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"Which one are we choosing leader?"

Eldwine expected resistance, and he got it, but was surprised to find that very little of it flowed his way; one of the advantages of being uphill was that shit tended to roll away from you as a matter of course. Eldwine rarely had a chance to experience this phenomenon, and was nearly agape when Xavier roped him in to the dark side of the leader's crown – accountability.

"It's pretty much what the halos are for yeah. Besides she," Eldwine motioned towards Erin, avoiding calling her by name by way of conscious decision. "Already got slapped upside her head for her new skin. That pretty much settles it for me. Did that hurt by the way?"

Without waiting for Erin to respond, the Falcon chipped in.

"It will when you're fighting, yes. Pain is signals, yes? Reality is signals. The pit looks and feels different from the inside than from the outside. We still see the game, yes? Yes. But the players, they see the world. A new reality. No damage. Oh, no physical damage. But yes, it will be felt. Yes."

Eldwine looked at Erin askance while addressing the Falcon.

"No rules?"
"All of them; if agreed."
"Arena? Gotta be a pit?"
"No of course not you silly fuck."

Eldwine was a bit taken aback. Although he knew nothing of the Falcon he had already fabricated in his mind the image of someone who did not curse with such force or ease as the Falcon had.

"The challenger picks."

Eldwine looked back at Erin and coaxed a response out of her with a one shoulder shrug.

"Challenger picks then. Let's get this going."

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In response to asking to change her skin, Erin promptly received a slap across the face for her trouble. It stung a little, but it wasn't like Erin was unaccustomed to pain; she'd suffered far worse injuries (as evidenced by the scar on her right cheek) in the past. Either way, the slap somehow brought up the skin menu again, which this time allowed her to pick the one she wanted at the beginning. A bit surprised, she stumbled over her words to attempt to thank the strange man, but he interrupted her before she could get a cohesive thought together, questioning if she'd seen the beast fight.

Her response was never aired, as Xavier and Lycoris began debating which of them should join the fight, then Falcon and Eldwin began to speak soon after. Most interesting to Erin was what Falcon revealed about the rules and the arena. Now with her proper body back, and knowing she would hopefully get her own choice of weapons, Erin felt more confident in her ability to win this thing. Maybe the others were laughing at her now, but let's see them laugh after she's done with her opponent.

"Challenger picks then. Let's get this going." Eldwin addressed her.

"I'm ready." Erin nodded, recalling where she and Eldwin had seen the entrance to the arena locker room area, and pivoting to head that way.

As they presumably all proceeded in that direction, she turned toward the Falcon.

"Who is defined as the challenger? Or does that just get picked at random?"

Regardless of the answer, they were soon in the ready room, which included mock "lockers" that were actually just terminals used to choose weapons and gear, though this was more to define "preset" loadouts rather than define for sure what would be used in any given match. As it was, different matches could wind up in different formats, some allowing any kind of gear to be used, others allowing limited choice, and still others forcing the participants into the same exact loadout, or even into "themed" equipment based upon the scenario. What would be agreed on beforehand was not necessarily the specific weapons, but the rules for the selection of weapons. But that selection wouldn't take place until the contestants were in the tunnels that led into the arena itself.

When Erin entered said tunnel, and the door had closed behind her, leaving her alone in the darkness, the selection screen appeared. This notified her that she had been defined as the challenger, meaning she had the choice of arena scenario. While there were certainly many creative ideas that crossed her mind, she wanted to be in her element. And to be in her element, she wanted to fight in a situation that matched how she used to fight her battles before arriving her on Valucre. Was it fair to give herself home field advantage? Debatable. But Erin had never given a shit about fair before, so why should she now?

The gates opened, allowing the two challengers to step-out into the arena. However, said arena was in the form of a frigid mountain forest, with the only sign of man-made civilization being a small encampment in a gully to their right. The two contestants were not immediately visible to one-another, as the trees and elevation blocked their view, exactly as Erin wanted it. While it had been some time since she'd fought in these conditions, the cold was another element she planned to use to her advantage. The only source of warmth was the fire, and if the other person was a warm-weather person like she calculated, that meant they would naturally gravitate toward the fire. Then, with her bow (what else would she pick for a weapon?), she would have the decisive advantage from the cover of the treeline. Even if her enemy was a far more competent direct fighter than her, this scenario played to her abilities.

Oh, this brought back memories...

Edited by Tyler

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Xavier followed the group without speaking for most of the path to the mock locker room, wasting opportunity to gauge if Erin was up to the task as he had suddenly become distracted by a growing commotion that at first sounded like it simply came from the groups of people that were settling themselves to witness the next fight. Looking behind him only to notice empty space in the hallway leading the room, he continued to hear what he could only describe as animated yelling.


“What sort of business are you running here?! You think conjuring fantasy for these desperate fools is a contribution to society?!”


Though this suit attempted admirably to cancel much of the noise to enhance immersion, it could only do so much for someone so loud. Xavier struggled to keep himself oriented within the virtual world but, seeing as he had not heard anything that screamed danger, he returned only to wave Erin goodbye and then move with the rest of the group to get their seats. Xavier hesitated at first and tried to come up with several excuses as to why he may want to scout elsewhere instead of watching the fight, not realizing that the pit was no longer present but luckily he distracted himself with looking at Lycoris then back at Eldwine which forced him to consider contingency plans in case things went awry. Should he bother helping them or opt to return to his Boss if things get too heavy?


The orc noticed the new arena now, letting out a deep breath in relief as he plopped his large frame on to a bench that gave them a good view of the large screens that displayed data concerning the battlefield. The initial moments were quiet but then he saw Erin, bow in hand, behind a small tent lurking as if waiting for something. The sight reminded him of all the hunters that tried to encroach upon his tribe’s territory before, killing animals that his brothers had laid claim to or attempting to assassinate them out of some crude notion concerning their right to those lands. Eyes wandered around the crowd of people now, some complaining about the choice of arena while others seemed to support it with cheers. Then Xavier heard the loud voice again.


“Where is he?! I know he is here! Tell me where he is so I can force him back to reality with my fists!”


The others were hearing all that yelling too weren’t they? Was it that his suit was malfunctioning?The orc lost himself for a few seconds and then looked at the screen this virtual world provided to them again to see Erin again in a different area, taking cover within the tree line and seemingly waiting for her target.


He leaned toward Lycoris and started to speak.


“Wait…did I miss something? How did she get there so fast?”


The crowd seemed just as confused as they initiated similar dialogue with their neighbors as well. Something was odd about this whole mess but he just wasn’t sure what…yet.

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638ddd939bd0d5c7ac89cb547f752950.jpg?response-cache-control=max-age=2628000lycoris romanova


The yelling is overly distracting, and it’s rather telling that no one in charge of the Hypnogeum is doing anything to stop it.

Lycoris huffs under her breath, gazing out over the crowd and into the arena from where she sits beside Xavier, casually plucking sweets from a cup she had bought earlier on and popping them in her mouth. It’s rather interesting, the choice of environment Erin had picked out, but then perhaps it would serve the other woman some purpose to win over her opponent. Lycoris just isn’t sure exactly how yet.

The shouting had started up again, and she glares over her shoulder for half a second before turning her focus back to the fight at hand.

“Wait…did I miss something? How did she get there so fast?”

Lycoris shushes him gently, patting him on the arm as she continues to gaze at the arena, not shifting her attention away from it as she speaks. “Nothing, you didn’t miss anything,” she assures him, speaking lies without batting an eyelash. She had almost missed whatever had happened, but then there Erin is, lurking above the encampment with her bow at the ready. The fire is a vibrant light in the midst of blistering cold. “Have you seen the other fighter yet—” Suddenly, the arena rumbles, ground shaking ever so minutely beneath their feet, bringing the crowd to an uneasy hush. Lycoris snaps her head in Xavier’s direction in mild alarm before she hears it: the howling of a burgeoning blizzard, just like what she’d heard in the wildlands. But how—?

Spectators begin to point fingers towards the arena, shouting in surprise and eventually excitement. The leaves of the trees begin to rustle violently, brewing winds hurtling through the forest in screeching fury. And then—

Something glints in the firelight: a knife from within the encampment piercing through the air, aimed in Erin’s direction with startling speed.



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The Hypno

Erin artfully maneuvers her body out of harm's way. The knife barely manages to shred the fabric of her arm and cut the skin underneath; she can feel it, a sensation of physical pain carried through her avatar, translated through the neural net, and delivered directly to the thalamus and parietal lobes, where her body losslessly translated the signals as real pain.

She strafes for cover, reversing the trajectory, estimating a rough likely and rough maximum distance for a hand-thrown projectile, and her eyes land on an occupied spot just moments before it is no longer occupied. This shadow, this person, used the campfire to their advantage, circling around just after throwing their knife so that the glare reflected off the surrounding snow made it difficult to get a clear bead on them.

There is a moment of silence just as each of the combatants lose sight of one another; and then that silence is broken by the keening howl of a gust of wind, one which gutters the campfire and throws up obscuring veils of snow, and through which there flies an arrow aimed at Erin's lower body. A short distance away, Erin stares at Erin as Erin Mark II strings another arrow.

In the stands, Eldwine's avatar was unresponsive.

# # #

The Real

At first he thought the pressure around his neck was some slight sympathetic anxiety on Erin's behalf. When the pressure persisted and deepened, he thought it might be some minor glitch in the suit's programming or tactile response. When he felt his airflow seriously impeded, Eldwine wrenched his arm up to his head with enough torque that the suit's small, finely machined servos barely got a whine in before their teeth broke. He snatched the helmet and visor off his face and saw a mechanical claw with two flat pincers at his throat, this attached to a mechanical arm and metallic body.

Eldwine's other arm mirrored the first, except its terminal action was to wedge a knife between the creature's claws and then leverage it open so that he could slip his neck through its vice-grip. This haphazard motion, executed while oxygen deprivation graciously met him with tunnel vision, caused Eldwine to cut his own neck. Just some. Not enough to die by if treated, but enough to lubricate his escape.

He wormed out of a grasp which clicked shut with tonal finality and immediately began ripping the suit off his body to reclaim maximum freedom of movement, eyes snapping up in time to see that the reptile-humanoid-robot's other hand was around Xavier's throat.

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What's this madness?

The last thing Erin expected was to see herself. Much less see herself firing arrows at her... self... Oh yeah, should probably try not to get hit by that.

Erin tried to spin out of the way, but arrow tore through her clothing and caused a painful laceration in her side, causing the spinning dive to turn into a stumbling collapse. It wasn't the most severe injury she'd ever suffered, but no injury was pleasant to sustain. Fighting through it, she drug herself behind another tree.

"Why couldn't this be like an actual video game where I just lose health instead of actually feel this shit?" she wondered to herself.

Her required complaining out of the way, she pushed herself up the tree until she was standing, keeping out of sight she planned her next action. This other version of her was either a person that had chosen her appearance and weapons in hopes of throwing her off, or worse, was some sort of computer-generated AI that was scanning her mind so it could counter her tactics. If it was the latter, she had no way of beating it, unless it had established certain limits of itself. But that wouldn't exactly be a good or fair fight, so why they'd allow such a thing was beyond her.

"Alright, let's see you handle this..." she spoke to herself.

Taking out two arrows, she stuck one in the ground at her feet, then notched the other. She pivoted only slightly to her left and released the arrow, sending it flying at about a 45-degree angle from where the hostile Erin had last been seen. Without hesitating, Erin then pivoted the opposite direction, to the right, fetching the second arrow from the ground, while rolling out of cover to the right as she notched it. She'd only have a split-second to hopefully catch the other Erin while the first arrow hopefully distracted her, but it would be enough to sight and fire. 

And luckily, her gambit worked exactly as planned.

"Gotcha." Erin grinned as she listened to the whistle of her arrow flying through the frigid mountain air that separated them.

Edited by Tyler

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The rumbling of the blizzard and the worried gaze of Lycoris drowned out much of the sound of Eldwine snapping himself out of his suit. Xavier’s gaze was so focused on the woman beside him that he didn’t even realize Eldwine’s avatar become unresponsive. This whole situation left the orc vulnerable as his senses were divided which left him wholly unprepared for the approaching reptilian robot that logically focused on the weaker of the two first. Outside of this virtual world, Obtenebra slithered along Xavier’s chest, mobilized by Xavier’s growing discomfort and disorientation. The orc’s ancient companion proved to be a mitigator of the pain that Xavier now felt along his neck. The robot’s hand happened to be wide enough to allow a potent squeeze that caused Xavier to wince and triggered a swift response augmented by his surprise.


Lycoris would notice Xavier’s avatar staring blankly at her without any movement now though his right hand had moved forward and seemed to be gripping air before her. That hand felt cold metal which caused Xavier to grunt in anger as his free hand snapped his helmet off, tossing it against a nearby wall. The sensory clash of returning so quickly back to the real world caused him to hesitate just enough to provide the robot an opening to drive the two pincers that Eldwine had escaped toward Xavier’s chest. Were it not for Obtenebra’s quick movement, the metal likely would have pierced flesh but instead was met with a hardened surface that produced a metallic clank as it collided with the orc’s frame.


Xavier recovered quickly enough to now begin using his other arm to start slowly peeling the robot’s pincers away from his throat though his breathing was labored due to the choke hold of the robot. The pincers managed to pierce the sensitive flesh of his throat as well but that only made the orc angry. His anger at being caught unaware caused the hand that initially gripped the arm held enough force now that the metal began to dent where his fingers rested.


The robot attempted to pierce him in yet another area but found nothing but the black sleek surface of Obtenebra that had begun expanding itself to the point that the rest of the suit would burst off of Xavier in pieces. Xavier then saw a figure in the distance behind the reptile robot but the room was far too dark to make out who it might be and the orc decided that destroying this robot that had tried to choke him was priority number one. With the orc’s strength and senses slowly returning along with his anger rising it would not be long before he broke his metallic enemy in pieces, the hand that had been at his throat rising above the robot’s reptilian head as Xavier turned to Eldwine who he now noticed had a bloody wound. Now free to talk though he was still catching some of his breath, he addressed the man in charge…


“What is going on?! You ok?”

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Xavier’s been pulled back to the real world, she can tell that much, though the reason remains to be seen. Lycoris does not allow herself to get distracted, not now, however; just because half the group is gone does not mean she is allowed to abandon her post, here in the virtual world. She’ll have to put the mission first and trust her companions to take care of things on the other side of the divide.

For now, she’ll just have to sit around and observe Erin in the arena.

The other woman had done well, dodging the worst possible outcome in regards to the sharp projectiles hurtling in her direction; it had become all too clear, then, that she is battling someone who has assumed her own appearance. The crowd is a restless beast, shuddering with excitement and anticipation. The two arrows whistle as they fly on wings of death, and just as Erin catches sight of her adversary once more over the dying firelight—

A pained cry rises over the din of the brewing storm, and then is ultimately buried under the thunderous noise of gale-force winds. The ground shakes violently, and high above the slopes of the snowy landscape, giant boulders begin to tumble down towards the forest in a manufactured landslide. In the sudden cacophony, the other Erin vanishes into the mist.

Watching the mountain come alive within the arena, Lycoris’ fingers itch for a drink, or popcorn, or anything to eat, really. Gods, but this is entertaining. She keeps one eye on the orc’s frozen frame beside her in vigilance, however.


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Eldwine rasped at Xavier, bringing himself into a half-squat and flipping the knife in his hand into an icepick grip; thin rivulets of blood flowed down his neck, joined into a single crimson thread at his suprasternal notch, and then stained the collar of his shirt before disappearing from view.

"Keep your eyes u–"

Eldwine cut himself short, jumping up and tucking his legs into his chest, revolving half a turn mid-air, as beneath him swept the robo-lizard's powerful, mechanical tail. It segmented even as it passed underneath Eldwine and raced towards Xavier, presenting serrated edges to take a bit out of Xavier's flank if he let himself get caught unawares.

Eldwine landed on one hand, cart-wheeled to his feet, then exploded from his feet into a forward double somersault with two-and-a-half twists. This gymnastic move, usually reserved for the diving board, lofted Eldwine nearly as high as the ceiling, and deposited him with fox-like grace onto the robo-lizard's chest and shoulders. His hand hammered down his knife down through its upper jaw into its lower jaw, nailing it shut.

He had every intention of jumping off before the robo-lizard got a shot at him but sometimes intentions just weren't enough. He had no time to see what Xavier was doing. The draconian automaton twisted its arm in a manner which would have broken the arm of a biological being, but which to a robot was merely a matter of ball bearings. Its arm circled like a fan blade, slamming into Eldwine's back and swatting him into a wall like a pest.

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