"Drake Storm, champion of Sateus!" the announcer shouted.
The crowd booed ferociously in response.
Tim looked around, spotting his next opponent at the opposite side of the circular area. This time he faced off against a two-legged, eight-armed, orange-skinned giant that carried a different weapon in each hand. Its—His muscled chest was bare, while his bulging arms were each equipped with bracers made from a dark metal, and his head was covered with a matching helmet. All eight weapons pointed upwards for a moment, then he took up a stance with one set of arms to the fore and one to the rear, aiming his armaments forward.
Alright, that's… He took a deep breath to focus on this rather than the feel of Emma's beyond-silky thighs as they wrapped around him. How should I fight something like this? No chest armor, but with all those bracers he can probably just block everything at every angle. He's got reach on me too with those long arms. I'll need range… Damn, I haven't even practiced with the real life version of this yet.
Inventory. He retrieved a long halberd with a wicked-looking curved blade at the end that glowed with a dark, purple light. Dismiss.
His latest opponent's left arms dipped a little before they rose up again.
"Begin!" shouted the announcer.
Tim took a couple practice thrusts while his opponent charged towards him with a massive warcry at a quick but entirely manageable speed. Definitely doable. Just have to try and find an opening. I can slow him down a tiny bit with a Thorn Snare when he gets close to throw him off balance, maybe use Poison Web to get…
After a few bounding steps, his opponent toppled over onto the ground and twitched once or twice before coming to remain motionless.
Tim lowered his weapon slightly as time stretched on without any action from his opponent.
"Krowakog, champion of Abris, is defeated! Drake Storm, champion of Sateus, is victorious!" the announcer shouted.
There was a moment of silence before the crowd began a ten-out-of-ten riot. Creatures of all shapes and sizes shouted and screamed, throwing whatever was at hand into the arena, though mostly they threw weapons.
A deluge of blades flashed towards him, and then everything swirled, placing him back in the throne room.
"You have returned once more with my victory, Drake Storm," Sateus said.
"What the fuck just happened?" Tim demanded. "I didn't even do anything!"
Sateus made a sound that might have been a chuckle. "Victory is victory, no matter how it is achieved."
"No, but…" Tim moved to rub his face with his hand, but he ended up striking the helmet that he'd forgotten he was wearing. He executed the inventory commands to remove it, stowing his halberd again in the process, and then scrubbed both hands over his face. "What just happened? How was that even a fight?"
"Krowakog was a champion of Abris, a god of war, for over a thousand years," Sateus said. "His might was formidable. A millennium is long for any mortal, however, and it is longer still for a creature whose race is as short-lived as the korgakons. We who have stepped beyond are limited by divine law in the favor we may bestow upon our champions. Granting a mortal like Krowakog a lifespan ten times his peoples' is—"
"You mean he fucking died of old age?" Tim shouted. "While we were fucking about to fight? How is that a fucking victory?"
"His death in battle against my champion will be an epitaph that leads his people to a thousand years of prosperity in his memory," Sateus said calmly. It gestured with a hand, and an image sprang into existence in the air, showing an eight-armed body laying on a stone slab with countless similar eight-armed beings kneeling in a circle around it that stretched farther than the image showed. "This victory may have other benefits for you as well."
"How does that even work?" Tim asked. There's no way. It's just not—
"Ah, I did not imagine you would be interested in the ways of the korgakons, Drake Storm. Since you have asked, however," Sateus began, "they are a people who worship Abris. They seek war, but their purpose in war is not to find victory. Instead, they seek to uncover those few among them who can inspire and lead through feats of glory, which is how—"
"Okay, I'm…maybe not actually that interested," Tim interrupted, letting out a sigh. I can't fucking believe this. It's like I'm just along for the ride with everything happening here.
"Drake Storm," Sateus said. "Who do you wish to kill?"
"What?" Tim started, working backwards furiously to try and recall the context. "Oh. Uh…" Damn, did she really try to kill me? "I was more curious about what would happen if one of your champions killed another one in general. Not me personally."
"You will ensure that this does not come to pass," Sateus said with a lazy wave of a long-fingered hand.
"But what if—"
"You will not allow it," Sateus said in a slow voice that seemed to press down on him with a physical force. "Do you understand, Drake Storm?"
"Yeah, I get it," he said, letting out a mental sigh. So I really am a babysitter.
"You interest me some, mortal," the god said after a short while in silence. "You accepted your fate quickly. You do not speak to others of wishing to return to your home. You do not speak of dreams for once you are returned. I sense no longing within you. What sort of creature does not long for its home when torn away from it?"
Tim stared, not even realizing that his mouth was hanging open for several seconds. "Uh…" His mind went blank as he felt an infinite number of eyes staring at him. "I…" Is that…true? He thought over the time he'd been here, realizing that he no longer even thought of it as being trapped. I…really haven't thought of home much, have I? Mostly only when Scipio or Ir'alith remind me of Carl. "I think," he started, deciding that talking through his thoughts might help, "I…sort of try not to think of real world—Earth things while I'm in-game? And maybe…that just carried over to this?"
"You speak of your VRMMO," Sateus said. "A game." It tapped a hazy hand on the arm of its throne. "Do you obtain victory when you are not playing this game, Drake Storm?"
"Of course I do," he said immediately with a frown. "I mean, I've got a beautiful wife, and I've got a son who's doing great at school, I have a job that pays well—"
"These are victories, yes, but you have already obtained them," Sateus said. "What victory do you seek now, Drake Storm?"
Tim's frown deepened. "Well," he said. I… He brought a hand to his mouth as he thought more deeply. "How do you know what a VRMMO is anyway?" he asked while he continued to think.
"There are worlds within my realms that have created such things," Sateus said. "Think on this, and I will ask you again in the future. Before you leave, however, do you have an answer regarding which of the victories from your first battle was the greater?"
Well obviously it was the after-victory. "Wait," he called, "did you set all…"
His surroundings had already changed again before he could finish the question. Shit, that's so annoying. Scipio was right. Just asks me these questions, and then I'm…
Something abruptly covered his eyes, and he reached up to grab at it, feeling warm, scale-covered fingers.
"Who am I?" asked a half-whispered voice that tickled his ear.
"Uh… Rai?" he guessed.
The hands over his head dropped down, and a pair of arms wrapped gently around his upper chest to pull him back until he came to rest against their owner, who radiated heat like all dragonkin did. "Did you actually try to think about it, or did you just say her name because she was first?" said the voice next to his ear, now sounding playful.
Enzi is more the sweet type than the teasing type and Nela's too shy… Lekthi still hates me, which means… "Cindriz," he said with certainty now that he'd thought about it more. How did I get here?
"Did you know it was me, or did you just know it wasn't someone else, Drake?" she asked, giving the back of his ear a quick lick with her completely smooth tongue.
He chuckled as she released him, rubbing at the wet spot on his ear before he turned around to look up into Cindriz's nine-out-of-ten purple eyes. "Good to see you again too, Cin."
She grinned down at him with a mouth filled with innumerable, very sharp teeth of a sort that he'd cut his tongue on once or twice previously. "You didn't expect to see me again so soon, I'll bet."
"How did I get here, anyway?" he asked, finally taking a look around. He was standing in a short, wooden hallway just in front of an ordinary-looking door. Cindriz herself was wearing a simple, seven-point-three purple dress that hung off one shoulder and had long slits to expose the sides of her legs, which he was tentatively rating at an eight-point-eight. Her clawed feet, like his, were bare, and she reached out with her left one to nudge his right as he looked.
"You'll have time to admire my beauty all you want later if I decide to lay with you," she said in a teasing tone when he looked up. "Let's hurry before—"
"There you are!" shouted an annoyed voice. "Cindriz, where…" Lekthi stopped when she caught sight of him, and her nostrils flared as her nine-point-two orange eyes narrowed into a ten-out-of-ten glare. "You."
Cindriz let out a groan. "You're not following us," she said, looking back over her shoulder.
Lekthi grabbed the second-oldest of the five dragon-women by her bare shoulder as she stepped forward aggressively in her shapeless white dress. "I thought you agreed not to accept his seed, Cindriz."
"I said I'd think about it so you'd stop talking a bigger hearing hole in my head," Cindriz retorted. She shrugged the hand off. "He's very hot," she said, glancing at him with her nearest eye.
Tim stifled a laugh, but it came out as a quiet snort. This is so surreal. Somehow these dragonkin women are the most human-like people I've met on this weird trip.
"See?" Cindriz continued. "Even he thinks it's ridiculous."
"He only wants to stick his thing between your legs," Lekthi snapped.
"Well, maybe I want him to," Cindriz said, her grin growing more toothy. "Have you talked to Enzi?" she nudged Tim with her arm. "She's been talking about you for hours, Drake. I think if you don't lay with her again, we'll all go crazy."
A slow grin stole over his face. Now that's more like it.
"But not before me," she added quickly, turning to face him completely. "If you can impress me enough that I say yes."
"If you're going outside, I'm coming with you," Lekthi said determinedly. "It's not safe here, even if I wasn't worried about him."
"You're not my mother," Cindriz said, sounding more annoyed as she turned her head back the other way. "If I want to spend time alone with a male, I'll—"
"Cindriz, please let Lekthi go with you," Igyn's pleading voice called out from the other end of the hallway. "You know how I'll worry if you go out alone, even with the champion of Sateus accompanying you."
"Out where?" Tim asked quietly.
"To walk around Aleon, of course," Cindriz said. She reached down and clasped his hand in hers before stepping past him to grab the handle of the door with the other. "Fine, you can come if you want, but don't get in the way," she called back as she pulled him out the door. "Come, Drake, court me as best you can. Convince me to bear your children."