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Everybody Knows
((Kimberly Nguyen continued from Burn On))

They'd made their way down the mountain, out of what soon became a danger zone that spanned the majority of the island. Kimberly almost regretted not burning everything. It wasn't like it could hurt, not when the area was rapidly becoming deserted. It was a chance to leave a mark on the world, some sort of permanent reminder that she had been here. That wasn't so important, though, not anymore.

Now that she had a partner, Kimberly had more important shit to do than simply running around and finding people and fucking up their days for kicks. She had more important shit to do, like, for example, coming to terms with everything that had happened, with how very differently things had turned out than she had imagined they would. She couldn't quite wrap her head around the fact that she was even still alive this late in the game. Living to the final hundred had felt like a joke. Now, there were less than thirty people left on the island. In a way, she felt strangely privileged and vindicated. Sarah and Bridget had thought she needed to be coddled and protected, and look who was laughing now?

Not that she wouldn't have traded places with either of them in a second, or, fuck, sent Erik instead of one of them. He was probably more deserving. After all, he hadn't killed, hadn't completely fallen into the insanity of the game. He knew that, sometimes, no one gave a fuck who was stronger. Perhaps he could still unlearn everything he'd been taught here.

It was just so strange. Two weeks ago, she'd been worried about what she would do after graduation. It hadn't been a big worry, not really. She'd known that she would find her way. Now, though, now she knew the same thing but the stakes were so much higher. In a way, it didn't even make sense. Death was a timer ticking towards zero. The island had done nothing to change that; it had simply stolen the majority of her remaining time, making her actually realize how little of it she had always had.

And there were so many better things to do with it than worry. Kimberly laughed a little, as she approached the damaged building they had been heading towards. Why not laugh? Why not enjoy every last second? And now, now she could do so in a positive way, with a friend. Now she could find something worth doing besides hurting people.

Kimberly paid perfunctory attention to her surroundings as she moved, not too worried about an ambush here and now, but not totally at ease, either. As they entered the building, she saw a large smear of dried blood off to one side. Death was everywhere, it seemed. Not surprising, not anymore. She wondered what happened to all the bodies when the game was over. They had to deal with them in some way, make sure nobody had played dead or something. Probably they burned them all. It was strange, realizing that she was going to be burned like garbage and dumped into the sea. It was just the smallest bit upsetting.

She didn't dwell on it. Too much to do and to not do.

"Well," she said. "It looks like we may have somewhere to stay for a bit. Looks like something out of a horror movie, though."

The scattered furniture, damaged walls, overturned saws, the whole thing was a mess. Good. The world was a mess, these days. No reason for it to try to pretend otherwise.

The Worse Things That We'll Do
((Claire Lambert continued from This Will Eat You Alive))

Things had not improved in the aftermath of Claire's meeting with the other girl, who she had eventually managed, upon recollection, to tentatively identify as Rhory Anne Broderick, winner of the Best Kill Award a few days in the past. The deceit had been clear, the danger present, but, for some reason, the hammer had not fallen. They had both gone their separate ways, unharmed, but Claire wasn't about to give the other girl the benefit of the doubt a second time. She hoped there was no second time, that Rhory found her trouble somewhere else.

As if that hadn't been bad enough, her plans of hiding out at the cell tower had been laid to rest by the danger zones. She had chosen a less than typical route to safety, heading for the swamp because it seemed less likely to be inhabited. It was also fairly probable that it would be made into a danger zone soon, so she would have to move again, but, with any luck, things would be better by then. There weren't many students left on the island. She had lasted a long time. All she had to do was lay low for a little more, and she would have a real chance of going home, of sparing her parents the pain of losing another child.

Of course, things became more dangerous with each passing day, and more people she knew died. Julian Avery was gone, now. The fact that several major killers had died as well was not as reassuring as it perhaps could have been; it only meant that a new batch was rising to take their place, that unknowns were finally finding it within themselves to murder for freedom. They were, if anything, less predictable.

Claire was staying near enough to the eastern edge of the swamp, but far enough in so as to be under cover. She thought she'd heard the sounds of other people nearby a few times, but it could have simply been animals making their way through the underbrush, and it had all faded away in short order. At present, she stood on a patch of dry ground, leaning against a tree, working hard to avoid falling asleep. It was close to the end, now. All she had to do was stay lucky and careful a bit longer.

Somewhere, a bird was calling out, not a pretty song, but an ugly kind of squawking. Claire could also hear the humming of bugs, the splash of something moving. She tried to focus on the noises, to keep alert. Her gun was in her hand. It was always in her hand these days.

"Stay awake. Stay strong. You can still do this."

Loyalty Rewarded
Aileen was upset. She wasn't playing along. Too bad for her. She slammed the book, then started in on her rant, demanding answers. It was a good thing Aaron always had answers ready. He waited until she finished before speaking again.

"That's about the worst thing in there. The rest is just lists of names and the like.

"Anyways, I have no idea why Milo talked about his plans. I just managed to ensure he served another purpose. I had to prove that we weren't a threat to the game, since all of you kept demanding details and I figured the people keeping us here might be getting a little jumpy. I used Milo to prove that we weren't going to do whatever that Polanski girl did, to keep a bunch of commandos with AK-47s or whatever from coming to pay us a visit. Allocation of resources, you know. Trust me, I'd have preferred to just ditch him somewhere.

"Charlie got hurt because she stepped into a firefight. She did it because she believed in our mission. I'd rather her sacrifice not be rendered moot by infighting. And, as for Tom, he was exactly the same as Milo. He was running off to betray us, trying to get a player to join our group and help him take us out. He picked the wrong one, and didn't know I was following to hear his traitorous plans. I didn't do anything to him."

And that was that, but Aaron knew, just knew, it wasn't going to be this simple. He wrapped his hand around the gun and pulled it from his pocket, still keeping it pointed at the ground. The threat had no need to progress beyond the implicit at this point.

An idea did occur to him, though, one he wished he'd thought of a few seconds sooner. If Aileen was reading the book, she wasn't ranting at him, and wasn't getting in his face. She was neutralized, for as long as she was distracted, leaving him free to act. Whatever happened here, however this alliance ended, it wasn't going to be with Aaron getting the short end of the stick. It was time to start stacking the deck in that direction, just in case. It always paid to have a backup plan.

"But, by all means, double check if you don't believe me," he added.

The Eleventh Announcement
Two days, twenty-three hours, and twenty-eight minutes for deaths.

How do you come up with your character names?
I picked the bottom three.

I have a giant book of baby names by my desk, so that's where a lot of them come from. I also refer to internet lists of common names for the birth years of my characters. Sometimes I make stuff up that flows. Sometimes I pick names that are a pain to pronounce, just because they are spelled cool ways (also they make podcasts more amusing).

Sometimes, I regret certain choices in retrospect. As such, I have started googling my characters' names before submitting them.

So, basically, I pick names that sound nice, are fitting for the time, place and character, and often come from some random list. I checked other for "spending a bunch of time cross-referencing birth year name popularity data charts with good patterns of syllable stresses that stick in your head".

Loyalty Rewarded
Aileen said she wasn't giving the notebook back. Even before she told Aaron to read the words, he knew what had happened. He knew what was wrong, and he knew how he'd probably end up having to handle it. It was a real pity for this to come up in this way. It was bad timing, and it wasn't what he wanted, but he'd been prepared for a long time.

"Damn," he said. "Hoped you wouldn't see that."

The key was consistency of vocal tone. He had to come across as unfazed. He had to buy a bit of space, too, so he took a couple steps backwards.

"Alright, Aileen," he said. "I'm going to give it to you straight, because you're my ally.

"Milo was a psychopath. I heard him talking while he was on watch one night, saying how he'd get us all, how he couldn't wait to stop having to act like a moron. He said we'd drop our guards, and then he'd deal with us.

"I lied about things, to spare your feelings, and, more importantly, Charlie's. Sometimes you have to lie to help people. I taught you that back at school, remember?"—lunch, water bottles, silly things, same principal—"She was fragile, Aileen. She could have lost it at any moment, gotten herself hurt. Hell, she did in the end. This whole time, all I've been doing is looking out for the group. Sometimes that meant dealing with problems, like Milo and Tom. But it's worked. You're safe, with, what, thirty people left? And we're closer than ever to a breakthrough."

And the whole time Aaron was talking, he wasn't meaning a word he said, and he was sure Aileen knew it. The unspoken dialogue was a lot more simple. He was giving her an out, magnanimously throwing her a rope and offering to rescue her from the pit she had dug for herself. It was so very easy. All she had to do was go along with the lies, and this would end find. Aaron would ditch her or get rid of her somewhere along the line, but it wouldn't be immediate. They'd both sleep with one eye open, but that was only sensible at this stage anyways. Things could continue as normal.

But Aaron didn't think she'd take that route. That was why he made sure his hand was hovering near his pistol. He didn't want this to get ugly, but eventual unpleasantness had been a forgone conclusion for a long, long time. Better to get it out of the way when he still held the upper hand.

The Eleventh Announcement
Three days, twenty hours, and thirty-eight minutes for deaths.

The Eleventh Announcement
Four days, twenty hours, and twenty-six minutes for deaths.

Loyalty Rewarded
Aaron looked out to sea. Aileen didn't care. She was grumpy, sarcastic, but fairly easy to handle. Apparently, she was going to be sullen and surly about this all. That was fine. Those were easy things to deal with. He'd have to let her sulk, but they weren't going anywhere. If Aaron handled things right, she could even serve as a sort of alarm. If anyone stumbled across her, she'd probably become loud and indignant. That would be good warning. Aaron could hide out in the bait shop, perhaps. Maybe he could get some sleep.

There couldn't be many of them left now. Under thirty, though not by much. They were all corralled into a limited area, meaning encounters would increase. That, in turn, meant the death rate might not actually slow too badly. Aaron was guessing they had between one and three days left, slightly more if someone else got creative. It was possible there were other groups trying the same thing, though he somewhat doubted it. Attrition was eating its way through everyone at this point. In all likelihood, most of the other contenders were bedraggled and half mad. This wouldn't be all that challenging. After all, so far he had breezed through his time here, not on brute force, but on actually being intelligent. That was the secret. People played the game all wrong, focused on things besides the ends.

There was only one goal: winning. The way to win was not to blaze through everyone, like Lombardi and Brook and Hartmann and Kelly and so many others who were now dead or dying. It was to be smart, to play the good guy, to ensure you always held the upper hand and to never let anyone get the drop on you. It was to see your adversaries not exclusively as enemies, but as resources too. It was to never, ever reveal that you hoped to come out on top.

Aaron glanced back at Aileen. She was sitting, reading something. Keeping herself occupied. Good. Aaron wandered further out on the broken dock, making sure to step lightly and to test each place he put his feet. While a collapse would probably not prove fatal, it could be damaging to his weapon, and there was always the chance of being injured by debris.

Someone had clearly died here. There were stains that looked enough like blood, and he was pretty sure he could see something that was the remains of a limb. It was enough. Someone had used a pretty serious weapon here. Something like that would be nice to have, but there wasn't enough of the victim left to reverse engineer the killer's identity.

He made his way carefully back to safer ground, looking at Aileen again. She was still reading—

Aaron's expression clouded. She was reading his notebook, the one he had repeatedly asked her to return over the last couple days. She'd always hung onto it, though, always found some way to distract him and maintain control of it. She'd probably had it all planned out. She'd probably figured he'd be too distracted here to even notice what she had. She was trying to catch him out, trying to find something to blame him for. Maybe she'd been planning this for a long time. Maybe since Milo.

"Ah," he said, keeping his tone light. "You found my notebook. I have a few adjustments to make. Would you mind passing it over?"

The Top 25
Might be worth PMing the handlers if they don't respond here. It looks like you need info from Dom, Rocky, James (who is Away due to the storm), TDS (who is Away due to the storm), and Chelsea (who is Away due to the storm).

The Eleventh Announcement
Five days, twenty-three hours, and eight minutes for deaths.

The Eleventh Announcement
Card and DZ time is past. That said, you probably have about 4-5 hours to get clear if you're in a DZ, because I'm busy until then. No promises, of course.

The Eleventh Announcement
Four hours and ten minutes for cards and DZs. In all likelihood, there will be a little wiggle room on the DZs since I'm going to be pretty busy until tonight, but don't count on it at all.

Loyalty Rewarded
((Aaron Hughes continued from Failing to Reappear))

Aaron had gone quite a ways from the infirmary. Aileen had caught up, somewhere in there. Charlie hadn't. No real surprise. Losing people was an inevitability. Better her than him. Whatever had happened, Raidon hadn't followed him here. That would be good enough for now. Maybe later they'd meet up again. It would be problematic if they did. Tactically atrocious. Aaron had chosen the logical path when dealing with the island's most dangerous living player. The problem was, that sort of thing only worked once. Next time, both of them would be gunning from the start.

And then there was Aileen. They had been moving at a good pace, Aaron being sure to keep close enough that she could see him and far enough that she couldn't really interact with him. She was going to be livid. He knew this. It was just a matter of dealing with it in the right way, of mollifying her properly. It was going to be a bit tricky; after all, losing teammates seemed to be one of the things Aileen took hardest. Now, though, it was down to just the two of them. There were no more allies to lose. Aaron was a bit nervous about the effect having such reduced manpower would have on his chances, but he would deal with it.

They were at the docks. It had seemed a good place to lay low for a while. Here, they could wait out a good portion of the remaining time in relative safety, in all likelihood without too many people coming to bother them. It also made sense from the perspective of continuing the ruse. Its proximity to the water certainly implied a chance for escape or rescue. He might not even have to say more.

Part of the dock was blown apart, probably by some sort of explosive. Aaron drew his pistol, and slowed. Best to let Aileen catch up, to make sure nobody was lurking. If another player was here, they could be in big trouble.

As he crept forwards, the announcement played. The name of the girl he had hit rang a bell; he was pretty sure she'd killed someone. A player, then. Raidon's partner, probably. Good. The weaker the other boy was, the better. Charlie's death was confirmed, and most of the rest of the island was made a danger zone. They'd definitely picked a good location.

A quick check revealed that nobody was nearby. That settled, Aaron headed towards the damaged dock, intent on seeing just what had transpired. He gestured to Aileen and called, "Hey, over here. You should see this."

Burn On
Kimberly chuckled at Erik's response, but only briefly. Leave it to school to ruin a good book. Leave it to teachers to miss the point.

She turned away from Erik and just stood, looking out over the island. From here, she could see almost all of it, just by rotating. It was a good place to be, as good as any. A good place to die, perhaps. That was some solace.

"Too bad," she said. "It's worth a read. Frankenstein is this scientist, you know? And he creates a monster. He doesn't try to, it's just, he has this life in his hands and he's too much of a fucking coward to realize, so he gets scared and he hurts his creation, and he drives it away, and that's when it really becomes a monster.

"And this monster, it doesn't die off like it's supposed to. Everywhere it goes, it can't escape from Frankenstein's memory. They're drawn to each other, feedback loop or some shit, and they haunt each other, destroy each other, and they just keep going, and it looks like it'll never stop, and then one day the monster takes things a bit too far and Frankenstein bites off a bit more than he can chew, and he ends up dead.

"And you know what's funny? The monster, he realizes that maybe they were never so different after all. He realizes that, fuck, that maybe things could have been different, maybe better. And then he realizes that maybe there's not a place for him anymore, and so he goes far away from everyone and he burns himself on a pyre."

And Kimberly withdrew the matches from her pocket and pitched them as far as she could, off the side of the mountain.

"Fuck that, you know? Fuck not learning from your mistakes. Fuck giving up. It's like... Erik, I've fucked up so many times, and I don't even know what's right anymore. I think I did the right thing, but I can't know, and that's awful, and I don't even know if I care, and that's worse. But I just want to stop all this shit, break out of my cycle, you know? I just want things to be better, and I know they never will be."

She sighed. Erik seemed a little out of it still. Probably fucking lying about being fine. Probably she would have to patch him up later. She didn't care, not in the slightest. She could almost smile again. She could talk to someone, could interact without hating. She could live with everything she'd done again. No regrets, not now. Never again.

"I'm sick of this mountain. Let's find some shelter or something."

It didn't take long to pack and get moving. Kimberly didn't bother with the weapons strewn around. She didn't really expect to need them anymore.

((Kimberly Nguyen and Erik Laurin continued in Everybody Knows))

Burn On
It seemed like Erik was as fine as you could be with blood running down your side. Good. Kimberly would've been pretty fucking pissed if he'd dropped dead on her. That wasn't what partners meant. That wasn't what was supposed to happen, not now. Not after everything she'd done. And then he asked her if she was alright. She blinked, bit back the instinctual flash of resentment. Erik wasn't trying to imply she was worthless. He was doing his part as a partner, same as her.

Besides, as she thought about his question, the answer was all too clear.

"No," she said.

"I mean, fuck, she didn't hurt me too bad. Lost my glasses, but fuck 'em. But, you know, it just wasn't, this wasn't how it was supposed to happen. I didn't want this to happen."

And that was that. She wanted to kick something. Wanted to burn something. Her matches found their way to her hand, inside her pocket, hidden from view. She couldn't even begin to describe what she was feeling, not in her own words. And then, all of a sudden, there it was. A flash from reality, a way to make it all make sense.

"Hey, Erik," she said. "You ever read Frankenstein?"

The Eleventh Announcement
One day, one hour, and forty-six minutes for cards and DZs.

The Eleventh Announcement
One day, twenty-three hours, and thirty-six minutes for cards and DZs.

The Eleventh Announcement
It had been two days since the attack. The base should have been back in order, at least to a major degree. They had sustained a lot of damage, but nothing irreparable. No, the critical damage had been to morale. The fact that the game was proceeding as well as ever did nothing to shatter the pall that had been cast over the base. It was almost as if they'd lost, as if they'd been entirely defeated. In a way, perhaps, they had.

Christina Stockton certainly didn't feel good about things. The loss of some of the students was something she could accept, something that, on some level, she could even come to believe might not be all bad. The identity of the attackers, though, was much, much more worrying. She was one of the members of the AT who could still remember everything that had happened all those years ago, back when she'd been new on the job. Having something out of the past blindside her was not her idea of a good time, especially not on the tail of a grueling mission. Their defeat of the problem causer and their repairs of the cameras all felt pretty damn hollow right now.

She was sitting in the tech room, filling in for the depleted staff, watching endless shots of the island. It was all excruciatingly boring. She'd taken to counting the corpses she recognized from her own sojourn ashore. It was all that was keeping her awake. She almost envied Lourvey. At least redesigning collars involved mental work. For all she knew, though, he found it totally tedious and repetitive.

She didn't realize she was being watched for close to a minute. It was only the subtle shift of shadows as the person standing behind her fidgeted that tipped her off. She turned around slowly, expecting Wilson or Greynolds ready with some new task. Instead, she saw Shamino Warhen, gesturing for her to follow him. She stood and walked out of the room, glancing nervously behind her. The techs pretended to be engrossed in their work. They had lost all curiosity when it came to each others' business. The bloodstains nobody had quite managed to scrub away provided plenty of continuing unpleasantness. There was no need to pile on any more.

In the hall, Christina said straight away, "Did I do something wrong?"

"No," Shamino replied. "You looked like you needed a break to stay sharp. Besides, I have news."

Released from her nervousness, Christina pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket, selected one, and lit it.

"What have you been doing?" she asked Shamino. She had barely seen him since the attack, a notable oddity while everyone else was pulling double shifts.

"Intelligence," he said. "Trying to figure out what went wrong, what the fallout is. Lots of time on the phone, connecting with assets. We're pretty sure we've found the general area where they took the missing students."

That elicited a raised eyebrow.

"And?" Christina prompted after a few seconds.

"And nothing. We only have a rough picture, but it's enough. They got them inland, got them guarded, and we're understaffed. If they'd hidden somewhere isolated, maybe. As it is, time to cut our losses. Keeping them watching their backs means keeping them hidden, means keeping our own location quiet."

And that was that. Forget almost thinking it was okay that there were survivors, Christina was mad about this. She also knew that they were making the right call. It would be a total waste of resources to hunt down the rescued students. Besides, what would they do with them? Throw them back into the game, with all the advantages that came with even a day of rest and proper nutrition? Kill them? They couldn't afford to fixate on revenge. As soon as V4 was over, she imagined they were going to have some serious restructuring to do.

For the moment, all that was left was to ride this out, to make sure there were no bugs in the final days of the game. Soon, V4 would be nothing but an unpleasant memory.

"I have to talk with Greynolds now," Shamino said. "Back to the monitors, Domino."

She sighed, flicked her cigarette at a trash can and missed, and turned back to the door into the monitoring room as Shamino stomped it out for her. Nobody commented as she entered and returned to her seat.

Greynolds was almost beginning to understand the routine of the announcements. Almost. It all still felt uncomfortable, but at least now in a familiar way. Maybe after V4, things would be different. They would pretty much have to be.

For now, though, there were deaths to read. Quite a number of them, in fact.

"Greynolds here," he said through the speakers all across the island. "Another announcement for whoever's left.

"First off, Celeste Beaumont decided to spend some quality time in a danger zone instead of leaving when I told her to. Bad move.

"Garry Villette was blown up by a grenade fired by Kristina Hartmann. She didn't have time to savor her latest kill, though, since she was stabbed in the back by Kimberly Nguyen.

"Next off, we had quite the serial performance. Rachel Gettys, Neill Robertson, and Nathan Choultard were all shot fatally by Liam Brooks, who was killed in turn by Jason Harris.

"Reiko Ishida opened fire on Joe Rios, killing him. Then, Jimmy Brennan crushed Samya Franklin under a stack of shelves. He also shot her. Overkill, much?

"Jessica Pentangeli couldn't take it anymore, and threw herself off a cliff. Hayley Kelly killed Janet Binachi in a firefight, Madeleine Smith shot Trent Savage, and Aaron Hughes blew away Fiona Sparki. Peter Siu then gunned down Marry-Ann Warren. Notice a trend, survivors: guns are actually fairly useful. It might be something to consider if you plan to continue living.

"Ema Ryan brought an end to a wounded Hayley Kelly. That's the third notable player to die in one day. Finally, Charlotte DuClare eventually died of blood loss due to wounds inflicted by Raidon Naoko, and Teo Weinstock managed to blow himself up with a backfiring stolen gun.

"Since there are only twenty-eight of you left, we're going to have to condense the rest of the game a little bit. As such, you all need to head for the northern section of the island. Everything else will become a permanent danger zone. We'll give you a little extra time, since it's not possible to do that all in ten minutes, but don't lag or you'll lose your head. To be clear, the Coastal Woods, the Mountain, the Fun Fair, the Inland Woods, the Ranger Station, the Southern Cliffs, the Mansion, the Gazebo, the Destroyed Cell Phone Tower, the Mines, the Groundskeeper's Hut, and the Hall of Mirrors are all permanent danger zones. Those traveling between the Swamp and the rest of the island are advised to stick very closely to the Logging Road. Finally, we were impressed enough by Mr. Brennan's performance to replace the weapon he lost. It'll be waiting for you in the Town Center. Everyone else, stay out of there for the day.

"Until tomorrow, then. Keep it safe. Greynolds out."

And, the rolls:
1. Aileen Borden (KamiKaze)
2. Alex White (Dr. Nic)
3. Peter Siu (Solomir)
4. Jason Harris (Fanatic)
5. Raidon Naoko (Grim Wolf) - (Jonny, Roll Null used)
6. Jimmy Brennan (Little Boy)
7. Meredith Hemmings (zombiexcreame)

As always, three days for cards and DZs (the extra time is IC only), seven further for deaths.

Finally, congratulations to Jonny, who wins a Roll Null for the death of Charlotte DuClare.

Ready Aim Fire
If you're running this again, I'm in.