Story:Infinite Tournament: Alder Carnelian vs. Ahrganot Skizgo
Infinite Tournament: Alder Carnelian vs. Ahrganot Skizgo is a crossover story.
Alder peered around the corner with his squad of Neil, Crow and Lynette standing behind him with bayonets at their ready. Several decayed corpses lay curled up in the city streets with bits of their chests scraped open with crimson glowing glass like shards piercing them. Not from a monster, but from the air itself - tiny Deep Ekati crystals slicing them open from inside their lungs.
They took swigs from their serums, still apprehensively reassured it would protect them from the plague. Alder turned to his squad to give them the hand signal to follow, circling around the corner to tactically position themselves around the corner. With another hand signal, they each drove their bayonets into specific spots on the skulls of the corpses. For Alder, right on target with perfect precision. Just at the right spot to sever the connection between the magic using part of the brain and the rest of the nervous system.
With a single clean movement, Alder, Neil and Crow pulled their rifles out from the corpses as they faded into glassy dust. But Lynette struggled for a moment before pulling hers out. She tore the wound as the flesh ripped further than expected. When the corpse didn't fade away like the others, she stared at it, paralyzed with fear while the other three stood with their eyes locked. She missed - the bayonet that supply gave her dulled too quickly after multiple uses.
Still laying down, the corpse opened its eyelids revealing bloodied, empty eye sockets beneath only to let out an ear piercing shriek that echoed across the plagued city. The other squad members didn't hear her over the shriek, but Lynette uttered an obscenity to follow up with her mistake.
In a matter of moments, a thundering stampede of footsteps surrounded them on all sides. Emerging from the corners of the city blocks, skinless walking corpses with crimson crystal ingots jutting out of their bodies: ghouls. No sense in remaining quiet anymore. Alder ordered a circle position - his squad pointing their rifles in all directions.
“Contact! Fire at will!” Alder shouted. Bullets boomed, ripping through the hordes of ghouls like paper. But more and more of them crept around the corners, flailing themselves mindlessly towards Alder and his companions.
From one of the floors above, a window smashed open as a single ghoul dived from above. He could hear it but not see it. He only had a few seconds to react. He freed his right hand from the grip of his rifle and clenched his fist. The tattoo on the back of his hand glowed a moonlit purple as he stopped the ghoul with his palm, launching it into the sky.
“Alder!” Neil called out. “What are you doing?! You could-”
“Stand back, I’m not done yet.” Alder’s body turned into a purple haze which swirled behind the ghouls. A giant shadowy hand grabbed clumps of them, crushing them. “Come get me!” he taunted.
Neil, Crow and Lynette watched in awe as he redirected the ghouls’ attention. In minutes, the hellish screams were silenced. All the ghouls in the vicinity either with bullet holes or crushed bones. The purple haze coalesced itself and Alder dropped to the ground on his knees in a nearby alley.
“Alder!” Lynette called out running towards him.
“Don't come any closer!” Alder shouted as he clasped his pounding head. His vision dimmed and his arms moved as if they were someone else's. Alder couldn't help but watch as his arms reached for his rifle. Kill. Kill. The words of the Grand Idol echoed. Kill. He’d gone so long without making a sacrifice to that sadistic god that it grew hungry especially from Alder heavily borrowing its power. The longer he went without satiating the Grand Idol, the more it warped and twisted his mind. That was the curse of the Grand Idol.
“Alder? It's us. Your squadmates. Your friends,” Crow pleaded.
Alder tried to fight the Grand Idol’s bloodlust. His arms quivering as they struggled against the power of the curse. Lynette jumped towards him trying to calm him to his senses. With a quick embrace, she emanated a gentle light from her fingertips with healing magic flowing out like an early spring creek. The rampant emotions stirring within Alder calmed themselves and he came to his senses. At least that's how Alder remembered how it went.
But somehow, it didn't. Instead, Alder grasped his rifle and shoved the bayonet tip through Lynette’s abdomen, blood soaking the cloth around the wound. She didn't scream, just gasped her last breath as her body slumped over. And before Neil and Crow could react, time grinded to a standstill everything going dead quiet.
Alder stood up to see the three of them frozen in place. Lynette’s body hadn’t hit the ground yet and neither had any drops of blood from the stab wound. Neil and Crow stood locked in terrified shock. Even the dust in the air grew as still as a photograph and his footsteps made no sound. Was this another hallucination at the hands of the Grand Idol? He waited for it to go away, thinking of the calming thoughts Lynette bestowed him with her healing magic. But reality didn’t return to normal. The three of them remained frozen no different than wax figures.
There had to be a way out, he thought. An escape from being trapped in this moment of regret. Desperately, he stood up and looked about. He wandered about to leave the plagued city. Everything dead quiet. Where ghouls had once crept around the corner, they stood frozen, captured as an image. He retraced his steps, the operational directions as to how he approached the sector of the city.
He reached the iron gate and the wall that divided the city into its sectors by wealth. Maybe he could find a makeshift way to climb over. But when he approached the wall, the ground below him stretched and distorted. No matter how close he got, he seemed to never reach the wall even though it lay a mere few meters in front of him. He sprinted further and further, but somehow, he couldn't reach it as if it were eternally far away.
No, there had to be another way out. He ran along the edge of the wall passing by other frozen soldiers engaged in combat with ghouls. He could go along the perimeter but the moment he would approach the wall, it’d become eternally far away again.
Hours must have passed, yet the sun didn't move. For that matter, the pattern of overcast clouds hadn't changed either. He could pick out the same shapes of smog that remained unchanged since he left his squad in the alley. And with that, he returned to check on them. His three companions not having changed positions. All the corpses of the ghouls they killed unmoved.
Oddly, the terror and insanity going through his head wasn't the Grand Idol gnawing at his thoughts. No, the Grand Idol had been silent. For that matter, it didn't occur to him that the moment time froze, the Grand Idol made no further compulsions or demands. Perhaps the Grand Idol had been frozen as well.
Even though time remained still, Alder’s eye caught something that moved, a leaflet that bounced and floated about as if the wind were still moving. Refreshing to see movement for the first time in hours. Not able to ignore it, Alder chased it and snatched it. Upon uncrinkling it, he found the leaflet to contain strange glyphs which in a matter of moments, morphed into the Argurosian dialect of the Leirian language.
“Tear this leaflet,” he read, “and you’ll be granted a second chance to set things right.” He dismissed it in contempt and disgust as he threw it off to the side again. “The Grand Idol has gotten creative with his hallucinations. I’m not falling for it.”
But if this were the work of the Grand Idol, he’d be hearing the head pounding voice again. But nothing. No mocking voices. Even so, this had been the quietest his mind had been. Is this what death was like? Did Neil and Crow kill him out of anger? Or was it the ghoul that leaped from above that did him in? Were the environment nicer, he could relax here. All his troubles gone. Except they weren't.
Alder turned to Lynette’s slumped over body. By now, her skin and eyes would've faded into a lifeless pale white, but no. Lynette maintained the same expression on her face, not of fear or shock, but of sadness and disappointment. A single tear each in both eyes trickled down Alder’s face. In good conscious, could he leave her like that for eternity? To leave his friends trapped in a state of eternal terror?
Alder turned to the note he discarded earlier. The one thing in this reality that still moved. He uncrinkled it and glanced through the text once more. If this was what eternal regret was like, he didn't want it.
Without further hesitation, he tore the note in two only that along the tears, the fabric of reality also tore with translucent crystalline fractals spilling out and distorting reality. The buildings around him split and warped into repeating tesseracts and other polygonal shapes that enveloped him. An invisible force yanked him through as he speedily drifted through the warping, spinning rainbow shapes that transitioned across the entire color spectrum. Planets, nebulae, and even entire galaxies flew past him.
Then he stopped briefly. Opening up before him, a pair of enormous glowing red eyes stared him down before Alder was once more whisked away in a different direction to be greeted with equally surreal, non descript imagery. This time accompanied by high speed voices - familiar ones. Lynette, Crow and Neil. They spoke too fast for him to understand, but he could feel their presence. The deep bassline of the Grand Idol wormed its way in among the voices before overtaking them and shouting until the imagery turned to white noise static. Just when the Grand Idol’s booming voice reached its loudest, space around shattered like glass shards which turned into polygonal butterflies fluttering away, revealing a dark, featureless void.
When Alder got a bearing on his senses, he found himself in a wooden chair in the middle of a shallow pool of water that extended infinitely into the black void. The only other sound: a ticking grandfather clock, but one he couldn't see anywhere.
A brief moment later, a tall shadowy figure emerged from the darkness approaching him. Alder tried to stand up, but invisible binds binds kept him seated.
“Thirteen ticks,” the figure muttered. It came closer. “It's simple don’t you understand? Forward. Backward. Left. Right. Up. Down. Past. Future. This outcome. That outcome.”
“Who are you?!” Alder screamed. “Did you bring me here?”
“Death. There is no such thing. Everything is eternal. Even fleeting thoughts.”
Alder remained puzzled by the non sequitur response. “Am I dead? Is this the afterlife? Or just another of the Grand Idol's tricks?”
The figure paused, then dramatically removed his coat which had somehow unveiled the black void to a series of great pillars floating among many fragments of worlds as fireworks streaked about in circular patterns. The watery floor dissipated and Alder only sat in a chair floating in an endless space.
“Behold!” the figure bellowed as his form took a clear shape, one of that of a tall man with green skin garbed with a coat, a top hat and a cane. “I am Henkle Osborn, creator of the greatest show the omniverse has ever known! Alder Carnelian, you’ve been invited to take part in the Infinite Tournament, an event whose spectators are the gods themselves.”
“I don't have time for these games,” Alder stated, trying to sound unimpressed. “I need to get back to Jacinth to save my comrades from-.”
“Not to worry, my friend. We’ve got all the time in the world here, because in my domain, time is irrelevant,” Henkle replied. “If you would take a moment to look around you, perhaps you’ll understand where you are.”
Alder did just that. He turned to his left. Surrounding him were thousands of other copies of him sitting in chairs floating in space. He turned to his right. More of them. Like an enormous mirror, thousands, maybe tens of thousands of Alders sitting in floating wooden chairs arranged concentrically like a sphere pointing towards Henkle regardless of gravity direction.
Upon closer look, he could see a few of them who weren't exactly like him. Different hair styles, skin colors, even other genders. Even the chairs were different from one another carved with different patterns.
But as he looked further, he noticed some of the Alders were not him, but nonhuman individuals with diversity increasing further away. These were not only different people, but different beings from different worlds.
“Welcome, Alder Carnelian, to the multiverse,” Henkle stated dramatically. “And yes, I speak to all of you - alternate counterparts from other parallel worlds but with minute variations. Infinite copies of one person - you, Alder.”
“What do you want from me?” Alder said.
“I’ve gathered you, your copies, other individuals and their copies who piqued my curiosity to take part in a contest. You are to entertain the gods with a spectacle in my arena, battling to the end of your current life. The rules are simple. You win, you survive to next round eventually being granted the knowledge and wisdom of the gods. And there’s the additional bonus of returning to your home. But if you lose, you are reborn and you try again until you win, but you can't leave until then. Of course, by laws of probability, some of you will be stuck here for a veeerrry long time. Just pray that person isn't you.”
Alder could see from the corner of his eyes a few copies of himself wriggling their way out of their chairs in desperation, looking to escape the horrors that might come next and dropping themselves to plummet into oblivion - only for an unseen force to place them back where they were. Alder’s stomach turned trying to process how many thousands, if not millions of these other counterparts simultaneously attempted to end their lives, only to be denied that right.
“Did I mention there is no forfeit?” Henkle taunted. “You can't back out on a deal after choosing to come here. There is also no true death for everything in the multiverse is eternal. All what matters to you is finding your escape.”
“Do your worst,” Alder muttered.
Henkle’s hand grew to an enormous ghastly shadow with spidery fingers. “Let's see. Who to enter for the next round.” A short moment later, a smaller version of Henkle’s hand appeared before Alder as it pointed at his forehead. “You.”
Alder glanced about to see the same hand pointing at all of them. Nobody was exempt. The hands grew and enveloped everyone, dragging them towards the center of the pillars. Alder couldn't see anything save for a flash of white.
When Alder opened his eyes, he found himself standing on an arena-sized floating platform with many obstacles. In the starry space around him, dozens of enormous pairs of eyes gazed down upon the arena. He looked at himself and found that Henkle garbed him with all the best equipment of the Arguros military, way better than the incompetent gear the supply unit issued him.
“Round Two Billion One Hundred Forty Seven Million Four Hundred and Eighty Three Thousand Six Hundred and Forty Seven is about to begin,” Henkle's voice echoed. “In Slot 1, we have the handsome heir to House Carnelian of Arguros, Alder Carnelian!”
A disembodied crowd booed him. Presumably whatever those staring eyes were.
“And in Slot 2, the blue-skinned man with a plan to win. A stealthy assassin with a way with his counterpart gender. The legendary galactic hero. Ahrganot Skizgo!” This time, the disembodied crowd cheered thunderous anticipation. Mere moments later, a lean figure in a green jumpsuit dropped from above and landed gracefully, striking a pose with his daggers. This figure wasn't human but humanoid - barely an adult. He bore cyan skin, dark blue hair, large pointed ears and big red eyes. If Alder didn't know better, he'd say it was a Frost Elf.
“You seem awfully thrilled for someone who’s also trapped here,” Alder said.
Ahrganot spoke an alien language back to him, but somehow, Alder could understand it. “You, my friend, should ease up. You’ve got as many tries to beat me. Might take you a while though.”
Alder drew his rifle getting himself in a combat stance. “Then I’ll take all the time I need.”
Henkle’s voice echoed one more time. “You know the rules. No forfeits. Only one gets to walk out of this arena alive. Now...” Henkle paused dramatically. “Fight!”
Alder wasted no time firing his rifle, but Ahrganot dodged them quickly. He speedily leaped about the arena until things got silent. He was nowhere to be found. What a coward. Why didn't he just come out?
Alder kept his guard up, anticipating where he might strike. He peered around the corner to see what appeared to be Ahrganot crouching looking the other direction. Had he really just gained the element of surprise so easily. It seemed too convenient. But Alder had no time to think. He lunged his bayonet at Ahrganot, only for Ahrganot to shatter into light crystals. “What?” It was a fake. Alder readied himself, but couldn't find Ahrganot anywhere.
“Alright, Sashelma. Lock on target to the center of mass...and...Gotcha!” the real Ahrganot said just as he fired off a sniper round. A bullet punctured Alder’s chest, just missing his heart. He stumbled over and collapsed.
“Hooray, Ahrganot-san! You did it!” an electronic voice in Ahrganot's headset sounded off cheerily.
“Couldn't have done it without you, Sashelma. Take a virtual Geolichen potato.”
“Yay! Potato!” Sashelma said as she virtually munched down Ahrganot's offering. “So yummy!”
Ahrganot leaped out from hiding and landed at Alder’s position. “You fell for the hard light hologram? Guess you don't have those in your world.”
Alder lay still. “Hard light what?”
Ahrganot took a closer inspection at Alder’s wound. “Weird, my awesome snipeshot should’ve killed you. You didn't even draw blood. Are you a super being or something?” Ahrganot tapped his ear. “Sashelma, can you get a detailed analysis on this guy’s anatomy now that we're in range?”
“Mmm-hmm Ahrganot-san! Anything for you!” an electronic voice happily replied. A visor appeared over Ahrganot's eyes.
“So you only have one heart then,” Ahrganot said. “And your blood is red. Interesting.” The blue assassin drew out his two daggers and twirled them. “You’re a human, then. And humans have weakspots, so let's find out if these do the trick,” he said twirling both his daggers.
Ahrganot moved in for the kill, preparing to slice at Alder’s throat. “See ya.” But Ahrganot noted Alder’s glowing purple tattoo.
“Detecting an enormous energy surge coming from the target. Ahrganot-san, get back!” Sashelma said to Ahrganot. And with that, Alder morphed into a purple haze welling with power. Before Ahrganot could jump back, an invisible energy released itself knocking Ahrganot to the ground.
“Sashelma? What was that?” Ahrganot exclaimed. “Sashelma?”
“Potato. Potato. Potato. Potato,” Sashelma repeated monotonously.
“No...Sashelma.” Ahrganot muttered with a hint of grief. “Run command: System diagnostic!”
“Running system diagnostic. Ahrganot-san, I don't feel so good. Things are getting a bit fuzzy here.”
“Run command: Repair tool.”
“Running: Potato tool.”
“No, repair tool!”
“I can't think straight after whatever that potato was. It's damaged my targeting sensors and language potato processing.”
“Dammit! Sashelma, I need you for this!”
“You can potato this, Ahrganot. I potato in you. I think I’m going to take a nap now…”
Alder condensed back to human form, locking eyes with Ahrganot. Did Alder really hear all that ridiculousness? Was he hallucinating again? Did the Grand Idol develop a cringeworthy sense of humor? That’d be worse than any torture Alder had survived thus far.
Regardless, the Grand Idol’s booming voice returned to Alder’s head. Kill. Kill. It was time to satiate the beast lest more hallucinations return.
“Am I supposed to take all that seriously?” Alder mocked. “Really? A disembodied girlfriend with an obsession over potatoes?”
“Shut up! Go eff yourself!” Ahrganot shouted back, strangely puzzled how he was unable to pronounce the desired profane word. “I do whatever I want!”
“What happened to the level-headed, expert assassin I was just facing against?”
“I saw your mom getting it on with Garro in Dark Zone extranet VR’s. Phew, those tentacles-"
“Are you done acting like a child?” Alder said. Alder mocked. “No more games. I have soldiers to return to. A country to protect. And an honor to maintain.”
“Screw that! You’ll pay for what you did to Sashelma!”
Ahrganot charged in blind rage at Alder who effortlessly teleported a short distance away with purple haze then followed up with a punch that flung Ahrganot to the ground. Ahrganot tried again and again to approach, watching for Alder's patterns. But he couldn't strike a hit.
True, Sashelma would come back after the round ended. But no matter how many times she died, he couldn't bear to see her suffer over and over. If Ahrganot could score a victory, should Sashelma return to life, he'd promise her a million potatoes and then some.
Once again, Alder pushed Ahrganot back. “Is that all?” Alder said.
Ahrganot took a different stance. This time, he had a different look in his eyes. One of devotion. Dedication. But also of revenge. Ahrganot locked his eyes more focused, but now with targeted anger. He dropped his daggers and let electricity flow through his fingertips as arc streams burst out, crackling like thunder. Alder couldn't evade it. The volts rained on him like lightning, charring his body to a crisp as he screamed in pain. It burnt him faster than the purple haze could heal him.
When the dust settled, Ahrganot leaned over, exhausted and dropped to a knee, to see Alder lying on the ground motionless.
“That was for Sashelma...” before Ahrganot collapsed. But just when he expected to hear Henkle call the match over, Alder’s body quickly vanished in haze and reformed itself. Still charred, but now standing upright.
“What the hell are you?” Ahrganot weakly said as he stood up.
“I don't want to fight you kid,” Alder said. “I didn't want to come here. So how about let’s call it a draw?” Promptly, thunderous booing echoed from the spectators.
Ahrganot barely stood up. He made a polite bow. “You have no idea how long I’ve been here. I’ve become less emotionally resilient. I fight and fight, and there's always that one opponent I can't beat. My boasting was just a facade.” Ahrganot attempted to hide his tears, but his voice still creaked. “Do you have any idea what it's like to die over and over again only to be brought back? This place is hell!”
“Then, will you accept my truce?” Alder replied.
Ahrganot nodded. “Sure. Screw Henkle. Screw those sadistic gods who treat us like playthings. Screw the whole multiverse!”
Ahrganot reached to shake Alder's hand, eagerly willing to accept. But Alder recalled. This guy shoots electricity out of his hands, right? Obvious trap. He didn't buy it. But what if he was sincere? Did he really mean to make a truce in spite Henkle’s rules. But there were the rules after all. These were cosmic beings he was dealing with.
Unwilling to take the risk, Alder drew out his bayonet and stabbed it through Ahrganot's abdomen - even on his species, a weakspot for him.
“You...bastard…” Ahrganot muttered staring Alder down before slumping over. The cosmic crowd cheered as Henkle declared Alder the winner to advance to the next round. And with that, the Grand Idol's voice quieted now satisfied with a kill. Alder's mind was finally clear for the first time in years. And it felt good.
Even with Ahrganot's alien face, he still managed that same expression not of fear or shock, but of sadness and disappointment.Before Alder could react, fractal butterflies swarmed Alder, whisking him to the great space with the concentric floating chairs
“Not bad, Alder,” Henkle said emerging from the center of the space. “What made you do it?”
“I may be in a multiverse with many copies of people. But the Lynette, Neil and Crow I know are just one of each. There are no others like them even if they look the same as other people. That's my reason to go back.”
Henkle devilishly smirked. “Do these other copies believe the same thing about themselves?”
“These copies have minute differences, right? I intend to be the one with the most ambition. Only then can I return home. If death is meaningless here, then I can risk everything without consequence. I will push the bounds and no one will stop me.”
“Boastful, but empty words. I’ve already heard you say them verbatim in sixty-six million alternate timelines to this one, and in all of those, you lose to your next opponent.”
Alder paused then asserted himself. ”Then I intend for this timeline to be the one where I win.”
“Hehehehe, so that doesn't discourage you,” Henkle chuckled as he raised his cane. “Looks like our viewers are in for one hell of a show.”