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[Quest] This Thing Don't Look So Tough

#41
Afrátos’ vertical maw flicked open, the fang-lined cavity splitting his face in half as the hovering eyeball within his skull rolled and darted around madly for a moment, before settling as he remembered where he was. That room in the building they’d entered to sleep. He’d curled up on master's bed, since she hadn't been here to claim it, whilst the other two—Yuuka and Cirno, he remembered them being called—had each taken one of their own. Glancing across at them, they both seemed to be fast asleep.

Stretching his many limbs and arching his back, Afrátos yawned quietly, his eye drifting around lazily as he did… he felt as if he'd been sleeping for weeks, or even months… though he couldn't have properly articulated that thought himself, lacking as he did any knowledge of even the most basic of units of time. His eye drifted lazily around as he did this, and after a moment it occurred to Afrátos that he had teeth.

Yes, this came as a truly shocking revelation to him.

He blinked… which, with his head in its current form, meant snapping his mouth shut and then immediately opening it again. The thing was, before he’d gone to sleep, he hadn't had a mouth to close; the entire front section of his face had been shorn away. Reaching up to touch it gingerly, he confirmed that his head was in fact fully intact. It would seem that in this strange, new world, he was able to heal at a much faster rate than he had been able to back home. Looking down at himself, he realised that it wasn't just his face that was fixed; other than the permanent, heart-shaped hole on his left breast, and the network of cracks that bordered it, every scratch he had taken had vanished. He was whole again.

He would have grinned if he could, but sadly his vertical mouth could not form such expressions… he paused. He closed his mouth, focused for a couple seconds, then opened his two, pupil-less, exterior eyes, his face having reverted to its basic, mouthless state… though that didn't last long. An instant later, a horizontal line formed on the lower half of his head, then his jaws split apart, exposing his rows of jagged, razor-edged, blue teeth.

“Yes-yes, feel much-very good to smile-smile… now, me-me go find master, see-see if she also had big-long sleepy time.” muttering softly to himself, his whispery, breathy voice so soft that even the gentle breathing of the two sleeping on their beds could be heard above it, the Ceramic Beast slipped almost silently from the mattress onto the floor, creeping along on all four hands and two feet, he made his way to the door and twisted the handle. It creaked loudly as it opened, but a glance over his shoulder told him that neither of the master’s tasty-looking, bright-coloured-hair friends had stirred.

His mouth closing and vanishing from sight, he slunk out into the hallway with predatory grace, peered around for a moment to check that he was alone, then rose up to stand bipedal, though he still leaned pretty far forwards in this position, his twin tails held out behind him as a counterweight, to keep his centre of gravity in place, to keep him perfectly balanced.

Despite this, he still almost crashed to the ground a second later, after having taken but a single step forwards, when a sudden pang of intense hunger tore through his gut. He stumbled, hissing slightly in pain, his lower-right hand clutching at his stomach, as if simply touching it could somehow appease his hunger.

After a moment, though, Afrátos managed to straighten up a bit and somewhat regain his composure, though when he next spoke his tone was more than a little panicked and fearful, “Master need-must wait. Much sorry-sorry, but need find-find food first, me-me got eat something, quick-fast before starve.”

So saying, the golem loped quietly down the stairs towards the ground floor, his pace increasing slightly when the first traces of the scent of blood reached his non-existent nostrils. His grin sprung back to life. Hunting for food was all well and good, but finding piles of fresh meat simply lying around—and judging by the scent’s strength, there must indeed be a lot of yum-yums there for the taking—certainly made things a lot easier.

Once there, in the building's entrance hall, he looked around and marvelled at all the lovely meat before him. Blood was everywhere, and a giant snake lay crumpled on one side of the room, whilst near a hole in the floor, severed limbs were scattered, alongside a two-leg's body. Nearer to him was another corpse, it's chest reduced to a gruesome mess of shattered bone and shredded muscle. Over by the entrance—which now lacked a door… the object in question having been somehow thrown across the room to where it now lay, soaking in blood—four yum-yums were talking amicably to master and her friend. The golem heard them saying something about congratulating Clownpiece and Dane for overcoming a powerful criminal gang, wanted for multiple cases of homicide, who had thus far eluded all attempts of the local authorities to locate them… not that Afrátos had even the slightest of inklings as to what this nonsensical gibberish could possibly mean, of course. He tuned out their inconsequential babbling pretty quickly.

None of what the two-legs said ever mattered. They loved to hear the sounds of their own voices so much that they were happy to just talk on and on and on whilst all this perfectly good food grew cold. Well, if they weren't going to eat their prey then the golem would happily volunteer to help them out in that regard.

Falling into a crouch, he prowled across the floor on all six limbs, over to the closest meat. As he approached, he recognised its face; it was the one that had gotten between master and her friend. Good. He was sure that its death must have pleased the Hell Fairy greatly. Now all that was left was to clean up the mess.

He reached out with his upper-left hand and grasped the body around its left elbow, then lifted it and leaned forwards, stretching his maw wide, before clamping his jaws shut about halfway up the yum-yum’s left forearm, and biting all the way through the bone with a loud crunch. He swallowed, then realised that the room had gone silent. He looked up at the six of them by the entranceway.

The four foods were looking at him, horror-stricken, as if they couldn't even believe that anyone would ever do something so uncouth as to steal another's meal. It was a little rude, the Ceramic Beast conceded, but they clearly had a lot still to learn about the way the world worked. It wasn't always the case that the strong survived whilst the weak died out; scavenging for food was a perfectly acceptable means of getting by, even if not the most dignified… it was especially effective when predators grew so overconfident that they didn't even bother to protect their kills. Master was wincing a little as she looked at him, as if embarrassed that he had taken their food without asking... which did make him feel a little guilty... but as always, his hunger overrode his every other emotion. Dane alone didn't seem concerned at all. The Fast One’s visage was utterly blank, his emotions unreadable... that two-legs really creeped Afrátos out.

Realising that he should probably try to appease those whose meal he was partaking of, the golem lifted the corpse higher and fastened his jaws around its left shoulder this time, before crunching down through bone once again, separating the half-eaten arm entirely from the rest of the body, which flopped lifelessly to the blood-drenched floor, landing with a slight splash that spattered the bottoms of Afrátos’ porcelain limbs with droplets of sanguine liquid. The flesh and bone he’d chomped off had already vanished into the mysterious nothingness that formed his insides in the time it took the Ceramic Beast to cast his gaze down upon the corpse, which now lay on its front, head turned to one side, the one eye that he could see from this angle wide and staring.

His mouth closing and disappearing once again, Afrátos was able to speak regardless of this, as he held out the remains of Myst’s arm towards the Hell Fairy like a peace offering, “Master want-like eat some-some of food? Is much tasty-nice.”

The star-spangled girl cringed slightly and started to shake her head, but before she could reply, there came a sudden, wild battlecry as the four foods—roaring curses at the ‘man-eating abomination’—loosed the bolts from the crossbows they each carried. Afrátos shrieked with fright, dropping the disembodied limb as three of the bolts found their mark, punching little holes in his hollow shell as they sped straight through him, barely slowed at all. All four of the shots buried themselves in the wall behind the Ceramic Beast.

Hissing, he took a step backwards, before realising that the four yum-yums were vulnerable for the moment, as they hastily tried to reload their weapons. He grinned savagely. Master was yelling something about calming down and not fighting, but the others weren’t listening to her, so Afrátos opted not to either. She was probably just worried that he’d get hurt… which was reasonable, he supposed, but with a golden opportunity such as this, how could he not take it? Master would understand after it was all over, he was sure of it; when he offered to share his kills with her, she would be more than grateful enough to overlook a little bit of him not doing as he was told. Afrátos darted forwards, maw opening wide and arms outstretched to either side, talons at the ready.

And then, all of a sudden, there was Dane. He looked battered and bloodied from the fight he’d clearly just been involved in, yet even so, still he managed to somehow dash in front of the foods before Afrátos could reach them, his two swords flashing. Before the Ceramic Beast had even realised what was happening, a flick of the shortsword had sheared his lower-left hand from his wrist, and a powerful, downward sweep of the longsword was but a moment from slicing him in twain. Spinning and leaning to one side to evade, Afrátos managed to avoid being slain outright, though his master’s friend was much too fast for him to avoid the blow entirely, and both of his tails were severed less than a foot from where they joined his body.

Wailing in dismay and tumbling forwards—suddenly finding himself terribly off-balance—the golem scrambled towards a window and scratched madly at its handle for a moment until he managed to swing wide the pane of glass. Just before clambering out, he turned to glance back at the sound of raised voices. The foods were aiming their now-loaded weapons once more, but seemed reluctant to fire with Dane and Clownpiece between them and Afrátos. For her part, the Hell Fairy was fluttering by her friend’s side, gripping him by his left bicep and shoulder, and trying to tug him back, whilst the golem’s three severed body parts flopped weakly on the blood-drenched floor.

That moment’s hesitation very nearly cost him his life. In an instant, the swordsman had shrugged off master and shoved her aside. Still, his face betrayed not a hint of his thoughts; he was utterly focused on the task at hand. Afrátos quickly turned back to the window and began wriggling through. In but a second or so, he’d managed to haul through everything above his waist, but then came a horrible shattering sound, along with a feeling of greatly reduced weight, and the Ceramic Beast shoved hard on the window frame, launching himself forwards.

He would have simply kept racing straight onwards if he could have, but on the other side of the street there was an almost sheer wall towering above him; he may have managed to climb it if he took his time, given how sharp his claws all were, but not when in a rush. The street stretched on to his left and right, but he knew he couldn’t hope to outrun the Fast One for long on a straight path; he was doomed.

Turning to face his demise head-on, he looked back at the window, expecting Dane to have already slipped through it and to be but a moment from finishing him off. Instead, however, the two-legs remained inside, staring at Afrátos, his expression now an amalgamation of irritation and consternation. The golem realised that Dane wasn’t actually looking directly at him, but rather down at his legs instead, and so he followed his master’s friend’s gaze… and immediately froze in shock, his painted-on, amber eyes bulging with surprise.

Afrátos had no legs.

It seemed as if that breaking noise he’d heard must have been the swordsman crudely shattering more of his statuesque body, leaving him with almost nothing below his waist. Despite this, somehow, in his desperation to get away, the golem had managed to take to the skies. It only took another second for the two-legs to come to terms with this new development, though, and then he was climbing through the open window himself, still not giving up on snaring his prey. Whimpering in terror, Afrátos willed his surprisingly magical body to get him out of there, just as surprised to have discovered himself capable of this sort of thing as the swordsman was, and with absolutely no idea how to control this strange power. Luckily, it seemed amenable to his desires, and so he found himself rocketing upwards.

It was just as well; but a fraction of a second after he’d cleared the area, the swordsman reached his former spot, swords cleaving through the air where he’d hovered. Dane looked up, and the golem grinned hysterically down at him. At this height, the wind roared, snatching away any sounds he made almost before Afrátos himself could pick them up, never mind the two-legs standing far, far below… which was good, as the half-giggling, half-sobbing noise that the golem made was hardly the sort of thing to strike fear into the hearts of enemies.

Afrátos had simply tried to sate his hunger, and that lunatic had completely lost his mind and practically smashed him to pieces, whilst master had done little more than object loudly. It was at last clear to the Ceramic Beast that whatever many other redeeming qualities she may have, the Hell Fairy was simply unable to keep that Fast One in check… for all that he felt safe and secure around her, he could see now that that was but an illusion; at any moment, her favourite swordsman could inexplicably flip out at some utterly random thing and mercilessly butcher any poor, helpless, hungry people who happened to be nearby at the time. If even something as simple as eating would set him off, there was simply no hope of getting by in his company.

The Ceramic Beast turned away from Dane and the building, willing his cracked and abused shell of a body to carry him off to safety. It heeded his wish, thankfully, though he had no idea how or why he was able to do this, and that scared him almost as much as the Fast One. What if his body remembered that it didn’t have wings mid-flight? What if he could only fly like this because of some strange magic that covered this place, and as soon as he left these two-leg buildings behind, he’d crash ignominiously to the ground? Or it could have been his food? Could Myst have had some sort of magical power that allowed her to give anyone who ate her the ability to fly… until her meat was finished being digested? There could be any number of possibilities, and even being such a magnificent genius as he was, Afrátos knew he’d never have a chance at figuring out which it could really be, never mind how long the effect would last…

The safest thing, he decided, as he sped past, high above the buildings beneath him, would be to set down somewhere safe once he had escaped that horrid place and try to find some scraps of food to make do with whilst he rested yet again, to once more heal up his many wounds… he really needed to make more of an effort to keep out of harm’s way from now on; the golem was coming far too close to death entirely too often for his liking.

It wasn’t long before he left the two-legs far behind, and at some point it began raining, washing the blood from his body… but he was tiring quickly. Either the strange magic that had allowed him to fly was now wearing off, and that was making it progressively harder and harder to remain airborne… or perhaps it was simply the case that Flying was much more tiring a thing to do than running… Afrátos had never been a bird until now, so he wouldn’t know.

Thankfully, before he had tired himself enough to drift off to sleep in mid-air, and inevitably dash his body fatally against the grassy plains below, the edges of a dark forest loomed up before him, huge fir trees seeming to appear suddenly from a bank of mist, almost as if they hadn’t even existed a moment before, but had then been spat out into reality by the whim of some mysterious being like the one that had somehow brought the golem himself to this incomprehensible place.

Regardless of the suspiciousness of their abrupt arrival, Afrátos was much too tired to care, and swooped gracefully down towards the largest pine he could see—some small voice at the back of his mind noting that the less conscious thought he put into flying, the more smoothly it seemed to go—colliding with its trunk gently enough not to further damage his body, his talons sinking into the wood, then scuttling around its upper boughs to find one thick enough to rest upon. When at last he had located a suitable spot, the hungry person wrapped his limbs tightly around it and promptly fell fast asleep, too exhausted from all the flying about to even muster up the energy to look for food.
[Image: chinasig3.png]
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#42
As fun as that sounded, and as sweet as interesting as this guy was, Ash decided she’s played enough games. She stopped and pushed her fingers into her little pockets, finger’s playing with the cold silver whistle. The easiest way there would be straight into Harlan’s casino. It would be the only way around all of this inconveniencing circumstances.

However. She just wasn’t feeling easy this time. She didn’t know how long it’s been in Coruscant since she’s graced the Emperor with her mischief, but she thought it would be best to go knocking straight on his door instead this time.

“I’d love to stay, but I have an appointment with a bloodsucker I really am late for,” Ash said before 13-Jzall could get too far ahead. “Look me up later though, hun.”

The half mechanical creature stopped long enough to turn his head over and stare blankly as she gave him a half wave. She turned her back to him before casually strolling back towards the gate. A visor of blue sliding over her eyes and portraying some coordinates he wasn’t able to read before her back was to him.

He was left alone one more, but the ranger committed the creature to memory. “Ash… Hm.” Like that, he turned and walked in his own direction, heading for his own prize.
[Image: tumblr_maolcpnQS61qakj1do1_500.gif]

Warning: Anything that involves Ash should be rated M. Possibly higher.

Erik Vrell : Ash has a 'love' fourth dimensional shape
Erik Vrell : As in its wide and unfathomable for us mere mortals
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#43
Trembling, his hands were trembling and it was the sole fault of Shang fucking Tsung. Waves of impotent frustration washed over Strazio like a thousand white hot tongues. He clenched his fists. Arcs of lightning peeled away from his flesh and snapped at the open air. Strazio took a deep breath. What was the point of Tearen’s tutelage if Shang was still able to get under his skin so easily? Petty rage of this magnitude was beneath an enigma. His trembling hands steadied themselves. Where there would have been a vicious circle of furious rumination there was only clarity. An almost imperceptible emerald spark flashed behind his eyes.

“Let’s go,” he said, taking the first step forward.

The mage stood at the precipice of the crater that stretched out before them. A testament to the power of the Tarrasque and those that had slain it the Primordial Scar was a craggy disheveled mess. Violent tectonic shifts in the terrain had upheaved massive slabs of rock, forming the scar into a crooked mouth filled with jagged teeth. Soft loamy soil filled these craters and created a gentle slope which Strazio slid down. His boots dug trenches into the earth as he forged ahead. Not a word was shared between them as his companions followed. They were treading upon storied ground. Beneath their feet the world rumbled with the occasional aftershock as seismic leviathans shifted into place.

“So, uhhhh, where is this thing?” Gamzee asked, breaking the silence.

“Yeah,” Strazio muttered and glanced over at Atelos, “isn’t it supposed to be massive?”

“Indeed,” Atelos answered, “the beast is quite large.”

“Then where the fuck is it?” Strazio asked the group, “shouldn’t we have seen it by now?”

“Maybe it's playin’ motherfuckin’ hide-an-seek,” Gamzee said, “maybe it’s real good at playin’ hide-an-seek.”

Atelos grunted and answered, “then we shall seek.”

Straz opened his mouth to speak, but before he could a tremor began to shake the ground. Beneath his feet the ground crumbled and gave way as a sinkhole opened up to swallow him. All that escaped from his throat was an audible yelp as he was thrown against the side of this cavernous maw. Instinctually he reached out and grabbed for anything solid and managed to find a somewhat stable foothold. Strazio glanced down. At the bottom of the pit a pool of viscous black liquid boiled violently. Strazio swore under his breath and tried to climb. Spiderweb cracks raced up the wall, shattering his handhold and forcing him to skid further down. Tar bubbled out from these cracks, covering the mage in a warm goo.

“Help me God-dammit!” Strazio shouted.

In response the shaft of a spear pierced through the tar and anchored itself next to Strazio. He reached out and wrapped his hand around the weapon. The pool had risen and was now up to his ankles. A fetid stench of decay filled the air, stinging the mage’s nostrils. Atelos yanked on the spear, heaving his companion up and out of the abyss. Gamzee grabbed at Strazio’s arm and the two of them hoisted the fallen mage onto steady ground. Strazio groaned and rolled onto his back. Stubbornly the black ick clung to his body wrapping itself tight against his flesh. He growled and clawed at the muck, ripping it apart and tossing strands of it aside.

“What the fuck is this stuff?” Strazio asked and glanced at Atelos.

The spartan shrugged and stood, “I’m not sure, but it is everywhere.”

Atelos pointed out across the crater and a thin violent sheen had begun to cover it. The foreign substance oozed out from beneath the dirt, covering every available surface in a slick oil. It clung to their boots like taffy and if they stopped moving for too long it tried to climb up their legs. This goo seemed to pulse and writhe according to some unknown tempo. In turn the ground throbbed like an inflamed wound. Somewhere, deep below, a legendary heart pumped violently. A beast drew breath and the world trembled.
[Image: StrazSig.png]

[Image: DarkshireBadge.png][Image: DarkshireDefenseBadge.png][Image: SecondarySaga.png][Image: HerosGraveyardBadge.png]
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#44
Atelos lifted his sandals from the ground, the black, grotesque tar sticking onto his shoes. The air was filled with with an odor that reeked of rotting eggs. The grecian scrunched his nose in disgust, the habit of wearing open toed shoes proved to be unlucky. He turned his head to Shang Tsung, the sorcerer calm and seemingly unbothered by the minor inconvenience.

From the corners of the forest, a thick mist rolled in at the height of their knees. Reaching his arm behind his back, he retrieved his shield and donned it over his arm. The cold bronze gave him a feeling of warmth and comfort despite the undesirable conditions. In the shadows of the forest, hooded figures circled the group. The Spartan unsheathed his spear before turning his head to the group.

“I have a bad feeling about this,” he muttered as chills ran up his spine. Hades cackled, its voice echoing in his mind.

What gave you this inclination Spartan? Hades sarcastically snickered at him before his voice became somber and wild. Let me free Spartan. I want to feel their blood on our skin. Atelos frowned. ‘Our.’ He shuddered.

“Fucking Genius.” Straizo said underneath his breath, barely audible to Atelos. Gamzee snickered before emphatically nodding. Atelos turned his head with a confused look on his face. “Yes?”

Straizo smirked before shaking his head. Atelos dismissed the rage mage’s sarcastic words as the hooded figures advanced. One of the figures threw back his hood, revealing a grotesque bat-like head. The creature spoke, it’s voice unpleasantly high pitched.

“Begone humans. You step on the sacred territory of the almighty Tarrasque!” The creature rose up its arms as if it were praying to a wicked god. The rest of the hooded figures nodded and murmured in agreement. Shang Tsung opened his mouth to calmly speak, but the hot-headed spartan gave him no room.

“You worship that monster? We are here to slay the wretched beast!” Atelos shouted,baring his teeth like a rabid animal. His breathing became labored and the daemon in his head was reveling in Atelos’ anger, encouraging every ounce of it.

The bat creature smiled before it squeaked, “I was hoping you would say that.” Pointing it’s bony finger at the group it shouted, “KILL THEM!” The hooded figures jeered at the group and taunted them by beckoning the group. The riled up the already angry Spartan and Hades wasn’t helping.

Let me at them Spartan! UNLEASH ME!  Hades shouts clouded the Grecian’s mind. With a battle roar, Atelos attempted to charge at the jeering monsters, but his legs wouldn’t move. The tar that had been collecting on the ground, however, had been climbing his legs without him even noticing. Forcing his legs up, ripping off the tar-like tendrils that had gathered around his legs. Each step was like wading through a pool of honey. An arrow wizzed right past the Spartan’s helm as another embedded itself into his stomach. A funny feeling rushed to his brain, making everything seem hazy for a second. Ripping out the arrow, Atelos felt his mind almost immediately clear.

“Fucking Drow!” Atelos shouted, his face contorted into a grimace. Tossing the arrow into the tar, the hole in his abdomen began to mend itself.

Don’t you miss this power, Spartan? Give me more!” Hades seductively whispered into his brain. Atelos shook his head and pounded on his shield to silence his inner daemon. He quickly looked around before homing onto the shooters, pushing through the tar even faster. Having complete tunnel vision towards the filthy drow, he completely forgot about his allies.Raising his shield to block the impending arrows, Atelos finally made it to the edge of the tar and dashed towards his attacker. Surprised by the burst of speed, the drow raised its hands to defend itself futilely against Atelos’ spear. Other hooded figures surrounded the Spartan, but each fell victim to his spear.

The bat hissed at the advancing forces, “Stubborn Primes.” He then let out a high pitched whistle. The rustling of leave was heard through the forest before the relative silence was broken by a menacing howl.
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#45
Just as soon as the skerfluffle got started, it fuckin' stopped. A sharp note pierced the momentary engagement, Gamzee cartwheeling away from the cultist he was tryna bonk. He spins his clubs in a spinny manner, scanning the now still battlefield. Everyone stopped. The cultists, the primes, the surrounding forest, all of it stopped for just a moment. The leader of the cult ended his whistle with a sharp *click-click*, leaving the crater silent except for the oozing and bubbling of the tar below.

The first mournful cry left his stomach in knots and rolls, and Gamzee hadn't realized he was holding his breath until the second howl came, mixing and intermingling with the first in a sordid cacophony.

-----

The beast could smell blood in the air, coppery tones filling its flaring nose holes. it wasn't exactly self aware, but that doesn't mean that it lacked intelligence. It enjoyed things. Long, wicked claws to snatch and scratch dug into the soft moist soil of the forest. It took pleasure in the feeling of squishy loam between its digits before yanking them free with a satisfying sound akin to that of a blade being unsheathed. It made a sort of half grunt, half bark to indicate its location. A return bark sounded from its mate, her form fairly camouflaged in the thicket. Her fur was a warm, creamy sort of pale gray, with speckles of burnt orange scattered in various locations all along her body. It enjoyed this as well.

Its spaded tail swished and flicked to and fro - it was tired of waiting. And it was just as soon as it had reached this conclusion that it heard a harsh, harsh note pierce the forest quiet. The monster's vision slowly became shrouded in sharp crimson and before it lost this moment of quiet reflection and introspection, it briefly wondered what the color red tasted like.

-----

Two towering monstrosities erupted from the surrounding curtain of trees, all claws and jaws and wing and terror. They came through on four legs like animals but rose to their feet like men to threaten the heroes. Their heads seemed to be an amalgamation of forest creatures, some sort of blend between a deer and a wolf or a bat and a boar. They almost seemed to change with each passing glance, never fully committing to any one woodland critter. Leathery wings could be seen peeking past their muscular forms, folded back for the fight ahead. They stamp and stomp, scruffing the ground with their hooves, working themselves into a frenzy. The  foremost one had crown of proud antlers, and a coat of jet black fur with a lustrous sheen. The other had no antlers, but somewhat floppy ears that vaguely resembled those of a female deer. Her(?) fur was gray and mottled with specks. Very pretty, if she hadn't clearly been about to rip Gamzee to shreds.

The battlefield was once again silent upon the beasts arrival, save for their restrained snorting and huffing. Their bodies rippled with sinew and strength, raw power emanating from their forms. No one said a word. The warriors exchanged glances, and even the remaining cultists seemed nervous and out of sorts. In fact, the only one that looked pleased was the bat dude, there at the top of the crater's edge. The clown clenched his teeth, eyes on the two devils that stood before him. It was hard to remember the last time Gamzee had to strain to smirk, but even now his lips were tight, his smile a little forced.

"End them."

Before the troll could comprehend, something INCREDIBLY solid barrelled into his chest. His head snaps back as his body hits the ground, the smaller gray one pinning him to the dirt. Another deafening scream, this time right in his painted face. His ears were ringing and shit, his head hurt like hell, and honestly he was starting to think that maybe this whole shebang required just a little too much effort on his part. The creature bares steak knife teeth, clearly aiming to rip out the alien's throat. She would not get that far, however, as a white bolt of sick magicks slammed into the side of the beast's elongated face. The force of the blast knocked the monster clean off of Gamz, who kips right on up in a theatrical fashion, flashing his buddy and savior a toothy grin and a thumbs up. The clown retrieves his clubs and rejoins his party, ready to face these new foes.

The two animals howl in harmony, and Gamzee Makara howls right the fuck back at them.
If you're new to Omniverse Shenanigans, feel free to pm me about whatever piques your interest!

[Image: dlpaou6b73f.gif]
-by Jade Harley


Never Falter in the Face of Infinity.
-Tearan Wover
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#46
Illidan had kept silent since the other group had appeared on the other side of the crater. Most people didn’t react well to his presence, considering his nefarious appearance while winged, and his reputation had only plummeted with the general population since his failed assault on Darkshire. Yet it appeared these people may have been visiting the rent in the earth for a similar reason to Stormrage. Having seen the monster's handiwork before him and having felt the terrible thud of its heartbeat, perhaps allying himself with these others would be the intelligent choice. Whatever this beast was, there was a solid chance the night elf demon couldn’t handle it on his own.
 
Regardless of the group’s gut feeling about Illidan, fighting off the cultists and abominations that burst from the ether would help his case.
 
The night elf demon flared his wings and launched himself into the sky. The apex of a curved wave of smoke passed through Illidan’s clenched fist and dissipated, leaving behind one of his warglaives in its place. Channelling his fel energy, the demon forged steel ignited with emerald flames. Stormrage drifted above the violent scene below and hurled his warglaive at the earth. It spun like a shuriken, one of its pointed tips burrowing into the soil on impact. Heads and eyes craned upwards but they quickly returned to Illidan’s weapon as the flames expanded.
 
Clawed hands and muscular arms reached out from the green fire. They flailed around, searching for purchase. Grasping hold of the very steel they exuded from, the elemental limbs hauled out their owners that landed with a heated crash on the ground. A pair of four-feet tall demons composed entirely of light green fire solidified. Their torsos were thick and bulging with muscle, their legs and feet a tangle of licking flames, and their twisted countenances alive with malice.
 
Illidan dropped from the sky and reached out, ripping the warglaive from the earth with his telekinesis and returning it to his awaiting hand. His hooves collided with the torn earth. The others in the group didn’t know which way to look; to the winged visitor or the new flaming demons.
 
The night elf demon took a moment to analyse the motley group assembled before him. One was a human, clutching a spear and frowning. Another human wore a robe with his black hair pulled back in a ponytail, while another had a shock of white hair. The final member of the group had violet skin and horns like Illidan, but they were not as long nor as gnarled as his.
 
“Who the fuck is this?” the horned one blurted out.
 
“I sense we are chasing the same prey,” Illidan said. “Let us see to these... obstacles in our way first. Then we can talk.”
 
The Flames of Azzinoth raced at the wilderness abominations with a roar that sounded like the crackle of flame. Illidan hurdled over the group with a flourish of his wings and charged behind his summoned demons, warglaives thirsty for blood.
[Image: illidansig2.jpg]
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#47
Quote:Continuing on from THIS post.

“-p?”

China slipped off the branch, then flailed wildly, giving a brief shriek of fear and surprise, which sent small birds fluttering from nearby trees, before his claws sunk deep into bark, holding him in place. If he’d had a heart, it surely would have been pounding.

Looking around at his surroundings, he could see that he was hanging from the underside of the branch he’d lain down on last night, before drifting off to sleep, and…

Had that been a ‘dream’, then?

The golem was familiar with the word, but he couldn’t recall ever having dreamt anything before in his life. Was this just one of the many oddities of this new place? This… ‘Omniverse’, as the dream version of the white person—Omni—had called it?

It would seem so. More pressingly, though, there were other concerns right now; ruminating over strange thoughts whilst he slept could wait, “Much-much weird-odd place, where go-vanish all ground-grass? All gone-gone. Me-me not see-spot any, no.”

He shook his head in bewilderment. He could have sworn that he had fallen asleep right up near the treetops, on the very edge of a forest… yet the pine trees loomed all around him in every direction, their upper boughs towering far, far above his head, letting in almost no light. A long, long way beneath him, the forest floor was obscured completely by fog… in fact, he couldn’t even be sure there was a forest floor anymore.

This strange locale terrified him… he wanted to just curl up and hide… perhaps if he went back to sleep, eventually he’d wake up in somewhere that made sense?

Crawling back up onto the top of his sleeping branch, he peered around in the faint hopes of finding a small snack, at least… he’d not be able to rest again until he’d eaten something; of that he was certain. It was then, though, that he happened to look down at himself, and felt some small amount of courage return to him; he was whole again. Unlike in the dream, which otherwise had been very nice, his body here was in tip-top shape, not left in the same sorry state—the same ruined wreck—that Dane had left it in.

He lashed his two tails through the air behind him and smiled. Maybe this place wasn’t so bad after all, even if it wasn’t as cute and cuddly as his dream had been… he stood up on his hind legs, standing straight and tall now, bipedal, his tails keeping him perfectly balanced, he trod lightly across the thick bough, even as it got thinner and thinner nearer the end.

Thinking back on his dream, the Ceramic Beast began to see himself in a new light. No mere failure was he, no simple, worthless mistake. He held out two of his hands before him and looked at them closely, flexing his fingers and admiring the two-inch long talons that crowned them. Omni had made him something more than the Archmage who had created him had ever managed, or would even have dared to dream was possible.

Now, the golem had become something greater than a mere intelligence locked in a thin shell of unchanging porcelain; here, in the Omniverse, he could improve, he could grow. The feeling of hope was both eye-opening and shockingly addictive.

Just think of all the new foods he’d get to eat if he got so strong that no one could stop him...

He’d never tried dragon meat, or phoenix, or leviathan, or hydra…

All the great, mighty beasts that he’d cowered and fled from before, his for the taking...

China stood about as far out on the edge of the branch as he could realistically get. The wood beneath his feet was just barely over an inch thick, and creaking alarmingly. He thrust his arms out to the sides, partly to help maintain his balance, partly just to revel in this freakish feeling, this exhilarating elation, this delectable daydream. All he had to do was remain ‘interesting’ to Omni, and he’d come back to life if he ever died… more powerful than ever.

For all that he’d have loved to hang around marvelling at his own potential and visualising his inevitable ascendance to greatness (and all the bountiful banquets that came with it), the sharp, burning pain in his stomach, as always, chained him to the harsh, violent plane of reality.

Even if, now, he was seeing the world through new eyes. The hunger seemed less like a curse, and more like a challenge, “Yes-yes, it hurt much-lots, but hurt-sore good thing, yes, keep-make busy-busy, not let-allow get boring. Always eat… always hunger… always fight... get-get stronger.”

China bounced lightly on his feet, making his already precarious position more dangerous still. A large part of him—which he tried to think of as being the 'old', weak version of himself—screamed and wept and freaked out inside his head, demanding he scramble back and go hug the tree trunk for comfort, digging his claws deep into its bark in an effort at keeping from having even the tiniest possible chance of slipping to his untimely death.

He ignored that voice of cowardice, though, managing to push it roughly aside, even as he trembled with fright at the thought of slipping and dashing himself painfully against whatever rocks or hard things lurked below. In fact, instead of being cautious, as much to prove to himself that he could as anything else, he edged slightly further out, eliciting some more ominous creaking from the branch. He laughed softly, more than a tinge of hysteria in his tone. Logically, he knew that he ought to still be able to fly—and honestly, as it was upon this assumption, given to him by his dream, that he was basing his entire, new philosophy, he certainly hoped that it was accurate—but even so, he was strangely reluctant to test that out.

The coward in him was too scared of the magic not working properly and sending him plummeting down below, while the greedier, newly realised, ambitious part of him wanted to hold off on confirming it for now… leaving that discovery until the last possible moment before he crashed into something solid and shattered himself into millions of pieces would be absolutely horrifying… and so it would hopefully go some way towards proving to Omni that he was willing to take what he had been told on faith, and so would be engaging in all sorts of reckless activities... and as such would be one Prime worth keeping an eye on (and rewarding with amazing new powers and abilities as well, of course).

He was so scared, and yet… it was really, really weird how exhilarating this felt at the same time. He’d never before let himself even entertain the slightest of ideas that danger could be exciting, yet now, with the possibility of immortality before him—so long as he kept Omni’s favour—the idea of risking everything suddenly held some strange allure to him.

Closing his eyes and mouth for a moment, he focused on changing his face, then, after a couple seconds, opened his now-vertical mouth, splitting his face in two and peering out at the world through his true, third eye. Then he thrust his head back and gave a shriek of mingled joy and terror, far louder than his whispery, quiet, little voice could ordinarily have produced. The discordant, horrid screech carried on and on and on, with the golem looking straight up, paying no attention to his surroundings, in a highly precarious location, intentionally attracting attention to himself. It was borderline suicidal, and yet his craven side—the ‘flight’ part of his ‘fight or flight’ response—couldn’t even object to such idiocy, as the scream was as much a result of its animalistic fear as it was the primal excitement of his more savage half.

At last, the cry cut out. The Ceramic Beast remained leaning back for a few moments longer, indulging in the unusual, dry, hoarse sensation in his throat… as a being whose only experience of pain was the feeling of intense hunger, China was incapable of actually getting a sore throat, no matter how badly he abused the magic which served him in place of vocal cords… but he could feel something there now, at least... and he knew from experience that after shrieking like that, he wouldn’t be able to talk for a little while.

All the sounds of the forest had been drowned out by his screaming, but he could hear them now, in the distance. Crawling, creeping, skittering, chittering things. They sounded horribly scary. They sounded like they’d eat up a poor, little, hungry person for breakfast… China wanted to cower, but instead he hurled himself forwards.

Off the branch, he shot, racing towards the thick, bare trunk of a towering behemoth of a tree, the upper branches of which were still coated with needles, despite the lower part being so unadorned. He would have cried out in terror again, if he’d still had his voice.

As well as moving forwards, he was also plummeting downwards. So fast. The Ceramic Beast was locked in a battle of minds with himself. With every millisecond that passed, it became harder and harder to resist the impulse to try to fly. Of course, he still couldn’t even guarantee that it would work. If that dream had all been a lie, if his newfound ability did turn out to have merely been a limited-time-only fluke, as a result of the laws of physics temporarily forgetting that golems were not a type of bird, then he was going to die here.

And if his dream had also been wrong about coming back to life, by the grace of Omni… then he’d be dying for good. His craven soul had the cold, hard, inarguable force of logic on its side, while his ambition had nothing more than a silly figment of its imagination to support its belief in his power, his potential. There was no way that such an intelligent being as China should be acting in such a foolish way… and yet here he was, having tossed himself off a high place without even knowing for sure he would live through it. It was madness.

As he approached his destruction destination at high speed, the Ceramic Beast wanted nothing more than to curl up into a little, shivering ball and jam his eyelid-mouth closed, to block out the inevitable in his last moment of life, as if by not witnessing his doom, he could avoid it’s harsh reality.

His body, however, had other ideas, and instead his mouth opened even wider, whilst his arms he held out to the sides, as if offering oblivion a welcoming embrace.

He couldn’t have been more than a metre from smashing himself into untold millions of tiny shards when he finally gave in to the clamours of his self-preservation instinct and attempted to fly. He lurched, feeling for a moment like his body was about to implode in on itself as he struggled to combat the allied forces of gravity and momentum. He managed to endure it, though. If just barely.

When he did come to a dead stop, the Ceramic Beast was under an inch from the surface of the tree trunk. Had he been able to bring himself to hesitate but a single moment longer, to further enhance the rush of the fall, the exhilaration of the risk, and (hopefully) the Omni-impressing-ness of his daredevil attitude… he’d not have survived.

Hands and feet slamming into the bark of the barren trunk, he dug in his talons as firmly as he could, to hold him steady as he shivered and shuddered in fear and excitement. Inside his mind, China laughed and sobbed hysterically at the sheer stupidity of the act he had just taken—he would have been literally driven to tears by it, were he physically capable of crying—and tried to ignore how much fun it had been. He failed in that attempt, and his greedy, hungry side grew just a tiny bit more influential.

Externally, his voice was still exhausted by that shriek, though, so he made no actual noise right then, other than those small thuds as his claws buried themselves in wood.

From somewhere nearby, more of those chittering, skittering noises resounded… the forest making the sounds echo a little. And then the golem spotted something. Crawling around from the other side of the tree trunk was some sort of arachnid… though its eight eyes extended on quivering, flexing stalks, like those of a slug or snail, rather than staying put in its head, like they ought to have.

Suddenly remembering his all-consuming hunger at the sight of prey, China lunged. Stretching his body as far as he could, he released his grip on the bark with his upper-right hand, the appendage locking around the food’s body—which was over a foot long—before it could scurry away. The tips of his claws dug into it, cracking through the brittle exoskeleton as if it were no more than an eggshell. It writhed, limbs jerking madly, and succeeded in turning enough to sink its mandibles into his wrist… only to discover the complete lack of flesh and blood beneath.

Normally, this would have been extremely funny to the golem… however, a fraction of a second later, he felt a sudden, intense, burning pain in that wrist. Aside from his ever-present hunger, this was the first time he had ever actually experienced such a thing in his entire existence… and it was by no means pleasant. He couldn’t comprehend how or why the creature’s venom should be able to cause him to experience such sensations when nothing else could… but he could only assume that, like him, this thing had been changed in some way by Omni upon coming here, and that as a result its poisons could affect him, even though his body lacked any veins through which they could flow.

Yanking back the afflicted arm—the food still clutched tightly in his hand—he shoved the eight-legs at his mouth and though it scrabbled and jerked, it could not keep itself from being forced into that great, gaping maw. With a snap and crunch, his jaws clamped shut, biting the food in half and splattering his body with ichor.

Once again, though, he felt a sudden, burning, searing pain, this time inside his mouth itself, as the creature’s toxic insides ate away at the void of nothingness that lay beneath his porcelain shell. Opening his mouth, he failed to scream in agony, for he still lacked a voic...and alas, despite these horrible sensations, his appetite was still far from sated, and so, even knowing the pain it would cause, the Ceramic Beast forced the rest of the food down his gullet.

So sooner had he done so, though, than another three rounded the tree trunk, chittering shrilly amongst themselves. Whimpering with reluctance, the golem used an unharmed hand—his upper-left—to snatch up one of these; grabbing it by the abdomen this time, in the hopes of keeping from being bitten.

It made no difference. Demonstrating an extraordinary flexibility for a creature whose exterior was comprised of hard plates of chitin, the eight-legs bent almost in half, and like the one before, managed to sink its mandibles into his limb—this one getting him in the forearm, rather than wrist—and pump venom out into his insides.

Once more, he bit it in half, though by then the other couple were upon him, and five more had arrived behind them, soon to be followed by a dozen more.

Realising at last that these strange, stalk-eyed spiders actually posed a threat, rather than merely made for extremely unsatisfying meals, China kicked off from his perch, tumbling backwards—completely out of control—down through the air. It was too late, though, for already over half a score of the vile things were scurrying around over his pristine form, sinking in their little teeth and injecting more of their vile fluids into him, bright blooms of pain erupting all over and throughout his body.

He writhed, swatting and clawing at them, crushing or tossing away those he could catch. He was no longer eating them; by now, the pain of their poison had piled up to such an extent that his eternal hunger seemed as nothing by comparison. His mouth was locked wide open; he would have been shrieking uncontrollably, had he been able to do so.

They crashed through a thin branch, taking it down with them, the force of the impact obliterating one of the tarantulas and shattering enough porcelain to carve a long chasm in China’s back.

The golem was so preoccupied that he barely noticed. It was only when fog appeared around them, and quickly thickened, that it occurred to him that the ground was fast approaching, and that he might be terminally dashed against it at any moment… and then it took him a couple seconds longer following that realisation to be absolutely sure that that was not what he wanted.

An end to this new sensation of pain would be nice indeed… but Omni might not appreciate his Primes just giving up and dying; if he didn’t try to live, the white person might rescind that offer of rebirth… China might find himself dead for good.

So once again, he wrenched his body to a halt in mid-air, struggling to maintain the focus necessary to keep from continuing to fall as he flailed and twisted in his attempts at ridding himself of his unwanted hitchhikers.

At last, after a couple more minutes of this, there was only one left, and his voice had returned enough that he could now manage a quiet, hoarse moan of pain. The food was on his right shoulder, and sunk its fangs into his neck. In response, the Ceramic Beast sent himself rocketing backwards—through a few needle-covered branches—to slam, shoulder-first, into the trunk of one of the many pine trees in his vicinity.

The food was crushed, its ichor splattering wood and porcelain alike… but in the process, China’s shoulder had been annihilated as well, and his upper-right arm—still spasming violently from the venom coursing through it—hovered in the air at his side, rather than being actually attached to him any more.

His power of flight pressing him roughly against the tree with such force that he felt as if the world had spun ninety degrees and gravity was pressing him down on some inordinately thick branch, the golem writhed, clutching his arms tightly around himself, struggling—but, ultimately, failing—not to scratch at the sore spots, and carve deep grooves through his own carapace, even though he was sorely tempted to throw logic to the winds and seek to physically tear the corruption out of his body.

At last, though, when China was much worse for ware, the pain faded enough that he was able to regain control of himself… reaching back and digging his talons into the tree, the Ceramic Beast quit using his odd, new ability, immediately slouching as true gravity reasserted itself. Had he been made from flesh and blood, his muscles would have been aching, his breaths laboured, and his skin slicked with sweat… as it was, though, having no muscle, no lungs, and no sweat glands, he simply hung there, immobile, feeling tremendously heavy—as if all his porcelain and all the empty air within had been switched out with lead when he wasn’t looking—and very tired, struggling to even keep his eye open.

Gradually, however, as the final remnants of the agonies he had experienced died out, his old nemesis—that all-consuming hunger—reasserted itself, the fading of the toxins seeming to multiply this pain exponentially, just as their abrupt arrival had for a time silenced it.

He groaned, then released his hand- and footholds, one by one, and slowly began to clamber down through the needle-laden branches of the immense tree, at times slipping and almost falling before he managed to regain his balance, grab ahold of something, or had to resort to using his power again. As he got further and further down, the banks of mist grew ever thicker, closing in on him from every side, until he could scarcely see two feet in front of his face.

It was then, at long, long last, that he stood on something other than a branch. At first, he thought he had reached the ground… but no… it was much too soft and squishy… and slimy.

Slipping down onto all sixes fives, with his upper-right arm still hovering off to one side, the golem leaned forwards, getting as close a look at the spongy surface as he could, his vertical mouth widening to afford him a better view. It was dull green in colour, and covered in a layer of gunge about a centimetre thick. It smelled… edible. Food-y. Perhaps not quite as appetising as some of the meals he’d had in the past, but as hungry as he was, China wasn’t feeling picky.

He sank his fangs into the muculent mass, only for them to fail to penetrate the thing’s rubbery skin. Gulping down a mouthful of vile-tasting slime, he tried again, and this time did eventually manage to keep his teeth from slipping off. The large lump shifted as his fangs dug in, and lovely, sweet blood flowed down the golem’s gullet.

Well, ‘lovely’ might have been an exaggeration, but it didn’t cause him pain to swallow, so that was something, at least.

Doing the best he could to hang on with his claws as well—completely forgetting that he could have just hovered in place—China struggled ever harder to close his jaws and tear free a piece of meat from this great goliath, despite the slick ooze beneath his feet and hands threatening to send him sliding away with every tiny twitch it made.

And then, as his teeth dug in further, a low, loud, mournful moan echoed through the trees, and the thing jerked violently, almost sending him flying. He couldn’t fail to notice the loud cracking and snapping of breaking wood, as branches and possibly even entire trees were knocked down by the passage of whatever this huge lump was.

And then, suddenly, looming out of the fog in front of him, the Ceramic Beast saw a great chunk of slimy flesh approach—in fact, the mist even seemed to thin as it closed in, affording him a better view—which then split right down the middle, two layers of slimy skin peeling back to reveal an enormous, gelatinous eyeball, staring straight at him.

It was terrifying… but with the taste of flesh and blood already in his maw and his belly screaming to be filled, China couldn’t contain himself. He reared back, pulling with all his might, and succeeded in tearing free a juicy hunk of meat.

This time, the big food’s bellow was far, far louder, and its body spasmed so powerfully that the slime did its job, hurling the porcelain golem away, sending him shooting back through the air amidst the sound of more cracking wood. He came to a stop on a tree which was still standing. That was the good news. The bad news was that as he stopped, a pair of the branches had managed to impale him right through the chest.

Swiping at the now-needle-stripped branches with his claws to break off the parts which ended outside his body, the Ceramic Beast then heaved himself free of the pair supporting his weight and fell for a moment, before landing on a lower branch and sinking smoothly into a crouch.

Logically, the best thing to do now—and the thing which he most certainly would have done, ordinarily—would be to leap away from tree to tree as fast as his body could carry him, all thought forgotten as he fled in a state of sheer, mindless terror from the horribly vast abomination upon which he had foolishly tried to feed.

The Omniverse, however, was by no means a logical place. Omni had confessed as much to the golem himself. All he had to do was be interesting, and he could continue to get stronger, and would even be reborn should he fall… as ludicrous as it sounded, in the long term, being cautious and avoiding danger may actually turn out to be more detrimental to his chances of survival than throwing himself headlong into harm’s way.

“Need-need get big-strong, not stay-keep be dead, must-got fight-eat, yes. Me plan-thought much good-smart, yes-yes.” muttering incoherently to himself, the porcelain person slunk forwards along his new perch, as far as he could get before it began to creak ominously under his weight. Pushing aside a few branches blocking his vision, he took in the view before him, and hissed softly.

More of the fog had cleared, and he could now see the true size of the freakish, cyclopean, maggot-like monstrosity he had bitten… and the sizes of all the others around it. They filled the forest in every direction, completely obscuring the earth beneath them, their bloated bodies slumped and squeezed in between trees, though now many of them had risen slightly and turned to look towards the slightly injured one, giving soft moans of their own in response to its wails of pain.

They did all still seem rather torpid, though, with the only exception being the nearest one, with what looked from here like a tiny trickle of blood running down its flank. It bellowed again, twisting and lurching as it tried to get closer.

Being the obliging fellow he was, China aided it in this endeavour by jumping from his spot, launching himself straight at its single, bulging eyeball.
[Image: chinasig3.png]
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#48
In the quest to hunt down and destroy an infernal, castle-sized monster, the last thing one expected was to be ambushed by a cadre of cultists and their demonic allies.

Regrettably, the crusade to re-extinguish the Tarrasque had led the group of barely amenable rivals into a tar- and demon-filled trap. Now, the battle had been joined by one of Darkshire’s newest boogeymen. Although they had yet to be acquainted, the sorcerer recognized the prime from descriptions, images, and other various documents filed in the aftermath of the attack on the city. While there had certainly been other primes throwing themselves at the walls and basements of Darkshire, Illidan Stormrage had been the ringleader. The fact that the blindfolded warrior wrenched demons from the earth did not favors to his image.

That would have to wait until later, because at the moment, the situation demanded that Shang place his focus elsewhere.

With his teeth bared, the sorcerer twisted his lithe frame of avoid the thrusting sword of a hooded cultist. Without skipping a beat, the shoved his own palms forward and hurtled a screaming, skull-shaped orb of fire dead center into his would-be assailant’s chest. The burst of fire and concussive force threw the fanatic to the ground, and before they could shake away the cobwebs, there was a foot of steel through their chest.

“Y-you will feed its rage!” The dying human wailed before a twist of the blade finished its futile existence.

“Feed the dirt,” Shang muttered as he wrenched the jian free from the carcass and lifted his eyes to see more entertainment closing in around him. Glancing away for a moment, the sorcerer spotted the Spartan twenty paces away and dealing with a trio of unhooded drow. Elsewhere, Strazio Rockwell sidestepped an errant swing and replied by punching a wave of crackling white energy through the chest of cultist who was alive one second and entirely deceased the next.

Never one to feel upstaged, Shang Tsung cracked his neck and rushed his approaching foes. They fell back just as soon as he broke into a sprint, and even though he knew there was a reason, he couldn’t bring himself to a stop before the ground beneath his heels buckled. Something obscene slipped his lips as the Defender of Darkshire twisted and launched himself back as hard as his legs would let him. He landed awkwardly on an upturned sheet of rock and felt the air knocked from his lungs.

Before he had a chance to regain his composure, a clawed hand latched against his right ankle. Rather than pull him into the abyss of the Primordial Scar, the demon dragged a wide-eyed Shang Tsung up into the air.

Looking down at the ground as it slipped away, the sorcerer reached out toward the blade that now rested five feet beneath his outstretched fingers. The handle jiggled on the despoiled soil, but before it could skitter up off the ground and return to its master, the winged demon let out a terrible screech. Shang craned his neck and saw the spear buried through the monstrosity’s chest. With acrid blood bubbling from the fatal wound, the creature’s wings went slack, and it dropped to the ground with its sorcerous cargo.

Shang grimaced as he crashed back to earth, but the moment he landed, he quickly threw himself hard to the left to avoid the carcass of the winged demon. Once he was safe from being crushed beneath a few hundred pounds of fel monster, the sorcerer willed his sword back into his hand and glanced over at his sneering companion.

The Spartan was surrounded by three broken corpses. More likely than not, he had tried to insult their lack of musculature before disemboweling them. “You still need to work off that rust, Sorcerer?” The ancient warrior laughed before he registered the scowl on his ally’s visage. “Is that the salt you taste?” Without a response, Shang took a pair of steps forward and hurtled his sword at Atelos.

Yelping despite himself, the Spartan tensed as the blade rushed passed the side of his head and struck something soft and unmanly a few paces behind him. Twisting his neck, Atelos watched as the cultist—jian half-buried through his neck—let out a few gurgling rasps before collapsing into a robed heap. When the Grecian returned his eyes to his friend, he saw that now it was the sorcerer who wore the sneer.

“I knew he was there!” Atelos shouted.
[Image: Shang.jpg]
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#49
Shouts and screams, a sound that had once been music to Clownpiece’s ears, the beautiful melody of madness and mayhem, now only filled her with dread. These weren’t the cries of pathetic, terrified humans fighting desperately for their lives, nor the enraged shouts of maddened bystanders, desperately trying to fight anyone that so much as looked at them funny. These were the well-organized yells of a relatively skilled monster-hunting force, barking out commands to each other and threats towards the beast. This beast, of course, being her beloved pet.

The star-spangled girl yelled out protest after protest in a high-pitched, distraught tone, her small hands desperately clawing at Dane’s outfit in a vain effort to rein him in. Her wings fluttered frantically as she tried pulling him back with all her might, but all her pleas fell on deaf ears, ignored by the swordsman, and unheard by the Darkshire Guards, drowned out by their own shouts, as well as the various other sounds of strife. Crossbow bolts tore through the air and shattered ragged holes into the panicking Afrátos’ body, before breaking the glass of the window behind him, providing the ceramic beast with the perfect escape.

And yet he didn’t feel just yet. Perched atop the windowsill, in the small lull whilst the guards quickly reloaded their crossbows, Afrátos turned back, his expression as stony as ever, his head and bright orange eyes swiveling from one object of his terror, the swordsman, over to his only solace, Clownpiece. An almost pleading gaze glinted in those glassy eyes, one last hope for the fairy to put a stop to this madness. But stopping madness had never been the little girl’s specialty.

In an instant, Dane tore himself free from his friend’s grasp, surprising strength surging through his normally human body as he shoved her roughly to the side. The hell fairy barely managed to catch herself before crashing into the bloodsoaked floor, floating just inches above it, turned on her side, her wings beating furiously. Caught off balance, there was nothing she could do as the swordsman hurled himself forward, sword at the ready, towards the already-battered form of her pet. The beast’s body tensed in panic, though there was still no fearful glint in his unexpressive eyes, and immediately he whipped around, trying to wriggle himself out of the half-open window. Too late, unfortunately.

The sound of ceramic shattering overpowered the rest of the mayhem, and for a brief moment following that tremendous crash, everything fell silent. Afrátos’ fragile form fell right out of the window, one half, his legs, shattering against the ground inside, while the other suddenly found itself floating, of all things, just outside. A development all of them, including the floating beast itself, found very surprising. Quiet exclamations, likely about how demonic Afrátos seemed, escaped several of the guards, who had, for the most part, stopped in the middle of reloading their crossbows.

Of course, the almost silent shock of this new development didn’t last all that long. The ceramic beast’s fight or flight response kicked in almost immediately, and with little more than a shocked glance towards its missing lower half, it spun around in the air and took off. More frantic shouts rose up from the Darkshire Guards, orders and demands to chase down the hellspawn, and without further ceremony, two of the guards split off, barrelling out the smashed door, crossbows at the ready as they chased down the fleeing Afrátos, leaving in their wake the other two guards. Likely to stick around, perhaps question and congratulate the fairy and the swordsman for taking down the shapeshifters. A task they never got to.

“Dane..?” The moment even the briefest silence fell over the broken and blood-soaked inn, Clownpiece took full advantage of it, her childish voice falling into a low, seething growl. Her expression contorted into one of almost perfectly pure fury as she righted herself in midair, the dread and hopelessness she felt as she’d been unable to save her pet replaced only by a deep-seated rage. At the mention of his name, the blonde-haired swordsman slowly turned to face her, face bearing the mark of his usual uncaring demeanor. If he heard the outrage in the little fairy’s voice, he didn’t show any sign of it.

“Yeah?” Dane asked. In direct contrast to the child’s irate tone, his was calm and level. Infuriatingly so. Here he was, not more than a minute after having tried (and succeeded, to a degree) to smash Afrátos to pieces, and he was being so nonchalant about it? As if he didn’t even hear her tone?

“Y-You just...” Clownpiece stuttered out through clenched teeth, bright purple eyes narrowed in a sharp glare, her tiny body shaking with fury. 

“Well, yeah. What’d I tell you?” Hidden in his uncaring voice was a small hint of condescension, almost as though this was her fault and not his, and he casually sheathed his sword again. “You couldn’t keep it under control, so it had to be put down.”

“Th-That’s not...” Her voice trembled, both of her small hands now clenching the smooth wood of her torch, knuckles turning white with the strain. “Y-You...” Her voice fell to a whisper for just a moment, before she sucked in a shaky breath, still meeting Dane’s eyes with a black look. “I can’t believe you!” The fairy shouted indignantly, screwing her eyes such as she desperately swept her torch down in front of her, its lunatic flame flaring up brighter with her surging emotions. A wave of brilliant, maddening light surged out from the fire which, though Clownpiece couldn’t see it with her eyes shut as they were, washed over Dane and the two guards, leaving them all wearing vaguely confused expressions as the star-spangled girl vanished not only from their sights but their memories, and without a moment of hesitation, the little fairy shot off, right back the way she came.

In such a small, cramped hotel, it wasn’t long before Clownpiece was back up on the second floor. Though she slowed down for a moment, enough so she didn’t ram the door full-speed, she didn’t so much as hesitate in opening it. All the anger she’d felt earlier, at her pet and at Cirno for tearing her hat, had been overshadowed, replaced only by a deep seed of betrayal. A tremendous crack echoed throughout the room, the worn-down building shuddering as the door, flung violently open by the hell fairy, slammed into the wall. The two residents of the room that weren’t Yuuka jumped in their skin at this sudden surprise, heads whipping around, eyes wide as they turned to whatever had decided to join them. Only to immediately relax, not quite breathing a sigh of relief as the aura of madness faded away from the star-spangled girl, revealing her to their minds once again.

“Jeez, where have you been?” 
“Wow! Yikes! What happened to you?”

Two voices spoke up simultaneously, talking over each other. One from the ice fairy sitting at the foot of the bed shared by her, Yuuka, and Clownpiece, the other from the college student laying over in hers across the room. Both of them, having been tensed at the sudden intrusion, were casual once again. The first had been that of Cirno, leaning back against the bed with her hands behind her head, the broken (and hastily fixed) hat of her friend perched atop her head. Had the hell fairy not been consumed by anger at a certain other someone at that moment, she would’ve stormed over there and ripped that hat right off Cirno’s head. Renko, on the other hand, simply returned to laying on her back on her bed, tablet held aloft over her head, though rather than screwing around with it, her eyes were fixed on the blood-soaked fairy.

“We’re going.” The blonde, hatless child growled, not bothering to answer either of their questions. She dropped to the floor, her drenched tights squelching a little bit as she landed, but if the sorry state of them bothered her at all, it didn’t show over her pissed expression.

“Going? Is it time already?” Yuuka asked, yawning a bit as she regretfully lifted her head from her pillow, rising to a sit in her and the fairies’ shared bed.

“No, we’re leaving,” Clownpiece answered rather unhelpfully, crossing her arms impatiently over her chest as she stayed right in her spot just in front of the door.

“Alright. Where do you want to go, then?” For what it was worth, the flower youkai caught on to the fairy’s unhelpful addition quickly, not questioning why she was saying what she was saying.

“I-I don’t know!” The hell fairy stammered, not having really thought any of this through. “The Shrine? Anywhere but here!”

“What about DA?” Renko chipped in from the side, returning her gaze from the fairy to her tablet. “Unless too much death is why you’re uh...” Though her eyes were focused on her device, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she was referring to the child’s rather gruesome appearance.

“DA?” Clownpiece asked, turning her attention towards the college student, a little bit of curiosity creeping into her voice, but not even to even come close to overshadowing her ire.

“You know, Dante’s Abyss? The death tournament you and Cirno were in last year?” She prompted.

“Oh, that? It’s back already?” At the mention of that, the fairy seemed to calm down a bit, interest creeping across her face as she remembered the excitement of last year’s event. “Alright! We’re going to DA then!” Without really anything in the way of deliberation or consideration, Clownpiece made her announcement, energetically spinning around right back towards the doorway, paying no mind to whether anyone else agreed with her impulse.

“Woah wait a second!” It was Cirno who raised the first objection, halting the hell fairy mid-step. “What about the Ta... Tass...”

“Tarrasque.” Renko finished for her.

“Yeah, that!” The ice fairy cried indignantly, a small thump sounding behind Clownpiece as she leaped to her feet. “I didn’t come all the way over here just to leave!”

“Well I am leaving!” The lunatic fae shot back, spinning right back around to face her friend, ire once again back in her voice. “If you wanna stick around and get eaten by some dumb monster, then be my guest!”

“Maybe I will!” Cirno too took up an aggressive stance, staring down her fairy friend with a piercing glare.

“Well I wanna get home before DA starts, so you can have fun with that.” Renko cut in, bed groaning as she slowly eased herself up and off of it.

“W-Well, me and Yuuka will beat it up then!” Though she started off uncertain, it didn’t take a moment for her defiance to come right back.

“I don’t know...” Next came the flower youkai’s opinion, spoken in her usual, dangerously casual tone. “A death tournament does sound fun...” A pout appeared on Cirno’s face with those words. 

“F-F-Fine!” It took a moment and a few stutters, but even with everyone against her, the ice fairy continued on as stubborn as ever, crossing her arms over her chest and spinning around til her back was towards the rest of them. “I don’t need you guys anyway! I’ll just take it down on my own!”

“Sure you will,” Yuuka said calmly, almost silently laughing, ruffling the fairy’s short hair as she rose to her feet and passed by her. “Make sure to cheer for us~” To this, Cirno offered nothing more than a half-hearted protest, still turned defiantly away.

“Alright! Let's get going!” Clownpiece cheered, her voice a mixture of smug and excited as she spun about, ready to lead the way once again. Though where exactly she was going to lead was a mystery. She didn’t know where the sign-ups or whatever it was she needed was, but like hell she was gonna show it. Instead, she just confidently skipped forward, for all of a step before stopping right in her tracks. Again.
As if forgetting just how boisterous she’d been for the past few minutes, the little fairy crept forward the last inch she needed, peering suspiciously around the doorway and out into the empty hall. First one way, and then the next. Other than the faint outline of dust floating about, there was no movement. Perfect.

“Looking out for someone, Clowny?” And suddenly Yuuka was right there. Clownpiece just about jumped in her skin, her heart skipping a beat. In an instant, she pulled back from the doorway.

“No! I’m just...” she began denying energetically, flailing her arms a bit and turning to look up at the looming youkai. “Uh... There’s danger down the stairs so er... let's sneak out the window?”

“Danger, huh?” Yuuka’s eyes narrowed, a thin smile appearing on her face as she studied the fairy. Clownpiece smiled nervously, almost immediately realizing that was the worst possible excuse she could have used around Yuuka. “Sure, why don’t we do that.” But instead of reacting how she expected, the towering youkai almost seemed to realize what she was getting at.

“Uh, we’re on the second floor?” Renko chipped in once again, from the side, but her words went ignored by the mystical duo.

“Great! Thanks mo-erh...” The fairy cheered, once again having forgotten what an inside voice was. A cheer which quickly devolved into a nervous cough as she slipped up. “... Yuuka...” she corrected after gathering herself again. To that, Yuuka simply smiled.

“Do you guys at least have a ladder or something?”

“There’s one right out in the hallway here!” Clownpiece said, slipping out into the hallway, all pretense of being sneaky gone. The two accompanying her quickly followed suit.

“Great, let’s just grab that and...” Of course, what Renko thought was the fairy telling her there was a ladder out in the hall was, in fact, her talking about there being a window. Almost as though Clownpiece hadn’t heard her in the first place. A fact she didn’t realize until the star-spangled girl roughly threw open the decrepit window, grabbed hold of her and, with a strength unbefitting of her size, promptly jumped out the window. If the early morning sunlight, just starting to wash over the somber city, hadn’t woken up the residents of Darkshire yet, the college student’s scream certainly did.
[Image: testclown.png]
Yuuka Kazami Wrote:Reimu comes back to make another pass at Meira and she just has an idiot neck child.
Credit to Yuuka for the sig
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#50
All that remained of the severely underprepared cultists were a couple stragglers and the tawny-furred beast. While the death of one beast was enough to send most of them running it merely sent the other beast into a frenzy. Its howl filled the battlefield with grief as the monstrosity examined its kin’s corpse. Strazio almost felt bad for it, but considering he was on the business end of its teeth a few moments ago his empathy was in short supply. As he approached the beast it snarled and reared back on its hindquarters. At the base of its chest a misplaced mouth stretched open, revealing rows of fangs. A thick rope-like tongue launched out from this toothy abyss and careened towards the mage. He swore and jumped to the side, but found that the tongue was quicker than he had imagined. Like a muscle-bound tentacle it wrapped itself around his leg and yanked him off balance. He hit the dirt and the beast’s biological winch began to reel him in. Scrambling to break free the mage grabbed at the off-pink vine and tried to claw his leg free. His eyes glanced towards the voracious chompers that waited hungrily. White-hot magicks sizzled in his palm and he fired a blast at the fleshy cord. Dirt was sent flying and the scent of seared meat filled the air, but the animal’s thick tongue showed little more than a few singes.

A blur of wings and blades and wrath rushed past the fallen defender. Flourishing his curved blades the night elf carved through the beast’s tongue. Strazio thrashed about in the muck, struggling to get his footing. A horrid wail escaped the creature’s mouth as every heartbeat pushed thick black blood out of its severed tongue. Rockwell spit out some dirt and glanced at his savior.

“Thanks,” Strazio muttered, “but who are--”

The defender’s words were drowned out by the monster’s screaming. Claws dug deep into the dirt and with a surge of tightened muscles the beast lunged forward. Illidan took a step back, ready to sidestep the charging beast. Strazio stepped forward, clasping a hand on the demon hunter’s shoulder and pushing him aside. The defender’s body lit up with sparks as he eyed his target. These sparks crackled across his forearms, covering his skin with charred pock marks. With the monster only a few feet away Strazio threw his arms forward, forming a diamond with his hands, and thrusting his palms outward. Magick arced across his fingertips and his hands turned bright white. A massive burst of destructive magick tore forth from his hands, swallowing the monster with explosive malice.

“Fuck off!” Strazio screamed with his blast.

As the final surge of magick left the mage’s arms he let them fall limp. Blood trickled down his arm and dribbled off his fingertips. Magick demanded a price be paid its currency was flesh. But a few lacerations were nothing to the maniac that was Strazio Rockwell. All that remained of the cultist’s abomination was a smoldering hunk of charred meat. Strazio chuckled and turned around to face his companions.

“So, anyways,” Strazio said, between breaths, “who are you?”
Shang answered for the night elf, “Illidan.”

Strazio’s eyes went wide and he glanced over at the winged elf. Standing before him was the menace of Darkshire. How many innocent lives had he taken? Too many, far too many for Strazio’s liking. Rage washed over the defender like a tsunami. Reaching a flashpoint Strazio rushed the winged marauder. A flash of white light ripped across the avatar’s body as his flesh was torn away to reveal a fiery endoskeleton. This burning force of hatred tackled Illidan to the ground.

“I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!”

The duo tumbled to the ground, with Strazio ending up on top. Blow after blow rained down upon the demon hunter like a hail of stones. Strazio’s rage-fueled screams underpinned the entire event. Illidan swiped at his assailant, cutting a line across the frenzied beserker. Strazio leaned back to avoid another swipe and Illidan used this half-second of instability to throw the avatar aside. Like a feral animal Strazio scratched about in the mud and righted himself, but the nimble night elf had already sprang to his feet. Wasting no movements Illidan began to charge an orb of green magic and after a few seconds fired the projectile at the charging avatar. Strazio’s momentum evaporated as Illidan’s telekinesis enveloped him. Gravity disappeared and the rage mage was thrown backwards on Stormrage’s whim.

“You should learn to temper your anger,” Illidan quipped.

“FUCK YOU!” Strazio screamed through a distorted voice and thrashed against Illidan’s telekinetic vice.

“I’m not here to fight you,” Illidan addressed the others.

“FUKKEN LIAR!” the avatar screeched.

“Yo, yo, yo, motherfucker,” Gamzee said, stepping between the two, “if you ain’t here to tussle, what’s your game tall, dark, and wicked?”

"Illidan Stormrage, Lord of Poenari Castle. I seek to vanquish the beast that lurks in the Moors. And I believe I will not be sufficient to take it down alone." Illidan answered.

“You mean the Tarrasque,” Shang noted and glanced at the roiling ball of rage several meters away. A slight smirk teased his lips, “I think we have to take any help we can get.”

“SHANG YOU FUCKING TRAITOR!”

“This thing’s the real motherfuckin’ deal ain’t it?” Gamzee asked Shang.

Atelos answered for him, “it is a force of destruction, rivaled by none.”

The troll nodded and turned towards his mentor. Illidan’s grip on the avatar of rage loosened and he bounded across the crater. Illidan readied his blades and braced himself for impact, but Gamzee stepped between them. Strazio nearly struck Gamzee down, but stayed his fiery hand. For a moment the two locked eyes.

“Move,” the avatar demanded.

Gamzee shook his head and clasped a hand on Strazio’s shoulder, “come on brother, we’re not here to fight him.”

“No,” Strazio seethed, “but I’ll gladly take the detour.”

“Listen, we run outta steam fighting him, and we won’t have a motherfuckin’ thing left for that Trasq thing,” Gamzee said, “we gotta prioritize bro, he ain’t going anywhere, but I’ve gotta feeling that if we don’t stop Trasq, it’s going straight to Darkshire.”

For a moment Strazio stood and fumed. His body shuddered and a flash of electricity coursed across his frame. He exhaled and his eyes flashed green. After a few moments his flesh began to rematerialize and wrap itself around the avatar’s endoskeleton. He stepped past the troll and pointed a finger at the demon hunter.

“Once this is over,” Strazio growled, “I’m ripping your throat out.”

“Once this is over,” Illidan said, narrowing his eyes, “ we will have other matters to discuss, matters that affect all of us, after that you can exact your pound of flesh… if you can.”

“Oh trust me I won’t stop at a pound,” he responded.

With that Strazio turned his back on Illidan and stepped outside of the semi-circle they had formed.

Quote: Popped Overload (Tier 1 Offensive Super) and Avatar of Anger for one post
5/7 SP remaining
[Image: StrazSig.png]

[Image: DarkshireBadge.png][Image: DarkshireDefenseBadge.png][Image: SecondarySaga.png][Image: HerosGraveyardBadge.png]
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#51
The tension in the Moors’ already murky air swallowed the group of primes. Atelos and Shang had decided to take the lead in tracking down this monstrous beast. One would think that finding such a massive creature would be simple, however, the mysterious forces of the Omniverse has decided otherwise. Omni has a particular sense of humor and it would not surprise the Spartan that any difficulty that the primes had in tracking the beast would appease the sadistic god.

Through the foggy mist that continued to linger in the air, Atelos could see the destructive beasts path. The Tarrasque had clearly gone through the trees, the proud forest shredded and torn apart as if it were toothpicks. The Spartan grunted and pointed ahead into the canopy, “Look there sorcerer. The monster is clearly headed west.”

“Wow Atelos, your observation is as keen as ever,” Shang replied with a smug grin on his face. Atelos smirked at his friends wit, never wasting a good opportunity to tease and prod one another. The Spartan turned his head back towards the rest of the group, each of them had divided up into their own separate cliques, occasionally shooting dirty looks towards each other.

“What seems to be the issue with this Illidan and Strazio?” Atelos mumbled to his partner. The sorcerer turned back to look at the Night Elf before speaking.

“You do recall that you were on a mission during the Siege of Darkshire correct?”

“Yes,” Atelos replied shamefully. It was one of his biggest regrets that he failed to defend his city during one of its most dire times.

“Illidan was the leader of the sieging forces,” Shang spoke dryly. It had seemed that he had already gotten over the matter. Atelos nodded at the fact and continued on the path to the forest. The sorcerer raised an eyebrow at the Captain of Darkshire, “You seem eerily calm at the matter?”

Atelos shook his head, “I will not let the past hinder my relationship with current allies. Many of us will die in the forthcoming battle regardless. Any additional help is greatly appreciated. However, it would be a lie to say that I do not hold my reservations against the elf.”

The group had reached the edge of the forest, and the mist had almost swallowed the group whole. Atelos coughed as they approached the broken forest and he could hear ominous moans coming from within the trees. From behind, they could hear Strazio mumble something to Gamzee.

“Great. I needed something to wail on.”

Shang snickered and whispered to Atelos, “They don’t call him the Avatar of Rage for nothing.” His temporary wide grin, almost immediately disappeared as the moaning grew.

“Halt!” Atelos shouted, outstretching his arm to prevent the group from moving forward. Shang was the first to speak, “What is it Spartan?” Atelos ignored his words and focused on summoning a map of The Moors. It has been so long since he has used the material it felt like he was brushing off cobwebs of an ancient cog. 

Outstretching his hand, Atelos let the omnillium flow through him. During the process, he could hear his daemon hiss, NO! Do not use it for such frivolous things. Shoving those thoughts away he focused on creating the map he had built all of these years. Within a minute the map fizzled into existence into his palm. Rushing to open it, his heart dropped.

“Just as I thought,” Atelos groaned, “This is the Forest of the Lost.”

Strazio piped up, “What the hell is that?”

Atelos shot a glare at the Avatar of Rage, “I have no clue. None of my scouting parties has ever returned from this place. I eventually just stopped sending them.”

Illidan nodded along, “I have had the same issue. We call it something different but it has been deemed no man's land. "

Clearly irritated at the situation, Strazio seethed at the two, “Well, can we go around it?”

Atelos shook his head, “It would take days for us to move around and we would lose the trail of the monster.”

“What now then?” Strazio put his hands up and crossed his arms over his chest. 

The group pondered for a while before Shang, of course, spoke up with a plan. “We encountered something similar before, Atelos. Why not keep hold of one another? We may get lost, but the group will stick together.”

The Spartan firmly nodded, “That is a solid plan, Sorcerer. I knew there was a reason why I keep you around.” He had a quick laugh to himself while Shang rolled his eyes in response.

Strazio was not having it, however. “I will not touch nor trust him!” His finger was set on Illidan. The poor night elf, however, was not offended by this accusation. Before he could defend himself, Atelos spoke up on his behalf.

“If you wish to slay this beast then you are going to have to. This thing is more destructive than anything you have seen. If you cannot get over your petty grievances, then head home with your tail tucked between your legs. That’s an order.” Atelos shouted. With that, he strode forward with Shang’s hands on his shoulders. Illidan and Gamzee followed suit, with a disgruntled Strazio resentfully obeying. The group took three steps into the forest before the mist swallowed them whole, threatening to never release them to the outside world.
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#52
The purple skinned motherfucker in front of the dizzy dumbass that was Gamzee Makara had the smoothest motherfucking skin he had EVAH felt. Yet somehow, the elf's shoulders had the appearance of being hewn from solid, craggy stone. Purple, craggy stone. Don't see purple rocks every day, Gamzee thought to himself as he gently squeezed his former enemy's squishy skin, his muscular muscles. Illidan Stormrage, assaultant of Darkshire, heralder of heralded things, tilted his head ever so slightly to the left to train one menacing emerald eye on Gamzee Makara, who, to his credit, smiled an incredibly warm, goofy ass smile right back at him.

The squadron of warriors marched ever forward, into the sleepy curtains of mist. Gamzee could barely see two feet in front of him, much less the forest path they were treading upon. He could only imagine the sort of nonsense and whimsy that must've been guiding whichever motherfucker happened to be in the front of this crazy train. The constant bombardment of ominous and unfriendly sounds coming from the forest proper were quiet, just on the edge of perception.

Gamzee could hear voices. He couldn't quite hear what they were saying, but he could hear voices.

"Ya'll motherfuckers hear that bullshit?" he said in a hoarse, hushed tone.

No response. As the words left his lips he wasn't quite sure that his voice was any louder than the ones surrounding them. Sooo...they probably technically maybe heard the voices, too, and he wasn't going crazy. Probably. Maybe.

Thirty minutes, thirty exhausting, blind, endless minutes they spent trekking through this mirth-forsaken wood. The voices had reached such a thundering height by this point that the juggalo couldn't hear himself think. Maybe they were lonely? It was almost as if they were trying to talk to each other, but couldn't quite hear themselves. He caught words, sometimes. At least, he thought they were words. All of their voices just ran and stumbled into each other, rendering them nothing more than babble and nonsense . Just as soon as he was contemplating shouting a greeting out into that pale void, an impossibly high scream pierced the veil of fog. It did not exactly startle any of the warriors, hardened adventurers that they were, but glances were certainly exchanged. It was dead silent once the scream ended. Even the muted murmurs from earlier seemed to have ended, all at once. The heavy mists that just moments ago provided some absolutely lovely acoustics for all those voices now smothered all sound. Deafening, all consuming, pounding-in-your-ears silence.

Gamzee coughed a bit, clearing his throat. All that fog couldn't have been good for his sinuses.

"Keep moving," ordered Atelos, albeit a tad quieter than he would normally order.

The troll couldn't tell if they were moving at all, really. Moving was not progress, not here, not in this motherfuckin' forest. The next step brought what he supposes could actually be considered as progress, in some horrid way. The curtain was called, it would seem. The fog lifted.

It was like the white smudge of an underdeveloped polaroid had finally dissipated, except instead of a cute, chic, hipster-y snapshot, there was only death and decay as far as the eye could see; which is arguably just as cliche. Corpses littered the ground and boughs above, hung from nooses and impaled on the branches, twisted limbs and contorted faces poking out of the piles of bodies before them. Many had uniforms and crests, those of Darkshire or Dracula. Others wore colors from factions and townships long past or unknown entirely. There were even a few stormtroopers, still clad in their plasteel armor. Death came to these folk in all manner of ways: sword wounds, bullet holes, the frenzied ripping and tearing only capable of beastly, insidious things. Pools of blood coalesced about by body piles and underneath the ones suspended above. Drip, drip, went the blood.

Death. A lot of it.

Gamzee could feel his mentor's grip tighten ever so slightly. Not out of fear, but out of preparation; scenes like this generally involved a fight, and boy was Strazio Rockwell ready for a fucking fight. Mr. Rocky McChiseled Shoulders in front of him also seemed to be wound up.

"You seem tense," whispered the clown with a friendly squeeze of the shoulders before peeking around him at the two dudes leading the pack. "Ya'll okay up there?" His concern was met with withering glares and rolled eyes. Gamzee gets a lot of those.

"You know it's kinda motherfuckin' straaaaange. I was expecting somethin' to try and murderize us by now," He wondered aloud. The horned boy releases his grip from Illidan's shoulders and shakes off Strazio's from his own, wandering off to a nearby pile of bodies.

"What are you doing?" hissed the begoateed motherfucker. Begoateed is a word, right? Yeah, Gamzee decides. Like bedazzled. Or bespectacled. But you know, with a goatee.

"Let him do his thing, Shang," Strazio said with a nonchalant wave of the hand.

The begoateed Shang Tsung made a sour face, voicing his concern, "And what exactly IS his thing?"

"I dunno," he said with a defeated shrug. It would seem the mage had been in this situation before, adding, "But it usually works."

Kneeling to the ground, Gamzee licked his lips and ran a hand through the nearest pool of blood. "Watery..." he murmured. He raises his hand closer to his face to get a better look, but the blood had hardly stained his fingers at all. Whatever this stuff was, it wouldn't paint well. Gingerly touching his fingertips to his nostrils, he takes a tentative sniff. "Watery..." he repeated softly.

"Shit ain't blood," the clown with a suddenly dour frown declared.

"He's right," mused Atelos, "All this gore and viscera carries no scent, no taste of copper in the air. This is no battlefield."

Gamzee nudged a pile of bodies with the toe of his purple canvas shoe. I should prolly get some boots or somethin', He daydreams. The pile of bodies topples over, nothing more than dead weight. Heheh. He giggles at his punnery, poking and prodding a dead dude with his pinky.

"These ain't bodies," the fool chuckled to his friends.

Indeed. The sorcerer Shang Tsung had already summoned his sword in preparation for in actual fight, but now used it to cut one of the hung bodies from the tree. As it collides with the forest ground, its legs burst open on impact.

"Sand. And more fake blood," he growled.

It is Illidan who posed the real question that had been on everyone else's minds. "But who would go to all this trouble? Such an extensive ruse in the middle of a seemingly uninhabitable-"

There be a bush a-rustlin'. A rustlin' in the bush. Everyone immediately readied themselves, drawing steel and magicks, all aimed directly at the rustlin' bush. Everyone except for the grey alien with wild, unkempt black hair and candy corn horns. He sat in his original spot, twirling a finger through the fake blood and makin' little swirlies.

"Come on out, if you value your life," Atelos ordered. He does a lot of ordering. The bush rustlin' ceases at his words, and out walks a fuckin' kid.

A human child, a girl, who couldn't have been more than the age of twelve or thirteen stepped clear of the brush. She had all manner of red and black streaks painted on her face, feathers adorning her braided raven hair, and bones covering her body in a vaguely armor like fashion with rags and linen for clothing underneath. Most striking were her beautiful, disarming, emerald green eyes that were in such bright contrast to her dirt covered appearance. Everyone immediately breathed a sigh of relief after getting over the inherent surprise, putting away their weapons and magicky hands. They wanted to seem as nonthreatening as possible to a scared little lost girl, of course.

Which, of course, was the perfect time for a countless number of very armed, very dangerous looking children roughly the same age as the little lost girl to drop and hang from the tree limbs above and sprout like weeds from the stomach high grass and shrubbery that surrounded them. They all carried tree trunk clubs and wooden spears, ashen bows and daggers of bone - and they all looked pretty pleased with themselves. There were far, far more arrows pointed at them than necessary. The group suddenly found themselves very outnumbered, and very vulnerable. And perhaps, to one or two of the warriors, a bit humiliated.

Gamzee looked up and all around him slowly, as if only just now realizing the predicament they found themselves in. "Huh," he says, rather matter-of-factly.
If you're new to Omniverse Shenanigans, feel free to pm me about whatever piques your interest!

[Image: dlpaou6b73f.gif]
-by Jade Harley


Never Falter in the Face of Infinity.
-Tearan Wover
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#53
Illidan snarled at the forest children, wielding their primitive weapons fashioned from bone and bark. Their dirtied faces creased with what they thought were intimidating countenances. Stormrage breathed in deeply and pulsed light from his emerald tattoos that snaked his body, eliciting a handful of gasps from the young humans. If there weren’t so many serrated arrowheads pointing at them, this standstill would have been over by now.
 
“What is this nonsense?” the helmeted one bellowed. “What on earth are you children doing in the middle of the Moors?”
 
The little girl with the bright eyes stepped forward, ostensibly their leader. Illidan sensed the thin fog that wreathed them throb like a vein responding to a beating heart. A mumbled sound teased his long ears so subtly that he wasn’t sure he heard anything at all.
 
“Yeah, this is real motherfuckin’ strange,” the horned one noted. “Like, where the fuck are your parents?” He covered his mouth for a second. “Oops, should I be swearing around kids?”
 
“We’re not children,” the little girl said. “At least, we weren’t.”
 
Illidan growled. “Speak plainly. I’ve lost scouts to this cursed forest. I find it hard to believe you frail creatures could persevere here when my trained demon hunters could not.”
 
“Yes,” the goateed human said, scrutinising their captors with keen eyes. “How do you children survive in such a harsh landscape?”
 
The boughs of the trees jostled ever so slightly. A handful of leaves spun like shurikens as they fell lazily from the branches.
 
The little girl giggled, a childish and carefree sound that jarred against the tense situation they found themselves in. “We’re protected by the One. Nothing can harm us while it is watching out for us.”
 
“The One?” the white haired one said. “What are you talking about?”
 
“You’ll meet it soon enough,” she said, smiling. “It’s very interested in you all. It wants to protect you too, just like it protects all of us. We are all safe here.”
 
“What is it protecting you from?” the goateed one said.
 
The girl shrugged. “Everything. All the bad things outside the forest. It’s not safe out there, but as long as we stay with the trees, nothing can hurt us.”
 
“Enough with your vague allusions,” Illidan said. “If you children are here, then where are my lost scouting parties? Or did this One ‘protect’ you from them as well?”
 
“No silly,” the girl said. “The One protects them as well. Look. Don’t you see them?”
 
Illidan frowned and cast his gaze over the lines of child soldiers encircling them. All he saw were pink skinned human children, their grubby faces lined with soil like war paint, their tiny hands gripping makeshift bows and bone daggers, their hair messy and festooned with twigs. One shuffled on his feet, and Illidan stopped on him. The child’s thin blonde hair flowed down his back, his eyes covered by a strip of cloth. What Stormrage initially mistook for vines or long blades of grass hanging over his chest and arms were actually tattoos.
 
The night elf demon arched his brow. “A blood elf demon hunter. Turned... into a child.”
 
The young warrior said nothing.
 
“The One brings us all back to being children and looks after us,” the girl said, spreading her arms wide to the group. “And it will do it for you as well.”
 
“It will do no such thing,” the helmeted one said.
 
“You’re already in its forest. You have no choice.”
 
The whispers that played at the edge of Illidan’s hearing intensified. The mist thickened and thudded in time with his pulse. His head fogged and he stumbled backwards, his balance slipping out of his control. The night elf demon dropped to one knee and bowed his head, trying to rein in the heavy swaying. He looked up to see his associates fighting their own internal wars, battling to stay upright but inevitably falling to the ground.
 
A cold sensation crawled over Illidan’s skin like a swarm of spiders, little tingly legs tapping ceaselessly into his pores. He dug fingers into the dirt and clenched his jaw, groaning as the tingling penetrated his body and jabbed into his mind. He collapsed onto hands and knees, his entire body growing heavy and tired.
 
“You... you won’t take me,” Illidan managed to fumble through numbing lips. “I... am the great... Illidan...”
 
“Yes, the great Illidan Stormrage,” the girl cooed. “Now go to sleep. Everything will be all right when you wake up. It promises. Can’t you hear it?”
 
The whispers grew to undecipherable shouts. Illidan’s eyes shut and his body thudded onto the forest ground.
[Image: illidansig2.jpg]
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#54
China couldn't be sure how long it took him to eat the big blob. Mostly because he had never learned how to tell time. Or even to count.

What he did know, though, was that despite its large size and threatening appearance, it hadn't actually taken all that long for it to stop moving after he’d burrowed his way into its head through that cyclopean eyeball and begun chowing down on soft, succulent grey matter.

And now, some-number-beyond-two sleeps later, he was finally finished scraping away as much flesh as he could from the insides of the food’s thick exoskeleton, and rested up enough to continue onwards with this aimless journey. On all six limbs, he stalked out of the thing’s gaping eye socket. He peered around.

Odd.

The forest floor was bare now, as far as he could tell given the ever-present mists, at least. The giant monsters had vanished without a trace. Or almost without a trace, in any case. The ground was still slicked with their slime, and squelched slightly as China trod through it. The stuff stunk, and tasted vile… but after spending as long as he had inside the guts of one of these bloated behemoths, the Ceramic Beast had ceased to notice the smell, and with no sense of touch, he didn’t have to deal with the horrible feeling of the cold, sticky ooze clinging to his body, which likely would have repulsed a more usual living thing.

He set off, not bothering to climb back into the trees, just crawling around on the ground. The place was utterly lifeless, as if the maggot-y things had eaten everything on their way out. He walked for so long that he began to feel hungry again.

Eventually, the slime underfoot vanished, and not long thereafter, he started finding signs of wildlife. The trees changed as well—not all of them in this area were laden with needles; some had actual leaves—and in places there were bushes and grasses growing. At last, he came upon something worth hunting.

A huge, heavily muscled warthog—almost four times the size of the largest of its kind he had seen in his own world—which bellowed and charged out of a thick wall of fog at him, its tiny, porcine eyes glinting evilly.

Spinning acrobatically to one side, the porcelain golem carved open its flank with five razor-edged talons, then cackled softly, rising to stand on two legs as it was once more swallowed by the mists. He could still hear it, though, shuffling though detritus and dirt as it awkwardly turned to charge again. Stuffing the bloodied digits into his grinning maw, China sucked off the delectable red stuff. Then grimaced. The taste was ruined by the vile ichor which still coated his form. He really needed to get that stuff off, somehow. And as soon as possible, preferably.

There was no time for further idle thoughts then, for the yum-yum tried once more to tackle him, roaring its rage at his audacity. A thrill of terror rushed through him, but he would not let it control him. Instead, the fragile golem dived forwards, spinning in mid-air to land on his back and skid a little way across the soft, loamy earth. Passing right under the raging beast bearing down upon him.

There was a crashing noise, as some part of him was trodden underfoot—this manoeuvre was hardly a cautious one, so it didn’t exactly come as a shock—but he paid it no heed, reaching up with all four hands to tear long furrows in the food’s flesh as its bulk passed by overhead. A cascade of droplets of blood sprayed down from its guts, splattering upon the ground and upon the already slime-slicked surface of China’s body.

It bellowed again, so loud that the Ceramic Beast feared his ears might break… if such a thing was even possible. It was a sound of bestial wrath and agony made manifest.

And then it was past him.

For just an instant, he was staring up at the thick mist hovering above, and then he sprung back to his feet.

Correction; foot.

Halfway down his right shin, his leg ended in a jagged mess of shards, the rest having been shattered into tiny pieces by one mighty hoof. He stumbled, flailed, and then his shattered shin hit the ground with a crunch, more little slivers of pottery breaking off as the cracks spread. Hissing, his wide mouth now set in a scowl, he lowered his body, leaning forwards, arms outstretched to the side, tails back to act as counterweights, helping keep his balance.

The giant warthog turned once again, ragged breathing easily audible, though he had lost sight of it in the fog. This time, the golem would have a harder time of it, should he try evading. Having lost a foot would cost him. So instead, he readied himself to pounce.

He hesitated a moment after it’s ground-shaking charge began, and then he leaped.

They collided with a loud crash, his chest striking its head and caving in, as the cracks surrounding his ‘heart’ spread like bolts of lightning down his torso, shattering its front section. Had he a pulse, it would have been racing. The food roared some more, shaking its head wildly from side-to-side and continuing to run. It may even have been accelerating.

Rearing back, the golem grabbed onto its curled tusks with his lower set of hands, then began swiping at its face and eyes with his upper pair, quickly blinding the maddened creature. Its cries took on a new pitch as it ran—now with no way of knowing where it was even headed—both its own body and the much frailer China’s smashing through any low-hanging branches that got in their way. Though he couldn’t feel the hits he was taking, the Ceramic Beast knew that he needed to end this quickly, for the cracks would be spreading across his body, and he’d be dashed to pieces before too long if they carried on like this. Or, worse yet, the dumb animal might just charge straight into the trunk of a tree and obliterate him instantly.

Oh.

Actually... that gave him an idea, “Aha, me-me such genius-smarty, yes, need-must just jump off-off when yum-yum get near-close to hit tree-thing, then it bash head on wood-trunk and stop move. Then be easy-easy prey-food for eating, yes-yes.”

His words were snatched away by the wind as he uttered them, not that the golem noticed. He hadn’t even realised he had spoken out loud at all. Turning to look behind him—in the direction the boar was taking them, he held one upper-arm over his face and squinted, trying to keep the branches that pelted him from breaking his eyes.

He tugged on the food’s tusks, trying vainly to angle it towards a tree, even as it did its best to shake him off. Soon enough—possibly as a result of the golem’s actions, but just as likely due to pure coincidence—they were headed directly for a thick, sturdy-looking trunk. China waited until almost the last moment before slackening his grip and allowing himself to be tossed away.

The world became a green and brown blur as he spun through branches and foliage, and then terminated with an awful crash as he struck a tree trunk himself.

Oddly, he could still see.

Dirt.

He could see dirt. He turned his head. Well, his eye.

The Central Eye seemed undamaged, despite the collision. From it, China could see much of the rest of his body scattered around him. He called to it, and it answered. The shards of his being did not join back together and merge into one again, but they did group up around him in a swarm of of sharpened pieces.

The eye rose, and China drifted forwards.

The mist peeled away before him, revealing the stunned beast stumbling dizzily away from the tree it had struck. China’s eye and the cloud of razor-edged slivers that wreathed it swung around to hover overhead, and then the porcelain rained down, cutting and slashing brutally into its hide. The beast did its best to rear and thrash and roll around to crush the shards to powder, but to no avail.

The little pieces of golem darted away like shoals of fish, faster than it could keep up, before circling back to slice at it some more. Soon the enormous creature resembled nothing so much as a huge chunk of bloodied meat. It slumped, unable to keep fighting back, breathing raggedly, and slowly died, its organs shutting down as blood fled its body.

China fitted his pieces back together as best he could, until he had managed to roughly reassemble himself into something that looked quite close to his original form. It didn’t move right, though. He couldn’t get them to join back up, and as they were now, his various pieces would not bend, they were just static slivers of ceramic. Furthermore, the black void that had been his insides was gone entirely, so no matter how much he chewed at his prey’s flesh with his teeth, anything he swallowed simply dropped down through his body until it reached his feet.

For some time, he continued trying to eat, allowing himself consumed by panic rather than stopping to think things through. Eventually, he gave up and wallowed in misery for a while, certain that he was going to die a long, slow death by starvation.

And then he remembered that he could heal even the most grievous of injuries just by resting for a while. And so, he released the various parts of himself from his control, allowing his form to collapse into a small pile of bits and pieces beside his catch.

As he lay there and focused on restoring himself, a bubble of rainbow light grew from nowhere to envelop him in its comforting radiance. And then, all he had to do was wait…

***

He was whole.

He was also full… or, at least, content; no longer starving. The warthog meat was delectable, especially compared to the filth of those maggot-things.

He continued his aimless trek through the mist-shrouded forest, and eventually found a rushing stream in which he was able to bathe, to cleanse himself of the ichor of that bug. He even managed to snag himself a few fish… though their scales were a pale, dull green shade, and in place of mouths, numerous tendrils dangled from the lower halves of their heads. They tasted of rot.

Like so much else in this place, there was something wrong with them. He wasn’t overly concerned about the potential for detrimental effects to his health… mostly because he wasn’t really intelligent enough to consider the possibility. Poisonings and illnesses had always been things that happened to other people, back in his own world, and he had yet to accept that such things could do him any real harm in this new reality.

As far as China was concerned, the worst thing that could ever be done to food was to make it taste nasty.

And taste nasty, those fish most certainly did. So hesoon left the stream and ventured onwards…

***

He walked, he hunted, he ate.

Most foods here were foul, but there were a few—such as the giant warthog from before—which were much nicer. His favourite, he discovered, were a breed of three-eyed bats with glowing, lilac irises, which haunted the higher boughs of the trees. He could have sworn that at one point the fog hadn’t reached all the way to the treetops… but it sure did now.

No matter how high up he got, there was always more mist. It wasn’t a problem, though. The bats’ eyes were so bright that he could see them in his mind even when his eyes were blinded, and though they made no noise that his ears could detect, their screeches and shrieks were loud enough that he felt sure they would break his head wide open.

They were aggressive, but he was fast and large, and they were soft and small and tasty.

He got so used to the eerie silence of the forest—broken only by the noise of his own movement as he scrabbled across and leapt between trees—that when he came upon the voices, they caught his attention immediately, even though they must still have been quite some distance away.

Of course, that may have been largely thanks to the excellent acoustics in this forest. He homed in on them quickly, leaping from branch to branch with the natural grace and agility of a born predator. The golem soon found himself close enough to make out individual words.

Quote:“The One brings us all back to being children and looks after us. And it will do it for you as well.”

“It will do no such thing.”

“You’re already in its forest. You have no choice.”

There were light thumping noises, as some of the speakers fell over, but the fog seemed to be thickening, and a strange sensation sped throughout his body. He slumped over, against the trunk of the tree he was perched upon, and which he couldn’t even see, though it was but a scant few inches from his eyes.

Quote:“You... you won’t take me... I... am the great... Illidan...”

“Yes, the great Illidan Stormrage. Now go to sleep. Everything will be all right when you wake up. It promises. Can’t you hear it?”

Now that the feminine voice mentioned it, the Ceramic Beast could hear something… or not. Hear was the wrong word, perhaps. It was more like the bats, he though. The vague, unintelligible words seemed to show up in his head without passing through his ears. They got louder, and he hissed softly in pain, curling up against the tree trunk, talons digging into the bark.

He still couldn’t make out what the speaker was trying to say, but he quickly ceased to care, as all the strength rapidly drained from his body. He just felt so, so weary. China closed his eyes and let unconsciousness take him, bringing with it a welcome relief from the unabating screams of the voice in his head.

***

When he awoke, he almost toppled from his perch immediately. After shrieking and flailing for a moment, he managed to sink his claws into wood, and hold on.

There was something wrong, though.

His body was… different.

Odd.

He looked down at himself, and his eyes bulged with shock. So small, so skinny! Whilst he slept, some horrendous change had warped his form, making him tiny and weak.



Eh. Could be worse.

Shrugging his two sets of arms, China began crawling down from the tree. The mist had thinned dramatically in the area in front of him, leaving a wide space almost entirely devoid of fog.

And in this wide space, there were corpses. Being little was unfortunate. It would make hunting harder… but with this much meat to feed on, he wouldn’t have to hunt for a while. Also, being small might mean that he would be able to state his hunger more easily as well, in which case this great bounty might last him even longer than it would have ordinarily.

All in all, he was feeling pretty optimistic, despite the curse he had found himself under.

That ended when he reached the first body and discovered that it was just a fake. It had no scent, but he bit it anyway, just to check and make sure.

He spat out a mouthful of sand, and glowered around at the scenery. He couldn’t smell a drop of blood, no matter how hard he sniffed. Every one of them was fake.

It did occur to him that it might be the setup for an ambush, as surely a huge collection of meat like this would prove an irresistible temptation to any hungry person who laid eyes on it, but, “No problem if trick-trap, come-come attack-fight, give-give chance to eat-kill food faker, get-get much-many revenge.”

Continuing to mutter vague yet heated threats under his breath, the porcelain golem stalked around the fog free area for a while longer, hoping that someone would leap out and give him an opportunity to take out his frustration on them.

Eventually, though, he grew bored and lost his patience. No one was here. No one was coming.

He turned to go, to head back into the deeper fog, when something nearby caught his intention. He sniffed.

He was almost positive that he had actually picked up the scent of blood this time.

He glanced around. It took him a little while, but between his sight and smell, he tracked down the source, and slunk over to a nearby bush. A few of its wicked-looking thorns glistened with fresh blood, as if some unwary passer-by had stumbled and cut themselves. A few torn threads had been caught and left behind on the plant.

He had been right. There had been real two-legs here, not just these false ones. The golem’s face—previously having reverted to its blank, mouthless, ‘default’ appearance—now split in a cheshire grin.

Passing the bush, he sauntered after his prey, on the lookout for any more telltale signs to follow.

***

It was hard to really get any idea of how large the village actually was. It stretched on as far as he could see before him… but when ‘as far as he could see’ was only a few dozen metres, that wasn’t saying a whole lot.

There was more fog here than in the corpse-clearing, though still not nearly as much as in the forest proper. China was crouched on one of the lower branches of a tree, looking out over the little huts built from rocks, bricks of dried earth, and sticks. They were primitive compared to other humans; even a being such as the Ceramic Beast could see that.

Not all of their houses were on the ground, though; many nestled in the lower boughs of the trees scattered throughout their village. Much like the place with the false dead, this area held fewer trees than the surrounding woods, though they hadn’t been cleared away completely.

All in all, it would be a hard place to sneak into; enough trees to provide the denizens with plenty of places to watch for invaders, but not so many that an intrepid golem could use them as cover.

He had decided, therefore, to wait until he spotted a group of them headed away from the camp to go hunt or forage for food before following them and attacking when they least expected it.

He never got the chance.

He'd been sitting there, in his tree on the edge of their settlement, concealed by the leafy branches, for only a few hours when a small band approached. At their head was a boy in worn and poorly repaired leather armour, who wore a scowl on his face and whose lip was split by a ragged scar. He might have been quite intimidating, were he a few decades older.

Behind him were five others dressed in brown cloth and leather, as well as a blonde girl with pointed ears, right in the middle of the group, who was clad in robes which appeared to consist entirely of leaves and grasses.

At first, the golem was sure that these seven were the prey he had been waiting for, and he grinned savagely, his mind swirling with thoughts of brutal violence, murder and feasting. If his body had been capable of salivating, he was sure he’d have drooled.

But they stopped. Right by the foot of his tree.

That was when he started to get a little nervous. The girl in green looked up and began chanting something. Her eyes shone with emerald light. He was strongly tempted to either flee, or leap at them and attack.

They were far, far too close to the rest of the children, though. Should they all discover his presence, there was no doubt that they’d do everything they possibly could to kill him… which… wouldn’t be the end of the world, he supposed. Still, he’d rather not fight a whole horde at once, if he had any say in the matter; he liked his fights to include the possibility of victory, after all.

And running was definitely out of the question. No matter how dire his circumstances, he couldn’t do anything that would jeopardise his chances of being reborn. If he started fleeing from danger, Omni may well get bored of him and consign him to never return after dying.

So he sat and waited, hoping that they would finish what they were doing and pass him by.

Instead, the glowy-eye food pointed directly at him, and scores of creepers and vines broke away from the tree he was in, and some others nearby, to dart his way and wrap tightly around him before he could do more than twitch in alarm.

He was tugged down from the trees, and the little foods picked him up, whilst he struggled in vain against his bonds. The one dressed in foliage smiled and patted his head, as if he were some sort of cuddly little kitten. He hissed at her.

“The One sees everything in its forest,” she announced uninvited, “you could never have taken us by surprise… but once you too have learned to accept its wisdom, you will find life here far preferable to existence on the outside. Now, come along and let’s introduce you to your fellow recruits.”

When China gave no response other than a snarl, she patted his head again, then nodded to the leader of the little band. The boy gave the order, and the little band of children hauled away the trussed-up Beast.

They carried him through their village—which turned out to be quite expansive, if not exactly advanced—until they reached the entrance to a cave in the side of a cliff face. The scarred food was given a burning torch by a girl standing guard outside. China was then brought within, and down a series of winding, labyrinthine tunnels, which he was sure must have led deep underground, until they reached a small cavern.

Like all of the tunnels so far, this wider area was damp, and moss grew here and there. There were even a few mushrooms. A crude gate of branches and twine blocked the entrance, and was guarded by a couple more children. In a sconce on the tunnel wall another torch burned, though its light didn’t reach far into the cell itself.

“Another one?” one of the guard-kids asked, as her partner worked on opening up the gate. The pointy-ear food simply nodded, saying nothing. When the portal had swung wide, the golem was placed back on his feet and at the wave of a hand from the girl in green, his bonds fell away.

Before he could react at all, a couple of his captors shoved him hard from behind. He stumbled forwards and fell—hands and knees clacking as they struck the stone floor—and the gate was slammed shut behind him, then the rope that they used to hold it closed was hurriedly tied tightly once more.

The prison was illuminated somewhat as the leader of the band that had brought China here stepped up to the entrance, and the light of his torch revealed to to the golem his fellow inmates. Three seemed to be more-or-less regular human children, but one of the others had a grey complexion and a pair of horns, while the final child was purple, with pointed ears.

“This room may not be very nice, but as far down as it is, you’ll be able to hear the One much more clearly… listen, and accept what you hear. Once we know that you’ve done so, you'll be free to return to the surface, and live among us.”

The Ceramic Beast barely listened; he was much more focused on observing the small group he’d just been penned in with. Killing children had never been difficult for him before, but now that he was just as small and weak as they were, he got the distinct impression that he might find them a lot more troublesome.

“Just make sure to decide quickly. We wouldn’t want any of you to starve to death.” with those parting words, the scar-faced youth turned and strode off, taking the light with him. Judging by the sound of receding footfalls, the rest of his band had followed him, leaving behind only the pair guarding the exit.
[Image: chinasig3.png]
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#55
For far too long the hunter had been biding his time. With each passing day the thought that Strazio Rockwell was alive and well twisted a knife in Nemesis’s gut that had never quite been twisted before. Sure he had experienced death, all primes in the Omniverse eventually experience the unpleasant rebirth, but his death at the hands of Rockwell was something particularly infuriating. Searching for an explanation as to why it irked him in such a special way only proved to be more frustrating than it was worth. Perhaps it was the sheer fucking arrogance of the defender or perhaps it was the thought that he was bested by a wet behind the ears prime. Perhaps it was simply because Nemesis hated Strazio’s face. Whatever it was it drove the hunter mad. Night after night he ruminated over the incessant prime. And while killing his friend was a welcome relief, Strazio’s suffering had yet to be completed.

So it was because of this that Nemesis listened intently to the cultist’s plea for help. As soon as he heard the news of a white-haired prime marauding through the moors accompanied by a cluster of other high-profile Defenders he stepped into his personal teleporter. As fortune, or perhaps misfortune, would have it he arrived not far from the Primordial Scar and began his hunt. The deep gouges left by some bi-wheeled vehicle carved a line across the Moors and straight for the heart of the scar. At the edge of the scar he found the remains of several cultists, already half-decayed and rotten. Even through his rebreather he could smell the putrid stench of fleshy compost being consumed by the moist earth. Though the ground was ravaged by their battle he managed to find a cohesive band of footprints leading into the forest. If Nemesis could have scowled, he would have.

In a torrent of smoke his body twisted and changed, shrinking down to that of a child’s. He had heard stories of that forest, a malevolent force consuming prime and secondary alike. It kept them trapped and reverted them to children. The longer you stayed the harder it was to leave. Nemesis checked his vita compass and set a mental timer. Strazio was close, but even if he found his quarry he couldn’t stay in the forest for long. Nemesis stepped forward and into the malevolent grove.

--

Strazio watched in silent rumination as his companions tried diplomacy with the natives. Then, as if his muscles were transmuted into sand, he collapsed. The mage thrashed about for a few minutes, raging against the creature’s influence. Still, inevitable as the setting sun, Strazio’s consciousness faded. When he came to he found himself locked in a cage with his hands bound. Sluggishly he looked around and saw that his companions shared his fate. Sparks of lightning jumped across his body, but fizzled as his intoxicated mind struggled to control them. He tried to call out to his friends, but only a pitiful groan escaped his lips.

“Hey, you awake?” A voice called to him.

Strazio looked up and saw one of the children. The boy had dark black hair and brown skin. Several tattoos covered his body and the crest of Darkshire hung from his neck. In one hand he carried a sleek silver knife.

“Fuck off…” Strazio said weakly.

“Listen, I’m here to help you,” The boy said, “The longer you stay in this forest the younger you get and the harder it is to leave.”
Strazio said nothing.

The boy cut the vines holding his cage shut and pulled the door open. He glanced around for any prying eyes before slipping into the cage and cutting Strazio’s binds. The mage sat up and looked over at his friends.

“What about them?” He asked.

“We can come back for them, but right now you need to leave the forest to break the spell,” The boy answered and tugged at Strazio’s arm.

The mage growled and stumbled out of the cage, “I’m not leaving Gamzee.”

With the gait of a drunkard Strazio made his way to Gamzee’s cage. The troll slept curled up in a ball. Strazio held out his hand and shot a small burst of magick to shatter the lock.

“We don’t have time,” The boy said, “We have to go now.”

Strazio ignored him and threw open the cage door. A wave of nausea washed over him as the sudden exertion sapped his strength. He braced himself against a bar and, after a moment to collect himself, he entered the cage. He grabbed Gamzee’s shoulder and shook him violently. The troll groaned and swatted his friend’s hand away.

“Come on,” Strazio pleaded, “Wake up.”

The boy grabbed Strazio’s arm and pulled him out of the cage with a surprising amount of strength.

“Listen to me, we’re coming back, but you’re getting weaker by the second,” The boy said, dragging Strazio away, “We don’t have much time.”

A flash of emerald streaked through Strazio’s eyes and he sighed. The kid was right, even standing was getting to be a chore. Reluctantly Strazio climbed to his feet and began to follow the kid. As they moved further and further from the forest’s cent Strazio’s strength returned. A smothering fog kept his brain sluggish, but the God-mind’s influence cut through the fog with one burning question.

“Who are you?” Strazio asked.
[Image: StrazSig.png]

[Image: DarkshireBadge.png][Image: DarkshireDefenseBadge.png][Image: SecondarySaga.png][Image: HerosGraveyardBadge.png]
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