacks, however.
About sixty years ago, the former High Priest, Grunli’s Great-grandfather, began a renovation project but ran out of money due to reductions in government support. The resulting repairs left many poorly patched, and very drafty, holes in the walls. Some of the larger ones you could even see daylight through. Grunli had promised himself he would make sure they were boarded up better before he left for the Institute.
There was a series of three more of the deep booming noises and when he went outside to investigate, he saw strange clouds in the sky. They went on for miles, and were as straight as an arrow. He had never seen anything like it before.
As he was wondering over them, a blast of wind nearly took him off his feet. He shut his eyes against the blowing dust and vegetation and pushed his hands tight against his ears. Despite his efforts, the sound was painfully loud.
He cracked his eyes open and through blurred vision saw a massive shadow descending out of the sky toward him. He struggled to his feet and began taking unsteady steps toward the door. As he reached it, his grandfather ushered him in and closed the door.
Even inside, they both had to shout to be heard.
Grandfather asked, “What did you see? What is happening?”
“Three clouds in the sky, straight, and extending nearly to the horizon.”
Grunli was taken aback at his grandpa’s reaction. He went pale, eyes opened wide, and nearly fell backward. If the dining table hadn’t been there to catch him he would have fallen.
“What is it Grandpa? What’s going on?”
The old man didn’t answer, but turned stiffly and walked over to a cabinet. It was the one that held the most ancient scrolls of their faith. Shaking, he withdrew a key he wore around his neck and attempted to fit it into the lock. Seeing he was unable, Grunli moved close and folded his hands around his grandfather’s and gently helped him open it. With trembling hands, the old man hastily examined and discarded scroll after scroll. The priceless texts started making pile on the floor as he searched.
About half of the scrolls were discarded when the rumbling sound outside stopped.
Grunli started moving to the door to take a look outside when Grandfather spat, “Wait! It’s not safe!”
He retreated back to stand next to his grandfather and asked, “What has you so scared Grandpa?”
He got no answer until the priest found the scroll he was so desperately searching for. It looked older than the others, if such a thing were possible. Taking it to the table, the old clergyman began tracing his finger on the page and reading words in a strange tongue barely over a whisper.
Suddenly stopping, he exclaimed, “Here! Here it is! ‘The Servants of Darkness descended on the earth. Their voices boomed like thunder and their passing rent the skies like a mighty beast.’”
The old man looked at Grunli and immediately the younger man understood: the ancient evil had returned.
“You must hide my boy, you are not safe. They will know I am a servant of the Ancient Ones, even now they are at the door.”
“What?”
“Here, hide here,” the old man said, pulling one of the looser wooden patches away from its place. Behind it was a half finished walkway to a long abandoned extension to the house.
“But what about you? There’s room for both of us, you can hide too.”
“Obey me now, my child. I am old, and no threat to them. If they find me maybe they will not search the house.”
Grunli protested and took his grandfather’s arm, “How can you know?”
The old man gently took his grandson’s hand off his arm and said, “Grunli, my wonderful boy, it has to be you. I am too old. Summoning the Ancients takes a knowledge of the Old Ways, and a member of our bloodline. That’s why it has always been passed from parent to child within our family. You and I are all that’s left, don’t you see? You alone of your generation have the tools to do what must be done. The mantle now passes to you.”
“But I don’t know how to do that. It has to be you. You are the High Priest. Your whole life you have been training for this.”
“No, my boy, my whole life I spent passing on my knowledge to someone worthy. I spent it preparing you. I am old and full of years. If my time has come, it will rest on you to save our people.”
With that, he pushed Grunli into the hollow and replaced the patch. There were strange whining noises outside followed by the sound of heavy footsteps on metal.
Moving to the opposite side of the room, Grandfather looked at the front door and spoke, “So much to tell you but so little time. In the Keyless Gate, you must push the symbols in the same order as-“
The door exploded inward showering the room with splinters. The shockwave from the burst threw Grandfather against the wal.. What Grunli saw next caused his blood to run cold.
There in the doorway was a creature standing head and shoulders above the tallest of his own people, and twice as wide. Muscles rippled under its skin as it stepped cautiously into the room. It had a thin coat of flat fur covering its whole body, rectangular ears high on its head, and a long, toothy snout. Perhaps most unsettling were its eyes. They were intelligent, and predatory. It wore some kind of metal armor, and carried an axe in one hand and what looked like some sort of firearm in the other. Seeing the old priest, it focused its attention on him.
Grunli was barely able to make out the speech of the creature. He recognized it as the Ancient Tongue, but its grammar and pronunciation were different than his grandfather taught him.
“Abomination of stone, outside you have. Old symbol of enemy. Where is enemy?”
Grandfather pushed off the wall and with an air of nobility Grunli had never seen from him answered in the Old Tongue, “I am the High Priest of the Ou’ardayeen. I serve the Old Ways. Go, return to the darkness, if you value your lives. If you remain, you will face destruction at the hands of the Mighty Ones.”
At the mention of the Ou’ardayeen, the creatures pointed ears flattened against its head and it darted cautious looks around the room.
It replied, “Tell me, you will, or death I will give you.”
Seeing its reaction to the words, Grandfather’s expression became resolved and he said, “The Ou’ardayeen taught us to use words of peace. Such words are our solution to conquer our strife. To defeat the Servants of Darkness, the sword is the key.”
A deep rumbling growl came from the creature and in one swift motion it stepped forward and slashed its axe through the last priest of the Old Ways. Grunli barely held back a cry as he watched the monster take something precious from him.
The creature leaned over the broken body of his Grandpa, and said, “Not words or sword can us defeat, old foolish one.”
Sorrow, anger, and terror all fought to gain control of him. Ultimately, terror won.
There, standing before him in the flesh, was one of the myths from the Before Times. When it began searching around the room, a fear older than antiquity, an echo of the forgotten horror born from centuries of slavery cried out for him to run away as fast as he could and never look back.
He waited, barely able to breathe as the monstrous hulk prowled around the room. It examined the holy artifacts collected there with the care of a barbarian. Pottery from ancient times was examined briefly then carelessly tossed aside to shatter on the intricate rugs covering the stone floor.
Eventually it was satisfied, or bored, enough to leave. Grunli heard the heavy footsteps on metal again, and soon the terrible rumble began. Dust and vegetation blew into the house through the shattered door. In less than a minute, the roar faded, and the wind subsided.
He never remembered how long he sat in that little hole, almost too scared to breathe. He was lost and outside of time. All he remembered later were the sounds of screaming and crying faintly filtered through the jungle, and the occasional deep rumble of an explosion.
When his senses returned, it was dark outside and the night chill was seeping into him. Slowly, he pushed the boards away and stepped into the room. There, on the floor, was the body of the man that raised him. Moonlight filtered through the stained glass and gently washed over him with pale motes of color. It was almost as if the sky itself wished to honor this fallen priest.
Grandfather’s face, even in death, held a noble and resolved expression. Grunli’s heart broke when he saw his Grandpa’s open eyes held none of the spark of life that burned so brightly in them just hours before. The sense of loss was crushing, and for a few long minutes all he could do was stand there under its weight. When he was able to move again, he reached down and closed the old man’s eyes and whispered the Prayer of the Departed over him. When he was finished, he reverently reached over and pulled one of the rugs over the body.
Then, he cried.
He cried deeply and bitterly, and when he was done, he stood and walked out of the door and made his way to the Temple Path.
Though it was dark, he needed no lamp. The moonlight filtering through the canopy above and his familiarity with the path meant his foot never faltered. When he reached the Temple, it was bathed in moonlight. The dark grey stones had lost the comfortable familiarity they possessed in sunlight. Now, the Temple looked like an alien, dangerous place.
He walked across the courtyard and into the entry foyer. Moving to the shelf with the lamp, he retrieved it and felt around for the sparker. He found it, and began trying to light the lamp. In the flashes of the sparks, he saw the wick had burned out. Shaking the lamp gently, he found there was also no oil left. He realized that in their haste to leave, neither of them had extinguished it.
They kept a little pair of scissors and a small bottle of lamp oil on the shelf and within moments he had located both. It was awkward in the dark to trim the wick and refill the lamp, but eventually he was walking down the ancient hallway, light in hand.
The murals held a new significance for him, as he saw them now not as myth or legend, but history. He recognized in the dark shadows of the depictions of the Before Times the forms of creatures he had now seen with his own eyes. As he hurried to the Main Hall, he wondered how many other truths were told in plain sight for any who had the eyes to see them.
The ominous sense of foreboding that struck him outside melted away as the lamp illuminated the familiar interior. Passing through the Main Hall to the antechambers, he soon stood facing the miniatures in the Keyless Gate room.
He remembered the last words his Grandfather spoke to him. He had been thinking of this since he left the house and he had an idea of what to do.
Reaching down, he pushed the tiny Pillar of Self down, and it slid into the floor. Next he moved his hand to push down on the Table of Light. Following the ritual, he pressed each of the pieces down and when he finished with the Podium of Promise, there was a loud clicking noise, followed by a loud, “Thunk” from the back wall. He picked up the lamp and moved to take a closer look.
There, he saw some of the stones were protruding out from the wall. Feeling around the edge, he found a groove carved into the side. Gripping the groove, he pulled and a section of the stone wall swung open to reveal a hidden passage beyond. How many times had he been in this room and had no idea what mysteries lay just steps away?
His thoughts were interrupted by an unfortunately familiar sound. The deep rumbling he had heard before was being filtered and echoed through the halls of the Temple.
He ran back to the entrance as fast as he could. Concerned about betraying his position, he shielded the lamp light with his hand as he moved toward the entrance to the Temple. About half way through the first tunnel with the mural, he placed the lamp on the ground and used the flicker of light to guide him the rest of the way.
When he arrived, he hid his body inside the doorway and leaned his head out to the side to get a good look at the cause of the noise. There, in the courtyard, was one of the great sky ships of the Servants of Darkness. It stood on three great legs, and large pods on its sides glowed with blue fire as the wind it produced scoured the stone.
The fire and sound died away, and a ramp opened from the bottom. Heavy footsteps banged against the metal as six of the Evil Ones he had seen before descended. In front of them, they harshly pushed one of his own people down the ramp.
“This, this is the place,” he stammered, pointing to the Temple.
The creatures spoke in the Ancient Tongue, “Speak sense, or death we will give.”
Realizing his mistake, the man again gestured at the Temple and said perhaps the only word from ancient times most people still knew, “Ou’ardayeen.”
The creatures looked at the temple, then began slowly and cautiously walking past the man toward the entrance.
The man dropped to his knees and his words were barely audible to Grunli, “Oh thank the Old Ones, they are going to let me live.”
As they walked, the last of the monsters to pass by casually reached out one of the strange firearms toward the man and a ball of what looked like green electricity leapt from the device. When it hit him, he screamed and writhed as green sparks danced over his body. When they faded, he fell to the side and made no more sound.
The creatures began making a strange, rhythmic sound. He soon realized it was laughter. He stood, peering, shocked at the casual way these creatures extinguished life.
As he was fighting revulsion, he was blinded by a brilliant beam of light. He closed his eyes and pulled his head back out of sight and blinked.
“Saw something, perhaps,” he heard one of the creatures say, “Cautious we walk.”
Moving as quickly as he could without making too much noise, he worked his way back through the tunnel and retrieved the lamp as he passed. He made a direct route to the Keyless Gate. As he entered the room, he hurried toward the secret door. In his haste and poor light, one of his feet caught on a miniature and he fell.
He hit the mural pieces and the lamp bounced out of his hand. It tumbled through the air, spilling the oil as it went, landing in the hallway on the other side of the door. The lamp rolled to a rest, barely touching the wick’s flame to the flammable liquid now covering a large area of the floor. The pool caught fire with a quiet, “Fwoompf,” and the room lit up with more light than it had possibly ever known.
He knew that was going to act like a beacon drawing them straight to him. If anyone were in the Main Hall looking down toward the path to the antechambers, it would be impossible to miss. When they got here, the pool of fire would point them directly into the mysterious hallway.
As he quickly stood up, he heard a loud click under him and looked down. The miniature pieces were returning to their positions. He heard the soft grating of stone and saw the door starting to close. Doing his best to avoid the pool of fire, he edged his way past the door just before it closed. He jumped over what remained of the pool of oil and retrieved the lamp. It would still burn for a little while, but he had minutes at most. After that, he would be alone in the dark with no knowledge of how to get out, if that were even still possible.
He made his way down the corridor and after a few steps the path began descending down. He followed it, and after one or two minutes it opened up to a huge room. His little circle of light faded to black after a few paces, and was unable to reach the far walls. Turning to look back at the entrance, he saw a large frieze on one of the wall to his left, and rough cut stone on the right.
Raising the lamp, he moved toward the carvings and saw it was a retelling of the story from the hallway at the beginning of the temple. As he followed along the wall, he saw it included more details of the story than he was familiar with. Also, the artistic style was more basic, and there were many deep shadows his tiny light could not penetrate.
Continuing, he saw the familiar tale of the Before Times, and the Servants of Darkness. He reached the corner of the room, and it turned squarely to the left. The story continued on that wall and he proceeded. He reached the next two corners and guessed he was in a large square room.
As he was moving along the wall opposite the doorway, he heard a loud banging sound echo faintly behind him. The Evil Ones had reached the Keyless Gate.
A fresh sense of resolve entered him and he moved faster across the wall, looking for a way out. The mural continued, and in this version spent much more time on the battle between the Ancient Ones and the Servants of Darkness. The battle raged across the wall until he got to a scene of armor-clad Ou’ardayeen plunging a sword into the heart of the last enemy.
More clangs echoed through the ancient structure as the monsters behind him tried to break down the door.
After the construction of the Temple, the wall went to the uncut stone. It didn’t make sense. Why would they stop the story there? Hurrying, he jogged until he reached another corner. That was the fourth corner, could there be only one entrance and exit to this room?
He made his way through the dark and was soon standing in front of the entry again. From here, the clanging noise was mixed with the sound of stone chunks falling on hard stone. They had broken through. The banging noise stopped and was replaced with scraping, clawing noises followed by more chunks of stone on floor.
Having searched all the walls to no avail, he thought there must be something in the room. Maybe there was a stairway?
Positioning himself at the door, he walked directly into the darkness, holding the lamp high. After a score of steps, he saw something glint in the dark ahead of him. Picking up his pace, he moved quickly forward.
Out of the darkness, the skeletal face of an Evil One emerged. Startled, he stopped and fell backwards onto the ground. Recovering his wits, he cautiously stepped forward and saw it wasn’t just the head, but an entire skeleton of one of the monsters. Protruding from its breastbone was something metallic. Stepping forward, he saw it was a sword. He had never seen metal like this before. The blade showed no signs of age, and shone like pure Silver.
He brought the light closer, and saw the blade penetrated all the way through the body and lodged in the spine of the beast. There was something familiar about the pose it was in.
Turning to the left, he nearly ran through the darkness and soon found himself in front of the carvings depicting the last enemy slain by the Ancient Ones. The position of the creature depicted on the wall matched the one on display in the center of the room. It must have been the same one.
Looking up at the mural he thought, What am I supposed to do now? If only Grandpa had been able to tell me the rest.
The painful memory of his grandfather’s last moments replayed in his mind, and a fresh wave of grief washed through him. He remembered the feeling of helplessness as they spoke in the Ancient Tongue. He thought about the old man’s final words, and how he said that the sword would defeat the Dark Ones.
Is that it? Does the sword have some special power?
He reached up and took hold of the hilt and slid it out of the skeleton. It came out easily and even cut through some of the bone with little more than its own weight.
As soon as it was free, the bones quivered and clattered to the ground. The sound echoed through the room. As it faded, he heard shouting coming from the hallway.
Holding up the lamp in one hand and the sword in the other, he turned to face the doorway and waited. He considered putting out the lamp so he could ambush them, but realized their lights were so powerful it wouldn’t make a difference. Plus, he was sure the flame would go out soon.
As he stood in tiny circle of light, he kept thinking about his Grandfather. He saw in his mind that final strike, the spray of blood, and then later those eyes devoid of life.
Grandfather, if only you had enough time to tell me what to do next.
He tried to push everything out of his mind, and focus on his Grandfather’s final words.
“To defeat the Servants of Darkness, the sword is the key.”
His eyes went wide as he realized his Grandfather did tell him.
He ran through the darkness to the battle scene. Holding the dwindling light up close to the carvings, he saw a thin hole in the chest of the last Dark One. Carefully, he placed the tip of the sword in. It fit perfectly. He pushed it into the wall.
When it reached the hilt, there was a sound like the chiming of a small ornamental church bell and the carved rock cracked. The wall shook, and what turned out to be a thin layer of rock and fell away from the wall to reveal massive metal doors. They began to swing open toward him and he took a few steps back. Dust filled the air and set him to coughing.
When it settled, he uncertainly stepped through the cloud into the doorway. Inside, dark metallic and glass surfaces reflected his tiny flame. Truly, this was something out of the ancient legends. Looking in, he felt something familiar about the place, though he knew that was impossible. Nobody had seen this place since the construction of the Temple.
Slowly, the light dwindled. He looked down at the lamp and saw the flame shrink until it vanished, leaving only red motes of smoldering wick in the darkness.
Then, he understood. Grandfather had even prepared him for this.
From his position in the doorway, he took twelve steps forward and reached out his left hand. He felt the cool smooth surface of glass, as he whispered in the Ancient Tongue, “The knowledge of self begins the journey.”
The panel lit up, and above his hand it showed a glowing outline of one of his people.
He turned to his right and took three steps forward and placed his right hand on a Table.
“May the Light of The Ancients guide my way.”
The room lit up with the radiance of the sun at mid day, dispelling the oppressive blackness. He immediately noticed there, in the center of the room, was a metallic statue of one of the Ou’ardayeen.
He took six steps backward, and spun to face the opposite direction and reached out a hand to touch another glass surface.
“With eyes unclouded, I see all things.”
The panel lit up and in the center of the room, hanging in the air like a cloud, appeared a large glowing blue sphere. It had shapes on it, and he recognized part of it as his homeland.
Sidestepping to the left, he leaned the sword against the table and placed both hands on it.
“To battle the darkness that threatens life.”
Around the sphere and on its surface, numerous red lights blinked to life.
He retrieved the sword and took three steps back and, turning to the right, he put his right hand on the final glass panel.
“With the help of the Ancients, shall I overcome all evil.”
The statue shimmered, and a slight ripple passed over it. Starting from the head and moving down, the metal surface turned to fine dust and began falling away to reveal the armored figure.
When the outer metallic shell was gone, the being it revealed dropped to a knee and Grunli could tell it was breathing heavily.
In his best Old Tongue he said, “I and my people are in danger. The Servants of the Darkness are close outside. Can you help us?”
The being slowly lifted its head to look at him. It had a glass visor over its face and even without seeing its eyes he knew it was studying him. Suddenly aware of what kind of presence he was in, the thought of not offending it came to mind. He dropped down to his knees and bowed low with his face to the ground.
“Forgive me. I mean no offense Mighty One. Please forgive any lack of formality.”
He heard the Ou’ardayeen walk slowly toward him. It reached down and took the sword with one hand, and his arm with the other, drawing both upward. It slid the sword into a sheath across its back. With its now free hand, it opened its visor and Grunli got a good look at it for the first time.
Dark brown skin and eyes looked back at him from inside the helmet.
“Don’t bow to me,” it said, “I am your friend, not your master.”
A noise outside made the Ancient look over Grunli’s shoulder.
It looked at him and he said, “The Evil Ones are here.”
The Ou’ardayeen’s eyes narrowed and it walked past him and drew its sword. Turning, Grunli saw it walk out into the darkness. Beams of light shone around the room and then focused on one spot. All he could see was multiple shadows of the Ancient being cast across the floor of the room as all the lights were aimed at it.
In a moment, the shadow was gone and a primal cry of fear and rage erupted from the Servants of Darkness. One by one, the beams of light shook, then projected at odd angles as the monsters holding them were slain. The sound of their strange weapons fire erupted and he saw some of the bolts speed across the room and impact the far walls and ceiling. The sound of shearing metal mixed with wet, splashing sounds echoed through the hall, soon to be overshadowed by agonized screams of pain.
Then, it all stopped. Grunli didn’t know what to do, so he just stood there. The sound of footsteps approached out of the darkness, and the Ancient stepped into the room. Hints of blood sprayed on its armor were all that indicated the carnage recently wrought.
It walked to Grunli and said, “You and your people will be safe again soon.”
“Truly, the legends of the Ou’ardayeen’s power were all true,” the young man exclaimed.
Turning to face him, the Ancient stared for a long moment.
Finally, it spoke, “What are the Ou’ardayeen?”
Pointing, the young man said, “You. You are the Ou’ardayeen.”
It cocked its head to one side and said, “My species is human, I don’t-
It paused then continued, “Oh, I understand.”
Grunli looked at it, confused, “What?”
“You’re saying it wrong. It’s pronounced, ‘The Guardian.’”
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Wizard Tournament: Chapter 16

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      In the aftermath of Grrbraa’s contentious victory the crowd sat in respectful silence. It was rare for a previous champion to die, let alone in the first round. The audience wasn’t fully aware of all the Guild regulations in place to prevent such an act from occurring, they just knew champions were supposed to be better than newbies.
      There were some acolytes down on the field cleaning up Tomrha’s remains with a fair bit more respect than they’d given to Joseph. The thought of another champion dying so easily—even an eldrin—made Draevin uncomfortable. “What doesn’t make sense to me,” Draevin commented, “is how nobody saw this coming. I thought Caelnaste was supposed to be a world renowned seer.”
      Sylnya slouched in her seat while slowly ripping up a ticket stub. She looked about ready to kill someone and Peter was sitting remarkably still. “Don’t even get me started. I just lost a ton of money and I can’t even complain about it properly since Caelnaste lost her husband.”
      “You sound like you’re complaining about it to me,” Draevin said. The look she gave him right afterward made him regret the comment. But only a little.
      “So are you going to explain how that worked Peter?” Draevin asked the human, it couldn’t hurt to remind Sylnya that this was all Peter’s fault. “Why did Tomrha’s mind control break like that? I was under the impression cerebromancy was easier to cast on less intelligent targets.”
      “It’s a little complicated,” Peter said, while rubbing the back of his neck.
      There was an unspoken implication in Peter’s words that Draevin didn’t appreciate: the implication that Draevin wouldn’t be able to understand the trick. “Try me,” Draevin said flatly. He didn’t keep the hint of irritation from his voice.
      Peter cleared his throat. “Okay, but don’t get upset if you can’t follow along. The first step was to yell out his name. People tend to notice when they hear their own name. That was just to distract him.”
      “I’d figured that part out,” Draevin said.
      “It almost seems like cheating to me,” Sylnya cut in. “You helped that beast fuckin’ eat him!”
      Peter studied his shoes and mumbled, “It’s not against the rules. I checked.”
      Sylnya tossed the shredded remains of her ticket stub into the air in front of her and shot out of her seat. “I’m gonna go check on Caelnaste,” she announced in a huff and stormed out of the booth.
      “Is she mad at me?” Peter asked Draevin after she left. “I didn’t plan on Tomrha getting killed. I didn’t really think about what would happen after the circlet came off.”
      “She’ll get over it,” Draevin reassured the human. “She’s always a poor sport like that when she loses a bet. Don’t take it personally. By the time she gets back from her match she won’t even remember how upset she was. Now, were you going to explain why that mind control spell suddenly failed?”
      “Right,” Peter nodded. “That was just a theory I had regarding the Embrelian model of consciousness. I didn’t know if it would actually work. Clearly it did.”
      Draevin really didn’t want to admit he had never heard of this “Embrelian model” before. “It’s been a few centuries since I graduated, you might have to jog my memory about the Embrelian model.”
      “Oh, it’s fascinating stuff! Scholar Embrel was way ahead of his time!” Peter’s entire demeanor shifted. He was making eye contact and gesturing animatedly with his hands for the first time since Draevin had met him. “So he had this theory of consciousness that attempted to explain infantile amnesia based on a fundamental shift in the structure of the mind.”
      “Infant-what?”
      “The reason babies can’t remember anything until they’re around four years old.” Peter answered Draevin’s question quickly so he could keep going. Draevin didn’t bother to point out that it took significantly longer than that for elf babies. “So basically, what he said is that once a baby learns speech their mind starts to work in an entirely different way. Before speech they’re all primal feelings, tastes and smells; but after speech they have names for everything. Embrel thought that their older memories could no longer be accessed because their mind worked in such a fundamentally different way. He called the two minds the primal mind and the higher mind. Grrbraa is able to instantly switch between the two minds by removing his circlet.”
      Draevin wasn’t quite following along, but he nodded anyway. “So…” he trailed off intentionally so Peter would jump in. He didn’t have to wait long.
      “So when he removed the circlet he switched to the primal mind and Tomrha’s connection was severed. That pretty much proves the Embrelian theory correct!” Peter finished excitedly. Draevin wasn’t nearly as excited; in fact, having this human talk circles around him left him feeling the exact opposite of excited. “It’s too bad Embrel will never know he was right,” Peter said in a softer voice.
      History wasn’t really one of Draevin’s strong suits, except where the arena was concerned, so he didn’t feel bad about not knowing the fate of some random scholar. “Yeah a real tragedy,” he agreed. “Now do you think we can talk about those glasses of yours?”
      “Glasses?” Peter asked with perfect innocence.
      Draevin fixed him with a steady glare. “Don’t think I didn’t notice earlier. Your glasses changed colors. You have some kind of illegal enchantments on them don’t you?” Actually when he thought about it that didn’t make any sense. Peter had competed once already against Korack. “How come the alarm system didn’t go off when you stepped into the fighter’s box?”
      Peter avoided eye contact. “There’s nothing illegal about my glasses, they just malfunction every once in a while.”
      “Malfunction? So they do have enchantments on them!”
      Peter removed the glasses and stuck his fingers through the holes. “That’s because they’re not actually made with glass. I just mounted an illusion enchantment on wooden frames to bend light.”
      Draevin shook his head. “What? That doesn’t make any sense, regular glasses are way cheaper. Enchanted glasses would cost… you might as well just hire a visceramancer to fix your eyesight!”
      “I had access to artificing tools at the time, so I made them myself. And it’s not against the rules to wear enchanted glasses in the arena. When the Guild was new every wizard with eyesight problems wore them and the rules still allow for them.”
      “So you actually registered those glasses as a second item then?” Draevin asked, just to be sure.
      Peter nodded. “They were inspected and everything.”
      Draevin shrugged. “Fine then, if the Guild’s okay with it then they’re probably fine.”
      Down on the field the next contestants were getting ready for their match. Brorn was hard to miss given the voluminous hooded black robes he always wore.
      “Why is he wearing that?” Peter asked. He pointed to the fighter’s box where Brorn was standing. Brorn’s body was covered so thoroughly not even his skin tone could be discerned.
      Draevin knew it was technically Sylnya’s job to answer all of Peter’s questions, but with how much information the human had been sharing with him it only felt right to at least return the favor when there was an easy answer. “You remember how we told you Brorn can only bring one corpse?” he asked.
      “Yeah.”
      “Well he switches it up every year and wears something like that to hide it.”
      “Why would it matter if people saw what body he was wearing?” Peter asked, he scribbled down some notes in his pad then tucked it away. Now that Draevin was paying attention to the strange behavior it was really starting to make him curious, but he saved it for later. He still had some more pressing questions he wanted to extract out of this human, like how he had mastered sensomancy so quickly.
      “Someone might recognize the body,” Draevin told him. “He likes to wear previous champions or contestants. He actually buys lots of remains when contestants die so he has options. I’d be surprised if he hasn’t already made Caelnaste an offer for Tomrha’s remains.”
      “Why would it matter what body he wears?” Peter asked. “He can’t use the magic they could, can he?”
      “Of course he can. That’s the whole point!” Draevin exclaimed. “As long as he’s wearing a body, he knows everything they knew when they were alive and he has access to the mana pool they did. He can even use his own necromancy spells on top of that so it’s almost like fighting two contestants at once.”
      “Interesting,” Peter murmured under his breath, “that explains a lot. How much of the profits from his stores must he be spending outfitting himself for these tournaments?”
      The question didn’t seem directed at Draevin so he ignored it as the crowd was quieting down in anticipation of the match.
      “Brorn is an… elf necromancer representing Brornia.” Maeve began. She hesitated on Brorn’s race since it wasn’t as straight forward. He certainly used to be an elf, but judging by his current height he had to be a dwarf, gnome or goblin. “He is possessing the body of a wizard and his wish is for the end of all life... that doesn’t shop at Brorn Mart.” Here she actually did the pause just like in the advertisements. “Brorn wants everyone to know that he is Necro-King Brorn; his reign is eternal and his products are the cheapest on the market. ‘Shop Brorn Mart… or die!’” Draevin idly wondered if Necro-King Brorn had bribed Maeve to do the voices and pauses. There seemed to be large discrepancies in her enthusiasm for certain sponsors.
      Brorn stood in place still as a statue while he was announced. The crowd booed at him and Draevin was sure to join in. It felt sort of nice that such a diverse crowd was able to set their differences aside to heckle the universally-hated necromancer.
      “Granstil is a gnome fulgramancer representing the Independent Gnomes of Trenal. He is carrying the Winged Boots of Flight and his wish is to end the war in Trenal by establishing an independent nation of gnomes.” When Maeve mentioned his boots Granstil flew in a loop to show off rather than removing them. This earned a whoop from the crowd. “Granstil wants everyone to know that he is done complaining about the war, he has decided to do something about it himself.
      “You’ll want to cast True Sight for this match,” Draevin reminded Peter before it started, “or else you won’t be able to follow any of Brorn’s necromancy.”
      “I can’t,” Peter said.
      Draevin felt awkward for having suggested it now. “I could cast it for you if you want,” he offered.
      “I wouldn’t have enough mana to maintain it,” Peter said. “But that’s not the point. Humans are incapable of benefiting from True Sight for the same reason we can’t sense mana in the first place.”
      “Right, sorry I said anything about it then.”
      “I’ll be fine,” Peter assured him. “But thanks for offering.”
      Draevin cast True Sight on himself just before the bell chimed to start the match.
      Granstil immediately darted straight up into the air in order to cast a True Sight of his own in relative safety. Brorn spent the time conjuring Soul Fire, which Draevin could only see in the magical spectrum. It seemed to come from within his body. He slapped a hand against his chest and pulled a burning orb of invisible yellow fire out before gently opening his hand and letting it float away toward his opponent.
      Draevin pointed towards Brorn. “He summons ghostly yellow flames called Soul Fire. One touch is lethal and they can only be seen with True Sight.”
      “No wonder Granstil flew off like that,” Peter commented. “How fast do the flames move?”
      “They’re pretty slow,” Draevin told him. “They’re also expensive to maintain.”
      “Boooo!” Sylnya’s voice called out from the waiting area. “Learn a new trick!”
      Draevin chuckled. “She’s right, it’s practically the only spell he uses year after year.”
      Granstil finished his spell and flew in closer. Brorn released a second and third Soul Fire flame from each hand and sent them in the gnome’s direction. Granstil stayed out of their range and unleashed three quick bolts of lightning of his own, each one struck home and left smoking holes in Brorn’s current body. Brorn didn’t so much as flinch. Soon Granstil had to fly away before the invisible flames got too close.
      Seeing the relative lack of damage Granstil started on a much stronger spell. Peter jumped up from his seat in anticipation. “He’s gonna do it,” he yelled excitedly, “he’s casting Levin Bolt!”
      Draevin was surprised that Peter could recognize that spell on sight alone. It was certainly a popular spell with the crowd though, so it wasn’t that surprising. The human’s enthusiasm was infectious, and soon Draevin found himself eagerly waiting for Granstil to finish his spell too. The first Levin Bolt of the day usually put on a good show.
      Brorn unleashed a fourth and then fifth Soul Fire flame and directed them in a pattern that attempted to surround the gnome. Granstil expertly weaved around the yellow orbs of death, taking full advantage of his small size and got in close enough to be sure of his aim. Then he unleashed Hell.
      Levin Bolt was no simple lightning spell. It acted on such a large scale that it pulled natural lightning out of the atmosphere in a chain reaction that was usually significantly more powerful than the initial cost in mana. A bolt of lightning as wide as a tree crashed down from the sparse clouds up above and struck Granstil’s upheld hand, then ricocheted out towards Brorn in a blinding flash. A deafening explosion followed soon after. By the time Draevin could see again Brorn’s body was a smoldering pile of ash.
      The crowd exploded into cheers and Peter roared and pumped his fists right along with them. “Hᴇ ᴅɪᴅ ɪᴛ!” Peter cheered along with the crowd. “Tʜᴇ ᴍᴏsᴛ ᴘᴏᴡᴇʀꜰᴜʟ sᴘᴇʟʟ ɪɴ ᴛʜᴇ ᴡᴏʀʟᴅ!” Draevin thought one of his own Glacier Blasts was at least as powerful, but decided not to correct him. He’d have to let the human see one for himself.
      Brorn’s soul floated out of the remains of his ruined body. Even killing him wasn’t the end of the match. Since he could still put up a fight as a disembodied soul the match wasn’t over. Granstil was panting now and with True Sight Draevin could see that he was low on mana too. Even if the little gnome could cast another Levin Bolt, it wouldn’t be able to harm an incorporeal soul.
      Peter pointed at Brorn’s disembodied soul. “That hardly seems fair. How’s Granstil even supposed to win?”
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I’m a commentator for a tournament of nightmares. I’m not sure the participants are willing.

You’d think being a psychiatric ward for 38 months would be enough to deter a guy from ever going back to a sport that involves watching human beings at the height of their physical prowess beat the living shit out of each other. Sometimes regulated, sometimes not.
But, here I am, fresh outta the loony bin and reading the most unusual advertising slogan I’d ever laid eyes on;
“The most terrifying tournament has come around once again! Conquer your fears in the NFC*…* literally.”
This was the business card that accompanied my black envelope as it was handed to me on the discharge ward by a well dressed and gangly fella with an uncomfortable wide smile. He didn’t say much of anything, just that his name was “Watson” before bowing and holding up the envelope.
“Heh, like the butler, right?” I said, taking the envelope from his plasticine hands. His smile ripples across his face and he nods slowly, his perfect hair unmoving in the strong wind before he turns on his heel and walks back to the black sedan.
The cold air chilled my bones, and I pulled the medical bracelet from my wrist, grimacing at the marks underneath before following Watson to the Sedan and hauling my luggage into the trunk before setting off, not knowing how I came to even be there in the first place.
I guess right now, that doesn’t really matter.
What matters is where I am now and what I’m doing.
"blood strewn across the canvas, frayed brain matter sailing across my head and splattering against the wall, a woman standing in a pool of blood as the deformed creature twitches on the ground"
My name is Sal “Motormouth” Sabotta, I’m a sports commentator by trade. Be it combat sports, pro wrestling, death-matches or martial arts tournament, I’ve done it all.
I won’t lie; Work can be hard to come by. I’ve spent months struggling for rent and resorting to less tried-and-true commentary methods in order to survive. That has, at times, involved trying my hand at some of the more underground competitions; unregulated fights, sick, illegal games bet on by people on the dark web and worse… Things I’m not going to detail here. Things I’m not proud to have taken a hefty pay-check for from greasy, sweaty fucks in Armani tracksuits and stinking of cheap booze and coke all the way up to well-dressed bitcoin farmers in their 20s who probably own child slaves.
In short, I’m no stranger to the grim underworld or the secrecies with which they conduct their work. I see money and an easy way to make it with my voice; I don’t ask questions.
So when I received an email the day of my discharge from the hospital and I’m told “you’ll receive a letter from Mr. Watson, take it and follow the instructions to the venue. Pay up front as agreed.”, I don’t question it. Especially when the note is personalised, and the doctor says my medical fees were covered.
We drove past numerous landscapes, vistas and neighbourhoods before veering off into an industrial estate and entering an underground tunnel. Half a mile in, Watson stops the car and peers back, smiling.
He directs a thumb to the service door in the side tunnel and rubs his neck, a scar running from ear to ear. Was he a former fighter? Gangster?
I sighed and got out, still in my medical gown and hauling ass to the door. It opened before I could reach out and a tall, muscular woman in her late 30s greeted me with a smile. She was imposing, powerful in her gait, a black eyepatch with several seals adorning the sides accompanying a thick scar down her face did nothing to stop her beauty. She wore a tank top with a black cloak with white fur on the tops and sleeves, a thick black chain clasp around the neck. I won’t lie; she looked badass. Terrifying, but badass.
“‘Bout time ya showed up, Sabotta!” She grinned and put a cinderblock of a hand on my shoulder. I’m 5’10 and 180lbs, but she made me feel like a child in front of her. The power emanating from her fist was unbelievable. “C’mon, the trial match is starting and I don’t want no tourney without a broken in commentator! You gotta know the ropes of this place!”
“You know your driver was standing right outside when I was discharged, right? Couldn’t think to give me an extra day or two to freshen up?” I frowned. This wasn’t normal protocol, even for back-alley promotions like this. She just laughed at me and slapped my shoulder.
“The tournament waits for nobody, Sal. Times a-wasting.”
The hallway is dimly lit and the sounds of a ruckus above us are as impossible to ignore as the sounds of thudding, screaming and snapping. As we pass several doors with one-way mirrors on the front panes, I hear sounds I could have never placed in the animal kingdom or otherwise; gurgles, clicks, grunts and even otherworldly whispers.
“What the fuck is that? You guys doing animal fights down here? I mean I called a monkey fight once, but it’s not exactly… pleasant.” I shuddered, thinking of the violence chimpanzees can inflict on one another, let alone humans. She never stopped walking or staring directly ahead when she responded.“Those ain’t animals. Not by a long shot.”
Before I can probe further, I’m hurried into a changing room and practically swept off my feet by her strength. I turn back and she’s already poking her head out the door.
“You’ve got 5 minutes, get your shit and head up the left stairs, Watson will guide you.” She grinned, and I saw gold filings in her teeth that glinted as much as her bedazzled eye patch. “Ya came highly recommended… I expect good things!”
I do as instructed and within 5 minutes I’m back in my commentary clothes; an open buttoned Hawaiian shirt with my old Hotel Inertia shirt underneath, skinny black jeans and shimmering black shoes. I found some old slick gorilla powder in my hair and dusted it up, opting for the dishevelled look as I knew I’d be sweating by the end of the ordeal.
“You shouldn’t bother putting in so much effort, y’know. They’re not gonna care how good you look, only how well you talk.”
Standing in the doorway was a woman in her 40s, dark-skinned and hair clad in meticulous dreadlocks, tied back into a large bun with a pair draped down the sides of her head. She held a thick book in one hand and pocketed a serrated blade in the other before motioning to me.
“We’ll have to do the pleasantries on the way, the match is starting and you don’t wanna miss that. The commissioner isn’t the type you want to upset. Especially when you’re not here by choice.” I looked for a moment, dumbfounded.
“I’m here because I was invited, already got my pay from the woman who let me in.” I shrugged, pocketing the envelope and getting my equipment from the suitcase. The woman gave a sad smile and shook her head.
“Of course you’d think that. She likes it that way. Bet she didn’t introduce herself either, did she? C’mon.”
I follow her down and after a few minutes we come to a fork in the hallway, an elevator system to our right and a stairway to the left. Dutifully, Watson stood patiently, still grinning and motioning us to go up.
Once we’re situated in our booth upstairs, I set my equipment up and look down at the table, expecting a slew of papers and fighter information in front of me. I look to the woman to ask, but she doesn’t break her stare in the darkness, looking down at the arena floor some 100ft below us.“You won’t need that. Not for this match.”
The lights flicker on and the enormity of this venue reveals itself to me. It’s a structure of imposing steel, dried blood, claw marks and other unknown substances that littered the 40ft wide circular pit the fighters contested in, a black lift on either side from the fighters corners that I can only assume ascended up from their locker room area. Around them were chain-link fences that rose up to the audience stands above, situating around 300 people across all four sides. At the very top sat our booth, the commissioner’s office directly opposite, the judges booth to our right and the fight analysts/medical area to our left. Standing in the centre with a spotlight over them was the commissioner, microphone in hand and an energy that was almost palpable.
“Ladies, Gentlemen and Freaks of all kinds out there in the universe. I welcome you once more to the annual Nightmare Fighting Championship Tournament! It’s been a long year, but we have new blood to pit against our resident night terrors and some fresh fears to feast on the fortuitous soul that frolics into their den. As always, our contestants will be fighting for their freedom, a chance to get their wish or to fight for the ultimate prize.” The crowd cheers and the majority are hidden behind thick plexiglass and lighting, but I can see some have Karate Gi’s, weapons in hand and others with demon masks as they whoop and holler. The clientele here were, at least in my estimation, experienced. But I was feeling a lump in my throat at that one phrase The Commissioner so surreptitiously added in without issue;
“As always, our contestants will be fighting for their freedom*”*
I leaned to the woman next to me and as if she knew what I was going to ask; she put a finger up and shook her head. Eyes awash with fear and a grimness I had only seen on that of trainers who knew their fighter was not ready for the bout ahead. She pointed the finger down to my machine, then to the pit. Turning it on, I looked down as the commissioner began to talk, readying myself to commentate on whatever weirdos came up to battle.
“But before we get to that, we have an exciting exhibition match for our loyal supporters who bankroll this event every year. Without you elite few, we could not do this. You are the pound for pound goats of support! Now, without further ado; let’s get this show on the road!”The rest of the lights clicked on and spun around the venue as they raised the profile of the bout, the elevators both whirring into action as the right one arose first.
“In this corner, from the marionettes shop and accompanied by his Bunraku doll “Mr. Stares”, it’s the man who pulls the strings… THE PUPPET MAN!”
Out steps a tall, thin Japanese man in full clown makeup. His head shaven save for two ridiculous strands of hair stretched out and fluffed up to their limits, like red antennae. His eyebrows large m’s that practically cover his forehead, the nose a completely vacant slot with a black hole drawn in and the mouth… the fucking mouth was nailed shut. Literally. Sharp rusted nails had been hammered down through the lips with such force that they’d bent. A sickening crimson red face-paint stretched across the entire bottom half of his face, making it seem far larger by comparison. He carefully held a small bundle underneath a sheet and bowed deeply to the audience before standing at his designated spot.
“In the other corner, from the streets of god knows where and the womb of someone who misses him… "Hulked Up" Michael O’Donnell!”
I watched with wide eyes and a stomach threatening to evacuate its contents at any moment as the smoke cleared and a boy no older than 17 rushed out, beating his chest and screaming to the crowd as if he was the Incredible Hulk. I don’t know if they drugged the poor kid, but he clearly had no idea where he was.
“There are no rules, no referees and judges only exist in case of a draw or unclear victory. Our commentary team will take over and we wish you a phenomenal match.” She drools a little before she speaks again, looking up at me and winking. “Let’s make this a violent one.”
She snaps her fingers and leaps for the fence, climbing up with ungodly ease before sitting on her makeshift chair in her office.
I have no idea what I’m seeing but every cell in my body is urging me to run; I feel my knees tense and my frame rise ever so slightly before the woman next to me puts her hand on my thigh, pushing me down with great force.
“You have a job to do, so do I. Trust me, you think you can leave but if you get out of this chair, not only will YOUR life end. Mine will too.” She unsheathes the serrated blade and looks at me with pity. “We both have a part to play here, so put the headset on and let’s do our job, no matter how hard it is.”
Hands shaking, I pick up the headset and connect it to the portable recorder and take a breath.
“I… I need your name. What is it you do?” I stutter, trying to calm myself. She hands me a bottle of water as the surrounding lights dim and the spotlight focuses on the spectacle below.
“I’m Madame Nelle Lockwood, cryptid hunter and your co-host to guide you through tonight. Good to meet you, Sal.”
-
NFC EXHIBITION MATCH: "Hulked Up" Michael O’Donnell vs The Puppet Man w/ Mr. Stares
“Welcome fight fans from around the world, god knows how you’re listening to this or WHY, but here we are. I’m your host Sal “MotorMouth” Sabotta, wishing this was all a bad dream. Joining me this evening is our cryptid specialist and all round badass Madame Nelle Lockwood. How are you doing, Nelle?”
She looks at me with a bewildered look on her face before blinking and coming to her senses.
“Uhh… good! All things considered… boy, you really have a professional knack for this, huh? I can see why Commissioner Alduin brought you in."
“Ahh, yes. That’s right, folks! NFC Commissioner Alduin invited me here personally and our exhibition match proves to be… challenging. Let’s check in on the action below.”
I look down and see The Puppet Man sat down and gesturing to the figure under the sheet, like he’s got a negotiation going on. The boy, undeterred and furious, rushes towards him and takes his back, slapping his head and even pulling on his hair with extreme prejudice.
“Well take a gander at that, that kid has absolutely NO fear. When I was his age, I would have stayed FAR the fuck away from a nightmare spectre like that. But hell, this is all part of the show, right? Hope they’re paying that poor guy down there a sizeable sum to throw a fight to a child. What do you think, Nelle; is this the weirdest make-a-wish fulfilment task or what?”
I look over to her, hoping she’d indulge me and that I could believe this was just going to end with a pissed off actor storming away when the child hit him too hard. But Nelle was scanning her now open book and looking for information on dolls.
“He’s talking to his doll because it’s desperate to be let loose. He’s trying to bargain with it to spare him. This is the nature of the puppeteer and his master.” She pushes the book to the centre of the table and shows me a faded illustration of a pristine Bunraku doll; a kind of meticulously crafted Japanese take on the ventriloquist doll. The limbs are thinner and the face is more minimalist, but still no more frightening. “They usually have a symbiotic relationship, but it seems this one obeys the doll and will not want to face more punishment.”
“What do you mean more punishment?” I ask, looking back down at the feverish puppet man as he tries signing frantically under the sheet, even putting his head under as the kid bites his arm and kicks him, screeching.
“The nails, Sal. Those aren’t to silence him, they’re to punish him.”
The rest happened in slow motion; the sheet fell down. The puppet man stood up and walked to his side of the fighters corner, facing the elevator and placing his face into his forearms as he shook. The boy followed to keep attacking, but with one swift kick to the midsection, the boy was propelled back to the centre of the pit where the doll sat.
If there was a human face, I didn’t see it. Instead, I was staring down at a small wood carved spider, the head sporting black geisha hair and the makeup still present, but rows of sharpened black teeth protruded from the clicking mouth and two larger eyes jutted out from the base of the skull, smaller ones dotted closely around it. It was like seeing a puppet ogre spider.
“Looks like The Puppet Man has let Mr. Stares out to say hi and I can certainly see why he was under that sheet, this one isn’t pretty folks! The face doth fit the name. The question is, what’s he doing to do ne-
“I didn’t need to finish the question. My hands shook, and the world spun around me as this creature crawled towards the still wheezing boy with ungodly speed and perched itself expertly beside him. I don’t know if it was my eyes or the distance from where I sat, but this was NOT a small puppet. He was easily half of the boy’s height and that became more unnerving when he reared up on his back legs, the head clicking up and the raspy voice hissing out like a gas leak in a building.
“Hey, hey, kid! Wanna make a deal?” The kid rubbed his eyes, seemingly realising where he was as he calmed down and an air of utter confusion around him.
“If you let me be your new master and you promise to take care of me, I’ll let you go!” His head spun around and the jaw clicked ferociously as he giggled, extending out a clawed paw. “Whaddya say?”
The boy, still confused, slowly reached out his hand and the moment immediately reminded me of a slew of nature shows I’d seen as a kid; where a predator waits until the prey is lulled before striking. I felt the chill up my spine as he extended his hand and grabbed Mr. Stares.
In that moment, he leapt up the arm and bore his way into the boy’s mouth, down his throat and shredded his flesh. The sound was so horrifying, so visceral that it outshines any backyard stabbing, joint snap or broken nose. The boy didn’t even have time to scream, he simply looked up with tear-stained eyes as the puppet disappeared.
Then he started walking without him realising. He looked down at his limbs, terrified, looked over at The Puppet Master, who still had his head to the elevator and pleaded with someone, anyone to help him. I looked to Nelle who refused to take her eyes away, studying the battle in an almost morbid scientific curiosity, detached entirely from the scenario.
I couldn’t fathom how she did it, how she ignored this boy begging us to get him out of there.
I wanted to. Every instinct in me as a fight fan and a decent human was to scream “STOP THE FIGHT!”.
But clearly, when my own life is at risk and money is involved...
I am not a decent human.
Instead, with bile in my throat and a sweating forehead, I did my job.
“M-My goodness! The P-uppet, I mean, “Mr. Stares” has BECAME the puppet master, surely the fight will be over with our young competitor incapacitated? What does our commissioner have to say about this?”
She stared at me, her one eye gleaming and her face elated with the violence.
“It ain’t over yet, church boy. We haven’t even seen the finale, have we Puppet Master?!” She laughs and slaps her knee, the puppet master sobbing as he sinks to the floor and she continues.
“He ain’t done feeding, not yet.”
The way she said that word “feeding” nearly made me lose what food I had in me. That was a young man, somebody's baby boy…
“What does she mean by that, Nelle? What is the strategy to victory here?”
Nelle looked down at her book and traced her finger across a passage before wiping her forehead and pushing the locks aside. If her composure wasn’t breaking yet, it would do soon.
“This kind of parasitic doll feasts on its prey and targets non-essential organs first, controls the host with the neurotoxin in its tail and then, when it’s finally content, it gives the brain a second injection.”
“What happens then?” I asked, my own professionalism hanging on by a fucking thread at this point. She shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose.“I guess you’ll see in a moment, I sure as hell don’t want to. Not again.”
Before I can prompt her further, the boy lets out an ear-piercing shriek and falls to his knees, gripping at his head before it turned red, then purple and finally an ugly shade of puce before…
The sound of a watermelon hitting the ground from a great height is the best comparison you’re going to get without making me want to rush to the toilet to puke for a third time. But that’s what happened. His head burst and chunks of his skull, flesh and brain matter sprayed the pit and the walls, some hitting my desk and making me audibly shriek, much to the commissioner's delight.
“HA! You didn’t run! I like you, Sal. You pass for the tournament!” She hauls her body up and slams down to the pit, applauding as the microphone descends from the heavens. “And your winner; The Puppet Man and Mr. Stares!”
The crowd erupts with applause as the weeping puppet man pulls the blood-soaked puppet out, places him under the sheet and silently begins to walk back to the elevator while attendees clear up the boy’s corpse.
“What… what the fuck IS this place?” I ask Nelle, pausing my recording.
“This is where nightmares are kept and set upon mostly unwilling competitors for the world’s amusement. You HAVE done dark web fights before, right? Mafia snitches being put into lions pits, bum fights, addicts fighting women to score… this can’t be THAT unusual to you?”
I stared at her incredulously. Was that even a question?
“I did the dark web ONCE and it damn sure didn’t involve monsters!”
She scoffs and closes her book, stretching before looking at me with contempt.
“Oh, it did. Just not the ones you hear about in fairytales. Good luck with the selection process. I’ll be back for the opening round. Don’t try to run, they’ll devour us both in minutes, if you think this is the pinnacle of what lurks beneath this club, you're in for a rough night.” She sauntered off, leaving me deflated, sickened and terrified. Unable to leave and frustrated to the point of tears that I couldn’t express that concoction of emotions, I did what I always do; I regressed and pressed “record” on the device as Commissioner Alduin continued.
At that moment, however, I was deaf to it all. The gravity of the situation had fully enveloped me…
They weren’t kidding about the unwilling participants, I just didn’t realise I would be one of them.On every side of me sits men and women with a desire for violence that goes beyond the norm, beyond the sane and beyond the boundaries of humanity.Below me are an untold number of creatures rattling their cages and howling for blood.
Across from me is a woman so powerful she could crush my skull beneath her boot with the utmost ease if it so amused her.
That invitation was nothing more than my own ransom note in pretty colours and flattering platitudes.
I was in a tournament housing nightmares incarnate.
And it would only get more violent from here on out.
-
The opening round was a blood bath.
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