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Serenity Prayer
Nate laughed with Enzo, an awkward uncomfortable laugh. It matched the mood of the whole situation.

“How am I holding up?” he parroted, as if the question wasn’t understood. He laughed again, tilted his head up and looked at the coloured glass, gripping his knees tighter.

“I really don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, you know? At first I was just crying all the time and hiding out with people, and I guess that was stupid but I wasn't dying or anything, so I thought it would work. I didn’t really know what else to do, and I knew so many of the people who were dying that I guess I just couldn't really think.”

He tilted his head back down again, resting his chin on his legs. He didn’t really want to look at Enzo, but he hoped they were still listening. It was easier to talk to them than Asuka.

“Then I met Henry Spencer, and I invited him to hang out with us, cause someone stole all of his stuff. But then the next day, he ran off and stole mine.” And then he died after a lot of cursing from Nate. That part didn’t need to be mentioned, he decided.

“And then I found Alvaro, and it was good cause he’s my friend and all, but I knew what he’d been doing. I thought maybe I could talk him down, like convince him to chill out, y’know? But then he just tried to shoot me, and I ran away and left my friends with him.”

His forehead was pressed into his legs by then, but he wasn’t shaking or crying. He’d gone over the story in his head enough times to stop being so bothered by his failings. There was only so much guilt he could inflict on himself.

"And after that I just kind of wandered around with Asuka," he didn't know her last name, he realised. "until I ran away from her, too. I don't really know why I did, but I think she was ok. Hope so." There wasn't as much concern in his words as there would've been a few days ago; that reservoir was running dry too.

“Sorry for spilling like that, but yeah. Hasn’t been great.”

He let out a long sigh.

V6 BKA/BDA Voting: February 2017
Welcome to the fifth round of V6's Best Kill and Best Death Award contest voting! We start off with a reminder of the rules:

Votes will remain hidden until the voting is done.

Votes are made anonymously, so you'll need to log out of your account and post as a guest.

You may not vote for yourself for either award.

Votes must come with reasoning, or they will not be counted.

As a reminder on points of courtesy: please be sure to read every kill and death before voting, please vote for your genuine favourites rather than just voting for your friends, and please don't campaign for awards in the chat or otherwise try to influence the vote.

Alessio Rigano, for killing Maria Cucinotta
Isabel Ramirez, for killing Astrid Tate
Jeremiah Fury, for killing Travis Lynch
Coleen Reagan, for killing Arthur Bernstein
Jeremy Frasier, for killing Junko Kurosawa
Scout Pfeiffer, for killing Alvaro Vacanti
Kimiko Kao, for killing Nancy Kyle

Primrosette for the death of Maria Cucinotta
Pippin for the death of Astrid Tate
Deamon for the death of Travis Lynch
CrossbowPig for the death of Arthur Bernstein
KamiKaze, for the death of Junko Kurosawa
Yugikun, for the death of Alvaro Vacanti
CondorTalon, for the death of Nancy Kyle

Voting will run for four days (due to February being a shorter month), with the winners being declared in the following announcement.

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Dark Necessities
The two were leaving when a nasty thought came over Vanessa's mind.

She was agreeing to help Kaitlyn commit another murder. Kait, who'd already killed someone under circumstances that she wasn't entirely familiar with. Kait, who she kind of knew, but not really all that well. Kait, who from the sounds of it was prepared to start killing more people as long as they counted as 'crazy'.

It was, she realised, a rather risky commitment.

Sure, she was only planning on going after Alessio and then being doing with it, but going this route she seemed at risk of getting roped into more. Yeah, she could really use a gun, like fuck-yeah firepower and all, but she might've been biting off more than she could chew here.

"Hey, uh," she started, rubbing the back of her neck. Time to slip away without a stir.

"I actually forgot....my bag?" She glanced down at her which was obviously slung over her shoulder. "I mean, another bag. Yeah. I left it behind one of the crates down there because...it's heavy?"

Fuck it, that sounded believable.

"I'll be right back, I'll just go grab it. It's like, other way to the entrance."

She turned on heel and bounced down the hallway, calling out 'won't be a moment' and 'wait right here' as she did so, trying to be quick enough that Kait couldn't just chase straight after her. Hopefully.

((Vanessa Stone continued in Resident Evil))

Serenity Prayer
Nate turned around, half expecting to see Matt again. Enzo didn’t sound anything like Matt of course, but those memories had close enough to the surface that the little prompts brought them forth. There were worse people he could've seen when he turned around, though.

“Hey!” he replied when he saw who it really was. Something sounded off about that greeting. It was tired, weary. It lacked the same spark he’d always greeted friends with for as long as he could remember. It had the volume, but it was just a bit empty.

“What’s up, Enzo? Ho-how’ve you been?”

He was chuckling whilst he was asking a question that seemed misplaced, forcing a smile and trying to appear as upbeat as he knew he wasn’t, like he always did when he was feeling down. He still didn’t want to bring other people down to his level, even if it was more out of habit than intent at this point.

Nate was happy to see Enzo, that wasn’t the problem. Enzo was a cool dude. Or girl. It was a bit weird, and Nate didn't really understand it, but he didn’t like to judge and it really wasn't his place to. As far as he cared, Enzo was Enzo.

The problem was that being happy to see Enzo just didn't really seem to matter anymore.

Serenity Prayer
((Nate Turner continued from A Light in the Dark))

Four days later, Nate was back where he started.

Of course the game was still going and nothing had changed; what had he expected to happen? Terrorists didn’t just stop what they were doing because you asked them nicely. It was a long-shot, and he never expected it to work, so why had he bothered in the first place?

Well, he supposed, he had to. Even if it was never going to work, at least he could say he’d tried. He knew he meant what he said, too: he hadn’t just been lying to try and trick terrorists into not killing him and all his friends.

He snorted a dirty laugh. A lot of good integrity was doing him now. He may have tried to convince himself that it was better than not having it, that at least he could still hold on to himself, but it wasn’t enough at all. There wasn’t much that would have been, really.

Sat on a pew, Nate’s legs were pulled up tight to his chest as he stared at the stained windows. The ghost of Matt coming through the door lingered behind him, as he thought back to that first day. He was still here, four days later, and nothing had really changed. He’d found friends, lost friends, lost supplies, found supplies, and done a whole lot of walking, but in the end, he was right back where he started. What had even been the point?

He’d been thinking, ever since he said ‘I’m probably dead by now.’ to the camera in the cave. What was he going to do until then? He was most likely going to be dead in the next few days, if not the next few hours, so how was he going to spend that time?

He didn’t want to die, and he didn’t want to do it to himself (he didn’t even want to think about that), but just because you didn’t want something that didn’t mean it would go away. He didn’t want there to be people at school who made fun of his dwarfism, or people who laughed about religion and said that it was for idiots, or for himself to have absolutely no confidence or use to anybody, but that was how it was, and that’s how it was going to be. The only sensible thing he could do, he’d tried to tell himself, was to accept the things he couldn’t change.

So, he continued sitting there in the silence of the chapel, trying to accept his imminent death, as he pondered just what exactly he was going to do.

V6 BDA Voting Thread #4
Here's the voting thread for Tara Behzad's BDA quote. Voting runs for three days.

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MW's Lyric-Based V7 Character/Trait Prompt Atrocity
Sing me a song of creative liberty.

Three sentences about your kid: Critique experiment.
Can I ask for Sanford again considering that he's now dead?

Official V6 Away Thread
Ich liebe Wien!

Dark Necessities
Maybe Vanessa had been too trusting before, because Kait was certainly showing that unsettling glimmer in her eye right now.

None of this was about ‘doing what they had to do’, not as far as Vanessa cared; this was about revenge for her best friend, plain and simple. Anything that happened beyond that was the fucked up consequences of the terrorists’ actions, but that didn’t mean she had to go along with what they wanted for even a moment. Alessio was only getting his because he’d decided to go the route he had in the first place.

Stlil, Kait did make a good point about the chair leg. “It’s got a nail in it.” She pointed out in its defence, but she knew that it was only going to do so much in the long run. If Kait had guns ‘n’ ammo and was willing to share, then she was hardly in a position to decline.

So, against her better judgement, Kait’s suggestion won out. Vanessa was still against indiscriminate murder, but at least this way she’d be hanging out with a friend, company she could really use, and get something out of it at the same time.

“Alright, you’ve got a deal. We’ll go find Alan and then play it from there. Who am I to say no to a gun, anyway?”

Dark Necessities
It was an unexpected offer, to say the least.

“What, you mean like some kind of ‘criss-cross, I kill them, you kill them, we’re all winners’ deal? I don’t know, it sounds kind of…”

Fucked up?

She’d been absolutely planning to settle the score with Alessio, and she was going to do so, but he was the only person she had beef with. Yeah, this whole thing was about being the last person standing, and as much as she was trying not to think about it too hard, sooner or later she was going to have to come face to face with introducing people to the Grim Reaper. Still, she was really hoping she could avoid it until absolutely necessary (which ideally would be never, not counting Alessio); going out of her way to help Kaitlyn settle her own score would in turn make her a cold-blooded killer.

On the other hand, she was starting to get lonely since she split off from Jae, and the remnants of her best friend hanging from her wrist wasn’t doing much to help that. She may have been a killer, but Kait was still kind of sort of her buddy, at least from softball anyway. Hanging out with someone who was headhunting certainly wasn’t typical, but then that was exactly what she was doing, so maybe she shouldn’t be being so judgemental.

The indecisiveness was written all over her face and came out in a long sound of uncertainty, as she turned the chair leg in her hand.

Official V6 Away Thread
Handler: Slam
Dates away: 12th - 17th February (may be back on the 16th but better safe than sorry)
Days away: 6
Reasons for Away: Off to Vienna!
Characters: Nate Turner, Vanessa Stone

I'm covered in beads!
Looks more like a lamp to me.

Dark Necessities
“Yeah, kay. Thanks.”

The disappointment was obvious in Vanessa’s voice, but it would’ve been too easy to get pointed in the right direction straight away. It was cool, she had all the time in the world to hunt down Cam’s killer; he could enjoy running around whilst he still could.

What he’d do in that time, Vanessa was trying not to care. It sucked for other people who got in his way, but it wasn’t like there was anything she could do about that anyway. Better to focus on what she had to do rather than what he was doing.

There was a slight awkwardness as she wondered what to say next. Kaitlyn wasn’t her best bud, but it was still nice to see a familiar face. Made it almost feel like old times, back before everyone was running around on murder island with a bomb on their neck. A nice change of pace from sleeping out in the woods and trying not to cross paths with people who’d gone off the deep end.

Of course, Kaitlyn had danced on the edge of that end. She didn’t look crazy, no, but she’d still killed someone. It may not have unnerved Vanessa completely, but to say it had no effect would be a lie.

Hence, the slight awkwardness.

“Soo….” She began, putting the words together. She was curious, but she still wanted to stay on Kaitlyn’s good side. Just asking outright about it may have been considered a dick move, but at the same time on some level Vanessa wanted to understand the killer motive. After all, it was her motive now too.

“You got any plans? Now that you’re sticking it to people, I mean.”

As the words left her lips, she winced just a little. That definitely meant to come out subtler.

A Light in the Dark
((Nate Turner continued from The List of Adrian Messenger.))

In hindsight, leaving Asuka had been yet another stupid idea.

Nate had spent the last day wondering, but he’d made very slow ground. When you didn’t have a map to follow and confirm that your next step wouldn’t blow your collar, it became difficult to move. The lack of food or water only made things worse, and he’d found himself collapsing to his knees more than a few times. He may have been small and efficient, but he was no survivalist.

What had he been thinking? Yeah, he may have been useless dead weight to Asuka, and maybe Scout would’ve attacked them both (had she been on the announcements? There were way too many names to keep track anymore), but at least Asuka had all the supplies. Asuka had been leading him along since they met, and Asuka hadn’t tried to shoot him once. Asuka was probably the best thing that was going to happen to him until someone did come along and kill him, and he’d ran off for no real reason at all.

He fell to his knees again, and stayed down there for a few minutes. Holding himself up was getting so hard.

The sound of waves brushing along the coast lingered in the air, and he could hear the faint call of seagulls. The salty aroma crept into his nostrils, only making him feel sleepier. He could’ve passed out there, just fallen onto his face and drifted away into the grass, but he was out in fading daylight, the shadow of the asylum growing over him as the day turned to dusk. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could keep moving, but he knew he had to, lest someone come across him out in the open.

The wet sand of the cove shifted beneath his feet, the receding tide a gorgeous orange under the setting sun. It was a truly scenic sight, miles away from the horror that was spreading across the island.

Yet, even the picturesque view couldn’t remain so for long, as Nate came across the body of Toby Andresson.

“…oh.” He muttered, and that was all he could think to say.

He didn’t want to stay long. He couldn’t care that much anymore, not when he’d already seen Sandy’s mutilated body. He felt awful feeling that way, but it was the truth. He thought that, at the very least he should say a few words, that that would’ve been the right, respectful, Christian thing to do, but what was he supposed to say? ‘Sorry that you got caught up in this too’?

Yes, he supposed, that would suffice, so that’s what he said.

He was about to move on, as quickly as he’d come across the scene, when he saw Toby’s bag, lying there in the sand.

The painful growling in his stomach and the horrible parchedness of his throat wouldn’t let him argue, and within seconds he had ripped open the bag, shamelessly guzzling down the contents. It tasted so good.

He wanted to cry again. Stopped himself, wiped his face on his sleeve, and downed half a bottle of water. He was so sick of crying.

He turned back to Toby, grabbing the daypack by the straps. He wanted to apologise again. Sorry for robbing the dead, it really wasn’t something he wanted to do at all, but going without anything was too much for him. Maybe other people would resist the temptation, leave Toby’s things respected at their side, but Nate was weak. Right now, he was so, so weak.

The cove provided some semblance of shelter, but it wasn’t comfortable at all. A bed of rocks was nothing to sleep on, and the constant pattering of water dropping from the walls made him need the bathroom.

He rolled over, let out a long sigh, and stared up into the darkness. He was exhausted, so why couldn’t he sleep?

Maybe, he supposed, it was because he was alone. Every night, he’d been sleeping with someone else nearby. Ever since he was born, there’d always been someone on the other side of the wall, or in a bed only a few feet from him, or pressing right up against him that time they’d fit seven people into one hotel room. Here on the island, he’d always had friends nearby (or what he called friends, anyway), and back at home, there’d always been family.

“Wow.” he whispered to himself, when he realised how in this entire time just how little he’d thought about his family.

Mom, Dad, Kevin, Toby, Paul, Simon; what would they think about all this? They were going to have to see him die, after running around crying for four days straight. Maybe worse than that (a selfish thought), he was never going to see any of them again. Kevin would never tell him about all the stuff going on in Phoenix or keep his promise to take him sightseeing, Toby and Paul would never help him with his homework or…or… Simon would never pick on him just because Nate was the only one smaller than him … Dad would never again not say much to him after work or at dinner, just because they didn’t have a lot in common to talk about…

Why couldn’t he think of better memories? He loved them all, so damn much, so why couldn’t he?

He found himself thinking back, somewhere he didn’t like to go. It was in middle school, his second year, and he’d come home crying. He remembered the note from his teacher, Miss Steele, the one saying that he wasn’t performing adequately at maths, that he needed to study more or he was going to have to go to summer school. He’d been crying in his mom’s arms because they both knew he’d been studying for that class, but there were so many formulas and he just didn’t get it. His mom promised that they’d sort it out, that she’d talk to the teacher and try and resolve things, and his dad had given him a hug too, and he thought that had helped.

But when he was at the top of the stairs that evening, halfway down to getting a cup of calming tea, he’d heard what his dad had really thought, that none of his brothers had had trouble like this in school. He thought that maybe Nate had a disability or something if he couldn’t keep up despite all the work, that maybe they should get him tested. He thought he heard his mom agreeing, but he couldn’t remember for sure. There never had been any test, and he did manage to pass the class in the end, but he had just been so embarrassed from it all that he never wanted to think about it again. And so, for the longest time, he hadn’t.

There was something about this game, he started to think. Something that just brought out the absolute worst in everybody, something that made people like Alvaro start killing, made people like Henry steal all his things, made people like him resent his family and the people who tried to help. He was useless, and he knew he was useless, and sometimes people telling him he wasn’t just made him feel worse.

He thought he heard something. He grabbed for the lighter that had been Toby’s, fumbled a few attempts to flick it on before finally catching some light. It was nothing but the tide, catching some rocks at an angle, but it sounded so alien with the echoing of the cave.

He let out a sigh, looking around in the no longer dark chamber. The light from the flame danced along the walls, making all kinds of shapes and silhouettes against the misshapen pattern of the walls, but one object didn’t fit in, standing out against the wall.

A camera.

He stared at it, taking a moment to figure out what it was. He tried to get a close look, but it was too high on the wall for him to get that much of a view. Still, he pieced it together, and that got him thinking.

They’d been seeing him this whole time, of course, recording everything he’d do up until his death for the whole world to see. They’d been doing the same to everyone, and a lot of people were already in God’s kingdom (or not). People would probably watch this, maybe years from now; maybe they’d try to figure out who people were, why they did it, whether they were justified. He certainly wished he knew the answer to that. As it was, he was on camera without a clue what to say.

“I’m alone.” he thought to himself, reaffirming the obvious. “I could say whatever I want, and maybe it’ll mean something to somebody.” It was his limelight.

But what was he supposed to say?

“Um, so, hi. I’m Nate Turner, if you don’t know already.” He was speaking slowly, deliberately, like when he was trying to not stumble his lines. “I’m sixteen years old, I went to Cochise High, and I guess I’m probably dead by now.”

He laughed, just a little. It was starting to feel like he was back in drama club, doing some kind of bizarre improv he never thought he’d do. A real novel scene, right here.

“Mom, Dad, Kevin, Simon, Paul, Toby, wow that’s a long list,” another quick chuckle. “I’m really sorry that you had to go through this, and I really hope you don’t watch this for too long, because I don’t want you to see me die. I don’t want to die, either, but please don’t keep watching when I’m done saying what I want to say.” He paused, looking at his feet as the lighter continued to flicker, casting shadows on his face. “I really love you all, really. Really really. Please don’t be sad about this, I don’t want you to be.”

He was biting his lip, but he wasn’t crying. This actually felt nice, in a sad way.

“To everyone who’s watching this, for whatever reason, please don’t think badly of my classmates. I mean, some of them are killing, and maybe they killed someone you care about, and I’m really sorry about that, but it’s not them. It’s this game. This game turns people into monsters.”

“Maybe that’s a stupid, naíve way of looking at it, but that’s how I feel.”

A stiff wind howled through the cave, and the flame died out for a moment. Nate fumbled to relight it, sharply muttering under his breath “I’m not done yet, come on…”

Finally, it was relit.

“Um, sorry about that. Though I guess you could still hear me.”

“So, I don’t know why this happened to us. It was part of God’s plan, sure, I keep telling myself that, but it’s pretty terrifying. Like, I know I’m going to die, and I’m probably going to see some more people die before I do if I’m unlucky. The Lord works in mysterious ways, I know that, and I wish that was enough, but it’s really not right now. Sorry Mom, I was listening in church, I swear.”

He didn’t chuckle that time but he managed a small, fake smile. He’d spent his whole life taking some comfort from God, and trials and tribulations were just so core to the whole Christian faith, but that didn’t mean he could just overcome them just like that. What would Jesus do if he was there?

He inhaled, slowly but surely. He knew who he wanted to talk to next.

“To the people who did this,” terrorists, just say it. “I don’t know why you’ve done it, but I guess you must have your reasons. You must have reasons for killing all my friends and so many other people, otherwise you wouldn’t do it. Right?”

He was starting to stammer a bit now. He had to pause, catch himself. What was next was important.

“Well, I have to ask: won’t you please stop this?”

Of course it sounded stupid. But it needed to be said.

“So many people have died, and you’ve been doing this for so long, but doesn’t that mean it’s not working? After all the people you’ve killed, has anything changed for you? I don’t know what happened to you to make you want to do this, and I’m sorry that we can’t do anything to help, but killing us won’t make it better. Don’t you see that all this is doing is making more people hurt, like you must be hurting?”

“Please, I’m begging you, just let us go. Just, call the whole thing off, turn off these collars, whatever you have to do. I won’t try to find you, and I don’t think a lot of other people would, either. I’d just be glad to be alive. I know that’s an empty threat, I don’t know how I’d find you, but it’s what I’ve got.”

“I know that you’ve already got blood on your hands, and so do a lot of people here, but isn’t it better to stop than to keep going on? At least that way, no-one else gets hurt.”

“Please, just think about it. Please.”

A long pause came afterwards, and the lights died as his lighter flickered out of existence. He let it hang there, let his words linger as they had been. He knew it wasn’t going to make a difference, but he still had to try. Maybe, just maybe.

The morning sun rose beyond the horizon, waking Nate out of his slumber. He’d moved out of the cove, the seawater rising in the chamber without warning, and found shelter on higher ground. He ate a protein bar from Toby’s bag, eyes drifting across the painted numbers that he hadn’t seen in the darkness before. A name would’ve been so much better.

The announcements broke into life, and of course, nothing had changed.

((Nate Turner continued in Serenity Prayer))

The List of Adrian Messenger.
Nate felt a growing sense of dread in his gut, one that had just been quietly simmering for the past few hours, as they approached the cabin. He looked at Asuka, who he’d continued to no doubt be a burden to this whole time, who he no doubt wasn’t going to help at all by the time the day was over.

He thought back to his friends, who he was so glad to find out weren’t dead, but no doubt didn’t think highly of him for leaving them to their fates. Should he find them? Apologise?

As they approached the cabin, Scout appeared and Asuka took the lead. Nate didn’t know Scout very well at all, but at this point, did it matter? Did he need to weigh down yet another stranger with his uselessness, unable to carry his own supplies or keep his head down in a dangerous situation? Did he want to risk Scout turning out like Alvaro and making him run for his life yet again?

Ultimately, he decided that it was time to leave. He started to say something, but thought better of it, and took off in another direction without any real thought or intent.

((Nate Turner continued in A Light in the Dark))

V6 Fourth Announcement
Friday, May 8, 2015 and Onwards: Australia

Cleaning up took longer than the action, but not by much. The men and women of the AT descended upon the house STAR had called headquarters, moving quickly and efficiently. Anything with the potential to hold information, no matter how slight, was seized. The rest was tossed roughly to the ground, piled up in the centers of rooms or in hallways.

The bodies were identified, bagged, and conveyed to a large truck for later disposal. Disposing of bodies was an area in which the members of the cleanup crew had plentiful experience. There were fewer corpses than expected, and that was cause for some concern and haste, but the project went uninterrupted. The closest neighbors were over a kilometer away—STAR had presumably picked the area in part for its isolation—and none of them seemed to take notice of the traffic to the house. Perhaps they were used to odd comings and goings there.

Once everything of value that could be pulled from the building had been, most of the AT sped away. The remaining skeleton crew made a final sweep through the house, now not removing objects but rather placing them. Then, job complete, they too vacated the premises.

Ten hours later, in the middle of the night, the building was engulfed in flame as the timed incendiaries set by the AT activated. Due to the late hour and the distance from centers of population, it was some time before firefighters arrived, and very little could be salvaged. It did not take local authorities long to figure out that the fire had been no ordinary accident, and so the ASIO was called in and the area sealed off.

The press made brief mention of the fire, but no notable details were released, and the story died fairly quickly—after all, the government was offering little in the way of cooperation, and since it seemed nobody had been hurt in the fire and the only damage had been the consumption of an isolated house officially owned by a foreign firm and allegedly unoccupied, the most interesting thing about it all was the silence from official parties, making it difficult to say much about it.

The Australian government came to suspect that the house had been razed either in the course of foreign espionage or organized crime, but details were scarce. Those parties usually involved in such activities showed no awareness of the incident, and nothing of strategic value was apparent about the location or timing. Stranger still, reports from those who lived nearby pegged those most often seen near the house as a number of men and women in their twenties and thirties, who rarely behaved in troublesome or suspicious fashion.

The investigation remained inconclusive, though privately those closest to it suspected they were dealing with national powers with major resources—a spat between the Americans and the Russians, perhaps.

Thursday, April 30, 2015: Australia

Grossi did his best to clean up before the meeting, but days on the run had taken their toll. He'd used what money he'd had on him for food and gas, and while it had carried him far enough—he wasn't totally remiss in his preparations; he knew to carry enough cash for an emergency—he'd had to sleep in the car and had made stops as infrequently as possible. He was unshaven, partially because it made his features less recognizable, partially because he hadn't thought to buy a razor.

He was a couple hundred miles from STAR HQ by now. There was no word as to whether Garnett's fate had been discovered. Grossi doubted it, but he had been surprised, time and again, by the resourcefulness and resilience of his former wards. It was only a matter of time before someone went digging, and then they would come looking for him, no doubt with some very pointed questions. The only thing working in his favor, the only thing buying him time, was his and Garnett's propensity for independent operations with minimal communication. Even that would eventually wear thin, though, and he very much doubted any amount of explaining could get him back into the organization's good graces.

And so, it had come to this. It was another middle of nowhere meeting, and while Grossi knew what was coming this time, he didn't feel any better for it.

He was, after all, here to sell his soul once again.

He slipped out of the car (now more thoroughly cleaned of evidence of his crime), locked it, and moved up the road. The weight of the knife on his belt and Garnett's pistol in his jacket pocket gave him no confidence whatsoever.

Unlike the field where he and Garnett had parted, this was a park, one lush with trees and bushes. As Grossi moved further from the parking lot, he wondered how the area had been so effectively emptied. The only other person within sight was the woman he'd come to meet.

Sonia Nguyen sat at a picnic table, facing away from the table itself, towards the path Grossi was walking. She nodded at him as he approached, then gestured for him to join her on the bench. Grossi held up his hand, deferring.

"Suit yourself," Sonia said.

Grossi's palms were sweating. Even when he had leaned the driver's seat back and closed his eyes, he had found precious little rest. He'd imagined this meeting many times over, played out a thousand different ways it could go, and still he felt unprepared.

"Well?" Sonia asked. She smirked a little as she spoke.

"Well," Grossi said, but his lips and throat were dry so he had to swallow to properly find his voice, "well, what?"

"I'm actually surprised you came," Sonia said.

"You are?" None of the scripts had gone this way. Sonia had, in the course of their conversations, always seemed utterly certain of the inevitability of this conclusion.

"I am. I figured you'd give me what I asked for and then head straight for the border."

"You found me once," Grossi said. "I don't see any point starting off our... renewed relationship... on a bad foot."

"Certainly." Sonia chuckled. "It's already been far more dramatic than I'd hoped."

"Yes," Grossi said, "it has."

He tried not to think of Garnett. He tried not to think of Zach and the others, of how horrified they would be if they knew what he was doing, what he had done. He was trading their safety for his own. He was trading the lives of whatever class the AT next targeted for his own.

He had told Sonia everything. It hadn't been as hard as he'd expected, in the moment, because she'd encouraged him by noting just how much she already knew. She'd promised him, when he was talking to her while still staring at Garnett's makeshift grave, that she'd make sure STAR was neutralized with the minimum force necessary. Destruction of equipment, she'd said, and a cutting off of resources from their sponsors. She'd explained that Tracen had no real interest in revenge, just in keeping things running smoothly. She'd told him things were different in the AT now, more focused and professional. There was no more reign of terror, no more summary executions.

And of course, Grossi hadn't believed all she said. He still didn't. He was prepared, prepared for the inevitable and likely painful interrogation sure to accompany his reintroduction into the ranks. He hoped he could hide his revulsion, but even if he couldn't, the truth was that he was taking the road that seemed most likely to lead to his continued survival and prosperity. He thought it likely his former foes could respect that—it was, he knew from his time with them, what drew so many to the organization in the first place.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how things have changed," Grossi lied. No time like the present to brown-nose a little. Sonia had, after all, sought him out—if he could further cultivate her favor, she might be able to shield him from the brunt of the potential fallout. "I've been kicking myself for leaving for years. Only stuck with those kids so long because I didn't think anyone would trust me again."

Sonia nodded, her lips quirking up a hair more.

"I didn't see the car you took in the lot," Grossi said. "Should we take mine to wherever we're leaving from?"

"We're not leaving from anywhere," Sonia said.

She said it like it was just another idle piece of small talk, said it just like she'd said everything to Grossi since she first called him over a week ago, but the words landed like bricks.

"Oh Lucas," she said, perhaps reading the look on his face, "you really have been gone a long time."

"What do you mean?" he said, trying to push what he knew away even as he frantically attempted to come up with alternatives, contingencies, fantasies to get him out of the situation he found himself in or ways he could have dodged it.

"You're a liability," Sonia said. "All you care about is yourself. You sold us out, and then you sold those kids out to us when you thought that could save you. There's no room for that in the AT. Not anymore."

"So why?" Grossi said. He'd thought to perhaps stall and buy time, but found that he wanted—no, needed—to know the answer as well.

"You had something we wanted," Sonia said. "We got a certain small amount of information from one of your backers who experienced a change of heart. It wasn't much, but it was a start. We would have caught up with all of you eventually, but you represented an opportunity to expedite the process. Brandon's getting caught up in it was an unintended but fortunate coincidence."

"Why risk contacting me?" Grossi said. "If I told the rest, we could've vanished again."

"If you moved, it would offer us further opportunities to gather information and find you, and it would keep you busy when we needed you out of our hair," Sonia said. "Not that any of that really matters to you now."

"You brought Garnett back," Grossi said. He felt like he was pleading not with Sonia but with himself, with reality. He'd thought this through, had grappled with this, had damned himself, and now the shoddy prize he'd been offered was being ripped out of his grasp.

"That was how Victor did things." Sonia waved her hand. "It's why your lot found the success they did. It was stupid and inefficient, a clear recipe for disaster. Nowadays we tie up our loose ends."

And just like that, for the second time in the week, Grossi found himself grabbing the knife from his belt and lunging forward with the intent to kill.

He only made it two of the ten steps that separated him from Sonia. The gunfire came from his left, from behind one of those trees that surrounded the table, and it was mercifully accurate. As Grossi crumpled, he felt like he should feel something more altruistic, some horror at his killing of Garnett, some fear for STAR now that Sonia had showed her true colors, some revulsion with himself and his stupidity and selfishness, but all he found was that same fear that had propelled him so many times in his life, screaming at him one last time to save himself. The last thing he saw was Sonia looking down at him, shrugging.

"I can't believe he came." Christina Stockton stepped from her hiding place and slung the rifle back over her shoulder.

Sonia shrugged. "He was always susceptible to suggestion. It's why he clung to Danya so loyally so quickly, and it's why Garnett had such an easy time turning him. Some of us saw it at the time, but you know how Victor could be with his favorites."

Christina made her way towards Grossi's fallen form, pulling a pistol from her belt and keeping it trained as she kicked the knife from his limp grasp and then patted him down. She recovered a small revolver from the pocket of his jacket, snapped open the cylinder and let the bullets fall to the ground, then tucked it into the hip pocket of her fatigues.

"You think he really gave us good intel?" Christina asked.

"I don't think it matters," Sonia said. "Maybe we're lucky and Wilson and Tracen get what they want. Maybe our trap catches some flies. Maybe we just have another smooth version, and they're down two of their biggest assets."

Christina moved to check Grossi's vitals. When she was satisfied that he wouldn't be getting back up, she stood and gave the all-clear.

"Alright," Sonia said. "Let's get him packed up and move out. There's a lot of work left to do."

Friday, May 15, 2015: France

They'd buried Mateo in a far corner of the cave system, in one of the only areas where the ground was soft enough to dig. That had been five days ago now. Jaxon had spent much of that time wondering if he would follow his comrade into death, and a good bit of it hoping he might. He'd developed a fever and become delirious for a time, and when it had finally broken, he found his wounds prevented him from doing any sort of heavy work, or even from moving much. Lulu said he'd probably messed himself up worse by running so hard on adrenaline.

They had been living off provisions, and had made no attempt at leaving their hiding spot. Dera had reported a boat she thought might be the AT passing by the day after they holed up, and then again three days later.

They were somewhere in southern France. Much of their equipment had been damaged, destroyed, or abandoned during the evacuation—Jaxon had ditched most everything besides his weapons almost as soon as the shooting started—so the remnants of the STAR landing squad were subsisting on emergency rations and medicine while trying to figure out what to do.

Part of the problem was that the radio had been silent. There was no telling what had happened, what the situation in the outside world was, who was left. Jordan had made a few attempts at contacting someone else, but had found no luck. They had discussed their options, considered the pros and cons of moving on or staying put.

The biggest problem was they had nowhere to go and no resources to speak of. Nate had reported that they were miles away from anything. They would have to make the trek on foot—at least, some of them would. Jaxon and Jordan weren't mobile enough to go anywhere.

But now more than a week had passed, and the AT had not found and killed them, and food was running low. And then, right when it seemed critical that they act, the radio finally came to life.

It was Yun Choy from the Intelligence Squad, Yun who had been slightly disappointed to be assigned to handling the V3 survivors but had agreed without too much argument. They all clustered around the radio, around the makeshift cots Jaxon and Jordan lay in, and they listened. When she stopped talking and said she had to sign off, nobody spoke for some time.

What they had learned was this: STAR had not only been lured into an ambush, but had also faced a frontal assault on their headquarters, one which had resulted in the death or capture of Zach and almost everyone else present. This information came through Torrie Taylor, who had been shot at the start of the attack and left for dead by the AT, and had managed to make her way to one of STAR's stashed cars and slip away while all attention was focused on the ongoing fight.

So far as they could tell, all that remained of STAR was Torrie, Yun, Quinn, the V3 survivors, and the remnants of Jaxon's landing squad. Most of STAR's sponsors were refusing to respond to or even acknowledge the survivors, though one sympathetic backer had revealed that word on the street was that the AT had also caught up with both Garnett and Grossi.

"So," Jaxon finally said, when it became clear nobody else would, "I guess that's it."

Jordan groaned. Dera scratched at her head.

"I'm not quite sure I follow," Lulu said.

"We're not getting help," Jaxon said. "We have to figure out what to do now, how to stay safe."

"What we have to figure out," Nate said, "is how we're going to fuck up the people responsible for this."

Nate's goatee had been subsumed by a week's worth of beard growth, leaving him a more rugged but also friendlier appearance, but even that couldn't mask his scowl.

"I don't think so," Jaxon said. "Jordan and I can't walk. We don't even know where the others are. Everyone who's ever helped us is pretending they've never heard of us. Zach is dead."

"So what are you saying?" Nate's tone was cold, dangerous. It was the sort of tone he'd taken seven years ago, when he'd argued so long and hard that killers had to stay, but now there was nobody else to take his side, no string of facts or rationalizations that could sway Jaxon. There was only the truth, no matter how much it hurt.

"I'm saying STAR is done," Jaxon said. "Our best bet now is to find some friendly government and pray they can keep Danya from sending someone to shoot us in our sleep."

Nate scoffed.

"I don't think so, Jaxon," he said. "This isn't over. This isn't even close to done. We've had setbacks before. Half of us died getting off that island. But you know, when things get tough, you don't quit. We don't quit. Not until every one of us is dead.

"When we killed Danya, did they give up and call it a day? Did they say, 'oh, damn, guess we have to stop killing kids now?' They did not. So pardon me if I'm not quite ready to pack it in."

"We have nothing," Jaxon said. "Maybe we can think—think—about restructuring once we're somewhere safe. Only three of us could even walk a mile. You need to be real. We have no chance."

It hurt, to say this out loud. It hurt to acknowledge it, because Jaxon wanted Nate to be right, almost as much as he knew he wasn't. Glancing around, Jaxon could see on the others' faces that they knew it too. Only Nate looked unbroken.

Perhaps he sensed it as well, for when he spoke his voice was free of bluster.

"I'm not giving up," he said. "I'm going to see this through. Anyone who wants to come with me, well, let's go."

Nobody budged. Jordan groaned again. Nate shrugged, and set about filling a pack. Jaxon said nothing as Nate went through their equipment, selecting weapons and electronics, stuffing the pack to overflowing. When he'd finished, Nate looked at the rest and shrugged.

"Have a nice life, I guess," he said. "I hope you're able to live with yourselves." Then he made his way out of the cave, scrambled up the scrubby slope, and disappeared from sight.

"He'll be back," Jaxon said.

The others nodded like they believed it, but when the next morning came and Nate had not returned, Jaxon felt only marginal surprise.

Saturday, May 9, 2015: Undisclosed Location

"If I had to numerically quantify our success rate, I would say we're sitting comfortably at seventy percent, maybe eighty if we're generous."

Monica Brown was speaking to Greynolds and Tracen, and even though both already knew most of what she was saying, this felt important. Last time around, her job had been simple: make sure nobody wrecked the game. She'd performed admirably enough to land further responsibilities, with an eye towards ensuring the smooth operation of the program through the somewhat more proactive removal of a longstanding threat.

"STAR's headquarters was razed. Its leadership is dead. Its files are ours—some of them are wrecked, but the techs should be able to pull a good portion and patch a lot together, given some time. Most of STAR's manpower was eliminated in their attempt on the decoy island. The two most prominent defectors among their ranks have been eliminated."

Greynolds smiled. It was always just a little disconcerting when he did that.

"However..." he said, prompting.

"However, there were mistakes. One girl escaped the HQ raid, because someone didn't double check she was dead. Wilson has already handled the discipline, and it may even work in our favor to have a report of the action floating around, but it was sloppy nonetheless.

"Moreover, the organization of the decoy raid was troubled. Part of that is no doubt due to the number and experience of the staff dedicated to it—with the game also occupying attention, things slip through the cracks—but this still led to a group escaping and our loss of a handful of troops on the ground, plus a full helicopter crew.

"Finally, due to some sort of last-second change of plans that our primary sources were unaware of, all the survivors of V3 are unaccounted for. While they do not form the core of STAR's active force, they do represent a certain level of potential embarrassment should they surface."

"Hm," Greynolds said. "Tracen?"

Tracen seemed to think for a moment.

"Good enough," he said.

"It feels... I don't know. I'm glad." They were alone now, Greynolds and Tracen; Monica had departed to take up position monitoring the game once again, an energy drink—the origins of which Tracen could not figure out—already in hand. The room was largely empty, with a handful of comfortable, padded chairs and a table too small to be rightly called a conference table, despite its use as such.

"Most of the people who had a hand in your father's death are gone now," Greynolds said. "The ones who aren't are on the run."

"The one who pulled the trigger isn't."

The only surprising thing about Dorian's departure from STAR was that they had only just learned of it.

"We could have him tracked down," Greynolds offered.

Tracen waved his hand. "No. No, it's over. Let Dorian cower in whatever hole he's crawled into. The same with the rest of them. There's nothing they can do to us now, so they're more useful alive. This way, they're a warning to others."

"Even the ones who got away?"

It was always hard for Tracen to tell whether Greynolds was testing him, seeking to understand him, or some combination thereof. He wasn't even certain Greynolds himself knew. The questions rarely grated, however, and Greynolds had a special knack for getting right to what Tracen needed to ponder.

"Even them," he said. "Maybe they'll stay in hiding. In that case, nothing has changed. If they resurface, though? All that does is get our name front and center again. What happened in 2007, it was nothing to what happened the next year. A minor blip. We've already proven our system repaired, and like you said, grudges aren't going to help us."

Greynolds nodded.

"Get some sleep," he said. "Have to be fresh for your radio program tomorrow."

"As you said, the people who led to my father's death are mostly dead," Tracen said. "I think I'll sleep better than I have in a long time."

Sunday, May 10, 2015: Undisclosed Location, 9 AM

Tracen set his mug of coffee down on the side of the desk, next to his notes on the previous day. Gently blowing on the drink to cool it down, re-read the final changes to his script he had made the night before making sure he was happy with what he had chosen to say. He checked the time and took a sip of his coffee before beginning the announcement.

"Good morning children. If you are hearing this, congratulations you have survived yet another day."

After a pause so he could take another sip Danya continued.

"I'm pleased to say that there's a lot of new people who have joined in the festivities today. It's always good to see people finally realizing that there's only one way to get out of this alive. Trust me kids, the longer you wait the worse your chances get so act now or you'll live to regret it."

He took another gulp of his coffee and absentmindedly played with the pen he had brought with him. He was letting the remaining students think about what he had said the more people they had participating the better it looked and the more shocking it was for those watching at home. It didn't matter in the long run though, they would only be left with one when the games ended.

"We have a new entry to kick things off today as Caedyn Miller hit Bridgette Sommerfeld over the head, when this didn't quite work she resorted to stabbing her...a lot. We'll put the messiness down to first time jitters."

"Elsewhere Jennifer Wallace and Leslie Price were both shot by Nancy Kyle who managed to notch up a quick double kill. The rest of you need to put more effort in."

He finished off the coffee and narrowed his eyes at the next time on his list.

"Looks like I have to explain something again to all of you. You aren't leaving this island unless you are the last one standing, trying to escape just gets you killed, if you don't believe me just ask Taranis Behzad. She found out that setting a fire and then beating herself into unconscious in an attempt to remove her collar wasn't the best decision, and then she didn't even have the guts to stick around, instead opting to eliminate herself. I want you all to know I hate quitters kids so don't let me down like Miss Behzad did."

He sat back and gave the remaining children a moment to process what he had told them.

"Back to business, Darius Van Dyke finally shut up after William McKinley put a bullet in his brain. So if you hated him, send your thanks Will's way."

Reading the next name a small chuckle escaped Tracen's lips.

"Time for another health and safety PSA kids. Be careful of rocks in case you trip and fall. They can cause head injuries that lead to your death. Bernadette Thomas found this out when Brendan Harte pushed her over."

"Irene Djezari was too slow on the draw and paid for it when Alvaro Vacanti put a bullet in her."

"Our next murder was a typical crime of passion as Toby Andreasson was stabbed to death by a furious Jeremiah Fury."

"And finally Asha Sur had her throat cut by Isabel Ramirez; meaning we have a two way tie for first place. I look forward to seeing who will make that extra push to snatch first."

"As for the danger zones today I'd advise avoiding the The Staff Housing Block if you like your head."

"Our final piece of business is always our Best Kill Award, this time won by Caedyn Miller, hopefully your reward makes sure that your next attempt at murder goes a little smoother. Your prize will be waiting for you in the Hunting Cabin."

"I'm pleased with how you're all coming along kids. I'll see you again tomorrow."


Weather: The sky has cleared up and the rain has ended but the temperature has continued to fall and now sits around 54 degrees f, 12 degrees C. The wind has also continued to pick up, with strong gusts present all the way across the island. It's five days after the full moon. The fifth announcement will come at 9 AM on May 11.

Of course we need rolls, and here they are for the current cycle:

#1. Junko Kurosawa (KamiKaze)
#2. Maria Cucinotta (Primrosette)
#3. Travis Lynch (Deamon)
#4. Astrid Tate (Pippin)
#5. Lili Williams (CrossbowPig) - Arthur Bernstein (CrossbowPig, Swap card used)

As always, three days for cards...

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And then seven for deaths...

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Finally, congratulations go out to Grim_Wolf for the death of Taranis Behzad. We'll get the quote nomination thread up shortly.