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Spelunking; Day Two, half an hour after the announcements
Topic Started: Sep 24 2010, 01:24 AM (4,134 Views)
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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.
[ *  *  *  * ]
There is a certain frustration involved with trying to grapple someone nimbler than you who is armed with a reach weapon and Phillip Ward was experiencing a special kind of hell as he stormed forward only to jerk backwards with each swing of Tom's blade. He couldn't get close enough to grapple him without either getting cut by the sword or have Tom simply move out of the way.

Indeed there already had been a few close calls and Phil had only been saved by the fact Tom simply did not know how to use a bladed weapon correctly. The clumsy swings were easily dodged but caused Phil to be more and more uncertain about his plan of action. Suddenly Tom stepped backwards, seeming to take measure of Phil once more. Phil took advantage of the momentary lull in the combat and moved forth once again. With his back against the wall this time there was nowhere for Tom to go.

Phil never even saw the thrust coming. A sharp pain ripped his side as he felt the sword tear skin. His eyes widened in panic. Had he been stabbed? He didn't know, but the pain he felt was very real. He let out a cry and stumbled back clutching his side before slipping on the loose rocks at his feet and falling to the ground at Tom's feet, blood trickling from his wound. There was a thud as he impacted the stony ground and a brief flash of light burst behind Phil's eyes as he lost consciousness.
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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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
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((GM'ing approved. I hope my method is acceptable.))

Edging ever closer, Nick was teetering on the edge of decision. An opening came - he steeled himself - closed again. Flicking off his flashlight, he squeezed into the shadows, bouncing on shaking legs, feeling cascades of hot blood racing through his chest. He couldn't do it. He knew it. Nick Reid didn't make snap decisions, he thought everything through, slowly and surely - Phil went down hard. He was facing away. Nick's thoughts swirled with the white-hot intensity of a brilliant star. He couldn't do it -

He leaped forward, pushing off the wall and through a sea of adrenaline. Had there been anything else to see, Nick could have only seen Tom anyways. Everything was twisted, spiraling into a tunnel within the tunnel, revealing nothing but Tom, standing there, acting in slow motion, and he, Nick, racing forward with blistering heat radiating from every part of his body, droplets of sweat forming, passing through a deepening tunnel that was so cramped and so airy, flying through the boundless sky as he squeezed himself through the eye of a needle -

Contact. The spell shattered and he tumbled downwards, landing hard, half-cushioned by Tom's body. The sword was free. It was all his. But something else burned inside him, a sleeping beast stretching its wings. It shook itself, and roared.

There was no going back now. No more "accident", no more excuses, no more sneaking and hiding and lying. Years of suppressed rage, rage at the world, rage at himself, rage at everything and everyone. It all came free. There was nothing to hide any more. Twisting and spinning and jolting and burning its way into the forefront of his mind, a bolt of raw emotion burst free from the citadel imprisoning it. Rolling Tom over, he grabbed him by his shirt and heaved him upwards with untapped reserves of strength and fury. An image shot through his mind, of Maxwell holding him up, the fists pounding into his face. There, in front of him, in his hands. Taunting him, jeering, spitting in his face. Muscles fueled by the fire running in his veins, he slammed the boy's head into the wall.

"STOP IT!"

The shout tore tears from his eyes. Why was he being tormented like this? In his hands was the reason he couldn't live in peace, the boy who had stolen away the last happy moment of his life. It was traveling catastrophe, and this chaos' newest soldier.

"STOP IT!"

Another slam, another sickening sound of skull on stone. He wanted to vomit, to run, to curl up right there and die. Why was he making him do this? It wasn't fair! Ending one life and ruining another, and all because of him -

"STOP IT!"

He was bleeding now, Nick could see dark blood on the wall before him. Why was he doing that? He had no right to die! He was supposed to fight, to struggle, to man up and tear into Nick, because that was the order of things. To spill his own blood, to see his life force leaking to let him know he was still alive...

"STOP IT!"

It tore his throat. But he didn't care. Holding Tom's limp frame, looking into his glassy eyes. He couldn't be dead. There was no way. No, he would rise and chase Nick to the very gates of Hell. Just like Alex. Just like Maxwell.

"STOP IT!"

The light on Tom's collar wasn't blinking. He was free. Free from the drama, free from pain and hurt, free from the island, free from anger and depression. Free from people. But he, Nick, he wasn't free, and he wasn't going to be free, it would just keep on hurting and never ever ever ever ever ever ever ever stop.

"STOP IT!"

Finally, his trembling fingers fell loose of the boy's shirt, letting him slump to the rocky floor. They closed on the hilt of the funny square sword, a token of the bizarre reality that led him there. It was all so surreal. Sur meant over, right? So it was overreal. Too blatantly, coldly real. His body was a cold, trembling shell now, aimless, hopeless, helplessly adrift on the unflinching sea of time. No redo button, not even pause. He couldn't make things better again. Ever. Between violent quaking sobs and miserable crying wails, one short sentence escaped his lips.

"I'm sorry."
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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The fight did not go how Aaron had expected. Specifically, he was entirely unprepared for Tom and Phil to battle their way toward him. He didn't have enough time to duck fully out of view. Didn't really have time to do anything but get a few feet out of the way. He was standing right there, right next to the fight, with a front row seat as Tom actually managed to give Phil a good jab. The wounded boy toppled over, letting loose a cry, and hit his head on the ground. He stopped moving. Was he dead? Had Tom actually done it, actually killed someone? Had Aaron's plan worked?

Regardless of if it had, he didn't feel so good about things. All of a sudden, Tom wasn't a minor threat anymore. He wasn't a small deal. He was a full-on fighter, a potential killer, and, above all, within arm's reach of Aaron, still slightly illuminated by the distant glow of the flashlights. The gun was wobbling again. Breath in. Breath out. Stabilize. Aaron had the weapon pointed at Tom now. Had the other boy seen him? It was only a matter of time.

But... no, this was insane. Aaron couldn't shoot Tom. After all, the boy had just been defending himself. Only acting reasonably. No, they had to run. Tom was useful, that much was sure. But he was dangerous, too. There was too much to process. Just too much.

And then, Nick was there. He grabbed Tom, spun him, in the almost shadows, in the dark, and, for a second, Aaron's gaze locked with that of his ally. Aaron's gun was perfectly still, now pointed at Nick's head. Aaron could see the fear in Tom's eyes as Nick disarmed him. Could see so clearly, could imagine what would happen. It was simple. A flick of the trigger, a bang, Nick falls dead. No trouble. Certainly no morals keeping him from doing it. Nick was a murderer. Soon to be a double murderer, if he got his way with Tom. It came in a flash. Perfect clarity. Aaron knew exactly what he had to do.

He lowered his gun, shot Tom a shrug and a wink as Nick slammed his victim into the wall headfirst.

Crack.

Sorry, Tom. Looks like you're taking one for the team.

Aaron turned and started walking, heading back out of the caves, back into the early morning, back to his team. The part of his team that hadn't abandoned him.

Crack.

Good thing Nick hadn't noticed Aaron yet. Good thing it was dark, and there was nobody there, nobody to see the smile slowly spreading over his face. Nobody to watch as he abandoned his erstwhile companion to the hands of a murderer.

Crack.

Sometimes, things did work out for the best, it seemed. What Aaron had realized in that moment, that second when he could have pulled the trigger, could have saved Tom and removed a menace, was quite simple. Tom was worth a hell of a lot more to the group dead.

Crack.

And, oddly, Nick was worth more alive. In a day, Nick would be announced as a killer. Tom as his victim. The group would be devastated. Well, maybe not, since Tom wasn't exactly the most popular guy in the world, but dammit, Aaron would be devastated for them. He'd make them devastated. Make them angry. Make them want revenge, fear for their lives, imagine Nick Reid behind every corner, waiting to grab them if they left the safety of the group. Because, after all, it was true, wasn't it?

Crack.

In a manner of speaking, it certainly was. There were killers everywhere. Too many people had wandered off alone already. Aaron was willing to bet that at least one of the others who had declined his offer to team up—Francine, Rekka, Machine-Gun-Lily, the guy from the woods, and the stupid girl—had already been wasted. Likely more. They weren't playing this smart. Weren't going to have any hope of escaping. They deserved what they got. Just like Tom did. Tom had been a liability. A danger. A constant irritant. Aaron would've probably had to shoot him anyways. Nick had spared him the necessity, and at the same time, provided Aaron with a double helping of motivation for his team. A martyr and an enemy.

Crack.

Any good story began like that. Some terrible villain hurt the heroes, maybe killed someone important to them, and they banded up for revenge. Revenge was a fine goal. Of course, Aaron had already had his, letting Tom (the rebellious traitor) die. The others would be upset, though. They'd want to get back at Nick. Want to do something. Or, maybe it would just help them have the strength to see their escape through. Yes. That was how he'd play it. Tom hadn't been abandoned. He'd died heroically. He'd known that Aaron was their only hope. He'd died to protect his leader, loyal to the end, a shining example, had nearly turned the tide, but then cruel, villainous Nick Reid had taken his life. Yet, even then, he had held the killer, screaming at Aaron to run, to save the others, to tell the cameras that Tom loved his family.

Brilliant.

The story just needed a little verisimilitude. At the exit to the tunnels, Aaron knelt, and, gun still in his right hand, ready in case of surprises, he dipped his left index finger into the dirt. Rubbed it in his eyes, just a little. They stung, teared up, and he rubbed them clean again, smudging his face, tracing it with tear tracks and residue. Then, for a little color, he smacked each of his cheeks, hard enough to sting. Good. He would, of course, be back in control by the time he found the others—and just where were they, anyways? He'd left them some time ago—back to the calm, confident leader they expected, but he would have a quiver in his voice, seem sadder, perhaps nearly, but not quite, break down as he related the story of Tom's heroic end.

And nobody would dare question it, especially once the next announcements hit. Nobody would dare speak poorly of Tom, insult the memory of one who died to save another. For the rest of their stay, every time someone flinched, showed weakness, acted up, he'd just need to remind them of Tom's sacrifice, and ask them what their fallen compatriot would say.

Turns out, Tom had been the most valuable ally Aaron could have had.

((Aaron Hughes continued in Where Do You o From Here?))
((Post order change and GMing approved. Jennifer's keeping her slot in the post order.))
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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That's Just Crazy Talk
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At first, Tom couldn't quite believe it. There he was, standing over the body of Phil, the sword in his hand. He had won! For once in his entire life, he had actually accomplished something meaningful. And yet Phil was still breathing. Evidently, the wound hadn't been fatal, and the man would likely rise again to torment Tom another day. And yet, the comedian was hesitant. It was one thing to fight for one's life, and yet another to kill a man who was lying helplessly on the floor, unable to fight back. Tom shook his head back and forth and raised the sword up above Phil's chest. If there was any time to do it, it was now.

"Hasta la vista, you stupid son of a-"

Without warning, however, Tom found himself being thrown forward. Nick Reid, for whatever reason, had decided to knock him over when he wasn't looking, and he was not at all prepared for it. He went down hard, smashing his nose against the stone floor of the cave. His sword fell out of his hand, clattering uselessly out of reach. Not that it would be much use for what was to come. After all, Tom was still just reacquiring his bearings when he was suddenly turned over on the ground, and Nick proceeded to pound his skull into mush.

If Tom had still had the mental faculties to analyze what was happening to him after the first time his head had been thrust into the cave floor, he would have doubtless complained about how unfair it all was. He had been attacked by Phil, not the other way around, so why was he the one who had to die? He'd been acting in self-defense, and they should have been congratulating him for ridding them of such an unstable person. If Tom had had the chance, he would have definitely thought all those things and more, but instead, all he could conjure up was this:

Please...Please stop!

Tom's arms rose up to try to hold Nick's still, but before he could get a hold, he was crushed into the ground again. He let out a gasp of pain, and suddenly the whole world became blurry, because the impact had knocked off his glasses. It was better that a loud ringing was now echoing through his ears, because it deadened his killer's screaming. What was he screaming for? If he'd just told Tom to stop, he would have stopped willingly and left him alone. It was one of the things that he probably would have needed context for. He always hated those kinds of situations.

Another strike against the floor, and the ringing stopped, much like his irrelevant thoughts, his pitiful attempts at stopping Nick's assault, and his breathing. If he'd stuck around for it, he would have realized that Nick had given him one or two more, just for good measure. Not counting the last little thump against the stone floor when Nick finally realized that Tom had given up the ghost, and that there was no longer any need to stain the cave with his blood.

B131: Tom Guthrie - Deceased
V7 Kids
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Jennifer hardly even realized what was happening as Phil rushed the other boy, then went down with a bleeding wound in his side. She almost shrieked. Almost said something. Tom positioned himself for the killing blow, as Nick moved forward. For a moment, Jennifer was worried Nick wouldn’t make it in time. Worried he wouldn’t be able to stop this from ending in death.

Then, that seemed minor. Positively trivial compared to what came next. Because Nick wasn’t content simply to disarm Guthrie. Instead, he knocked the boy over, into the shadows. Jennifer swept the area with the beam from her flashlight, and then froze. The hidden boy was still there. More than that, he had a gun. Had it aimed at the combatants, like he was about to shoot, or maybe to tell them to knock it off, quit playing around. She hoped it was that. Then the boy (she still couldn’t make out who it was) just lowered the gun and walked away. Just left Nick and Tom.

And then, the noises started. One after another. Sickening smacks and cracks. Again and again. Nick was beating Guthrie's head against something hard. Each hit accompanied by a shout. Again. And again. And again.

It didn't make sense. This couldn't be right. Nick wasn't like this. He was nice. He'd killed someone, but it was by mistake. This wasn't someone acting by mistake. This wasn't self defense. It wasn't an innocent screw up. It was a killing. A killing, right in front of her eyes. Guthrie had been ready to kill Phil. Nick had killed him instead. Was that how the world worked now? Was that the reality she had to adapt to? No. No, it couldn't be. She wouldn't accept it. Couldn't deal with it. What the fuck had pushed Nick over the edge? Why had he gone mad all of a sudden?

It stopped. One final, sickening crunch. She was able to hope for a moment that Guthrie had survived somehow, that Nick had pulled back from the brink. She walked closer, shivering, though she was not cold, and flicked the flashlight's beam towards him.

It dispelled any hopes that Nick victim still lived. Not with his head looking like that. Nick was shivering, sobbing, looking for all the world like he was the one who had just been killed. He looked so sad. So pathetic. So lost. She wanted to just walk up to him, hug him and wash all the pain away, cry with him, feel with him.

And then he broke it. Shattered it into a thousand pieces.

He apologized.

A cold wind of rage blew her sympathy away.

And, for the first time in years, Jennifer's thoughts and words unified.

"You're sorry, Nick?

"You're sorry?

"You just killed a guy, and all you can say is that you're fucking sorry? Do you get it? Do you have any idea what you did? I don't think you do, do you? I bet you really don't know. That guy down there? I don't even know his fucking name, Nick. Do you? Do you know him? Do you know who he was? Do you have any idea who's crying right now? Who'll be crying tomorrow when you get celebrated over the announcements?"

It was a strange feeling. This was what she'd always been afraid of. Losing control. Letting the barrier between her mind and her mouth break. She'd thought it would feel like a release, like a great weight lifted from her. It didn't. It didn't feel like anything at all. It just was. She was dropping the smiling veneer she wore every day, the happy face that never glowered, never swore, never said a mean thing. And the scary was thing was, it didn't feel different at all.

She was shouting, screaming her words, caught up in the reverberation as they echoed throughout the tunnels, bouncing back to her again and again.

"I don't think you do. I don't think you gave a fuck, Nick. I think you were scared and angry, and you just decided, fuck it, you'd go ahead and blow off steam, or protect yourself, or whatever the fuck it is you thought you were doing. Or maybe you had some noble purpose. You know what, though? I don't give a fuck. I don't give a fuck why you did it. Doesn't change that he's dead. Doesn't change that you did it.

"You know what? I thought you were gonna go break 'em up. Gonna go stop them from killing each other. Going to be a hero. And here you turn out to just be a fucking coward. You say you're sorry? I don't buy it. You aren't sorry you killed him. You're just sorry you have to live with that guilt. Just sorry you fucked up your own comfy little situation here.

"Well, fuck you, Nick."

The icepick was in her hands, like it had materialized there. No memory of drawing it, just like every other time. Nick up against the wall, caught in the glare of her flashlight beam. She knew she was smiling.

She took a step forward, raised the icepick a bit.

Knelt, sent it spinning across the floor to bump gently against the side of the dead boy, near Nick's foot. Straightened again.

She was calm, now. Not yelling. Speaking evenly.

"Take it. I don't need this. Fuck off and play with the other killers, Nick. Just leave me that guy's bag so I can try to keep Phil from dying, since I'm a bit short on medical supplies at the moment."

She locked eyes with him for a second, her smile broader, brighter.

"Unless you're gonna kill us. I won't stop you, but I'd ask you to at least look me in the eyes when you do it."
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!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((I'm assuming I can skip the unconscious dude.))

Game up. It was over. He'd lost. The only way to win was not to play, something at which he had failed spectacularly.

Once again, you're an absolute failure.

No mental rebuttal. That biting thought was absolutely correct. It was failure on a truly epic scale. Most men lived and died, in fact, without having even the opportunity to fail as utterly as Nick had. Yet he had to collect himself. Bottle away the pain for later. That was the one thing he never failed at.

Breathe... relax... slow down... That last one was directed at his heart. Could you do that? Worth a shot, at least...

Time to stop crying. To master himself. To keep Jennifer off the path he'd careened onto. She couldn't become angry, he couldn't let her. Yelling, cursing, thinking vile thoughts, they all etched slowly away at the foundations of sanity. It was anger who drove people mad, that was clear to him. And he couldn't let Jennifer be angry. For his sake, for her sake, and for the sake of everyone on the island.

"Just leave me that guy's bag so I can try to keep Phil from dying, since I'm a bit short on medical supplies at the moment."

That sentence hurt. Slashed across his heart, struck a keening resonance that bit into his soul. An intangible combination of truth, guilt, and contempt conveyed her feelings more effectively than anything else she could've said. He looked down at his freshly-bandaged arm. At bandages she'd taken from her stock out of the goodness of her heart. The icepick at his foot gave a faint tinkling as slowly he heaved himself off the ground to turn and address Jennifer's feet.

"You're smiling," he said simply. "I know what it means. Don't think that way, you're worth more than that."

She probably wanted him to yell back. That's why she'd invited him to strike her, to escalate the situation, to feel the surging anger all the better. He couldn't rise to it.

"And I won't look you in the eyes, because I looked..."

There was no way he could finish that sentence. He waved vaguely instead at the battered corpse.

"...And I saw myself in them."

Seen himself, and Alex, and Maxwell. Were they really all that different? He would be naive to think otherwise. It was unlikely that either of them had killed two people, after all. Every villain thinks he's the hero.

"If you hear my name tomorrow - well, twice tomorrow, on the announcements, and I'm by myself - there's no other name the second time, you know, then I've kill - well, someone deserved it."

He had to stop again. Breathe... relax... slow down... It had flitted across his mind, of course, like an annoying sort of fly, but he'd never listened before. This was the first time he'd even acknowledged it aloud. He hoped she got what he meant, because he wouldn't say it straight. Couldn't say it straight. But if he couldn't even say it aloud, could he ever muster the courage?

A man can dream.

It was a long, long walk to his bag, a journey Nick didn't know how he could even handle. He scooped up his flashlight, but he didn't turn it on. Finding the ledge with his shin, fumbling around in the dark to put everything together, it just seemed wrong to do it any other way. Trudging back was less difficult, but for one fleeting moment he had the insane urge just to run back, find any exit other than one he'd have to pass Jennifer to get to.

He made it, somehow, over to Tom's body. The icepick was lying nearby, and also the boy's bag. Picking up the pick, he had another wild urge, stronger than the last one, to go running back to Jennifer, take her in his arms, cry into her shoulder and tell her everything he'd ever thought, until she'd look at him with sympathy instead of anger...

He could've run back that instant. But he held his ground. He didn't deserve to look her in the eye, he didn't deserve even to be near her. That was why he was leaving, after all. There was only one thing he could do, and it was a total gamble if she'd react with acceptance or more anger. But there was nothing else left.

The cave twisted as he walked away, breaking the line of sight between them. Probably the glow of his flashlight would betray some sort of action to the girl just around the corner. That didn't matter, though, just as long as she couldn't actually see what he was about to do. The familiar cone of light burst forth, highlighting the bag marked B055 and glinting off the steel of his stolen weapon. Undoing the zipper as quietly as he could, he retrieved a pen from his pocket and a notebook from his bag. He flipped to a page marked with two columns - Died and Killed By. They were both blank. He'd try listening to the announcements tomorrow, if he could handle it. But that lay off in a future he might not have. Back in the moment, he flipped a few leaves to reveal a totally unmarked page and began to write. The process was short, and before long he was finished.

And now to place it. There was nothing, unfortunately, that he could stab the icepick into. Instead, he took two sizable rocks and pushed them closely together. Into the tightest spot he could find, he jammed the icepick (carefully, as not to damage the point) with the torn-out note he'd written speared on it. She'd come from the other direction, so surely she'd be going out this way - and if she did, her flashlight beam would fall upon it sitting right in the middle of the path. For good or for ill, that was the only question.

That done, he shouldered his pack and his sword and journeyed out into the blinding sunshine.

((Nick Reid continued in Thanatos))
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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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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When you pass out it isn't quite like sleeping. Your brain doesn't change it wave format and you don't dream. Instead you wake, unsure of how much time has passed, disorientated and confused. In Phil's case this was only half the problem. Groaning he held his hand to the back of his head. There was a large bump there. Nothing serious but enough that he felt a constant throbbing in the back of his head, and sharp pains everytime he moved.

A thin glancing light shone off to one side. Enough so he could make out a form in the darkness kneeling next to him but not much else. His side felt sticky and the burns from the day before still ached and sent thin shivers across his body. Phillip Ward was not in a good way. He felt like he could move but he didn't really want to. A thick wave of tiredness had wash across him and although his mind screamed at him to move, that the figure could be there to finish him off he could barely shift a few inches.

He opened his mouth to speak and croaked out a few words. "Who's there? Help me."

He hoped he had chosen right. That the shadowy figure before him was not the boy who lunged with his sword at Phil. He had only tried to protect others. He almost smiled at that. The schoolyard bully helping others, what a twist of fate. Still without finding anyone on the hockey team Phil had done it the only way Phil new. Beat up his opponents and make sure they didn't get close enough to beat up his team. He squinted trying to make out the movements of whoever was still with him. He couldn't see anyone else and it seemed like the person, whoever they were was rummaging through a bag, pulling something out. He hoped it wasn't a weapon.

A flash of white proved his fears unfounded, it was a bandage. They were there to help him. Right then and there Phil decided whoever it was, they would become his new team. He would protect them. Well, if he wasn't dying already and he wouldn't kill. That much he was sure about.

Phillip Ward was a coward, a brute and a bully. But he wasn't a murderer.
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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Nick's reaction was not what Jennifer had expected. She was prepared for dismissal. Anger. Even, though it scared her greatly, violence. She was not counting on a strange mix of kindness and patronization, on a pep talk from this boy who had just bashed another student's skull in. She was not counting on Nick comparing her to himself.

Just like that, everything broke. She found herself looking back on what she had just said, what she had just done, with a sort of horror and disbelief. She had lost it. She had lost herself. In that one instant, she had let herself get swept up in the drama, the excitement, the danger, the insanity, the sheer difference of it all. She had forsaken her own awkwardness in favor of an ill-fitting faux-heroism, a martyr's confidence.

She wanted to apologize herself. Wanted to take back her words. To mend things. Smooth them over. Repair everything. But it was too late. No way back now. No way to undo the mistakes of the past. Something she and Nick had both learned. As he slowly moved, slowly picked up his bags, slowly took up the icepick, she knew it was too late. It wasn't Guthrie who had destroyed their moment of peace. It wasn't Phil, or Nick, or the boy with the gun, or even Jennifer herself. It was the situation. It was the tension, the group dynamic, everything put together. The circumstances they were in put each of them far beyond conventional blame. Nick couldn't be held responsible for overreacting. Guthrie couldn't be held responsible for attacking. They were just scared.

Did that mean she was off the hook for her outburst, then?

No.

No, it couldn't. Because she had better control than that. Always had. Always had needed to. To abandon that for convenience, to prove a point, was a weakness, not a slip up. She had to be stronger than that. Surely her anger had done more than hurt Nick. Surely it had hurt her family, her friends, tarnished their memories of her, left them wondering whether they had ever truly known her. And, in the end, had they?

Yes. Yes, because even though her kindness, her politeness, was often a mask, a lid keeping her anger from boiling over, it was still her, still a part of her being.

Nick was gone. Jennifer stood for a time, alone with her thoughts. With the thoughts of the last words he'd said. Something in them had been wrong. Off. If he was announced twice, once alone... No. No, he couldn't be thinking of... Shove it aside. Force it under.

"Be safe," she whispered, far too late for him to hear.

And then, it was time to turn her focus to the most pressing issue. Phil was still bleeding. She had been ignoring him, fucking letting him bleed to death on the ground while she pondered her own emotional issues. Pretty messed up priorities, come to think of it. Quickly, she moved to Guthrie's bag, rooted around for the first aid kit. She didn't have a clue as to what she was doing. She'd never helped someone wounded before, except Nick, and he had been much better off. This would be far more difficult.

She had to focus. First priority was stopping the bleeding, right?

Then, Phil spoke. Asked for help. And at that, all other thoughts vanished. Jennifer pulled a bandage out, looked for something to prevent infection, and got to work, doing her best to keep Phil out of pain, to keep him safe.

"Um, it's, uh, Jennifer, Phil," she said. "Just... just, um, hang on, okay? I'm trying to, um, help you."

She would keep Phil alive. It was the least she could do.
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Jen? Phil still couldn't make out the girl's face, his vision was all blurry but he felt soft arms brush up against him, gently wrapping the bandage around his midriff. She smelled nice.

"Jen... Romita?" He asked, the words croaking out of his mouth like each syllable had to be forcibly removed from his tongue. His whole mouth felt dry. Like he hadn't drank for days, like someone had drained him of all strength. He was completely at the mercy of this girl who patiently moved around him, bandaging the wound as best she could.

It was a strange feeling. On one level Phil had never felt so helpless in his life. Sharp bursts of pain coursed through his body from his wounds and pure exhaustion only compounded this. On another level he had never been treated so tenderly by any girl in his life. A welling feeling in his stomach made him relaxed and somehow it expanded outwards in a wave of feel-good vibes. It felt like everything was going to turn out fine.

His wounds were superficial but Phil had no idea, he wasn't sure if he was going to die then and there but a part of him, a part he had never really explored before reassured him that it would be alright. As long as Jen was there looking after him, it would be alright. His eyesight had become slightly sharper now. All he needed was rest, just a little for now. He felt his eyes drooping but he strained to keep them open, trying to make out the face of his saviour, his guardian, his angel.

Romita? No... it's Perez, fuck.

He frowned, his lips cracking and he wheezed out another sentence. "Jen Perez... I'm sorry I couldn't see."
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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Jennifer tried to wrap Phil in the bandages, tried to stop the bleeding. She had no idea whether the wound was a bad one. It looked bad. It was a cut, from a sword, and there was blood, and surely that couldn't be minor, right? Anyways, time to worry about that later. Maybe, if he didn't get better on his own, she could stitch him up. Was sewing a person up similar to sewing fabric? She still had her travel sewing kit.

Phil called out to her. Called her by the wrong name. Fuck. Jennifer didn't say anything, kept up a smile. She couldn't be mad at him, not now, not given his situation. Even if he had made the social mistake she hated most. Sharing a name with another girl of the same ethnicity was bad enough. It practically guaranteed confusion, even though the Jennifers looked nothing alike. Romita being one of the biggest sluts in the school, however, took the issue from the realm of the unfortunate into the land of constant irritant. It didn't happen often, but, a time or two a year, younger guys would bug Jennifer, hit on her, that sort of thing. It was one of the few areas where she felt comfortable just walking away, regardless of the rudeness.

She couldn't dwell on that, though. Couldn't afford to worry about things like school drama. She'd set Phil straight later, calmly and kindly. Right now, she had to keep him alive. Had to keep wrapping the bandages. Looking down, she saw his eyes come into focus a bit more. Then he realized his mistake, apologized. Jennifer's smile broadened, no longer strained in the slightest.

"It's, um, it's alright. I don't mind. Thanks."

She continued working on Phil's side until the bandaging materials had been used up. Hopefully, it would be enough. It had to be. Phil would be fine. She couldn't fail him too, like she'd failed Guthrie, sitting back and assuming someone else would take care of things. That was a fucking awful way to be. For some reason, she found herself thinking back to a night in the real world, sitting at the Varsity, watching Dustin Royal take advantage of a drunk Rosa Fiametta. What had she said at the time? "Someone should stop that"? Something like that. That was her method, wasn't it? Leave the hard work for someone else. Let the others take the risk, the blame. She only stepped up when there was no other option.

So, she'd failed Nick too, then, hadn't she? She was good at talking people down. It was one of the few areas of social interaction she actually felt somewhat useful at. And yet, she'd stood by, not even tried to do anything. And now, Phil was hurt, Guthrie was dead, and Nick was gone, run off by Jennifer herself. It was a fucking lovely beginning to the day.

Her smile was forced, now. She hoped Phil didn't notice, as she tied the bandage off.

"Um," she said, "I hope that'll hold. Are you, uh, how do you feel?"

She had no idea what she'd do if he wasn't alright, if he needed more extensive treatment, but she'd help him. Somehow, she would help him.
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Phil groaned as Jennifer tied the bandage off. The sharp stinging pain from before was replaced with the dull throbbing of his wounds. The combination from the bruises that Charlotte had given him the day before, the burns from the flare and now the harsh cuts of Tom had taken it out of Phil. He was at his limit and he struggled to reply to Jennifer's query.

"I think. I think I'm fine. I just need to rest a little."

His eyes fluttered for a brief second before closing. He would just take a quick nap, a few minute at most and then he would help Jennifer get out of the tunnels and somewhere a little less dark. Phil slept.

*****

His eyes opened as Phil awoke from his dreamless sleep. It was dark, very dark. He sat up and winced. The pain of his wounds still ached, the feeling spreading across his body. He didn't feel like he was going to die anymore, so that was good. A low growling from his stomach gave rise to another basic need. Food. He wasn't sure where Jennifer was or how long he was asleep but he knew he needed to eat.

"Jen? Jen are you there?"

There was no immediate answer, and granted he hadn't spoke very loudly but Phil was a little cautious. Maybe she had left. He didnt' know.

Fumbling to one side he searched for a bag. It was only a few moments before he realised the bag had been positioned behind his head to form some sort of makeshift pillow. He smiled in the dark. Jennifer really was a sweet girl and the thought that she even considered doing that made Phil fell a little better. He carefully unzipped the duffel and pulled out one of the bread rolls, munching on the food before taking a swig of the water bottle to wash the food down. He was still hungry but it was better than nothing. Screwing the cap back on the bottle his ears perked up.

Careful footsteps were headed towards him. He froze for a second before moving to find a weapon, anything. Phil grabbed a small rock clutching it tight before calling out tentatively.

"Jen? Is that you?"
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

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Phil didn't seem like he was going to die, at least, not right away.

Good.

It was, at this point, all Jennifer could ask for. Her day had been pretty rough, and the last thing she needed was for her effort at helping this boy to turn into a complete failure. Of course, she nearly expected it. Her time on the island had held very few positive moments, and it seemed unlikely that that would be changing anytime soon. Phil closed his eyes, and drifted off to sleep. Jennifer deliberated for a few moments, then grabbed one of the duffel bags (she wasn't sure whose anymore; it was too dark to see and she didn't care enough to turn on her light), scrunched it up, and carefully slid it under Phil's head.

She was going to wait with him. Going to stay by his side until he was better, to... well, not protect him, she didn't have much of a way of doing that, now that Nick had taken her weapon, but to at least be there to make any potential attacker who came by think twice. It was honestly her plan. She had no intention of falling asleep again, but, as the adrenaline left her system, she found her eyes drifting shut.





The stench was what awoke her. She had no idea how much time had passed, but it had been enough for Guthrie to begin smelling incredibly foul. She wanted to kick herself for not thinking of that sooner. Here they were, underground, without great airflow, next to a corpse. It would be a fucking miracle if she and Phil didn't contract horrible diseases and die from that alone. And Phil was still sleeping, and she wasn't sure if she should wake him, if that would mess up his health even more. Best to let him sleep. But she had to get him away from the odor of rot.

Which left exactly one choice.

Jennifer looked into the darkness, towards the body, and shivered. It was revolting. Horrible. Something she had never imagined doing. Still couldn't, really. But it had to be done, so she found her flashlight and started towards Guthrie's corpse.

Standing over it, she flicked the flashlight on, using her body to shield Phil from the light. It was a big, big mistake. She'd heard the boy's death, but hadn't quite been able to picture it. And then, there he was. Head smashed open. Blood everywhere, dried now.

Off with the flashlight.

It took a lot of effort for Jennifer not to throw up on the spot. She couldn't, though. Couldn't wake Phil. Couldn't make the area smell even worse. She just had to power through this. Had to be strong. So she bent down, grabbed the dead boy by his arms. She was expecting them to be cold. They weren't, not exactly, more room temperature. Limp. Wasn't he supposed to be stiff or something? Didn't matter. Couldn't think like that.

She got to work dragging Guthrie along the tunnel floor, heading in the direction Nick had left in, hoping it was the way out, hoping it wasn't too far, hoping she wouldn't run into someone else and have to explain, because this sure as fuck wouldn't look good. The body was not exactly light, and Jennifer certainly wasn't notably strong, so she had to stop every couple of minutes and rest. She never let go of the corpse's arms, though. She doubted she'd be able to force herself to grab them again, logic be damned.

She didn't know how long it had taken, but she found her way to the exit, managing to avoid hurting herself in the dark hallways in the process. What she saw shocked her. It was dark out. How long had they been out for? It had been morning when the encounter occurred. Had she slept all day?

Didn't matter. She vaguely considered burying Guthrie, but she simply didn't care enough, cold as it sounded. A grave wouldn't do him any good. He was now pretty much nothing more than an object. She didn't want to spend the rest of her life looking after objects, not when there were still people who needed her. She pulled him a ways away from the entrance to the tunnel, forcing herself to ignore the noises of him scraping of the ground, the slight wet trail he left. Finally, she couldn't take him any further, so she dropped him to the ground and went back to the tunnel. Her back hurt. Wonderful. Just what she fucking needed.

Then she realized she wasn't quite sure whether she knew the way back. There could have been branches in the tunnel, turns she missed in the dark. She tugged her flashlight from a pocket and turned it on, looking for—there it was. Dragging the body had left a clear trail in the dirt floor of the tunnel. She'd just have to follow it back. So she started to, and then she saw it. Right at the exit. Her icepick, propped up by two rocks. A piece of paper impaled on it. Left by Nick, assuredly. Left waiting for her.

She didn't want to touch it, to be reminded of her mistakes, but of course she picked it up. Of course she read the note.

Jennifer

I don't deserve your company but I hope I can still help somehow. I couldn't leave you helpless if someone tried to hurt you. There's nothing left for me but I'll use that, to stamp out everyone else who has lost their humanity so someone who deserves it can come out on top. I'm sure you want nothing to do with this icepick, but every angel needs their flaming sword.

NR


So that was what he would do. That was the result of her choices, was it? She'd thrown his actions in his face, and now he'd given up. He'd given up, and he was calling her, the one responsible for it all, and angel. Like fuck. It was her fault. She was tearing up. Wiped her eyes. Sorry, Nick. I should have been better. Should have been understanding. You say you don't deserve my company? You're wrong, Nick. Neither of us deserve any of this.

But she couldn't get mired down in the past. Phil was still hurt. Still needed her. How long had it taken to move Guthrie? Half an hour? All sorts of awful things could have happened in that time.

Now she could protect him again, though. So the icepick went back in its place. Some grand moral stand she'd made, in the end.

As she got closer, she could hear Phil, calling out, calling her name. Asking who was coming.

"It's, um, it's me, Phil. I'm, uh, I'm sorry. I had to, um, take care of something. Are you alright?"

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Phil relaxed when he heard Jennifer's lilting tones respond to his query.

"Oh Jen, thats good." Phil stumbled over his words. He wanted to express his relief and how glad he was that Jennifer had come back but he was never one to be able to articulate what he wanted in the first place. In fact this very issue was probably why he resorted to violence when confronted with someone a little more quick witted.

"I'm good, yeah. How long have I been asleep?" He stood up, wincing slightly from the sudden shift of the bandages around his side. Bending down he gritted he teeth as he pulled out a torch from the pack. "We probably should get out of here, the exit isn't far from here."

Picking up the bag he started to walk to the exit before pausing. He turned back to Jennifer and scuffed his foot, eyes to one side. "Uh Jen... I, well, I." He tried so hard to think of the right words, this was important. "I, just wanted to say. Thanks. Yeah, thanks for back there. I owe you one. If your looking for someone I'll help you find them. I'll pay you back."

Phil nodded. It wasn't exactly the sentiment of undying gratitude he wanted to convey but it would have to do for now. He turned back and continued along the way slowly to the exit to the tunnel system. He hoped Jennifer would understand.
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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Phil seemed relieved. That brought a flash of guilt to Jennifer. Had he been scared? Thought she'd abandoned him, perhaps? She was about to fumble her way through an apology, when he continued, asking her how long he'd been asleep for.

"It's, um, well, I don't know. It's dark now. It, um, could be any time past sunset, but we were, uh, out for at least half a day."

Phil suggested they get out. That meant all her work clearing the body out, actually touching the thing, had been totally fucking pointless. That didn't matter, though, because she couldn't agree more. She was ready to be back in the fresh air, in the open. She gathered up her stuff, too, making sure she had her backpack, the one she had packed for the trip. It really was stupid to still be holding onto it.

She wasn't going to leave it, though.

Then Phil did something that took her off guard. He thanked her. Offered to pay her back. Implied he owed her something. Owed her? No, no, not at all. She'd just done what she had to. Worked to help someone. Would anyone have taken another action? She wasn't special. Phil was making too big a deal out of this.

"Um, I... You don't have to do anything, but if you, um, want to stick together for a while, that'd be nice. I am, uh, looking for someone, actually. Um, it's Maf. From the, uh, the football team. And... and we can find your teammates too. I'll help you, too."

There. She'd proposed it. Made an offer to stick with someone. It was worrying, actually. She had responsibilities now. Was back to watching out for someone else. From here on out, she couldn't just run if things went badly. Not unless she was sure Phil would be okay.

Time to worry about that if it came up. For now, they were moving out of the tunnels. She would steer them away from the body, and they would continue their search. Check by the mirror house at some point. Keep moving.

Keep alive.

And maybe, just maybe, they'd be able to catch up with Nick again, and she could fix some of the damage she'd done.

((Jennifer Perez continued in Still Going Strong))
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