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Spelunking; Day Two, half an hour after the announcements
Topic Started: Sep 24 2010, 01:24 AM (4,174 Views)
MurderWeasel
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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Jennifer Perez continued from Somewhere That's Green))

Taking a detour through the mountain, Jennifer was beginning to suspect, was one of the dumbest ideas she had ever had in her entire life. It had seemed like such a good plan, when she stumbled upon the entrance after a few hours of walking. Once again, she had managed to avoid people. She had even, while passing through the inland woods, managed about five hours of sleep, propped up against a tree and shielded from view. Her back had been stiff for the next hour, and her left shoulder still ached, something not helped by the bag she carried over it, but it was worth it for the energy she now had. She had started moving again a few hours after nightfall, and had found the tunnels, and, after checking her map, had determined that they would let her dodge the wide open area in sight of the gazebo and the fun fair, and reach the house of mirrors from the East.

She didn't know for sure why she was going. The odds of Bill having delivered her message by now were low. He probably wouldn't share it all. Most likely, he'd warn Maf away, tell him some crazy girl was setting a trap for him.Maybe that would be enough, though. Maybe he would understand, would turn up anyways. Or maybe Bill would sneak ahead, lie in wait with Deidre, and they'd murder Jennifer. That was why she was moving quietly and slowly, why she planned to scope things out before rushing in.

The tunnels looked like a fairly straight shot on the map. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case at all, and she was no longer really sure which way she was going. There had been at least two branches. She didn't know how to use a compass. Didn't know how to find the surface. She was navigating by the dull blue glow of her cell phone. There was a flashlight in the first aid kit. She'd seen it. But that had limited batteries, and she figured she might need it more later. Besides, the glow of the phone would be so much easier to mute in a hurry, if it came down to that.

Also, the phone had a clock. It wasn't right, she was fairly sure; whatever had jammed the phones had prevented it from automatically adjusting its timezone, and the number it showed seemed somewhat implausible, making her wonder if it had been scrambled somehow, to prevent it from being a tip to any would-be rescuers. Still, the minutes side of the equation seemed about right. Right now, that part read :58:47. Another hour nearly gone. How long had it been? She was pretty sure she'd woken up fairly early on in the program, and she'd been doing a lot of walking. The rest and her slow pace were the only reasons she still felt as good as she did.

A short time later, a crackle rang out, echoing through the tunnels. Jennifer jumped and tried to fumble her phone away, but instead dropped it. It landed on the floor with a crack, and there was no more light. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. She remained silent.

And then it started. The awful voice. Danya. The man who had had their teachers murdered. The one responsible for all of their impending deaths.

It did not surprise Jennifer that the killing had already begun.

She sat down on the tunnel floor, ignoring the dirt and dust, and leaned against the wall, as the names and the jokes flowed over her. She didn't want to hear. Didn't want to remember. Didn't want any of those faces coming back. She had to listen for a few, though. Just a few names. The others didn't matter. Could be ignored. Could be dismissed. It was terrible that people had died, but she just couldn't feel anything for them right now. They were statistics, just like she would be before this was done, before long at all if she wasn't careful.

The names that she was listening for—Maf, Victoria, Bounce, Melissa, Alice, and all the others—failed to materialize, on either side of the equation. Her friends and those she cared about were not dead, or killing. A small comfort. She failed entirely to take note of the killers, which, once she realized it, caused her some concern. There'd be no way to know if she was in danger, so she'd have to keep her guard up, but not devolve into paranoia. Just... just stay sane. Normal.

The only bit that gave her any pause was the naming of Paige Strand. She hadn't known the girl well, but Paige had a boyfriend. A now presumably distraught boyfriend. He was the person on the island Jennifer felt for most at the moment. The survivor. The bereaved. For the dead, there was nothing. For the boyfriend, there was nothing left.

She almost cried again.





Some time later—she didn't know how long; her cell phone had been destroyed by her earlier carelessness—Jennifer started moving again. The house of mirrors was not a danger zone. Neither were the tunnels, or she'd have been dead already. She was still lost. She kept her right hand on the wall, walking in a straight line. Wasn't that supposed to help with mazes? Her left held the flashlight. The icepick remained in its customary position.

She would get out of these tunnels, and find somewhere to hide, near the mirror house. Then she could search from there, using it as a base, until time ran out, one way or another. She'd have to be careful, careful not to hurt anyone, careful not to be hurt herself. Careful, cautious, calm. Sane.

Even though the whole fucking world had gone crazy.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Nick Reid continued from The Right Thing for the Wrong Reasons))

What a day...

A duffel bag marked B055 made a soft thud on the rocky floor and its owner followed it, groping for stable ground to rest on. The rock ledge he found felt like a plush sofa after a day on his feet, trekking through miles of dirt, dust, grass, mud, and brush. Slowly he bent forward, resting his forehead in his hands, putting his elbows onto his knees, sighing deeply. For the moment, he could take it easy. Sit down, take a rest - but not relax. Relaxation meant lowering his guard, and that was the last thing he wanted to do. And, come to think of it, the last thing he would do. But now, past the point where the fading light of day touched the rusty tracks and crumbling stone, the only thing left was to listen. Anyone coming would create a racket compared to the quiet stillness of the cave; Nick strained his ears, and his own beating heart seemed throb its bass note into the air around him.

He took a deep breath.

Breathe.

Relax.

Think.


Think. Think about what? There were so many things in the world to think about, and so little time to cover them all. There were pandas and space shuttles and arrows and derivatives and tomatoes, for example, and that wasn't even scratching the surface.
Roller coasters and G-forces and redwoods...
He reached down, finding his pack with his hand (exactly where he thought it wouldn't be, of course), and taking out of it a bottle of water.
...polymers, photons, Cherenkov radiation, water molecules. Little Mickey Mouses...
There, that was something to think about. How many Mickey Mouses in a bottle of water? Two hydrogens and an oxygen, that made 18, so one mole would be 18 grams, and if the bottle was one liter...

He frowned. No, that wasn't what he needed to think about. He started to go over the day in his head. It wasn't pretty, but he couldn't just keep himself blissfully distracted. So. Three molotovs out of six gone, two people who wanted to kill him, and one giant mistake at the Gazebo. He tried to force some other image onto the intangible velvet screen encompassing him, something other than a smoking, smoldering corpse. No, he could be alive, he hadn't seen the end result -
Get real. He's dead.

...

...

Lucky punk.


One giant mistake. One kill to be attributed to him in the morning, if he knew anything about SotF at all. But he couldn't get distracted again. There was more. The wounds on his arm. The beating from Maxwell. He ran a hand down his face, feeling the smooth shiny swelling and rough, granular matrix of skin, blood, and scab. But that wasn't all. His entire body ached, a feeling not helped by the miles he had walked. He had no idea if Maxwell or Alex were on his tail, but he couldn't leave them out of his calculations. He needed that margin of error, so when his plans went pear-shaped he could keep his head up, brain thinking, heart beating.

Yes, Daniel was the lucky one. He had no more worries about the explosives on his neck and the players on the island. But Nick couldn't take the other way out, the weak man's way out. Taking up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them, or something. In other words, keep running away. Running away... putting on a fake smile, saying "No, I'm doing well", saving his problems for later. It was a disgusting thought, absolutely repugnant. No, if the Reaper wanted him, it better be prepared for a fight.

Nick Reid was through running.

He stumbled on something, which was doubly surprising in that he realized now that he was standing. Pacing, in fact, growing warm from the exertions of his mind and body. He had ears. He had a plan. And now he could have a good rest.

...which means a thousand grams, that's fifty plus a tenth, fifty-five moles of water, so just multiply that by Avagadro's number...

---

It was morning. Or at least he thought it was. Really, there was no way to tell, and it could well be that he had just imagined his sleep. Or maybe took a nap and dreamed he'd passed a fitful night. But there was a feeling in the air, the sort of dull anticipation when you wake up just before your alarm goes off. The speakers crackled to life, and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

He knew it was coming, but it hit like a freight train.

"Hold on just a second kiddies, I'm placing an order. Hello? Is that the Nick Reid take out? Yeah, I'd like to order a number 23. That's right, the extra crispy Daniel Vaughan in the molotov sauce. Alright, thanks a bunch. Now, where was I?

He had done it. Kill confirmed. Now what? Would any sort of human interaction be safe at all? Everyone heard how he was a killer, nobody knew the circumstances. Maybe people would keep away out of fear. But it was only one. Maybe, just maybe, he'd be safer, perish the thought, but if he racked up a higher kill count...

Another shock. He didn't know how much of that he could handle. He thought again of multiple kills. Surprise and disbelief. Not as strong this time. Not as invigorating. But at least it let him know he was alive. What a strange thought.

The announcements ended. There went his plan of writing down everyone in a death register. He hadn't even listened to the second half at all, except for the dangerzones. The tunnel was not one of them, so he could breathe easy. And now what? He was safe, he had his meager rations, and some water remaining. There was no need to move out just yet. He leaned back against the wall, staring bug-eyed into the impenetrable blackness. There was nothing for it. A thousand random ideas whizzed through his mind. He took one and hung on.

It was later. Maybe an hour, maybe ten minutes. Whatever the time, something pricked at the edge of his hearing, little taps he felt more than heard. Louder and louder it grew, rising into the tangible spectrum, edging out the blaring of his racing heart. And then, an almost imperceptible radiance, invisible to all but the most straining adapted eyes yet growing like the sound. Footsteps. Someone was coming.

He coughed quietly. In the quiet of the tunnel, it may as well have been a shout. And then, in a quiet voice that echoed off the walls, "Hello? Who is there? I'm Nick Reid, and I deserve an explanation."

Good thing you totally didn't just give yourself away to anyone who didn't listen either.
VeeFive


V4


NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.

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MurderWeasel
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[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Jennifer was not expecting words. Not expecting a voice so soon. The flashlight had been a mistake. She didn't jump, this time, but she did click the light off, and quickly ducked to the other side of the tunnel, hoping to throw off anyone who was aiming at her. She hadn't seen the speaker, Nick Reid. A quick search of her memory brought to mind a tall, lanky, unkempt-looking boy. Black hair. Was it the right Nick? She hoped so. No way to tell if he was dangerous, though. Probably was. Who, besides Jennifer, wasn't dangerous now?

He said he deserved an explanation. Deserved. Fucker. As if anyone here deserved anything more than the others. As if anyone deserved this entire situation. It figured she'd bumped into a self-centered asshole.

"Um, N-nick? It's, uh, Jennifer. Perez not Romita. What would you, um, like me to explain?"

She did not mention that she was lost. Did not tell why she had shut the flashlight out. It should be more than evident. She was still decently far away, she thought, but it was hard to tell, with both of their voices echoing off the walls. The positive side of this was that she could get a little bit closer, hopefully without him being able to tell exactly where she was. Step step. Step step. Moving softly, putting as little weight on her feet as she could.

"I, uh, why are you down here?" she asked, speaking a little more loudly, hoping her voice would cover her movements. Hoping he didn't turn his flashlight on and shoot her. She had to be ready. Ready to dive for cover, to run. To get the fuck away, or, failing that, to protect herself. Step step. Protect herself. Would it even be possible? Nick was pretty tall, if she was thinking of the right guy. Didn't seem the strongest, but then, she'd never really paid attention.

She hoped he wasn't the killing sort. Hoped they'd just laugh this off, say fancy-meeting-you-here-of-all-places, that sort of thing. But it was too much to count on. Every interaction she had been involved with had ended in tension and flight. While nobody she had met was dead yet, it was only a matter of time. People had murdered, and she didn't know who. The only person she knew to avoid was Clio, and only because Allen had told her. This was not a promising start. Step step. She was close to the wall, but ready to spring away to the other side again if it came to that. She felt goosebumps on her arms and back, not from the chill (though it was not exactly warm), but from the tension. She felt as if, any second, someone or something would jump out and attack her. It was a good thing she was ready, icepick in hand, to stop any attack.

Wait.

Sure enough, her hand was clenched tight around the icepick. It was raised. That wasn't right at all. Not the way to approach things. She wanted to giggle, but instead took deep breaths, and lowered her arm. Don't break down. Don't lose yourself. Talk to Nick. Step step.

She had moved ten paces closer to him. It seemed like a good stopping point. She probably still had room to run, but maybe also to rush him if he did have a gun, did attack her. If that happened... she wouldn't hurt him. Right. Just use the icepick to knock his gun aside. Disarm him, so no one got hurt. Only that. She would never hurt someone. Never.

Right?
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Oh bugger, she didn't hear the announcements after all. Spin it positive, just spin it positive...

"Err, I didn't mean like that..."

Well, this was awkward. In the scheme of things though, awkward was about five grillion times better than being beaten up again. He paused, considering how to move forward.

"I'm, well, being safe. I guess. Getting away from Al - from it all. Just so nobody tracks... finds me here."

The darkness was good for one thing, and that was hiding his furiously nervous face from view. Nick had always thought of himself as someone who could beat a polygraph, spitting out stories so smooth you could see your face in them. But now, sitting in total darkness, trying to cover up his kill, facing another potentially painful experience... He might have fled then and there, if the close quarters and harsh, invisible terrain didn't cut his speed advantage to nothing. The next best thing was to just lie, try to smooth everything over, pass everything off as nerves. Except...
No more running.

He heard her, closer now. Trapping him in a cage that was at once intangible and infuriatingly potent. Funny how that worked, really. He was armed and dangerous, and a good turn faster than her, at least in the short term. Smooth as an oiled snake when it came to slipping out of unpleasant situations, because you didn't just make Nick Reid do what you wanted Nick Reid to do. And yet here he was, cornered, no other options than to divulge the fact that Danya, and the rest of the student body for that matter, had pegged him as a murderer.

"Okay, gig's up, I did mean to say track me down. That's what I wanted to explain, because the way things have been going I didn't know if I'd get the chance. Hang on, I'm getting some bloody light in here."

He unzipped his pack, pulling out the flashlight he had put on top of everything else after he'd grown too nervous to use it coming in. He didn't know if he'd be able to see Jennifer, or if she'd be able to see him, but he flicked it on anyways. Even pointed away, onto the opposite wall, it was dazzlingly bright.

"So, you didn't listen to the announcements then, am I right?"
"Because I've been blamed. Framed, really, I mean I didn't do nothing, but I didn't do what they want you to believe..."
"And there was an accident, a terrible accident at the Gazebo" - he could feel himself start to choke up, could hear his voice quavering. Please don't lock up completely... "you see I've got these molotovs and there was a misunderstanding, there was something that needed to be burned there, and Daniel Vaughan ended up getting himself in the way, and there was nothing for it," He was going to lose it... "I wanted desperately for him to stop burning but Maxwell ran over," He lost it.
"I'm just trying to take care of myself, Jennifer, and I've been to Hell and back, and if Maxwell finds me, or if Alex finds me, I think... I think they'll kill me. I really do."

The last sentences faded into painful choked obscurity. Early day two, and he was going to pieces already. He knew he couldn't keep it up. But for the moment, it felt so nice to just let go, lower the barriers, take a rare chance to show some emotion. Still, the back of his mind played host not for the first time, nor for the last, to one simple thought:

People. This is why I hate people.
VeeFive


V4


NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.

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MurderWeasel
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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
The conversation with Nick quickly took a turn from the awkward to the menacing, as the boy stumbled through an attempted explanation for his presence, then gave up and admitted to having killed someone. Daniel Vaughan. Jennifer hadn't the slightest clue who Daniel had been. Couldn't force herself to care right now, either. Right now, she was fuming, furious at Nick for his ineptitude. Couldn't he have done just a tiny fucking bit of a better job lying to her? Put an ounce more effort into not appearing to be in some kind of bizarre game of fatal cat-and-mouse with unknown assailants out for revenge? But no, he had to just dump all this on her. Had to make her his confidante. And, fuck, what if he was lying about it all, just trying to get her to drop her guard so he could put a knife through her stomach?

She wanted to tell him this. Wanted to tell him to fuck off, tell him she didn't care that it'd been a mistake, he was still a killer, he was still a monster and a menace, he'd been playing with fire and was now whining about getting burned, laying it at her feet as if it was her fucking problem.

"It's alright," she said instead. "I, um, I don't know which Alex or, uh, or Maxwell you mean, but I... I haven't seen, um, any of them."

She was too weak. Just too weak. Couldn't stand up for herself. Couldn't scare off a potential threat, because she couldn't bring herself to ignore the pain in his voice, the helplessness. Couldn't make herself disbelieve him. She tried to rationalize it. He'd given away his position, given her a clear shot. She could've killed him. He was clearly innocent. But no, it could've been a trap. It could have so easily been a trap, a deception, and yet she didn't give a fuck if it was. Nick needed someone to talk to. Jennifer was there. That simple.

She didn't know quiet when she'd put the icepick away again. Surely it hadn't been early in his speech. Surely she wasn't that naive. Regardless of the timing, it was again tucked into her skirt.

She stepped away from the wall, into the beam of light, a thin smile on her face. She couldn't see Nick, but she didn't need to. Let him stay hidden if he wanted, if it made him feel safer. If her life was going to end here, in a hail of bullets, well, it'd be an absolute disaster, the worst mistake of her whole life, but at least she'd have gone out trying to do something nice. Maybe being a pushover, being an emotional doormat for this near-stranger, this boy who had killed someone, but surely that was not the worst way to die.

"It's okay," she said. "It, um, I think it'll be okay. Well, um, as much as it can be. I don't... I don't even know anymore, Nick. People are killing, but, uh, but they can't all be bad. This..."

It wasn't working. Not at all. No way to express coherently what she was feeling, that sense of resigned optimism, that feeling that, though their world was for all intents and purposes over, though nothing they did would matter in the end, there was still something worth being for. Something worth finding people for, worth sharing with others. It was the reason she wasn't ready to die. The reason she would never be, even should she, by some miracle, survive this experience. There was always more to the world, always something else to do. And she knew she wasn't the only one who felt this way. She knew that there were still happy moments ahead, that even if she died tomorrow, there would have to be a few good instants first. She knew that the killers were scared, were maybe even sadistic, but that it was only because they'd lost themselves, because they'd been replaced in their own minds by caricatures, projections cooked up as a desperate attempt to survive. But how to convey that?

"I don't even know," she repeated.
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
You can't do anything right.

...But I can do some things very, very wrongly. Once already...

But not after a meeting, a conversation. You haven't done that.
Couldn't do that.

He scrabbled around in the darkness, fist closing on a rock, and flung it down the tunnel. Nothing's under my control, he thought, his missile passing into Isaac Newton's care. I can't get off this island, I can't stop Alex from hunting me down, I can't even stop myself from falling apart like a house of cards. Turning to her as she stepped into the light, Of course you don't know, if anyone in this place is going to figure things out, he's sitting right in front of you...

ENOUGH.


Nick coughed, choking down the lump in his throat and wiping his running nose carelessly on his sleeve. "You stepped into the light. You trust me." The words came slowly and deliberately, quavering yet strong, the measured recitation of a man determined to keep his emotions in check if he had to use a cattle prod to do it. "Or at least," he continued, stronger now, "You don't think I'll kill you. That's... thank you."

Such was his condition that the simple gesture, a single vote of confidence, took on a significance of its own. His first meaningful interaction that didn't involve harsh words and harsher fists. There was nothing else to do but return it, show that he wasn't all bad, that maybe there could be more than yelling and fighting and killing...

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He got unsteadily to his feet and shifted slowly over the uneven floor and into the cone of light. Now it was his turn to hope she had no weapon up her sleeve, that if she did she wouldn't use it, that if she used it she would fail to strike the killing blow. Continuing on in his lethargic gait, he crossed the width of the tunnel, leaning against the wall facing his flashlight. He turned to look at Jennifer, squinting as his eyes grew adjusted to the beam and showing his battered state.

On one side of his face, the customary purple crescent beneath his eye joined seamlessly into a still-growing shiny black bruise that encircled it. One healing split on his lip pinched its surroundings into a jagged black slash; another was oozing blood. Brown crust marked the places where blood had been pounded out of his face. Ugly yellow splotches marked where the skin had contained it. Flecks of black and brown clung tenaciously to areas he hadn't swept properly, and every bit of unmarred skin was pale, sweaty, and dusty. A face, to use the cliche, that only a mother could love.

"These," he said, raising his bandaged arm and giving an unmistakable look seeking appraisal, "Are the kinds of people we're dealing with. Thank you," he continued, rising restlessly to his feet, "For thinking I don't deserve to die."

He could feel his voice rise again - for goodness' sakes, couldn't he act calm for more then a second? He averted his eyes for a second, but returned his gaze to Jennifer, to see what she had to say. He felt his arm twitch, and when he realized why an emptiness descended upon him. He didn't care who Jennifer was, that he'd had little interaction with her before. What he saw was someone who would take the time, talk to him for however long. Someone who, in their own way, cared for him. And his natural reaction was to reach out, make contact, show unambiguously his appreciation. Feel the warmth of another human in his arms, share a moment of reciprocal kindness, think for just a second that his life had meaning and his death lay decades into the future.

He kept his arms stiffly at his sides.
VeeFive


V4


NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.

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MurderWeasel
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[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Nick understood the meaning behind her gesture, and vocalized it, causing Jennifer to smile a bit. So, this wasn't going to go badly, then. There was hope. Even amidst all of this, two people could still bring themselves to trust each other, to show a little faith in the basic decency of near-strangers.

She was not surprised when Nick joined her, the beam of the flashlight he left behind illuminating his form. What was shocking was the state he was in. Battered. Beaten. Damaged. His face a terrible mess, his arm bandaged. Clearly, he had been through some pretty terrible experiences. Nick's injuries made Jennifer flinch for a second, and she hated herself so much for it. That was the last thing he needed right now. She just... she'd never been this near anyone with nay sort of serious injury before, and it was terrible. And the worst part of it was, in a few days, that could be her state. All it would take would be a single mistake, a single moment of misplaced trust. Nick made that clear with his statements, and then... he thanked her. He thanked her for something she never would have imagined to be deserving of praise.

"Um," she said. "No pro—uh, nobody deserves to die."

It was simple but true. No one here had asked to be kidnapped, asked to be turned into some sort of sick psychological experiment/television phenomenon. Jennifer couldn't even find it in her now to blame those who had killed from fear. They were scrambling to avoid dying, but they were already gone. Already irretrievably altered. The others—and she was sure there would be others, if there weren't already—those who killed from some sense of sadism or revenge or some other stupid motive like that, she did blame, but she also pitied. They were the ones who lost the most. The ones who destroyed everything about themselves that anyone had ever valued.

"Here," she said, looking back at Nick. She had no idea what she was doing, but the words came naturally. "Let me see if I can help you a bit."

She dropped her daypack to the ground, unzipped it, and located the first aid kit. She had no idea how to use any of the items in it. Had never dealt with any sort of serious injury before. But she wanted to patch Nick up to any degree that she could. As she rummaged in the kit, she marveled briefly at how well it was stocked, packed to the brim with esoteric packages and wraps and pills. Finally, she came across a few packs labeled as antiseptic wipes, looking for all the world like those little moist towelettes provided by KFC along with sporks and napkins.

She straightened up again, and realized she hadn't even thought to ask Nick's permission. That was inconsiderate. Maybe he didn't want help.

"Um, that is, if you'd, uh, like. I don't... I don't really know how to use most of this."
V7:
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
[ *  *  *  * ]
The thin warped sounds of distant voices echoed out of the tunnel entrance as Phil stood before the gaping maw, his brow furrowed in concentration. Although he wouldn't admit it Phil was afraid of many things but having said this the dark was not one of them. He had no illusions about being jumped by a strange axe murderer in his sleep or strange creatures pouring out of the black. He wasn't stupid though. If there was a killer in there it would be one of his classmates. It took a few minutes of listening for the hockey player to piece together the puzzle. If there were two voices there that would mean that either they weren't killers or they were a team of killers plotting their next attack. He thought the latter was pretty unlikely given the high pitched warble of the female voice. Resolute Phil strode in, listening carefully so as to find his way to the students.

It took him the greater part of a minute to spot the dim light of a torch beam within the network of tunnels. The two weren't actually that far from the entrance, it was simply difficult to navigate in the dark without signage. Phil didn't have his claws any more. In fact, Phil didn't have anything and this made him wary. Without an advantage and not knowing who was in the light he resolved to take a more mediated approach than he had in the past. Of course this line of thinking was after he rationalised the fear in his stomach. Truth be told he still was in shock after seeing Francine erupt in to flame. He'd seen his share of blood but never had he seen someone scream as Francine did and the smell, the smell of burning flesh was something he could not erase from his mind, despite only barely catching the scent as he fled.

Keeping to the shadows Phil resolved to call out. He tried to make himself seem as friendly as possible. Social games weren't one of his strong points but he hoped they wouldn't outright attack, run or anger him. For once in his life he prayed the reaction would be good.

"Hey, uh... guys. Phil here. I didn't hurt no one yet and sounds like you guys haven't either, just looking for the hockey team, you seen anyone? Hell is anyone from the team here?"

Although Phil had heard the announcements he hadn't paid any particular attention to them in his drowsy state at 6am that morning, nor did he know that Nick was one of the two who were mere metres away. All Phil knew is that there was one guy and one girl and neither of them looked like they were fighting for their lives.
Sickness: Partially suicidal... very slightly because of my report, but mostly because Jason is dead. All of my personal issues stem from the fact that Jason Harris did not win SotF v4

William 'Woozie' Wu - "Hey Pheebs, you're amazing babe."

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If you had asked Nick two days ago what sort of moment he'd like to last forever, he would not have described the scene before him; standing in a dark cave who knows where, massaging stiff limbs and letting some random girl attack his face with a moist towelette by the dim glow of a single flashlight. But there he was, determined to enjoy what might have been his last moment of contentment. He had, of course, acquiesced to her halting request - "Go ahead, it's not like I know how to use any of it."

All the same, he doubted there could be much improvement in his physical state. His black eye was developing a sheen, and various swelling bruises pressed internally. The gouges in his arm at least were scabbed up, but pus oozed from various splits when they revealed the clammy skin underneath the cast-off bandage. An infection on his arm was perhaps his biggest worry of all - a fear diminished, but not allayed, by a disinfectant that hurt almost as much as the original wound. Just as a new dressing was finished off...

"Sonofa-"

He jumped almost comically, looking blindly towards its source. There was no way, of course, that he could see Phil standing there. Even with completely dark-adjusted eyes, the deeper shade of black would be impossible to discern. Missing the salutation, Nick listened intently as the rest of the newcomer's words fought to make themselves heard over his frantic heartbeat. Phil... his mind reached out, trying to make the connection, and then the word "hockey" instantly resolved the image in his mind. Built like Stephen A. Douglas, the "steam engine in britches." An apt description if there ever was one.

Thinking of Stephen A. Douglas at a time like this, way to go, Nick.

...I wonder how many more times I'll get to think about Stephen A. Douglas...


He jerked his thoughts away from the subject, scrambling to find something impressive and confident to reply with.

"It's, err, just us."

Pulled out all the stops on that one, didn't you?
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NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.

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(Tom Guthrie continued from My Kingdom for a Plan)

Tom wasn't entirely sure where he had been wanting to go, but he made his way to the caves, as he was feeling a little perturbed. He was a part of a group that seemed to hang on its leader's every word, even when a person with a basic knowledge of human nature could tell that the man was just using them. This was really putting him in a bad mood, not helped by the fact that his contacts were starting to get irritating, and he had had to switch them out for his glasses. It wasn't that he hated the way they looked, but he was getting annoyed enough with this island without dew or other stuff slapping onto his glasses as he roamed the blasted island.

As if on cue, a bit of water dripped onto Tom's head as he stepped further in these tunnels. It took a little bit of effort to avoid saying something explicit, and he walked onwards. Honestly, he just hoped that he'd lose Aaron and the others, maybe so he had an excuse to leave the group that didn't seem like he was abandoning them. He had long ago decided that what happened to the lot of them was no longer his problem, and he now just needed to find a good way to get out.

Little did he know, but the means by which he'd escape Aaron's group was waiting further into these tunnels. He didn't see the man hiding in the shadows as he walked down the same corridor, and as a result, he ended up walking into him as he tried the same ploy to approach Nick and Jennifer. "Hey! What the heck are you doing, lard butt?" he exclaimed as he leapt back in surprise, pulling his sword from his daypack reflexively. "Geez man, are you trying to make someone stub a toe on you or something?" Tom wasn't aware of it, but this was not the best man to goad or insult, but he'd learn of it soon enough.
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For just those few moments, strange though they were, everything was alright. Jennifer wiped at Nick's face, cleaning it a little, and tried to change the dressings on his arm. She had no clue if she was doing things correctly, but she didn't seem to be hurting Nick, at least. He still looked awful. Nothing would change that, except perhaps time. Time, Jennifer realized, that he was unlikely to have. Most of them would be dead before long at all. Looking at Nick, she found it hard to imagine him as a corpse. He'd look the same, just... not move. Not talk, not breath, not think, not feel.

She'd be that way too. Couldn't be too long. She was no fighter.

She was about to say something, distract herself from her dark musings with words, when a much more effective diversion came around. A voice, from the darkness. Phil. Looking for people from the hockey team. A quick search of her memory. Phil. Ward. From what little she'd heard from her friends in the lower grades, he was a real jackass. What did that even mean anymore, though? If so many people, normal, sane people, could become so much worse, what was stopping someone like Phil from turning over a new leaf, showing newer, better colors?

Nick seemed nervous, on edge. He told Phil it was just the two of them, a bad move from a strategic point of view, but a good one in terms of trust. Thing was, Phil was still in the darkness. They couldn't know that he wasn't aiming a gun at them, ready to mow them down as soon as he knew they had no backup. Or, worse, maybe he had a whole team, a group of hockey players roaming the island and killing and looting everyone they came across. Groups were sure to form in this sort of situation, and not all of them would be positive.

"Um, no," Jennifer said. "I, uh, I haven't seen any of them. But, uh, if I... if I do, would you like me to, um, deliver a message?"

It seemed the polite thing to ask, given that she had requested the same in her last encounter. And she would share Phil's words, if he had any. She knew how it felt to be looking for someone, to be alone and scared.

All assuming, of course, that Phil didn't kill her on the spot.

And then, from nowhere, the shouts, the angered voice. Someone else. Was this it, then? Was Phil really here with an ally? Were she and Nick going to die? Though, the voice sounded upset at Phil. What was going on?

One thing was sure: If Jennifer was going to die, she wasn't going to get killed by an unseen assailant. Quickly, she ducked down, scooped up her flashlight, and flicked the beam on, pointing it at the sounds. The sight that met her was surprising. Phil, a short, tough looking boy, was who she'd thought, but he had blood on his shirt, and it was singed. Had he been on the announcements? Worse, behind him was another guy, thin, short black hair, carrying a sword. A sword. And it looked like he and Phil weren't together, and they both meant business, and she suddenly realized there was a good chance things were about to get unpleasant.

And then another figure rounded the corner, just a bit too far outside the beam of the flashlight for her to make him out completely, and Jennifer instinctively ducked back, pressing against the wall of the tunnel, wishing for something to hide behind. Wishing that she'd never come down here.





((Aaron Hughes continued from My Kingdom for a Plan!))

Aaron was in an absolutely awful mood. After their late night (or, more accurately perhaps, early morning) encounters in the woods, Tom had just kept moving, almost like he was trying to lose the group. Aaron would have been glad to have him gone, except for one little fact: Tom was a serious danger. He was a constant threat to Aaron's authority, way too independent for teamwork, and if he left like this, running off, it would look like desertion. That would imply dissatisfaction with Aaron's leadership, which would sow discontent and doubt, and, in the long run, tear the group to pieces and tank all of their chances at escaping.

So, when Tom had gotten far enough ahead that Aaron had been forced to decide between following him or sticking with his actually loyal partners, he'd shouted back to him that he was going after Tom, asked them to hold up for a bit and maybe get some rest, and taken off. He was going to bring Tom back. Drag him if necessary. Even if Tom immediately said he was through with them, threw a petty fit, and left. Aaron was sick of being ditched after Rekka, Francine, and Lily. He was done tolerating it. He had determined that, if anyone else quit the group, they'd be doing it on his terms.

He'd figured out how to load the gun, how to use it, sneaking glances at the instruction manual by flashlight during the walk. It had been his first priority. Better safe than sorry. Better prepared for anything. Better to have a credible way to get Tom to follow him if the other boy proved reluctant.

None of this, though, was the real reason for Aaron's annoyance. What had him most irritated, most on edge, had come courtesy of the announcements forty five minutes beforehand. Most of them had been fairly meaningless, or predictable. None of his friends had died. The only victim he'd known at all was Amber, that awful, vindictive girl he'd been forced to endure at the mall. One of the killers, though, was different.

Jacquard Broughten was a prime contender for the position of Aaron's least favorite member of the Bayview student body. She was a snide, pretentious bitch, a real killjoy too, and Aaron still wasn't over the incident at the gazebo. She'd mocked him, insulted him, made him look like a fool. It didn't grate so badly now, but Jacquard had shown before that she had it out for him, and now she was a killer. He wasn't surprised she'd play, but he'd been hoping her bum leg would stop her, that she'd be an early out.

Whatever. He'd shoot her if he found her. Nobody would blame him, since she was a psychotic threat to the safety of everyone.

Aaron had nearly lost Tom at one point, as the boy ducked into the tunnels. It wasn't a good sign. He drew the gun from his pocket, keeping it ready but at his side. There was a chance that Tom had planned this all, that it was an ambush. He would lure Aaron into close quarters, neutralizing his advantage, then attempt to run him through. A sound strategy, but it wouldn't work, not if Aaron was prepared. He walked softly, following the faint sounds of Tom's footsteps. There were voices, too. At least one female and one male, possibly more. There was too much distortion to tell.

And then, Tom was yelling. Aaron picked up his pace, spun around a corner, and found himself facing a beam of blinding light. Someone was ambushing him. Someone was going to kill him. He ducked backwards and to the side, out of the light, and dropped to one knee, only to see that he was wrong. Tom had just run smack into Phil Ward, second only to Monty Pondsworth in terms of Bayview students you didn't want to meet in a dark alley. And, behind Tom and Phil, stood Nick Reid, who Aaron remembered had killed somebody, and also a very frightened looking Jennifer Romita.
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A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.
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The bump wasn't even a jostle for Phil, he felt the contact but what stung more was the snarky voice of one Tom Guthrie. The boy's ruthless comedy had made fool of the hockey player more than once and the boy had always darted back in the schoolyard, making comments of how serious Phil was taking everything. Most people tended to shut up around the boy but Tom Guthrie wasn't one of them. Cranky from the haunted sleep of the last night and tired from the exhaustion of the previous days activities Phil whirled around to glare at Tom.

The skinnier boy was barely lit in the light and even with the taunts and the inconsiderate jibe that Tom delivered Phil might of stayed his hand but a flash of Jennifer's light lit up the sword clutched in Tom's hands and Phil moved. With nowhere to run and an audience of at least two he knew that now was the time to show he wasn't a school yard bully, he wasn't a murderer and he would help people. If Jen and Nick could see that he wasn't a bad guy maybe they'd help him find the Kronwalls. They surely would of united the other hockey players be now and formulating a plan to escape the clutches of this terrorist trap. It was a pity Phil hadn't heard the announcements, for if he did the course of events could of turned out very differently.

As things were however Phil had the chance, he thought, to play the hero and more importantly take sweet sweet revenge on someone who had always escaped his wrath in the schoolyard. "Don't think that pointy stick's going to save you Guthrie, you deserve this, and I ain't going to let you hurt anybody!" A brief smile crossed Phil's lips as he finished his sentence. Surely that last bit would make the others see that he was the good guy here and they would cheer him once he wrested the weapon from Tom's hands and made the boy surrender.

Pushing off from his heels Phil lunged at Tom, hoping to close the distance between the two to render the boy's reach useless.
Sickness: Partially suicidal... very slightly because of my report, but mostly because Jason is dead. All of my personal issues stem from the fact that Jason Harris did not win SotF v4

William 'Woozie' Wu - "Hey Pheebs, you're amazing babe."

V4
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(Skipping ahead with permission from Rattlesnake)

To say that Phil's reaction was a surprise would have been naive beyond belief. Recognizing the burly hockey player from the sound of his voice, Tom had instinctively backed off a step or two further into the tunnel where he had just come from. And fortunate that he had done so, as the next thing he knew, a very solid mass was lunging towards him. Phil may have been a bulky man, but he was also an athlete. He would have been upon Tom in an instant if the self-imposed comedian hadn't been expecting it, and already on the move as well. He wasn't as strong as Phil, that was certain, but Phil was an ice skater, not a runner, and so Tom had him on footwork.

Trying to take me by surprise, buckaroo? Boy, you don't know who you're dealing with right now.

As a result, when Phil tried to close the distance, Tom hopped back and quickly recovered his balance, bringing the ready sword close to his body and making a charge of his own, tip first. The weight of the blasted thing had nearly sent him stumbling towards a wall, and it was only by virtue of having the thing already close to his side that he hadn't made an utter ass out of himself and lost the fight right there. As it was, trying to use a multiple-foot long weapon in these tunnels was asking for it. He'd have to land this thrust here, otherwise he'd probably get the sword struck on the ceiling or a wall if he had to work it into a different position.

Wonder how those two further ahead are taking this. They ought to get some popcorn or something, because I'm going to give them a show.
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It had been a good moment. For just a few minutes, everything was ok. He'd come across a nice girl, one who wasn't interested in playing at all. They'd overcome their fear. Began talking. Displayed their trust. It was easy to believe for such a short time that everything would be ok in the end, that maybe everyone didn't have to fight and kill and yell and scream and promise and betray and blame and accuse. But then (I should have known, nothing good ever lasts here) it all came tumbling down around him. It didn't matter if the people fighting up ahead weren't named Alex White or Maxwell Lombardi. It didn't matter that they weren't determined to see him exterminated once and for all. What mattered is they were armed, and it was unlikely that everyone would return from the inky blackness into the sunshine.

His impulse was first and foremost to run. Running kept him safe. It kept him alive. Surely nothing could be of any higher virtue than that in this place. Altruism had its limits; as much as he envisioned a heroic martyrdom, as much as he dreamed of going down in a blaze of glory surrounded by spent shells, dying enemies, and weeping maidens, when push came to shove, he doubted he could do it. Heck, he'd already left Andrea to deal with Alex back in the forest. But, he thought, but there was something else about running. It kept him fearful. Cowering, looking around the corner not for opportunity but for danger. And when his race was run, he'd only die tired. Something had to be done about that. Something had to change.

With every faculty of his mind screaming for him to run away, he glided over to the rock where his flashlight lay, picking up the light and joining its beam with that of Jennifer's. It was in full swing one boy charged, and the other handled his weapon like a fool. Longing gripped his heart - a new desire joining his wish for an infinite moment of time. That sword... If they were fighting, maybe one of them would drop it, and he could snatch it up. And then he needn't run any more. Nick Reid with a sword - a sight to strike terror in the hearts of his classmates. If he couldn't have any peaceful moments, why should anyone else? They could take a turn running for a while. But he wouldn't pursue them, oh, no, he would wriggle out of this trap like a teenaged Houdini. You couldn't make Nick Reid do what Nick Reid didn't want to do. And Nick Reid did not want to die on this island.

He stepped forward.

Now's no time for bravado, this isn't what I meant when I said don't run...

Can it.


This was the most dangerous thing he'd probably ever done on purpose. The flashlight beam trembled as he fought to keep his stand somewhat steady. His legs turned to jelly and his mind darted a thousand ways at once. He'd likely just die a fool - but was that any worse than dying as a hunted animal?

Slowly, unsteadily, he edged towards the combatants.
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NO. THERE IS NO MORE TIME, EVEN FOR CAKE. FOR YOU, THE CAKE IS OVER. YOU HAVE REACHED THE END OF CAKE.

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Of course, things got even worse. Jennifer watched as everything unfolded. Unlike in movies, it didn't move in slow motion. Even with the adrenaline rush that came from being this close to combat, Jennifer was barely able to tell what was going on. Phil yelled at the boy (Guthrie? His first name was on the tip of her tongue, but she couldn't quite conjure it to mind), telling him he wouldn't be hurting anyone, and also that he deserved to be attacked. Had Guthrie killed, then? Was Phil really protecting them? Or was this some sort of vengeance from before, for some forgotten schoolyard wrong?

Did it matter? Of course not. What mattered was that they were fighting, that Guthrie had a sword, that one of them was likely to be seriously hurt or even die. It was time to run, time to get clear. Time to find somewhere better. She couldn't, though. Couldn't abandon them to their fates. Couldn't just hear them on the announcements the next morning. She couldn't bear the thought that there had been a fight, a conflict, one that she could have stopped but had chosen not to.

The fight continued, Tom backing off, taking aggressive action with the sword. Nick was moving, inching closer. Was he going to try to break them up too? If he was, it would be better if she stayed back. Better if she didn't get in the way. Nick was stronger than her, almost certainly. He'd have a better shot at subduing one of the two. Of course, he also might get hurt. That wouldn't be fair at all, if Nick got wounded, or even killed, trying to stop two other people from murdering each other. Had he considered the possibility of his own injury? Was he prepared to take that chance, make that sacrifice?

Was she?

All of a sudden, Jennifer found herself frozen. Unable to decide. She couldn't run, but she couldn't move in to help either, not yet. She wasn't ready to die. She was weak and pathetic and cowardly, but she just couldn't put her life on the line here. Not with so much left to live for. Not with so much about the current circumstances unknown.

Like... what had happened to that other guy? He was gone, outside the light from her flashlight, and also Nick's. Had he stumbled down here by mistake, seen the conflict, and done the smart thing and ran? Or was he waiting until the dust settled, letting them eliminate some of his opposition before gunning down the survivors? No way to know. She had to just hope for the best.





Aaron had backed up even further, making sure to stay out of sight. It seemed none of the others had noticed him, or, if they had, they were too preoccupied to make anything of it. So now he had front row seats to this odd dance, where Phil growled something about protecting the others and lunged at Tom, and Tom slipped away, trying to bring his sword into play. Aaron was impressed with the way he handled the weapon. Tom clearly knew better than to slash around with a sword made for stabbing, and he also knew to keep his distance. He even managed the limited space of the tunnel fairly well. Aaron was quite glad that he was not the one facing the business end of the weapon.

He wondered at Phil's motivations. Clearly, the boy was playing Danya's game. Tom had done nothing to provoke him, nothing except be a clumsy oaf in the dark. Yet here, Phil was apparently ready to beat him silly, under the ostensible motive of protecting Nick and Jennifer. True, the two of them looked like they could use it, with Jennifer cowering in the background and Nick slowly making his way forward, looking, to Aaron, somewhat unsure.

All of a sudden, he realized that there was a very good chance that things were about to get incredibly ugly. Tom could come running down the tunnel, bumping into Aaron or leading pursuit to him. He could kill Phil, go crazy, and attack everyone nearby. Phil could kill him, then turn on the others. Jennifer could whip out some sort of surprise, stab the three boys from behind while they were distracted. The only certain thing was that the situation was incredibly dangerous.

All in all, it was a good time to be the most heavily armed person in the vicinity.

Aaron held up his gun, two handed, like the instructions had showed. He checked the safety. Off. The gun was fully loaded, which meant that, if push came to shove, he had twenty shots to remove all threats. He'd have to stay calm. The gun was trembling wildly in his hands, so he took a few deep breaths. He loosened his grip for a second, readjusted it. The wavering lessened. He wondered whether he should just open up now, maybe blow a hole in Phil's head. It would certainly mean Tom owed him one. Only thing was, he probably couldn't safely shoot past Tom. In fact, any shot in here could have easily hit any of the four down the tunnel from Aaron.

And, more than that, he found that he wanted to see Tom sweat a little, see how he did The boy had the advantage. He had the sword. Aaron could just step in if things got out of hand. If they didn't, if Tom killed Phil, well, his name would go up on the announcements. It would be the end of his stay in Aaron's group, and it would establish him as a danger. Aaron would slip out, unseen, and by the next day, his credibility would be completely restored, and Tom would be a fugitive. Yes. That would be best. If Tom just got beaten up a little, Aaron could bring him back, and maybe he'd have learned some respect, learned the value of a team. It seemed there was no way this situation could go poorly.

Besides, Aaron couldn't kill Phil because it was important that he not kill, period. He did not want to be on that happy morning broadcast, shown as someone dangerous to the entirety of his surviving class. It would, among other things, be sure to put Bounce on edge, and he needed her if his plan was going to work. Although...

He had a sudden temptation to just fire a couple rounds into Tom's back. The boy was an asshole. A traitor. Someone who had joined Aaron under a pretense of friendship, only to betray him, humiliate him, force his hand in various unpleasant ways. Back at school, Aaron would have given Tom a piece of his mind some time ago, and then avoided the boy. Probably found somewhere to be alone and seethe. He'd kept it together here because people were counting on him, because it was life and death, but Tom was a danger. He would continue to be a danger. And it would be so easy. The gun had a sensitive trigger.

No. Better to let Tom make a fool of himself. Aaron couldn't get his hands dirty. The future of their escape attempt depended on it, and he could subordinate his personal feelings to that. After all, no matter how problematic Tom was, he wasn't worth losing all credibility for.
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