The games had gone on for hours, never moving forward, never ending, never being judged by the Game Caller, silent and resplendent in his headdress of metal spines and platinum talismans. None of the players, all from other worlds, had any idea why or how they were there, in chains, feet manacled and tethered in place to the dry concrete, the Hierophants sitting in the stands, watching. At times thumbs either raised or lowered, signalling a player’s release or their demise. There was much wanting in the conditions of the players, with half-starved beasts venturing forth to feed from trap doors in the blood-soaked sands sparsely obscuring the concrete prison bunkers below. One player, Velq, had just filled the stands with applause after slaying an overeager Dinathogg-trullg which wandered too close to his thirsty blade.
Velq’s victory was short-lived as another player quickly sliced open an artery, purple gore spraying onto the already blood-soaked concrete. The Lead Hierophant finally signaled the games to end. Guards were summoned to the field, gathering up the corpses of the fallen, rounding up the survivors, putting them in carts to be carried off. They would help feed the ever-hungering Creches, bio-fodder for the clone engines of the Hierophants, raw material used to make new life from old for the masters of the Civilization and their chief servants.
In the Place of Creches, prisoners of war were all led chained together, the massive crystalline jewel that was the main AI stood staring at them like some enormous glittering diamond eye, with a light all its own shown in its brilliant facets. A hum came from it, a command to the guards it oversaw to lead the living fodder to the nearest banks of bio-vats, where they would be disassembled into the component molecules and recycled for a better fate than the games — warrior stock and domestics for the Hierophants of Varuulha. Trudging forward into the vats they were digested, biomass being transferred to the hungry and waiting bioreactors of the clone engines, flesh and fluids to be reconstituted in servitude.
“Great are the Hierophants,“ chanted the guards to the central AI as the fodder was digested, “Great are the Hierophants,“ they repeated as the biomass was splashed into nearby separation tanks, nutrients to reconstitute into new forms, some suited for menial servitude and some for warfare — strong, obedient, and without fear of death — to further the glory of the Hierophants. One prisoner had escaped their notice, and that of the AI, by hiding among the vats after slipping his chains…
He moved silently, slipping out of a ventilation duct to a chute leading elsewhere, somewhere below ground on the island, that being about hundred miles across at its largest and honeycombed with tunnels.
He stood among the mushrooms and shelf-fungi, glowing with their own radiance, as he looked for a way out. Finding a path, he wound up in a forest of puffballs, molds, and giant morels at the end of a vast cavern complex leading upwards. Wait — was that sunlight?
He snuck forth, brushing aside barely phosphorescent moss as he cleared a path outside, leading to the surface and a port ready-stocked with small boats and the ornate barges of the Hierophants — his freedom was at hand…
He was on the verge of escape, climbing onto a seemingly unoccupied vessel, when a tendrillous mass reached over from the cockpit, its snaky grasp holding him tight, pulling him into the depths of the barge, closer, ever closer to the power plant, and finally thrusting him into the hungry recesses of the main bio-reactor. His last sight was that of a Hierophant’s leering face, gloating over him as his vision faded, his last thoughts of sun, and sky, and family, a family dead long ago.