A small roaming planet wildly bounced around the void between universes. The planet was mostly barren, except for small towns that cropped up across the charred, broken, and scarred surface. Flashes of light dotted the surface as those with the ability to teleport to the planet through science and magic seek refuge, buying themselves shelter from whatever storm they were running from with whatever they brought with them as a bartering option. Those who frequent would be fortunate enough to pick up some of the currency of the planet; others have to bring a haul for a night of safety and everything it entails, and it entails a lot.
Down on the surface, wounded soldiers teleported with fringe science machines and sorcerers’ open portals, and then there are those lost and confused, brought to the planet through happenstance or even a misguided attempt at something else.
Outside a fighting pit, a small group of three sat alone; an arena filled with blood sat before them as the cleaners came through to hose down the walls.
“The fights here are pretty brutal; you would never get that kind of thing back on Earth.” Said a spry man with scars across his fists and elbows.
“Don’t worry, you are not alone; back on Bellude, there are some nasty fights, but very few get this bad. Human bodies only go so far. The man said in-between mouthfuls of food.
“Really?” The third man asks. “On Dolor, there are plenty of fights like this, not all of them human, but the humans fight harder than any other on that rock,” he said with pride, standing with a fist on his chest, “As some of the weakest on that planet we make our mark, and we fight the hardest that we can.”
“Shut it, Dolor; your planet is covered with monsters; there is no wonder your humans have evolved stronger.”
“Oh, so we are just genetically better, are we?” Dolor responded,
“Yeah, I ain’t seen your shitty dirt tribes, but I bet your planet is bigger too.” Bellude grabbed Dolor’s forearm and squeezed. “Feel this nonsense, Earth; this bone feels twice as thick as it should be.”
Dolor jerked his hand from Bellude’s grip.
“If you want to prove a point, settle it in the arena. In the arena, not in the grandstands, space boi. I thought advanced societies were supposed to augment people and make them stronger.”
“Those people are disgusting; thankfully, only very few fringe groups do that on Bellude, or at least few I know about.”
Dolor looked over the Earth human as he sipped from his cup, looking at an old man slowly scrawling on the nearby chalkboard.
“What you looking for, Earth, another bet?”
“By the gods, your lot are disgusting when it comes to gambling like we definitely have it, but you lot have agreed that is unparalleled.”
“What is Hollow?”
“I don’t know, lots of things. “ Bellude answered.
“No, you idiot, it is a universe on the board. Hollow, they have a star next to their universe; why is that?”
Dolor and Bellude looked at one another knowingly.
“So,” Bellude started, getting Earth’s attention, “The star means it is a universe with a high win rate. Hollow, however, is new to me. Have you heard of them, Dolor?”
“Can’t say that I have. But if they have a star, they are worth the bet.”
“Not at those odds, thanks; I would need to bet millions to make any money back. For every hundred dollars I drop, I get ten cents back on a win. There is no way that this Hollow person is a person; it must be a monster.”
“Human only town Earth, they are strict on those rules, for others, and our own protection. Saves on clean up if you keep it segregated by species.” Bellude informed Earth as they finished their meal and dropped the wrapping to the floor.
“So, do we wait for that fight?” Dolor asked. “I have never seen a star fight before, and considering the financial odds, with the fact that his opponents are three of my kind, this should be very interesting.” Dolor said as he looked at the others with eagerness in his eyes.
“I feel like that look answers that; I am going to get more food; I will be back.”
Bellude left the stand to get food as the other two waited.
“So, are you going to bet on Hollow?”
“I mean, have you seen the return for betting against him?” Earth sad, practically salivating.
“Calm down; there is no way those three win.”
“Three vs one, Dolor, how can they lose? Surely this is some kind of money-sink scam.”
“You need to look more carefully.” Dolor leaned over Earth and started to point at points on the board. “He is a new fighter, with no previous experience in the arena, and the fact he is starred that means there have been enough Hollow humans come through here that this is how they rank them.”
“But nothing Earth; whatever the humans on Hollow have to deal with must be insane because the arena makes fights as even as possible, so if this is as even as they could make it, that means Hollow fighters are nasty.”
“Holy shit, guys, you won’t believe what I got told at the bar.” Bellude said as he sat behind his friends.
“What?” The other two asked.
“So turns out this Hollow place is a nasty place, like properly covered in monsters, although they call them nightmares.”
“Told you they must deal with it big shit if they fight good.”
“No, that is not the important part; you saw the physical stats of the fighters?”
“Yeah, I thought that was weird; the Hollow fighter is a child-sized compared to the others.” Earth said as he weighed up his options for his bet.
“Yeah, looks like a child, or…” Bellude paused with his hands, gesturing at Dolor and Earth.
“A child or… what? Just tell us.” Earth said.
“Oh damn, no, that is outrageous; there is no way; what is the fighter’s name?” Dolor interjected.
Bellude snapped his fingers at Dolor and started cheering.
“I know, right? It is insane.”
“I am sorry, I still don’t understand.” Earth said, puzzled.
“Read the names of the fighters Earth you dumb fuck.” Dolor groaned.
“What is so important about names?” Earth muttered back as they looked back to the board. “Let us see, we have, on the triple threat Dolor side. Ven’dar, Alide, and Faver. Then on Hollow’s side, we have Eva. What is your point?”
“My point is that those are all male names from Dolor, I don’t know about you, but that looks awfully like a woman’s name to me.” Dolor said as he turned to Bellude to continue the conversation.
Earth ran off to the betting booth as others were starting to filter in. Upon returning, the stands had come alive with the buzz of Hollow being whispered to one another as punters looked at the board confused, consulting with one another.
“So, who did you bet for?” Bellude asked as Earth sat down next to him.
“Not saying, bad luck to let others know.”
“Oh gods, that is so stupid. I hope you lose.”
“Hey, hey, hey, I don’t ruin your fun, don’t ruin mine.”
“We are not ruining fun; this is an addiction, you idiot.” Bellude added, snacking on his food.
“Well, this should be a fight to remember, at the very least; I have not seen this place this full in a long time.” Dolor said, looking around.
“People are literally standing in the walkways; this is insane.”
“Now everybody, the fight is going to begin; we have three strong men from Dolor, a multiracial planet with the use of fictional science, and the primary weapon of choice is a sword and shield.”
The intercom came through loud and clear, quieting the crowds down as the three fighters entered the arena, raising their arms for a cheer. Dolor sat back in his chair, looking annoyed.
“Oh, here we go again.” Bellude groaned.
“Why can’t they just say magic? We use magic; is that really that hard? This pc language is absolute trash.”
“Shut it; who cares what they call it.”
“You shut it; your science is just science, no demeaning titles. It is dumb.”
“Can’t be that pc if it is offending you then is it.”
“Alright, star head, listen here.”
“Both of you shut up; I need to concentrate.” Earth interrupted the other two as he held his paper in-between both his hands as a prayer.
Dolor and Bellude rolled their eyes but quieted down for Earth.
“Then, on this side, we have the rare pleasure of a human from Hollow, and before anyone asks, we put all our fighters through the same tests; according to our machines, this is a fair fight. But we will see, won’t we?”
As the gates for the Hollow contestant started to rise, she crawled under on her stomach and started to sprint straight at the three opponents she was facing. There was an uproar as the three men got ready.
The cheers quickly faded as people watched the fight progress. The cracking of bones was nearly drowned out by the screams of the men as they were each bloodied. Not wanting people to die, the refs interfered, shooting electrical charges at the Hollow woman. Her body tensed, and she continued to maim her victims until she was hooked by three separate electrical charges.
Dolor sat with his jaw ajar; Bellude’s face went pale as his last bite of food was pushed out of his mouth with a gag. Earth very carefully took a side of his betting slip with each hand and ripped it in half.
“She is smiling; she is smiling with what looks to be one of her arm bones sticking through her flesh.” Earth said with a gag at the back of his throat.
“Come on, give me more. I’ll kill anyone who thinks they can fight me. These are not real men; these are lambs, lambs ready for the slaughter. I will bring the wrath of Anodyne here and bring you all back for trade. Nothing but cattle…”
“Damn, what kind of fucked up planet is that?” Earth said, with a quiver in his lip.
The ground started to shake, and a large portal opened behind Eva; Anodyne stepped forward and grinned; behind him, the Conductor stepped into view as the entire arena started to scream and run.
“God, clear out!”
Those who could portal out of the arena and sirens started to sound; Eva was let loose as those holding her binds warped from the planet.
The whole planet was vacant in minutes; those who hadn’t found a way off the world were carted back to Hollow, chained by Anodyne, and led by Eva, leaving Anodyne and the conductor standing on the planet alone.
“It has been too long since we have gone mortal hunting; why did we stop?” Anodyne asked, looking to the Conductor for answers.
“… Can I be honest?”
“You changed, you have been losing your rage, your sanity is returning, and soon both me and Hollow will be nothing more than a fleeting feeling at the back of your mind.”
Anodyne turned to the Conductor, and with a familiar rage in his eyes, he spoke softly.
“Then it looks like I need to see someone to sort that out; we have an old friend to visit.”