Nothing truly dies on TreArch. That was the First Law. But the angel had confirmed otherwise: that Jayson was the exception to the rule. That he was outside of the cycle of Eternal Recurrence. That he really could die.
Of course, he wasn’t particularly keen on testing this theory.
Jayson squinted at the rotting demon head that lay only inches from his own. One of the eyes was missing, the other one yellow and bloodshot, and both horns had been snapped off, leaving two empty circles of bone above. The skin of the left half of its jaw was ripped and hanging loose, revealing a grisly mess of bone and tooth and muscle underneath. All in all, it didn’t look too happy.
“You as well, huh?”
Jayson twisted round to look back to where he’d been thrown from. As expected, the giant horrible ogre thing was still coming, oversized club in hand, charging headfirst towards him with a wail of despair.
Jayson sighed, then rolled out of the way as the spiked tree-trunk-sized club came smashing down into the sands where he had been. Using his left hand to guide it, he aimed his right at an angle to the ground and fired off a burst of kinetic force, the very last of his reserves. It was just enough to lift him off the floor and land him, rather stylishly by his own admission, in a standing position about four feet away. Jayson would have taken a moment to admire his own skill, but now was probably not the time. He looked up into the ogre’s bulging right eye, steeled his nerves, and started clapping. The ogre looked at him quizzically, or at least as quizzically as an ogre face leaking blood and yellow pus from every orifice can. Jayson turned and ran.
The colosseum was at least three hundred feet across, and littered with the dead bodies of innumerable different species. Blood of every colour painted a grotesque rainbow over the rocks and sands. Despite clapping his hands frantically as he ran, Jayson took a moment to glance up into the seats above. The ranks of seating were sparsely populated, and it was hard to make out either faces or voices as he sprinted away from the ogre. Only one in particular stood out: a great marble throne that stood apart in the lower ranks where an improbably large blue-skinned demon sat. Even from such a great distance, it was clear that Belvegore was still asleep.
“Oh, damn it all…” muttered Jayson, putting his mind back to the all-important tasks of running and clapping. The bottom of the colosseum had four large open arches at each point of the compass. Two of them, opposite each other, led to the cells which the ogre and the many other, currently-dismembered creatures had come out from. When he had landed in the colosseum, there had been at least another three giants and more than fifty other demons, tinkers, faeries, and who-knows-what in the fray. Now only pieces of them remained.From what he had seen, this one ogre was responsible for most of that carnage. And now it was out of distractions. Jayson hopped over arms and legs of different colours and shapes and sizes, as he hurtled towards the edge of the colosseum.
One of the other arches led back into the city by way of a gate of twisted black iron. Jayson had glimpsed behind there already. He didn’t much like what he saw. Belvegore’s barracks lay just the other side, heaving with hundreds of armed, angry, and probably hungry demons. The last arch was gateless, and peered out onto the marbled green and blue sky, wisps of cloud creeping gently past its mouth.
Jayson turned as he ran, not at the open sky beyond the last arch, but towards the left side of the wall that curved into it. He heard a roar behind him and turned to see the source. He immediately regretted it. The great beige body of the ogre was hurtling towards him, bounding on three limbs in a crazed animal gallop. As it came it threw up a wave of sand, stone, blood, and body parts on either side, as though it were a seaship cutting furiously through an ocean. Jayson eyes widened, and he turned all of his willpower to his legs, flinging himself headlong towards the wall of the colosseum. He was less than careful, clapping more haphazardly, and using every stumble to throw himself further away from the monstrosity bearing down on him.
When the wall was about ten feet away, Jayson lifted both his hands up and splayed out his fingers so that the small black amulets tied onto his palms were the first thing to hit the wall. He needed all the speed he could get and willed himself to keep accelerating despite his exhaustion. Jayson had survived the combat so far by mostly staying out of it and avoiding being seen, only using the occasional burst of force to manoeuvre out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, those small expenditures had added up; his amulets were running on empty, and so was he. Jayson winced. There was only one way he could think of to refill the amulets quickly, and damn was it going to hurt.
He slammed into the wall palm first, and his whole body quickly followed, crashing into the great sandstone bricks that made up the colosseum wall. His head and his right leg took most of the impact, and he found himself kneeling on the floor, the sand spinning around him. He looked up at just the right moment to stare directly into the leaking, bleeding eyes of the ogre, only seconds from crashing into him. With no time to think of any other course of action, he twisted both arms behind him and fired a measure of kinetic force at the wall.
Jayson hurtled on his knees across the sand, skidding just inside the narrow gap between the ogre’s distended legs. He couldn’t help but grin. It had been years since he’d used the amulets like this. He almost looked up as he passed under the ogre, but recalling the scant rags the creature had been wearing, and the scent that it gave off, he convinced himself this would be a very bad idea.
Before his skid had finished, a huge crash sounded behind him: the sound of the ogre hitting the wall. So far so good. He span upwards into a standing position, mentally checking his body for injuries. He was sore, but it didn’t seem like anything had been broken. He put his hand to his aching forehead and felt a welt there, wet with blood, that smarted to the touch. He grimaced and turned his attention to the mess of ogre and wall that lay in front of him.
The creature, in its wild stampede, had knocked out a small section of the wall, scattering brick and sand all around. It got up slowly nursing its head, and started rooting around the sandy floor, presumably searching for Jayson’s corpse.
“Over here,” said Jayson.
The ogre turned around with alarming speed and had such a shocked expression on its face that Jayson almost laughed out loud. He turned his options over in his head. Clapping wouldn’t do any good now – the carvings on his amulets were already pulsing white light and staring out at the world vacantly after his kneeling skid stunt. He would have to exhaust the stored energy before he could accumulate more. Jayson grimaced. Only one option. He’d have to get lucky.
“Look, can’t we just be friends?” he said to the ogre, who was still looking at him with pained astonishment. He strolled anti-clockwise around the ogre as he talked to it, heading towards the gateway to the sky.
“You and I got off to a bad start, it’s true,” said Jayson, keeping the thing’s attention on him as he moved. “But that’s all in the past. We should let bygones be bygones and… bygones and such. Forgive and forget?”
Jayson paused. Small talk didn’t come naturally to him after so many years of near-solitude, and it sounded distinctly odd to hear his own voice echo in the colosseum. But Jayson remembered roughly how ogres worked, and this one was so absurdly large by now that it would have trouble processing his words. The ogre was stumbling towards him and looked like it was considering breaking into a run. Its mouth yawned open as it prepared to wail.
“Wait!” said Jayson, putting a hand up, and silencing the ogre pre-scream. He breathed a small sigh of relief as the ogre paused before continuing its forward stumble. So it was listening at least. He was grateful that an ogre so enormous was even capable of that. As if in concert with the ogre, the roar of the colosseum audience also dropped to a low thrum.
“What if-” Jayson began. He was drawing nearer to the arch now, and the ogre was following only a few yards away. It was going to be a close thing. Now he just had to befuddle it, confuse it, get inside its head a little. Fortunately, Jayson knew the words that would confuse anyone on TreArch, even an ogre that had inflated its muscles to such an improbable size.
“What if I told you your whole life is a lie?” The ogre kept walking, trance-like, towards him. Jayson glanced right as he passed the blue-green sky, but kept stepping backwards.
“Tell me, what’s the last thing you remember, before all the fighting and the dying? Can you remember anything? Can you remember a time before you ever lived on TreArch?” The ogre lumbered onward, drawing closer to the archway, but he saw its brow furrow as the words sunk in.
“Why?” Jayson raised his voice and his hand, making the ogre pause again. “What is this place? Just think about it. Why are you here? Why are any of us here?” He saw the ogre’s eyes glaze over as the thought connected, and for a moment the ogre stopped, immobile. Why are we here? It was like magic, every time. Like a punch to the brain. Jayson seized the chance and swung his right arm down to the floor diagonally behind him.
Jayson fired off a measure of kinetic force into the sand behind him, turning as he left the ground. The force lifted him off the ground to curve through the air onto the the ogre’s right-hand side. The world around him sharpened as he concentrated. He watched as the ogre’s bloody and butchered head turned to follow his path through the air and waited until he could see it framed by the blue green sky behind.
Only a few feet from the ogre, he fired both palms full blast into the creature’s chest, sending it and himself tumbling in opposite directions. Even before he hit the floor he was clapping again, and landed in a backwards roll before jumping upright to see if his plan had worked. The ogre was still there, teetering near the edge of the stonework.
Jayson ran at it, clapping furiously all the while, in one last desperate bid to push the monster through the arch. He raised his arms upwards at the ogre’s gut and fired. The force was small compared to the previous blast, but strong enough to throw Jayson violently to the floor. Time seemed to slow. The ogre’s flesh rippled as it left the floor, floating upwards through the open arch. Jayson saw the ogre’s eyes unglaze, and watched the shock pass over the creature’s face when it realised it had passed beyond the stonework. Only a few feet away from the edge of the colosseum, he had a perfect view to watch the creature in its inexorable descent to the planet below. To watch as it…
Jayson’s face fell. The ogre’s face was lit up by fury, and it had twisted around and raised its club to land one final desperate strike. Its eyes bulged and somehow it inflated its musculature even further, tearing open the skin on its arms and legs and revealing bloody pink flesh underneath. With unnatural speed for its size, and a guttural scream that threw up the sand on the colosseum floor like the beat of a drum, the ogre brought the gargantuan club crashing down towards where Jayson stood. Jayson flinched, closed his eyes, bringing his arm up in front of him for all the good that would do. Either he was dead already or, by some strange miracle, the thing had missed. He peered out to see a cloud of dust, and a huge gash in the red earth in front of him. No ogre, just the open archway with marbled sky beyond. He sighed in relief. That was the closest to death he had been for years. He smiled to himself and lay back on the sand. Then the ground fell away.
An entire section of the colosseum around the gate was falling from its suspension above the clouds. Jayson watched as the bricks and stone and sand cracked and drifted apart all around him. The harsh winds of TreArch blew him and the rubble in random directions, at different speeds. He opened his mouth, but the wind snatched away his breath before he could call out. It whipped at his cloak and his hair, and twisted him this way and that. A little way beneath him, Jayson saw a dark smudge that could have been the ogre as it was swallowed by a cloud. It was little relief.
“Well. What a damned stupid way to die”, he said aloud into the wind. The first day he’d left the Outer Isles in years, and he’d already gone and died. He began to giggle at the absurdity of it all as he fell between the chaos of stone and rubble and sand. It was as good a time as any to test the theory, he supposed. He closed his eyes and waited for the inevitable impact with the planet below.