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Grim Wolf
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The Very Best
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(Tara Behzad running from The World Turned Upside Down)

She ran.

She started the moment a third person moved to join them, her head full of memories and visions of interlopers from past versions. A moment's guilt, as she thought of Hazel and her friend, making sure she was safe, making sure she hadn't been attacked. Good folks. Really good. But-

Always that but. Always that thought. She knew how dangerous things were. She knew she was going to die, but she wasn't going to die today.

Briefly, she even recalled another runner from another version. David...something. Always running. Never lingering one place, as crises and killing besieged him on all sides. 

She had less reason. And more. Had to run. To do otherwise would be to let the ghosts take shape. 

Along her coursing way she heard the screams and shouts, the laughs and glad cries, the sounds of battle. Along the way, she felt the island coming alive. She remember strong bold words that meant nothing. She remembered.

They had been beaten before, more than once. The game rarely went off without a hitch. There was always someone somewhere working, struggling, trying to bring justice, trying to find answers. 

Evening found her running along the shoreline, the sting of salt in her nostrils and in her throat, making her parched lips tremble with the need for the water she would not drink. It was hours since she'd started feeling dizzy, hours since she'd started feeling weak. She'd slowed, but she hadn't stopped. She wouldn't stop. Pain was clarity, giving her a sense of purpose, a sense of life.

She would die, and there would be no such pain. 

Finally, her quivering legs could carry her no farther. She sank into the damp sand next to an oblong piece of driftwood, and trembling fingers unzipped her bag and found a water bottle. She wanted to drink it all in one great swallow, but that was weakness, that was her body mastering her, and she would not allow that, she had never allowed that.

Half the bottle only, in four careful swallows. Her neck ached where the collar had been pulled tight against her throat. Then she closed her eyes.

When she awoke, it was dark. The moon had come and gone, and the stars were fading out. She stared into the bleak blue-black sky, her body aching from her run and from her fall, her throat parched and bruised. She looked like a victim already.

Not a victim never a victim I am me I am Tara I am not weak I am not

"Good morning ladies, gentlemen and those of unspecified gender. If you're hearing this, then congratulations. You're still alive."

Her breathing caught in her aching throat. She stared up into the sky, as though she could see the man speaking. In spite of herself, she smiled slightly. Yes. Alive. Alive. Alive.

"Our first casualty of the festivities was Jennifer Su. Friendly reminder not to play on the edge of bridges, guys. Florentina Luz found herself with a second smile when she ran into Isabel Ramirez in a bad mood; let's give a warm round of applause for the first person to bite the bullet and take someone else out."

One of the Luz girls was dead, huh? Didn't know how she was related to Lizzie. Wasn't sure it mattered. Dead was dead, and Lizzie had been so hopeful. Hated to see it.

"If you ever wondered who would be a bad person to run into in a dark room, well, you have your answer in Kimiko Kao. You have Cristóbal Morales to thank for making that discovery..."

She blinked. Cris? By...Kimiko? She had a vague impression of a slight Asian woman with a comic book in hand. Cute, too.

Do I have an Asian fetish?

Cute, to be a killer. To kill a man who hadn't even thought about his own death, before...

What happened to his friend? What happened to Abby?

"Abigail Floyd was our next to die. She opted out by slashing her wrists, making it just that little bit easier for all the rest of you."

No. Was that the same Abby? It could be, couldn't it? There'd been such naked joy in their voices. She could imagine what might have followed, if the one had died and that joy had come crashing down around them. She'd been there.

Raynor. Wherever you are. I hope you watch.

Her finger traced the scar along the inside of her wrist.

"Alex Tarquin got on the board when he went Rambo and slashed a piece out of Rea Adams. Nice form, Mr Tarquin."

Ego hadn't protected him very long, had it? Maybe there was a lie there, but it seemed hard to imagine how he could have accidentally slashed someone to death. More to the story, but there was always more to the story. Someone always failed.

Someone always failed.

The man mentioned something about a Supply Depot. She ignored that, until her collar beeped.

Oh.

She touched the metal with a delicate finger, tugged it so it pulled against her bruises, listened to its deadly tones.

She could sit here, and end it just like Abby had (might have?). But while she had no great joy to guide her through, neither did she have any great tragedy. She was not ready to die yet.

She was not ready to die happy.

She rose creakily to her feet, completely without haste. Her head swam dizzily, and she grabbed the half-empty water bottle, took a swig as salt stung her nostrils and sand scratched her underneath her clothes. She grabbed the oblong piece of driftwood and swung it over her shoulder, like the machete Alex had held. Like the one he might have...

She wasn't sure which was better. The machete, or the big-ass sword along his back. Lizzie's sword.

A dead Luz. A dead Cris. A dead Abby. Alex Tarquin made a killer. And another woman, whose name had been spoken twice already. Once could be coincidence, but twice in one day?

Twice meant a player.

They can still tempt us to be our worst, she thought, in answer to the boy's voice in her head.

The sky was lightening as she strolled. She was wandering aimlessly, her unfocused thoughts drifting like the wood in her hand upon the ocean, swept by tides too deep for her to name. She drifted along a low expanse of beach, humming softly to herself, the driftwood over her shoulder. She slowly came to a stop, and looked east towards the pink-and-gold vanguard of the sunrise. As she looked away, she saw a camera set agaisnt the cliffs.

She set down the piece of driftwood in her hand, and reached into her bag, fishing out the Crisco, her lighter, and a vial of red nail polish. She set to work with the nail polish first, in clean precise strokes on the driftwood. When she was done, she sat back, and stared at what she'd written.

In Memoriam: Cristobal Morales and Abigail Floyd, who were happy before they died

She lifted the piece of driftwood, turned it east, towards the rising sun, then west, to where it would set at day's end. Lastly, she lifted it towards the sky, as though daring God to read it.

She set it down, and set to work again. Gathering scrap from all along the beach, dead leaves and grass and twigs and whatever else she could find. She set the driftwood down upon the makeshift pyre, and did her best to light it. It took a few attempts: the lighter was for cigarettes, not for this kind of work, and even if she didn't fear the heat it was a rather clumsy thing. But eventually, she got the fire going. Nothing she'd used was particularly clean or dead, so a thick curl of dark smoke rose up at once. She inhaled deeply, let herself cough so it panged her neck and throat still more. It reached the driftwood, and touched the nail polish, and the toxic sickly-sweet scent was at once alluring and revolting.

She grabbed the Crisco and peeled back its top. The stuff within was crumbly and chalky to the touch, but the residue was greasy and slippery as she'd expected. Experimentally, she patted it down along the back of her left arm, tracing her skin with subtle fingertips, raising goosebumps along her shoulders and neck.

But she needed clarity now, if she was going to do better than Cris and Abby.

She held her left arm above the fire, palm up. She felt the grease on her arm start to crackle and pop, acrid and awful, sunburn magnified a hundred times. She gasped involuntarily, took a step back. Then an awful look of hate and anger crossed her face, contorted it to a narrow snarling point. She almost lunged forwards, lowering her arm further, punishing herself for the moment's show of weakness.

It was only pain, and if there was any hope of dying happy in this hell, she would need to master it.

As her memorial to Cris and Abby burned, so did she.
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V6 Players

Tara Behzad: "They don't get to decide how I die."

Lizzie Luz: "I don't want to go."

Alex Tarquin: "No more masks."

V5 Players


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