Story:Infinite Tournament: Verina Mayn vs. Charlotte Beaumont

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Infinite Tournament: Verina Mayn vs Charlotte Beaumont is a crossover story.

Chapter 1

Verina managed her way through thick, lichenous vines, entering a clearing to lay her eyes on a small village comprised of makeshift scrap metal huts. A crudely painted emblem of a planet and a flower - the Zalakrasa society. Spores in the air glowed like fireflies from the sunlight. She took a deep breath through her gas mask to make sure it still worked. She glanced at her wrist computer at an image of a virtual talking chiropteran feline.

“Humidity levels are still dangerously high, but the nanos should keep you safe for a few more hours,” the virtual character said.

“I know, Paldo. But it can’t really do anything about the spores in the air,” she said. “These Union-made gas masks suck anyway. Don’t they have anything better in these parts?”

“Alert: Nearby electrical signals detected. Threat unknown,” Paldo said alerting Verina to the presence of a few individuals emerging from their scrap huts. “Verina, they’re here.”

Three androids of varying height approached her wearing scant tribal garments. Painted on their chests was the emblem of the Zalakrasa society.

“Trespasser,” the android said. “What business do you have with the righteous defenders of the environment?”

“Yeah, whatever,” Verina said brushing them off. “Look, let’s just cut to the chase. I want that vaccine. I know you guys have it.”

“For the spores? Without them, the ecosystem of this moon will die. We must protect what precious life there is in Greenwater, even if means taking those that stand in our way.”

“You guys are androids. It’s not like you even need the vaccine anyway. Throw us a bone here, will you?”

“The Zalakrasa must keep it safe to prevent it from being misused. There is no further discussion.”

“Uh...yeah there is,” Verina put one hand to her hip and tilted her body. “I know you’re just androids, but maybe you’d like some of this.” She pulled out a glass container with an assorted diamonds, emeralds and sapphires appeared on the ground.

The android stood entranced by the glittering of the gemstones, but another gestured him to be cautious of it.

“Verina Mayn, I know you,” the android said. “You’re in exile, a deserter guilty of high treason.”

“Well, this deserter still happened to have a secret stash of loot? Me being the daughter of the Duke of Namai and all?” Verina said. “Do a scan for yourself. These are antique Andomar-style cut, not some cheap atomic reconstructions.”

Verina handed the container over to the android, who then handed it over to another one next to him who promptly scanned it with his visor. “These are real, alright.”

“Now, you’re end of the deal?”

The android gave off a bizarre look. Like a horrible, uncanny attempt at smiling. “We checked to see if your offer was genuine which it was. But I’m sure you’d like to see if our offer is genuine too. Only one way to check if this vaccine works.”

Two other larger, bulkier androids approached Verina and reached for her gas mask.

“Hey, what the hell are you doing, get off of me!” Verina said as she jumped away, following with a quick backhand electrical shock.

“The Zalakrasa Society knows best. We must be sure this vaccine works. Now take off your mask!”

“What kind of backwards logic is that? Did your moron makers miswire you?” she boasted. Quickly, she looked down to her wrist computer. “Paldo, do it now!”

Only a few seconds later, from her wrist computer, nanobots assembled themselves covering her body in a strong, yet flexible fibrous pink material. Sprouting from her arms came hardlight blades. She slashed at one of the androids, slicing him clean in two right through his motherboard. The other Zalakrasa androids backed away.

Verina stared down at the injured android. “Oh relax. You can get a new body. But Vaikan can’t.”

The androids looked at one another before promptly bolting away. “Self-preservation protocol activated. Let’s not deal with this crap.”

Verina stood proudly in victory as her suit disassembled itself back into the wrist computer. “Ha! That’s the Myth Galaxy gaming champion Verina Mayn for you!”

Paldo sprung out in hologram form taking Verina a tad by surprise.

“Verina, you just cut through that android without hesitation,” Paldo said. “Would you have done the same to a Vaikan?”

“What?” Verina said. “Where’s all that coming from all the sudden?”

“I’ve analyzed your strategies and approaches for some time now, and I just can’t help but notice - is death now obsolete?”

Verina paused for a moment. “Well, Vaikan die for real I guess. You guys get to come back to life, but we don't.”

“But you and all the other Vaikan are clones. Are we not alike in that we were both made? If an android’s memories are transferred to another body, might your soul go to another as well?”

“That's even if souls are real. I mean, immortality is great and all, but just look at history. Immortal people tend to go crazy because things just repeated for them until they went insane.”

“You believe the finite is a gift then.”

“Yeah, that's classic Jamzezism. It’s like…” Verina paused a bit longer than Paldo expected.

“Verina? Is everything alright?”

In a moment, she dropped to her knees and coughed and wheezed uncontrollably. She felt the edges of her mask with her fingertips. In the struggle with the androids, it had slipped enough for a few spores to get inside.

“Argh, my chest...it feels like…”

“Verina? Your vitals! Requesting medical att…” Before Verina heard the rest of Paldo’s sentence, she blacked out.

Chapter 2

Verina opened her eyes to find herself lying in bed in a field hospital. Though surrounded by medical equipment, nothing moved or made a sound. No nurses talking with one another, no beeping devices for her pulse rate. Not even slight drafts from the air conditioning.

When Verina rose up, she got a clear view of the room and the people in it. They all stood perfectly still as if time had stopped. Maybe time literally had stopped.

“What the hell is going on here?” Verina muttered. “Paldo?” Paldo did not respond. They detached her wrist computer. She then felt her face just to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. No, this was indeed real. Somehow, everything stood frozen. Or maybe she was just in a spore-induced hallucination.

Verina detached the IV from her arm and walked out the door. Immediately on her left, a salamander-like creature sat worried in a chair, but also frozen in time.

“Damn...being trapped looking like that must really suck, Neshi. Sorry I’m making you worry.” Neshi did not say anything back. Verina looked side to side.

“Oh what the hell? You really need to get a grip,” she said, then promptly lip-locked and kissed him, holding for at least more than a few seconds. When she released her lips, Neshi had not changed from his sullen expression.

“Dammit!” Verina said. “I was hoping that would have worked. Neshi, what am I going to do about you?”

“Verina…” said a voice. “Over here…”

“Paldo?” Verina said turning over to see her wrist computer on the floor with a flickering hologram of Paldo. “Oh God, please tell me you didn’t see that.”

“It is my duty as a combat AI to record everything for data analysis,” Paldo slyly remarked.

Verina slightly flared up. “Who programmed you to be such a-” she paused. “Wait a minute. How are you not frozen right now? What’s going on here?”

“The molecules around here have completely stopped as if it were at absolute zero. But the air temperature remains anomalous.”

“We’ll figure this out,” she confidentially said.

Verina reached for the wristwatch, but the very moment she touched it, colorful fractals sprung out like a swarm of insects with flapping wings like butterflies. She could do nothing except watching the fractals engulf her carrying her away as space around her dissipated like a fine mist.

Chapter 3

The fractal butterflies scattered and Verina found herself standing in a plain, white featureless room with a single doorway into a corridor too dark to see into. Paldo was nowhere to be seen. The wristwatch. Gone. From the dark corridor emerged a tall imposing figure shrouded in a cloak and a top hat.

“Behold!” the figure said as he lifted his cape and holding his cane in the air. “My name is Henkle Osborn, Lord of the Multiverse. And you have been invited to participate in the Infinite Tournament.”

“Pfft…” Verina said. “What are you really? Zalakrasa Society? Did you set me up so that you could drug me and kidnap me to use me as your happy time toy? Pervert.”

“Show some respect, you’re speaking to an omniscient deity. I know everything about you. I’ve seen your past, your future, all actions you have taken and will take. I can even see alternate timelines - actions you might have taken, actions you might take.”

“So can I assume there’s another universe out there where you’re not a pervert and a stalker?”

“Indeed,” Henkle said. “And there’s also another one where you’re less annoying.”

Verina paused to take it in. Few individuals had succeeded in delivering a clever insult against her. She would not be bested. “Well, then, oh so omniscient being. If you can see the past, future, alternate realities or whatever, tell me how many fingers I’m about to hold up.”

“Two,” Henkle without missing a beat.

With both her hands, she gave the bird, profoundly flipping off a god with no hesitation. “You’re not wrong, Pervert Stalker. Now get me out of here before you start pissing me off some more.”

“I’m afraid it’s not that simple,” Henkle said pounding his cane to the ground. “If you want to leave, you must fight your way to the top and defeat the champion. You’ll battle your way in fights to the death facing off against opponents from other realities.”

“No thanks. I’m a soldier, not a gladiator.”

“But if those deaths are impermanent?” Henkle smirked as he noted Verina’s longer than usual pause. “Verina Mayn, I know what you are. You enjoy that bloodlust, but you don’t want to deal with the consequence of true death. Lucky for you, I have the power to bring others back from the dead. You are in a game, like that Myth Galaxy you brag about. The only difference is that unlike your primitive virtual reality, my game is real.”

“Is that so?”

“You could stay busy for months, years, even decades,” Henkle replied. “As far as your home universe is concerned, you would have just woken up from a short nap.”

“Well, then, Pervert Stalker, I’ll take on your challenge,” Verina paused and stared at her empty wrist. “But if I’m fighting, give me Paldo.”

“I shall make accommodations to provide all the necessary equipment. Glad to see this timeline has you cooperating with me much more easily,” Henkle said.

“And one more thing,” Verina said. “If you’re omniscient, you already know if I’m going to win or lose, don’t you?”

Henkle chuckled slightly. “Part of the fun of being a mortal is not knowing, isn’t it?”

Before Verina could answer, fractal butterflies swarmed around her. And in a short moment, the environment around her completely changed.

Chapter 4

In a short moment, Verina found herself atop a floating platform while the sky swirled with similar abstract shapes she saw before, some of which resembling a pair of eyes. Nothing to be too surprised. Hardly different from those VR’s she went into. Except, somehow, this one was real. She heard about the exploits of the legendary Tholker Zhevhyit and the famous GSSOC team. The word was they had in fact traveled to another dimension before, so this was no different. But in a realm outside of the normal space-time continuum, anything could happen.

Several Karalian-style mechs and bots materialized around her exhibiting signs of pristine condition. She looked closer at them. They were hers. All the markings - the graffiti she drew on them as a cadet. Even a few dents from the battle at Maistin.

“Verina?”

“Oh good, Paldo. You're here. What happened to you?”

“I’m not sure. My memory draws a blank since that field hospital. Whatever happened, I am somehow detecting a Karalian orbital battle satellite signal. I am able to use it to interface with the mechs. Perhaps Henkle Osborn intended us to borrow it for this tournament.”

Verina tapped a few buttons on her wristwatch. Sure enough, the mechs responded to her thoughts. She ran a few diagnostics, making sure everything moved to her commands. It all worked. But something else bothered her.

“Paldo, is it possible you can send a signal back home to let them know I’m stuck? Think I want a ride out when I'm done.”

“The configuration of gravitons from the origin point is irregular from normal parameters. Meaning that this orbital satellite is from a parallel universe similar to our own, but it’s not our home.”

Verina looked down. A fake. Sure, these mechs looked real enough, but if she went back, then it wouldn’t be her real parents waiting for. It wouldn’t be the real Neshi waiting.

“Alert: Organic life form detected nearby. Threat unknown,” Paldo sounded off.

Verina looked to see what appeared to be a bizarre creature. Two legs. Two arms. Gold hair on the head and pink skin with piercing blue eyes. Garbed in elegant attire, and in her hand, holding a deck of cards.

“Oh ho ho,” the figure muttered. “What do we have here? It seems the tournament continues once again. More time for experimentation!”

“You’re my opponent, then? What am I supposed to call you?”

“Charlotte Beaumont of Cambridgeshire, England,” the woman said. “You look like a fine specimen for study. Tell me, are you the male or female of your species?”

“Great...Pervert Stalker 2.0,” Verina sighed.

“I assure you. My interest in you is purely academic. As is this tournament. I’ve spent a long time in the multiverse, learning all the possible outcomes I can to game the system. But now that you’re here, you’ve introduced a new variable.”

“Well, then, Cambridgeshire-”

“It’s Charlotte.”

“Charlotte, then, what are you waiting for?” Verina taunted as she tapped her wrist computer. Nanoconstructors surrounded her body and created the pink mesh-like armor around her as well as a visor around her eyes. Alongside her forearms, hard light blades sprung out beyond her elbows. “Let’s do this!”

“Fascinating,” Charlotte noted. “That armor shows off your figure a bit better. I’ll confess I’m disappointed.”

Verina slightly blushed, but grew angry at the same time. “Just who do you think you are?!” she shouted as arc streams burst from her fingertips, fueling her hard light blades to grow more vibrant in color. The mechs surrounding Verina also lit up with bright lights. “I, Verina Mayn, have won the hearts of many throughout the galaxy not just on my gaming skills alone! Who cares that I don’t look like an overly voluptuous, top-heavy slug like you are?”

“It seems this specimen exhibits traits of self-consciousness,” Charlotte replied. “Impulsiveness and short temper. Signs of intelligence possible, but improbable at best.”

“That’s...it…I’ve got something for you. My secret weapon,” She paused for just a moment. “BOOM!” she shouted. And in perfect unison, Verina with each of her mechs, proceeded to flip the bird at Charlotte with both hands - the effect enhanced from her protruding hard light blades and electric arc, and the legions of mechs behind her also delivering the same offensive gesture. Truly, a magnificent site on the battlefield.

Charlotte wasn’t phased in the slightest. “Thankfully, this tournament isn’t of words as I would have already been declared the victor. So how about we waste no further time and get started with the real battle, shall we?”

Charlotte tossed one of her cards to the ground - on the other side of it depicted a group of toy soldiers. In mere seconds, wispy clouds swirled to form an entire legion of life-size toy soldiers wielding bayonets. And next to Charlotte, a tin soldier as tall as she was with the emblem of a heart that took a brief bow. No doubt the commander.

“Toys?” Verina wondered. “Paldo, what do you think?”

“I’ve detected a wave of quantum fluctuations emanating from those toy soldiers..”

The toy soldiers in perfect unison loaded their rifles and took aim at Verina’s army of mechs which readied their weapons.

“But those are just flintlocks right? The kind those backwater worlds use. They won’t be able to-”

“Fire!” the commander shouted. And volleys of white energy-like particles burst from the soldier’s guns, impacting Verina’s mechs at high velocity, knocking a few of them down.

“Holy shit…those aren’t flintlocks...” Verina muttered keeping her head down to avoid the crossfire. Her mechs returned fire with plasma bolts, and the flintlocks fired again and again. There wasn’t enough cover in such an open field environment. “Paldo, we need to fall back! Get me into the big one!”

Verina swiftly jumped backwards as Paldo guided her movements. She did a backflip into one of the larger mechs, at least twice as tall as she was, and built robustly like a tank. The hatch closed and she gripped the joysticks.

“Alright, Charlotte Beaumont of Cambridgeshire, England aka Pervert Stalker 2.0. Prepare to have your ass kicked!” She tapped a button on her dashboard.

With a surprising grace, the mech lept into the air and spun around with its arm cannons firing giant bolts of plasma, shredding away most of the toy soldiers. Now with more control and more armor, Verina found it much easier to move about all while absorbing bullets.

From thin air, Charlotte pulled out a megaphone. “Oi, Verina! Not bad! I love the new look! You ought to meet my friend Jabberwock!”

“You really want to use it?” the commander asked.

“Oh Valentine, this is not a fight. This is an experiment.” And with that, Charlotte drew her second card and threw it to the ground. Out from it appeared a massive green dragon-like creature towering way over Verina’s mech or any other of her bots. It bared its powerful jaws and roared. It swung its massive tail crushing an entire platoon of her smaller bots. She retaliated by firing more plasma bolts, but they merely bounced off. The dragon then reached down to bite another of the larger bots, its jaws cleaving it clean in half as it swallowed the upper body whole.

“We can’t pierce that armor, Verina. We simply don’t have enough power output,” Paldo said.

The creature roared again and Verina took a look into its fleshy mouth. No armor in there. Soft and squishy. And vulnerable.

“Paldo, you ever been inside a Leeder?” Verina said.

“Why do you ask at a time like this?”

“I went in one of them for a gaming tournament. It’s surprisingly warm and cozy in there.”

“Verina? What are you thinking? Need I remind you that that isn’t a Leeder?”

“Maximize shield strength! Let’s go!”

Verina moved the control stick and lept straight towards the dragon’s mouth, it’s teeth clamping down on the mech as hard it could. Verina could see down the creature’s throat - an abyss of darkness. The mech slipped closer and closer towards it as the teeth and the rest of the mouth crushed it like a snake engulfing an egg. Cracks slowly grew on the glass like spider veins.

“Paldo, don't tell anyone this, but I’m about to say something really corny.”

“Verina?”

“EAT THIS!!!” she shouted as she slammed the self-destruct button. With careful timing, she mashed the eject button, launching herself out, just barely making it between the dragon’s teeth as the mech slipped down the dragon’s throat.

Verina landed on the ground as the armor absorbed her fall. She got up and looked behind her at the massive beast that nearly devoured her. Its neck swelled from a thundering explosion. The blast couldn’t penetrate its armor, but the dragon gagged and choked with metal debris and shrapnel stuck in its throat. In mere moments, it collapsed to the ground lifeless, then dissipated into dust.

Verina took a knee to catch her breath as she noted the rest of the battlefield strewn with the remains of mechs, androids and toy soldiers. And a slow clap echoing across the arena.

Chapter 5

“Well done, my specimen!” Charlotte bellowed. “I am genuinely impressed. Save for that horrific pun. I expected better of you”

Verina inched closer to Charlotte trying to stand up straight.

“Hey, Pervert Stalker 2.0. Are you done yet?”

“Oh ho ho! I’m just getting started.” She turned to her commander. “Valentine?”

“Milady? I must protest. You’ve already done it too many times. Do you really want to be consumed by it forever?”

“Dammit, Valentine, I know!” she said. “I must do what I can to defeat the champion!”

“If you say so, milady!” the commander said as his body reconfigured itself into a large, heavy metal axe. Charlotte grasped it and wielded it as if it weighed nothing.

“We have both destroyed our own armies. Your tactical skills are impressive, yet reckless to say the least. I know your actions, but what about your mind? I want to know if you experience the same emotions as my own species.”

“What the hell?”

“In the multiverse, death is impermanent. You don’t know what it’s like yet do you? This is your first time! I’ve died thousands of times already so I already know what it’s like! How about I show you, too?”

“Verina,” Paldo sounded off. “Charlotte’s pulse rate has risen significantly.” Then, Verina took a long stare at Charlotte’s face. An enormous devilish grin. Her face tensed up as her eyes widened. While her body remained the same, her shadow disappeared, taking form as another being behind her - a tall slender doll-like being as static resonated across the arena. Everything became dark.

“You didn’t think it was that easy to escape from this tournament?” Charlotte muttered as she cackled and laughed maniacally. “I’ve been here for centuries! Caught in an endless cycle of death! Whenever I get close to finding the true champion, I end up bested by someone slightly stronger and smarter than myself! Do you know the true meaning of failure?!”

“Look, c’mon,” Verina said. “We can figure this out, right? We find the champion, beat him, and we all live happily ever after, right?!”

“You know nothing! Not until you’ve experienced it for yourself! Now...just...stay...still!”

Charlotte lifted her axe and swung wildly at Verina. She readied her arm blades. The axe couldn’t penetrate her armor. Yet, Verina couldn’t get a hit. Charlotte moved far too erratically. Way less calculated than before. Paldo assisted Verina’s movements to dodge as her thoughts translated to movement faster than her own brain could, but Charlotte swung faster and faster increasingly into inhuman speeds.

And before Verina’s mind could process it, piercing pain reached across from her shoulder - Charlotte dug her axe into Verina, breaking past the nanobots. As the pain crept throughout her, images of her father flashed before her being sucked away into a vortex of darkness.

“Deserter”. “Traitor”. “Failure”. “Disgrace”. “Shame”. “Worthless”. The words echoed. In her mind, arachnid-like beings burrowed their way into her eyes. Just an illusion, right? And yet, those arachnids seemed to utter more and more words. “Deserter traitor failure disgrace shame worthless.” Over and over again. “Go head on over to the airlock. There’s a button there made just for you. Failure.”

But the pain. The pain Verina dropped to the ground, shrieking in pain and terror. Both physical and mental pain. She cried, bursting out into tears, then looked to her plasma blades, contemplating a thought. A dark, terrifying thought.

“Verina?” she heard a voice call out. “Verina!”

The dark, terrifying images faded away like dissipating fog. The axe removed from her shoulder, but Charlotte kneeling down - her bloodthirst having faded away.

Chapter 6

“Paldo?” Verina said suddenly waking up very drowsily.

“I flooded your brain with enough endorphins to make a normal person endlessly giggle endlessly for three weeks. It’s a miracle those nightmares didn’t kill you from shock.” Paldo paused for a moment.

“Paldo?”

“My internal clock is overheated from all those calculations. I need to reboot my systems. Stay alive a little longer if you would.”

Verina’s armor disassembled itself and Paldo went quiet. It was just her and Charlotte now. Charlotte took a moment to catch her breath.

“My apologies, speci- I mean, Verina,” Charlotte said. “I only did was necessary.”

“What are you talking about?

“I wanted to show you the true stakes of what is going on. What happens when you can’t escape from the Infinite Tournament. All the hatred and madness I bottled up for four hundred and twenty two years of dying over and over again. That is the fate that you’ll suffer if you don’t find a way out.”

“Henkle said we have to defeat the champion, right? We just have to try again.”

“There is something he’s not telling us. I’ve defeated the so-called champion many times already and yet I am still here. I may know who the real one is, but I need more time to find out how to face him under the most ideal circumstances.”

“Who is it?” Verina asked.

“You might have figured it out by now. He’s listening to everything we’re saying and thinking even at this moment.”

Charlotte set her axe on the ground and it transformed back into Valentine who was also exhausted taking a knee using his sword to hold himself up.

“Listen, Verina. I’ve noticed a pattern with these matches. I’ve spent all my years calculating everything I would do and say to every opponent I face to ensure I follow the timeline where I defeat the real champion. And if my calculations are correct, proceeding further requires me to lose this battle.”

Verina sighed. “Okay, then. You forfeited. I win.”

“No, it’s not that simple,” Charlotte said.

“I...I see…” Verina said. “If you just come back to life, it’s going to be fine, right?” Paldo’s words echoed in her head. Had death really become cheap now? Was Charlotte no different than an android? Verina activated her plasma blade, but eyed Charlotte once more. “You sure you don’t have any other tricks up your sleeves?”

“Just get it over with. I have more research to get to.”

Verina stood, but then hesitated. She sheathed her plasma blade. “No, I can’t do that. It’s against the code. It’s dishonorable to kill a downed opponent let alone someone who’s made of flesh and blood.”

“For the love of God, Verina-”

“I won’t accept this!” she said. “Whoever made the rules of this tournament is a sadistic troll!”

“Which is why loopholes exist…”

Valentine drew his sword taking a combat stance. Then, stabbed Charlotte through the abdomen. After a brief few moments, life in her eyes faded away.

“NO!” Verina shouted.

“It was my mistress’ request. I never disobey my mistress,” Valentine said. “I’m sure you can understand the situation.”

Verina paused for a moment. Charlotte’s actions became clearer to her. “I do, but I don’t like it.” As Verina muttered those last words, butterfly fractals swarmed her, whisking her away. The match was over.

Chapter 7

Verina found herself back in the same room from which she first entered. The same man in the top hat showed himself. Henkle Osborn.

“Not bad for your first time, Verina Mayn.”

“Oh, it’s you. Pervert Stalker 1.0. Actually, you know what I’ll call you now? Asshole 1.0. Because you’re the number one asshole in the multiverse.”

“Why such colorful language?”

“Oh, don’t act like you don’t know. If what Charlotte said was true, she’s been trapped in this tournament for over 400 goddamn years! Is that what you are planning for me too?! For the countless other competitors trapped in this hell?!”

“Four hundred and she already complains?” Henkle said. “Well, of course. I should have known. Your puny mortal brains can barely comprehend the passage of a mere few centuries.”

“What? Is your supposedly bigger brain just filled with hot air?”

“In the best linear temporal terms I can describe for how long I’ve been running this tournament, it’s been nine hundred billion years. If you can make it to perhaps 13 billion - the length of time which your universe has even existed, I’ll let you put something in the suggestion box.”

“Or how about I just kill you instead?” Verina shouted back. “Charlotte told me she’s already killed so-called champions multiple times. So it can only be one other person. You. Henkle Osborn aka Asshole 1.0 aka Pervert Stalker 1.0.”

“Really now?” Henkle said leaning in closer.

“If we’re in the multiverse, then there’s at least one timeline where we beat you! Charlotte’s going to find it. And I’m willing to bet you already know which one it is. Face it, Henkle. You’ve lost already just from the way the multiverse works. You’re just waiting for everything to play out like clockwork until your eventual demise.”

Henkle chuckled devilishly. “Smart young lady, I see. But what makes things interesting is that you don’t know if this Verina I speak to now is the one who will defeat me, or if it is someone else who will get all the glory while you continue to suffer. I wouldn’t want to spoil that, would I? As I said before, part of the fun is not knowing.”

“And not knowing can be a gift,” Verina said. “You’re just a slave to whatever omniscient knowledge you have, dictated by whatever the timeline says you must do. But me? I’ve got free will. I ‘choose’ to beat you.”

“Very well, then.” Henkle said as he slammed his cane against the ground. “Your next challenge awaits. But it won’t be against me. It’ll be against him.”

Fractal butterflies swarmed about Verina, and she was back into the arena. A familiar silhouette appeared before her. Tholker Zhevhyit.