Story:Infinite Tournament: Trials of Tholker Zhevhyit
Infinite Tournament: Trials of Tholker Zhevhyit is the third story in the Infinite Tournament series.
The deed was done. INFRA was dead. Incarnation of Sturmas. And now, he’d become a war god. Tholker’s soul drifted through the magnificent cosmos alongside the spirits of so many other soldiers. Their soul essences brilliantly alight like flocks of fireflies from the starlight of the galactic core. He gazed at the remains of a wrecked jumpgate - the one that once lead to the hellish universe of Locubrermour, home to that devilish god.
As Tholker looked behind him, a dark void welled behind him taking the shape of a tall cloaked man in black. INFRA? No. It couldn’t be. He was dead. Tholker had just killed him. Maybe one of the Star Gods? The figure reached out with its skeletal hand made of a material not unlike hardened, charred bones. In spite of the being’s frightening appearance, there was a certain gentleness to it as its sullen golden pupil-less eyes gazed at him.
“Come, my Star Warrior. The battle is not over.”
“What’s going on?” Tholker asked. “We won, didn’t we?”
“You may have vanquished the foul Sturmas in this world, but he still lives in the next,” the being said. “However, your brothers and sisters are safe now. Your family can rest, and your children can play no longer worrying about the great evil of the galaxy.”
Tholker paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. His household manifested itself in his head. Every single one of his children. His wives. Even Ahrganot, Etah and the other GSSOC members were there. Sure, his family was effectively government-issued, and the other GSSOC members had mixed feelings of him.
“I have little attachment to them,” Tholker said. “All I know is just war. What reason do I have to go anywhere else?”
“None,” the being said. “Were you born a few decades later, perhaps you’d be closer to your friends and family.”
“And yet for me, my work isn’t done,” Tholker said, “Take me to the place where I can find Sturmas.”
Tholker reached with his hand, and the figure pulled him through the dark void. The eternal struggle began.
Tholker found himself standing in the middle of a street plaza as neon skyscrapers overlooked him. Not the first place he’d been to since he said yes to the Star God. And most certainly, not the last. The dark void from which he entered extended and overtook the sky. No civilians. No people. An empty city, until he spotted movement in the shadows.
Slender, doll-like beings emerged from the shadows with no eyes, but with a glowing red emblem in place of a face. Several of these dolls morphed to take the shape of familiar goblin-like beings. Buyuk.
“Sturmas…” Tholker muttered as he drew out his rifle and fired away at the Buyuk. As he shot, normal blood did not come out, but merely puffs of feathers releasing black smoke and oily blood. Just more of the same. He lost track of how long he had been slaying these dolls or even how many other places he had killed them. Just another systematic execution of the minions of Sturmas. But this time, something different. When he was sure he had destroyed all of them, rain trickled from the sky. Thunder crackled and lightning flashed.
“You’re looking for the one who you call Sturmas?” an ethereal voice rang.
“Where is he?!”
The rain took an odd shape, forming a puddle from which a watery being emerged. A child with blue skin and white hair. A bit like a Vaikan, but a tad too smooth looking. “Is he anything like the monster who created this pale imitation of my city? His true name is Henkle Osborn.”
“If you know all of that, what are you doing here with me?”
“I, too, wish to destroy him,” the watery boy said. “All gods must die.”
“Unfortunately for you, there are a few billion of us war gods and only one of you.”
“A war god?” the boy pondered. “Then, that makes you my enemy. Henkle Osborn told me I would be facing a god. And I will slay them all until I get the chance to slay Henkle himself.”
Tholker held his rifle, pointing it straight at the boy.
“I doubt he’s stupid enough to let that happen, but you’re stupid enough to believe it. Who will get to Sturmas first? Tholker Dhazdan Iniya Zhevhyit Khurgis will.”
The boy stared at him quizzically with disgust. “What an ugly name. It’s too long.”
Tholker pulled the trigger and fired off, knocking the boy back, but his watery body absorbed the hit. “It’s the last name you’ll ever hear.”
The rain poured harder. The lightning crackled more. “Well then, false god. You’ve crossed with Murni, creator of Segara. I reject everything that dares to call themselves a higher being!” Murni reached to the sky and lightning struck Tholker knocking him to the ground.
“Damn…” Tholker said, getting up. Were he actually alive, that lightning bolt might have fried him. But now he was a war god. “You just called yourself a higher being.”
Murni brought down more lightning strikes, but this time, Tholker dodged them. “Don’t say that word!” Murni shouted. “I am NOT one of them!”
“You sound like you have your own problems right now.” Tholker reloaded his rifle. “And I don’t care. Quit your whining and leave this to the Union Navy.”
Murni raised his arms and the rain came down harder. Flash flooding. More lightning strikes, the neon signs exploding into a shower of sparks, setting the windows aflame. Hellfire.
“You have no idea,” Murni shouted. “Because Henkle has you trapped here too. You are forever caught in his web of suffering, doomed to failure forever as you face opponents stronger than yourself!”
One of the skyscrapers tilted and began to collapse, then splashing into the ground and knocking Tholker off his balance. The waters had risen enough to be a current that swept him away. Debris bunted him about as the currents grew faster and faster. The coursing waves whisked him off and flung him off an edge. An oceanic planet with a few large continents far below him as the waves rushed off like a waterfall. He just barely managed to grasp at a rock formation jutting out, dangling over an abyss.
Tholker looked to his equipment. Most of it swept up by the rampaging currents, falling and plunging into the planet below. He reached for the knife hidden in his boot, but that too had fallen off.
As Tholker gripped to the rock formation, any sort of dread of imminent death washed away to be replaced with gentle, soothing light. Around this time, anyone else would think of their families and friends.
“Alright then. OK, gather round,” Tholker might have said. “Let me tell you all the story about how I had to operate on my artillery liaison officer's trachea without anesthesia.” He tried to recall the names of his kids. Strizha, Venks, Torzha, Kels, Vinat, Ainvalf, Waelyen, Droos... and Kortya, and Gnel, Rifyna, Vjokasin. Ummm? What were all their names again? Twenty-six children each with five names of their own. God, that’s a lot of freaking names, Tholker thought.
It was easier to think about the more personal past. His first combat course instructor screamed in his ear. “What do you do when you can’t shoot!? Grenades! What do you do when you’re out of those!? Bayonets! And what do we say when we do!?”
And for just a brief moment, he had forgotten he was going to die a second time. He had forgotten he was going to fail even as a war god. Tholker thought back to the Star God. It was right after all. This next world. A twisted afterlife. But it was his choice to come here. Sturmas needed to be killed. He needed to be destroyed forever. Slake his appetite with the last of his blood.
And Tholker let go. The world slowed down. As if he drifted through the cosmos like he did before. His work wasn’t over yet.
Nothing dies twice. Nothing dies twice. As he told himself those words, more lights reached out to him, the burning brightness of the stars glittering across the cosmos. And he stopped falling.
Tholker floated up to see Murni standing atop one of the skyscrapers. Waiting for him.
“You expect to win against Henkle like that?” Murni taunted. “His power is infinitely greater than yours! You are going to die!”
“There are billions of us willing to die. Only one needs to succeed.” Tholker said as he reached out with his hand…. towards another skyscraper. He wobbled not from the crashing waves below, but from Tholker’s willpower. “Maybe I am that one, maybe I’m not. But how many of us can you stop until we get through?.” The skyscraper broke free from its foundation, now completely under Tholker’s control. And he stared Murni down. “From where I’m standing it looks like you won’t even stop me.”
The skyscraper under Tholker’s control rocketed itself towards Murni knocking him away. A surge of light flowed through Tholker’s veins as he willed more and more skyscrapers to rise up. The city he once stood on, he ripped to shreds and Murni split apart.
Tholker swiftly approached Murni who reformed himself as they exchanged a few punches. Murni shoved him to the base of the city, displacing the flood and creating an impact crater that pushed the city downward towards the planet. The blazing fiery light of atmospheric reentry engulfed it.
Tholker leaped back up, now with a grenade in hand. He got as close to Murni as he could and wrapped his arm around his neck.
“War god,” Murni uttered weakly as Tholker strangled him. “You remind me of someone I know. Someone with a passionate flame that won’t go out.”
“Good,” he taunted. “Let me share some of that flame with you.” Tholker let got of the grenade, the blast engulfing and vaporizing them both. Tholker, seeing as he was already dead, reformed himself. But Murni did not. The childish water god was defeated.
Tholker dropped back into the flooded ruined city below, the currents having calmed themselves and the city’s descent into the planet below having stopped. Though Murni was gone, he looked to the stars in the distance. They slowly jittered, rearranging themselves to form a being. Nebula clouds manifested themselves to form an enormous being in the shape of a man with a top hat, a cloak and a cane as it grew a sinister smile. When the being leaned closer, Tholker finally began to process how gigantic this being was. Tholker’s size compared as hardly more than a flea.
“Tholker Zhevhyit…” the starry being said. “I’m glad you did not disappoint.”
Tholker pointed an automatic pistol towards the being and fired off. Even though it would obviously not affect the gigantic being, it was merely a gesture of defiance.
“Why do you call me Sturmas? Such an unflattering name. I prefer Henkle Osborn.”
Tholker swam closer to him, not faltering in his aggression. This was him. The moment.
“You have no hope of defeating me alone,” Henkle bellowed. “You look upon my true form - something I believe I can show you as you are a god yourself.” Henkle raised his cane skyward. “But there’s one thing I envy from you. Your death. What is it like to die? The moment just before you cease to exist? What is that profound enlightenment bestowed upon you?”
“We showed you once and we’ll show you again” Tholker panted, pushing himself through the water as far as his legs and arms could propel him.. “This time I can make you suffer.”
Henkle chuckled devilishly. “Don’t overwork yourself. As an omniscient being, I already know in theory. I see all the worlds there are. I see multiple versions of you speaking with me, saying different things, with different personalities. But my curiosity drives me to live it for myself.”
The stars in the sky dissipated as a floating staircase unfolded itself, descending towards Tholker. Emerging from a door came a smaller version of the same being. Still towering over Tholker, but nowhere near the leviathan he just was.
“I’ve searched the multiverse for the strongest mortals pitting them against one another in an infinite tournament. All to find the one who can enlighten me with the thrill of peril and near-death. But I figure I should borrow a few gods to give them a fighting a chance,” Henkle said. “Now tell me, Tholker, what were you like when you were still alive?”
“What kind of question is that?”
“Because you will now face someone who is among the living. After all, I did say I was in search of the strongest mortal.” Henkle tapped his cane to the ground and another set of double doors opened. “Go on. If you truly think you can kill ‘Sturmas’, then accept my challenge. Fight a mortal for me.”
Hesitantly, Tholker stepped through the door which lead to a white room and another copy of Henkle speaking to a young Vaikan woman in military attire. Karalian style definitely, but it wasn’t quite what he recalled. It seemed a lot more refined and streamlined, more durable, more slick. Tholker looked to himself. All of his equipment had found its way back into Tholker’s pack. Henkle restored it to him. For someone who was believed to be the source of all evil in the galaxy, Sturmas was awfully generous.
“Your next challenge awaits. But it won’t be against me. It’ll be against him,” the Henkle copy said to the woman. And in just a short moment, Henkle vanished, leaving the two of them alone. Fractal butterflies fluttered about, removing the walls and ceiling to reveal an open arena on a large floating continent. The woman peered and gazed at Tholker amazement.
“Tholker Zhevhyit?” the woman shouted. “Oh Em Gee, it’s you! The Tholker Zhevhyit!”
“Do I know you?” Tholker asked.
“Umm...no, not really. My name’s Verina Mayn. I’m like from fifty years or so in the future. I’m a big fan of you and the whole GSSOC team. You were my childhood heroes!”
Had it only been fifty years? It was difficult to tell. Time had seemed erratic ever since he entered this realm. It might have been either a few hundred or a few thousand years since Tholker had entered the world of Sturmas. It didn’t matter to him.
Verina blushed a little bit. “And...ummm...you’re kinda hot, too. I may or may not have watched some VR fantasies of you and the whole GSSOC team getting to business atop the piece of furniture that one has to sleep in…”
“I see,” Tholker stated casually reached for his boot knife. “Not much has changed, then. But I am willing to make that fantasy of yours a reality.”
Verina nearly fainted from being overwhelmed with infatuation, but then she paused to collect herself. A very tempting offer. After all, Henkle had told her that the Infinite Tournament wasn’t a game. This was real. She’d get the chance with the actual, 100% legit Tholker. No VR could truly replicate a pleasurable experience with him.
“Okay for real though,” the woman said. “Ignoring the fact that I don’t want to be caught cheating, I’m too pissed off right now. Asshole 1.0 is forcing us into some kind of shitty tournament.”
“You mean Sturmas?” Tholker added. “I’ll admit Asshole 1.0 works for me, too.”
“Yeah, yeah, the guy with that stupid hat. I’m gonna kick his ass so hard that my foot will come out on the other side through his mouth. Mainly because he’s forcing me to fight against you.”
Tholker pulled out his rifle, pointing it squarely at Verina’s forehead. “He’s looking for the strongest fighter to go against him. That’s what he told me. And I intend to be the one to face him.”
“Whoah, holy crap! You’re really going to fight me?! I was hoping we could actually team up.”
“I’ve known nothing but war my whole life. I’ve got nothing to lose since I can’t die.”
“Neither can I!” Verina replied. “Asshole 1.0 just so happened to make it so that we come back from the dead, too. We might be stuck here for years!”
“Doesn’t matter,” Tholker coldly stated. “Every opponent I defeat brings me closer to him. Even if it means I have to kill you.”
“Okay, Hottie Zhevhyit,” Verina said. “You wanna get to business? The other way will have to wait, but for now…” Verina paused to tap some buttons on her wristwatch. A large mech dropped from the ceiling twice as tall as her. She backflipped into its cockpit and grasped at a twin set of joysticks. “Let’s do it! ...I mean...do this!”
It was best to end this quickly. He didn’t have time to play Sturmas’ game. Tholker reached for his pouch and pulled the pin of a grenade. Grasping the grenade by its safety lever, Tholker dashed towards Verina, dodging the showers of plasma and kinetic weaponry from her mech. His mind flashed back to that battle. Against INFRA. In that hellish world of Locubrermour. By this point, Tholker had died so many times, it didn’t matter. Time to take her out, just like all those other Buyuk. All those other enemies that he had forgotten the faces of.
Tholker leaped into the air and with his bare hands, smashed through the cockpit of Verina’s mech going up close and tackling her head on. His face inches away from Verina’s. Not that she complained. But Tholker prominently displayed the grenade, his fingers tight on the safety lever.
“Hey, uh, don’t you want to win? It’ll just be a draw if you do that!” Verina asked frighteningly. Tholker noticed in spite of being inches away from death, she still blushed.
“Do you really believe Sturmas will do as he says?”
“I mean, he actually does bring people back to life-”
“To torture them over and over obviously,” Tholker cut in. “If Sturmas wants a victor in this match, I am going to deny him that.”
Verina called down slightly, thinking of her last battle. When her opponent took their own life. She could understand what Tholker was talking about. Perhaps the only way to win was to not play by the rules.
“Why the hell not?” Verina said. “I’m up for being an obnoxious troll towards him.”
Tholker released the lever. The next few seconds grew slow and tense. Flames were about to engulf the both of them to reduce both of them ash. They waited. Waited. But nothing happened. Only Tholker remaining awkwardly atop Verina.
“What the hell?” Tholker said. “What’s going on here? My grenades never fail.”
“Oh ho ho!” another woman devilishly laughed. Neither of them had seen her nearby. “I’ve finally found it! I found the right timeline.”
Tholker climbed out from the mech, giving Verina some room. Tholker turned to look at the newcomer. A blonde woman with pink skin and eyeglasses. Her personal aide: a life-sized tin soldier bearing a sword. All too familiar faces for Verina.
“Pervert Stalker 2.0?” she quizzically asked.
“It’s Charlotte Beaumont,” the blonde woman said doing a slight curtsy. “And it’s been twenty years, Verina. In that time, I’ve been searching for the timeline where Tholker’s grenade turned out to be a dud. The odds of that.”
“Twenty years?!” Verina exclaimed. “How’s that possible? I literally just fought you last round.”
“Forget that. Who the hell are you to barge into my fight?!” Tholker said.
“You want to win against Henkle Osborn? Or as you call him, Sturmas?” Charlotte asked.
“Or Asshole 1.0,” Verina added.
“Right, right,” Charlie said. “I’ve been searching for the optimal timeline to give ourselves the best chance. And Tholker, your grenade malfunctioning is the trigger that gives me the opportunity to explain what we must do next. Come with me.”
The tin soldier drew his sword and carved in thin air, a circle which opened up into a portal. Charlotte jumped inside while Verina and Tholker gave quizzical looks to one another.
“Her Excellency does not wish to be kept waiting,” the tin soldier politely said.
“I’m going, Tholker,” Verina said. “I’m gonna be the one to kick Henkle’s ass.”
“After you,” Tholker replied. The portal expanded for Verina’s mech while Tholker followed behind. Verina stepped into the portal and used his sword to close it.
Tholker and Verina found themselves in a room full of mirrors. Many mirrors of all of them. Possibly, mirrors of the alternate timelines of the fights they found themselves in.
“Glad you could join me,” Charlotte said turning to the both of them. “For us to follow the proper timeline further, there’s another individual we need to find. I think both of you might know his name.”
Charlotte adjusted her glasses and smirked. “Ahrganot Skizgo.”