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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
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In the echoing stillness of the room the silence hung thick and smoky and sudden, uncut even by a whimper.

((Katarina Konipaski continued from Crushed Dreams and Broken Hearts))

Katarina hissed through her teeth, shaking her hand as if to dislodge something clinging to it, shooting needles of residual pain through her wrist. She wasn't at all surprised to see a pair of round black holes dotting the ceiling just outside the door, radiating spiderwebs of chipped plaster; efficacious as it was, the terrorists' gift included all the user-friendliness of an unruly mule.

She stared with smarting palms through the slit of doorframe left open, at the junction that framed the shot so perfectly. The inside corner of one room, the outside of another, a little funnel for anyone who wandered by and drab, dirty walls that converged like a bomb sight to frame them. Her own little range to sit and shiver in and feel her eyebrows twitch and her face flushing with determination and fright as the footsteps drew nearer. No voices, she told herself, and she'd ducked in and out of cover all the same, desperate both to get a clean shot and to stay hidden herself, calling to mind memories of childhood games of hide and seek where she'd come across her brother twitching out of his chosen spot and blowing his own cover for fear of discovery. She tried to push the thought from her mind, and all the various things warm or cheerful or funny that her mind leaped to like lightning. And then the moment had come, and -

The worst thing, she decided, was the idea that someone's head could go "splash."

Drawing momentarily back into the room, she looked around again at her temporary hideout. There was nothing new to discover, of course. It was small, utilitarian, and generally unimpressive. Aside from the bed, the only furnishings to be seen were the stained and warped doors of a wall closet and a sturdy, squat side table with a pink lamp laying shattered in its shadow. The window gaped like a missing tooth in the back wall, and her scythe rested against the sil from outside, daring anyone to try to take it. The bed itself was old, musty, so long out of use that even the scavengers of the mites that once lived there would have crawled off to greener pastures, and the sheets threadbare, though likely out of use rather than their prolonged disuse. It was, in short, the most glorious thing she'd ever seen. A respite for her ills, real or imagined. To be properly warm and properly comfortable for a proper bit of rest. Naturally, then, she avoided even casual contact with the covers, as if it they had been slathered in some horrible poison.

She peeked out again. Only a few seconds had passed since she'd screwed up her eyes and felt the roar of her weapon tearing at her ears. She could see a pair of ragged shoes jutting past the corner where the body had fallen back, splayed unnaturally, unmoving. She felt her mind sliding down that now-familiar road, slipping into the ruts of wonder that scored it already. How many miles those shoes had brought her, what else she might have worn if she knew she were donning her funereal dress. There was a sudden sickness, a sort of restlessness within her. The girl whose life had flashed before her almost as quickly as her face was dead, and there was no bringing her back. She wasn't the first, and she wouldn't be the last. And yet, she had an obligation to herself...

Katarina pulled the door open and stepped quietly from the room, head on a swivel and the gun dangling from one hand. Something seemed to move through the edge of her vision, play on the edge of her hearing. She started, turned, and held her chest deathly still.



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