So, round 2. This one involves the Pillar Guardians clashing with their opponents through the medium of a board game. Surprisingly fun to write. My opponents are from a webcomic, it's worth taking a look at.
Pillar Guardians vs. Order of the Stick(LordGambit508)
Malek's polearm split the table in front of him.
"Well, My Lords? I spoke last time of parlour games. Now they have a knight, a necromancer, and an oracle literally playing games for this tournament of yours?"
Moebius looked up at him. "Actually, I find this quite refreshing. Can you imagine Vorador and I staking our lives on a chess match?"
"But we don't know the rules! Have you ever before heard of this 'Scrabble' they're asking of us?"
"No. But it's a game of words. Have you ever known anyone my equal when it comes to spinning webs with language?"
"Of course not, my lord, but your opponents are not among those I know of! Our opponents in this tournament are capable of surprises, we've seen that with that pathetic child!"
"Ah, but Malek, you are failing to consider something of considerable importance."
"And what is that?"
"Firstly, I will not be playing alone, so no single misstep can cost us all. Secondly, I don't believe our opponents are any more familiar with this game than ourselves. Thirdly, of course...We'll cheat."
"Ah. Of course."
Sakyo stepped out of his stretch limo, resisting the urge to glance skyward. It was a gamble, but it wasn't as though he was a stranger to taking risks. Death by Chocolate wanted a report on the tournament's progress, and of course he would not make a personal visit. Sakyo was expendable, and he knew it, but it was unlikely BORED would waste the Lotus on him, and reveal it to the world. The Daily Planet were preoccupied with a mysterious disappearance on their staff, but would probably still notice if someone was obliterated from space. So all he had to worry about were snipers, car bombs and the like.
Xykon was in the air, though which made any snipers unlikely. An undead dragon above them tended to make assassins rethink their career choice. All that said, Sakyo took a long breath when he finally made it inside the doors to the Metropolis International Convention Centre, the venue for the next stage of the tournament. This round was truly going to be a titanic clash, with the Contestants matching wits in Monopoly, Cluedo, Scrabble, Bullshit, Risk, and Trivial Pursuit. Sakyo had to admit, he was curious as to how it would turn out.
The undead dragon landed in the foyer, and Xykon, Lich Sorceror and Conqueror of the Paladin Stronghold Azure City, clicked his way into the building. Roughly thirty brown robed cultists followed in his wake with an assortment of weapons, Death by Chocolate's effort to protect his investment. Ascending to a small dais reserved for non participants, Sakyo glanced up as someone touched his arm.
Count Dracula smiled. "I don't believe we've met?"
Two huge feral wolves were on either side of the new BORED member, neither leashed, but he seemed to have little difficulty controlling them. Sakyo could tell with a glance that the two alone would slaughter at least a third of his cultists before being brought down, but by then, Dracula would be long gone. There'd be no value in treachery here.
"Sakyo Valdez. No, you joined after I...left. Why was that?"
"I'm undying. I don't need to fear damnation."
"I see. And you're here as a sponsor to..."
"The Order of the Stick." Xykon, standing beside the ex-BORED executive, didn't twitch.
"I'm not familiar with them. My team are Pillar Guardians, they run a crusade to eradicate vampires."
Dracula blinked, before slowly starting to smile. "A dangerous pastime. I wish them well." His eyes flickered red for an instant. The two sponsors settled back to watch the Contestants arrive.
Malek, as always, arrived ahead of his fellows, spear in hand. Then Moebius, the building's plush red carpeting clashing horribly with his characteristic purple robe, followed by a pair of clawed wraiths and the Necromancer. They'd spent most of the previous night familiarising themselves with the rules of this word game they would be playing...which would not leave them at their peak of ability, but better that than entirely ignorant. Moebius had revealed a tendency to wait for an extremely high scoring move before striking with devastating results, while Malek mostly took the simple options. He didn't make grand designs, but seldom made a mistake, making him almost more dangerous. Mortanius wasn't quite the dancer the Time Streamer was, but he could surprise with knowledge of medical and religious terms. They probably couldn't contest masters of the game, but Moebius was confident they could at least force their opponents to take them seriously.
The Time Streamer scanned the dais. Sakyo advanced to meet them, stopping short at the base of the steps, accompanied by an undead and four robed cultists. The lich was no mindless servant, though, scanning the room with an aura of mild boredom despite having no facial expression to convey this. The Oracle addressed his sponsor.
"I didn't expect to see you here personally."
"Thought I'd keep an eye on things...I don't expect treachery."
Moebius smiled. "You say that to me?"
Another man advanced to his side, this one in a waistcoat. "Moebius, correct? Instigator of the Sarafan Purge?"
"Count Vlad Dracula." The Time Streamer saw the man's irises flash red. A human would not have noticed the Time Streamer's slightly increased heartrate, but Dracula gifted him with a thin smile.
No...I can't be sure. This is a new world to me.
"An honour to make your acquaintance, sir." The Time Streamer extended a hand. He'd seen the greeting used in this plane, although in Nosgoth the more correct etiquette would be a salute or bow. Dracula continued to smile, obliging him. As they shook, the Time Streamer's thumb glided over the Count's wrist.
No pulse. Cold skin. Hair on the knuckles, which can happen if they spend too much time in wolf form. This one is powerful, and I left my staff behind.
There was a clatter from the entrance. "Xykon!" Another team had just entered, and were unlimbering weapons. Malek stepped between his charges and the drawn blades, which grouped the pillar guardians at the base of the dais, apparently arranged to protect the sponsors. The new group's leader, (Roy, if Moebius' scrying was to be believed) took a sharp step forward.
"I don't know who you are, but don't make us cut through you. We're here for the lich."
Sakyo glanced at his bodyguard. "You know them?"
Xykon hesitated, then shook his head. "They look familiar, but..."
After whispering instructions to his teammates, Roy burst into a sprint, green-hilted sword springing into his grip. Four cultists stood up.
"Blade Barrier!" At the base of the dais, a screen of flashing blades arose, bringing Roy to a halt. He could push through if necessary, but against someone like Xykon, he'd need to be at full strength in the battle, and the Lich wasn't alone. Cutting through the guards would...probably start a riot, to no good purpose. Very reluctantly, Roy sheathed his sword, as Vaarsuvius raised her hands to counter any magic sent their way.
"You killed my father's master!"
Xykon cocked his head. "I did? So...You're coming to avenge the death of some dude you've never even met? Just who are you?"
"...What? You don't know? All the recent events of your life have revolved around me!"
"Nope, still nothing. Listen, kid, I'm contracted to guard this guy right now. We can settle up later if you like. Right now, just sit back and do what you're paid for."
"Agreed." Dracula said "Fulfill your obligations to me under the tournament, and I'll arrange matters to your satisfaction. I guarantee it."
Moebius retreated from the base of the dais. Fists clenched tight. He'd seen enough Elder vampires to know that they didn't die easily. If he forced battle, he'd need a situation where the odds were stacked in his favour.
I f we win this tournament, I can claim his head as my prize. And suddenly, the tournament was more than a game, and the Oracle was without his omniscience.
God. Help me. Please.
The Oracle of Nosgoth spun to face the Order of the Stick, robe flaring.
"So, you want to claim this undead creature for yourself? I fear you will not succeed, not while we stand here. For I plan to claim my own prize. Enough wordplay, then! Lay on, mortals! It's time to duel!"
Moebius was mystified by the fit of giggles that consumed Sakyo's cultists.
Pillar Guardians and Order of the Stick took their seats.
"Yeah, enough wordplay. Let's play Scrabble." Roy's teeth flashed.
"This hardly seems fair. There are six of you."
Moebius raised his head. "Tell me...Belkar, would you be interested in a job offer?"
The halfling's eyes narrowed. "What kind?"
"Belkar..." Roy warned.
"Hired killer. You keep the spoils of any Elder vampires you slay."
"Belkar, I can activate the Mark of Justice any time..."
"Mark of Justice?"
"A curse that stops me from killing living things inside a town. Roy can activate it too."
"I see...well, my order has many powerful mages. You can't aid us, but I would suggest standing aside, provide for your future. Bear in mind one thing ...Vampires aren't alive! But they fear, and heal quickly. One can inflict unimaginable horrors on a vampire body before they expire. Think on it."
Belkar considered a while, then pushed back his chair. "Sorry Roy. I've got my future to consider."
"It's no use, Roy. Evil manipulator. Special ability: Turning team members against each other. There's nothing we can do." Elan settled in his chair as the Time Streamer turned his eyes on him.
"Evil? I'm curious as to how you arrived at that conclusion."
"Well, y'know, robe, fragile appearance, deep voice. Plus you're defending a Necromancer. Necromancers are always evil. So are undead. Undead necromancer? Evil!"
Malek's mailed fist crashed down on the table. "Mortanius is one of the only truly altruistic people I have ever met. You would be wise to−" The Necromancer caught his arm.
"Paladin, I can speak for myself in this." He turned his eyes to the bard. "Why do you consider necromancy an evil art?"
"Your servants are have to do what you say,forever. They can't escape."
A sigh. "Most of the time, I bind corpses, not souls. If the soul is gone, what need have they for the body? And when I do bind souls, I bind them back into their body. I strike deals, bard. They gain the opportunity to retread the material plane for a time in exchange for service to me. On occasion, I can be their path to revenge or some other goal they failed in life. They are free to choose instead to wander the realm of the dead eternally until they are snared by some predator of lost souls. As for undeath, in itself it is not an insight into moral character. But, if it eases your mind..." Mortanius passed a hand before his face, dismissing his mask and revealing his all too human face. "So, am I still evil to your mind, bard? For accepting a role I was born to? The attitude is familiar to me."
Pause. Moebius began to speak again.
"So, if we are not clearly evil, what does that make you and your order? Tell me, what is the purpose of this 'Order' of yours?"
"To defeat the Lich Xykon."
"And you think yourself 'good'?"
"Shut up..." This from Roy.
"Why? If you're secure in your virtue, you have nothing to fear from me. Why do you feel the need to defeat this Lich?"
"...So it has nothing to do with your leader's dead father's master, then? Tell me, Roy, were you on very good terms with him?"
The fighter glanced down.
"Ah! Not so altruistic now, are you? This quest is based on personal revenge, bard. And you dare to call me a force for evil? I lead a crusade to eradicate vampires, creatures who by definition must constantly prey on humanity. Will you disband once Xykon falls to you? What will you do then, bard? Tell the story, which you have witnessed, yes? And go down in history as one of the great storytellers no doubt. You showed with your appraisal of me your familiarity with tales of virtue. Your goal is to carve out glory for yourself and your comrades, and don't pretend otherwise."
Elan the bard stared at him for a long moment, then fled the table.
"Wait!" The archer followed in his wake
Ah. They're in love. Good, two birds with one stone.
He glanced sideways. "Have the odds been reduced to your satisfaction, Paladin?"
"Enough? Perhaps. Shall we draw tiles?"
They obliged, the Time Streamer finding himself under a certain regard from his opponents. Once all four players drew their seven tiles (Durkon had difficulty with anything other than his own particular dialect, forcing Mortanius to step aside to keep the teams even), Roy gestured for him to begin.
"Take care, Roy...much as it pains me to agree with our bard, this one fits his role." The mage, pointed ears twitching, stared like a drill.
"Does that make my words any less true? Truly, Roy, thin−"
"Shut up. I'm not as easily distracted as my bard, you won't break my focus...I know what you're trying to do. How does it feel to have him at your side, you other two? "
"Don't try to play my game, Fighter. You're outmatched, I hold all the cards." And Moebius laid tiles on the field. ACE, across the central square. Show me, Order. What are you capable of? He drew forth his replacement tiles. Q. Useless without a U.
Next, Varsuuvius. The mage's ears twitched. CHERRY, Double Word Score. Moebius' eyes might have flickered, but no outsider could discern anything from their dull grey surface. Knight and necromancer were both masked, so any keen eye had only the Time Streamer's face to deal with, which Moebius had spent centuries schooling to appear exactly how he wished it to be. Nonetheless, the elf mage's teeth glinted.
Roy Greenhilt. The leader of the self proclaimed 'Order of the Stick', composed of a full six members. There was something in his eyes...
BRACE, using Moebius' initial gambit on its heels. Statement of intent. Oracle met fighter's stare.
"I won't lose." Both spoke in the same moment.
Malek, to close the round. VAMBRACE. The players sat back in their chairs. Double Word score, using a rare letter. Moebius didn't try to hide his smile, watching the mage spit in rage.
Back to Moebius. Abstention, and exchange of letters with the drawstring bag.
Varsuuvius. Under the table, Moebius let a lightning bolt leap from his hand, stinging her thigh. The elf slid back her chair with teeth bared, hands rising.
"Chain Lightn−" Mortanius had been watching for exactly this kind of thing, and his two wraiths took the elf off her feet. Varsuuvius, if Moebius' scrying could be believed, was absurdly powerful, but she had to speak to channel her powers, which meant that the Pillar Guardians could react more quickly. Malek's spear stretched across the table, where, to his mild surprise, it met and was held by Roy's sword. Then Deadpool was in their midst, unlimbering a pair of handcannons with enough fluidity to make the Oracle nervous.
Varsuuvius clenched a fist on her nearest wraith. "Disintegrate." And the creature was ashes. Eyes blazing, the mage gained her feet, obliterating the second wraith as four more emerged from black portals at floor level.
"That's enough!" Somehow, neither Sakyo Valdez nor Vlad Dracula had any difficulty making themselves heard. "The next Contestant to commit a violent act within these walls is going to be cut loose from our protection!"
The Contestants didn't quiver in fear, but they didn't continue to attack either.
"I believe," said Mortanius with a ghost of a smile (his Deathmask was capable of conveying emotions if he chose, to the point where some believed it his true face) "It may be time for a short break."
With the Necromancer and Dwarf guarding the table, the players obliged.
When Moebius returned, he brought with him an opaque mug of water. No one thought to comment on it, nor his habit of staring into its depths while considering his next move. The mage's ears twitched, but she couldn't comment, both of them having been forced to agree to a vow of silence before being allowed to return to their seats. Besides, Moebius could then draw attention to the handmirror stowed in the sleeve of her robe.
Two mages, both with centuries of experience of human thought and playing with words. Two warriors, both almost unrivalled among their own. And they were sitting at the same table, playing a word game. How the world trembled.
Pale tiles built patterns across the board, an intricate expanding web of possibilities. With both viewing each other's tile racks, the two took pleasure in thwarting potential options, dancing around each other's matrices of words. Thus far, Varsuuvius took care to avoid placing a 'U' anywhere he could use. Technically, he could abandon his 'Q', but somehow that felt like a concession, a cheat. (As opposed to staring into his mug, which merely gave him an edge.)
Meanwhile, Malek and Roy played on, caught up in their own duel, pulling words from nowhere, military terms referring to obscure segments of plate armour or weaponcare such as schynbalds or faulds. There was some dispute over spelling occasionally, but knight and fighter rarely contested a word's existence. Moebius ought to have paid more attention, but he was fully occupied with his own adversary.
He was sweating more than when the immortal wraith Raziel closed claws on his throat, an event waiting some four centuries in his future.
Time passed. Tiles dwindled. With less than a minute until the two hour time limit expired, Moebius and Varsuuvius were on a shared score. Her move. The drawstring bag was empty, both of them had five tiles each. It would come down to this.
Varsuuvius played her hand. QUICK. 20 points. And she'd finally handed him a U he could use, the others being deposited in awkward corners. Mistake? ...No.
He had only one true option with his remaining letters. SQUID. Score of 15. Moebius the Time Streamer had lost the game.
Malek's helmet turned. "What's a squid?"
"A sea creature of some kind. I have not seen one, and I don't particularly wish to. I'm told they're repulsive." He'd been told the tidbit by a fisherman while investigating a vampiric murder in the early days of the Sarafan Order.
Malek returned his attention to the game, and Moebius realised with a shock that the Paladin was well ahead. While Varsuuvius and Moebius had been caught up in outdoing each other with grand designs, the Paladin and his opponent had been steadily if unimaginatively raising their prospective scores, eventually passing out both their teammates. Roy had tried valiantly, but Malek had begun the game with a substantial lead and he'd never quite managed to close.
"That's game to the armoured dude. Wow, you take your scrabble seriously."
There was heaviness to Roy's step as he stood up. The creature clearly did want that lich, badly. The Time Streamer caught his arm.
"We aren't necessarily enemies. If you don't impede me, I won't seek to prevent you claiming that lich's head. By this tournament's end, we will likely need all our concentration for other matters. There's no need for unnecessary conflict, we may even be of use to each other. Bear that in mind."
Tired eyes met the featureless greyness of the Time Streamer's. "I don't trust you."
"But...find me Xykon's phylactery, his soul vessel, and we'll stay out of your way."
Hah...foolish, fighter. You've just handed me a window into your motivation. This, I can use.