I came up just in time to see the hammer’s impact breaking up the ground and knocking near every Utopian off their feet. I popped off shots, sending down thunderbolts on their heads. Their flashes were hard to trace back and cranked up to the max, they took down multiple targets.
The two swordsmen came down with the bow and seer on a hardlight platform which the shielder had created. Once near to the ground, the shielder erected barriers which the others jumped down and took cover behind. The horde of Students was quickly scattering as I fired into their masses.
Choked into one wide passage, the only cover for the opposition were those they rose. There were no exhibit alcoves because all that hung on the walls were art and the like. Some had taken to building defenses from hardened blood, it looked like, but they were still exposed. The others made a frontal assault, attacking from where the crowd had been thin, inward into the mass, and I from the back, firing down.
Someone raised a spell, I sensed, at me. A connection had formed, looping back from me to them, back to myself. It was to reroute my attack, back at me. Clever, but I avoided hitting it, shooting around. I jumped back as a handful of tiny glowing razors dashed through my cover. The shrapnel had passed, and I resumed.
Hammer guy barged through their defenses, with the swordsmen at his side actively cutting down anything thrown at them, he remained unstopped. Our bow girl fired her shot, and when the arrow struck its mark, a student’s head, a string of light reached out, and the shot continued towards another cranium.
We were dominating this fight. We could do this.
A male student jumped up and landed on the platform with me. He had a laser sword, which as I fired, intercepted my bolt. He was nearing, and I couldn’t allow that. With no options, I made the decision to retreat onto the light rigs.
Somebody hurled a boulder at me, missing narrowly and putting a hole in the ceiling. More pressing matters, though, as the laser sword swung haphazardly, blocking my shots and cutting down our supporting wires.
I stepped back onto another suspended walkway, and let loose at him, intentionally missing. The metal under his feet swung out and away as I hit the last wire keeping it up. The space swordsmen dropped like a stone and met the marble with a solid smack.
I kept on the move, avoided an arrow. Not everyone realized I was up here, due to the nature of my weapon, but more were following the attacks thrown at me.
There was another route back to my cover, which I tried to hurry across.
Coming around, I was near to safety when without warning or effect, a human appeared in my path. Blocking me, with a pleasant smile on his face, stood Christopher.
I tackled him when he had been expecting me to flinch, right back and over the railing, onto the platform. He was too quick, though, and I was weak. He slipped out of my hold and rolled away. We both got to our feet, but with his speed, I was unable to raise my rifle fast enough. He kicked and knocked my gun away, it skidding off.
He’d undone the strap when we’d been on the ground.
He’d known I would tackle him.
Decided before they’ve begun.
I took a stance, hand outstretched, ready to receive anything he dished out. I wasn’t strong, or fast, but I could see him weighing his options. I could counter any move he made because I could foresee them. So can he.
We were in a deadlock.
“Look at you,” he said. “Big things.”
“I refute that,” I replied, catching a short breath. “The cosmos is beyond you.”
“You know more than you let on.”
“You know less than you let on.”
We took a short pause, our eyes not breaking, as someone did something deafeningly loud below. That would have to wait.
“Whatever you’re planning,” I said. “I want no part of it. You should end this while you still can. Stop this.”
“Will is free. It’s free to dictate that of others’, I’m afraid.”
“You have no idea. There’s a price. You can’t ascend that.”
“I refute that.”
“Then the toll will be bigger than you alone can pay,” I promised.
My gun had slid my way. If I dived, I might beat him to it.
“I’m afraid that when everything falls together, it’ll be too late,” he said. “The conditions are fixed, Doran, and the game is set. You’re a piece, not a player.”
He’s predicting your moves. It’s not pure intelligence, he’s not trying hard enough for that. It’s a cheat, a skill, a trick. Causality. He’s fiddling. But the focus is far too wide.
It’s not based on choice. He’s above that. He’s too good.
I didn’t dive for the gun, instead, I went on the approach. I struck out, expecting and receiving a deflection. He wasn’t abnormally strong, but his reactions were instant. I changed my footing, and he changed his. I jabbed, and he blocked. He struck with his non-dominant hand, out of nowhere, and hit my chest. It hurt me, but not as much as it hurt him.
He grits his teeth and clenched his hand which had struck the fabric of my cloak. The same fabric that could stop bullets.
I capitalized on that and dived for my gun. I stopped short when he pounced on me, halting my momentum and driving me into the floor. My chest crackled.
With his knee on my back, he kicked the gun, and it slid underneath the gap in the railing, falling out of sight. It had been bait.
He turned me over, redirected my haymaker as I flipped, pinning my arm against my chest. He beat me in the face. There were… lights? No, blotchy vision.
Something about pain.
My head. Concussion.
With me pinned, and retribution for his busted hand received, I was beaten. He sat down on my chest and slapped some sense into me.
“Tunnel vision,” I said, half conscious. My eyes were literally out of focus.
“Hmm?” Christopher asked.
“Go-” I started but began coughing. My lungs were well and truly ruined.
I found a tether in the darkness. There were two of them. One holding me up, and the other holding me in place. I focused on the second. Finding its source, there were a number of extensions. One of them to a dirty thing, a dark thing.
“G-” I tried again, but my breath was even shorter. Christopher frowned.
As it was in a world of information, the economy became about relevance, and because knowledge is power, relevance was. But at the heart of that, was the ability to leverage relevance. The truly powerful were not those that had power, but those that could use it, and if the stars aligned and one was both, then a god was born.
By wisdom, power is wielded. By intelligence, gained.
I could exert the power that I had, the relevance, by understanding. I reached out between myself and that dark thing, forged a line through our mutual connection.
Christopher shifted quickly, planting his foot on my head.
“Now, say again?”
His composure broke, and he turned his eye away. Under the railing, I could see, with my head turned to the side. The walls of the museum melted to make way for him. The giant gnarled demon manically bounding into the Utopian forces.
I had leveraged Kendall’s power as my own, and my call had carried.
The Utopians were being decimated. Christopher was distracted.
I grabbed his leg, and it reflexively locked. With the other arm, I brought my fist into the side of his knee. It bent. He shouted, stepping back, and I tripped him. As he fell to his back, I scrambled to my feet and went after him. He didn’t attempt to stand, instead he drew up his legs and before I could stop myself, his feet caught me.
He propelled me over the railing.
My flight was fun but short lived. I hit the tile and a lightning strike stabbed every inch of me. A coldness followed. Unfortunately, I wasn’t dead, though.
Laying limp with my face turned towards the ceiling, my body became heavy. It was increasingly restful, I found.
I had fallen among other bodies, those of the Utopians. I strained, with great effort, to see what was still going on. One of the swordsmen had survived, and the shielder, with all the rest dead at their feet.The remaining Utopians, just like the remaining Anarchists, were fleeing the demon, with only one succeeding. The Utopians were being supernaturally hindered, by some effect, which left them inept as the demon tore them apart.
I gave up on watching and tried to relax. Everything was either too numb, or too sensitive, though. Waiting to die was uncomfortable.
Christopher, looking displeased, leaned over my body, looking down.
“Stay the course.” It was an insult, I thought, but then he continued. “Please, Doran.” He was sincere, frightened even. “This isn’t a game.”
To my chagrin, the bastard walked off without helping me out.
Noises carried on but became distant. I don’t remember at what point they blurred into obscurity. But there was no sleep, no true death.
A jolted awakening sent me upright. My body was whole, and I was wearing my same clothes, sitting alone in a small, dim room. I took some time, testing my lungs and foot, distancing myself from the emotions which wracked me. I needed to think straight. Emotion, it… gets in the way. I didn’t want to think about it.
That never works.
I put my head in my hands.
Please. Shut up.
After one long exhale, I called for Aku.
“Doran,” Aku soothingly replied. “You’re free to leave the room at any time.”
There was a door. It had slipped my mind.
“Right. Thank you, Aku.”
After exiting, I came upon hundreds of people intermingling in a dining hall. An open ballroom filled with tables seated players from both sides of the game, eating a meal of reconciliation. Along two of the walls were rows of doors, on multiple levels, which undoubtedly had private rooms behind them, as the one I’d emerged from. This was to be where everyone went, after the game to cool down and eat a meal.
I didn’t feel like eating. I should find Kendall, but I didn’t want to do that either.
Weaving between tables, I made eye contact with a few people. There were so many tables, and people standing, that searching the crowd yielded nothing.
Suddenly a hand reached out to grab my arm. I pulled it away before I recognized the person at the table. It was the Seer.
“Hey,” she said. “You want to join us?”
“No, thank you, though. I’ve got to get back to my… master.”
“No, I mean, I’m a summon.”
“Oh! That’s… I don’t know what to think about that,” she said.
The bow girl was at the table. “I wouldn’t have guessed it. What’s your name?…Well, you were cool Doran. Nice meeting you, working with you.”
“The same to you both.”
After that, I passed Hasami, and we nodded in acknowledgment of each other. The Beaulieu siblings were nowhere to be found.
I spotted them. Ash, Odessa, Anna, and Kendall at the table. They didn’t see me until I was close. I patted Anna on the back, she looked generally ill, I’d seen and sat down at the end of the table.
They reserved a spot. Aw.
“Hey guys,” I greeted them.
“What happened?” Kendall asked. He was on edge.
“After the trap, I teamed up with a small group. Ash took out the guy who took you lot out, and things unfolded from there. I kind of led my little group on a surprise attack and things went… weirdly,” I said. “…We killed them.”
“All of them?” Odessa said.
“Wow.” Anna gave me a thumbs up. Her smile didn’t reach her eyes.
Something’s different. Changed, visually?
“Things should be wrapping up then?” Kendall kept up his line of questioning.
“Yes. Christopher showed up to kill me, ironically. Gozo was massacring the remainder, and he got away, last I saw.” I lowered my forehead down onto the table. I had a killer headache.
“Gozo-” Kendall started and stopped. I knew why. He suspects. “You did well. Everyone did. But, they’ll announce the winner soon, and there’s not a lot of question about who it’s gonna be.”
Ash was quiet, I noticed. I peaked to see him with his back against the table, looking contemplative. I wondered what he could be thinking about.
“I understand,” I told Kendall. “But things will turn out alright.”
“Porter told us not to come back,” was Kendall’s response. “You believe that?”
Yes. “Yes.” No.
The conditions were fixed. So was the outcome. As it will always be.
No one spoke after that. I closed my eyes and let time pass by.