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All the Untested Virtue; Private
Topic Started: Dec 14 2010, 09:59 PM (2,030 Views)
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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 Carpe Noctum))


That's what the world seemed to consist of now. How long had passed since he'd re-entered the passage was completely beyond any reckoning. And with the time he'd spent there already, it may well have been more than half his game he'd spent under the surface. At any rate, it was becoming natural, even homey, to feel his way along with eyes strained uselessly against the darkness. He closed them experimentally. There was no change in his vision, though he felt suddenly insecure, as if staring into the lightless void somehow warded off the possibility of meeting a wall face-first.

He gave a little chuckle. A dry, mirthless chuckle. He was too busy with an impromptu convention of mental voices to give it much of his attention. He looked up at the ceiling, steps faltering again, reminded himself that he didn't need to look forward in the impenetrable darkness. How thick was it, he wondered? And what lay on top? Impassable crags or a verdant thoroughfare? Were there people above him? Talking, running, brandishing, fighting, killing exactly above his head without a single echo to reveal their presence?

                                                                                                           There was      blood gushing onto a grassy slope, oozing and trickling, percolating through
                                                                 the rocky roof of his new life's home,      
soil and stone, tracking him, leading him,
     droplets detaching from the craggy ceiling like miniature bombs,
     Tiny homing missiles
                                                                                            hitting his forehead,
     assaulting his mind's residence,
                                                                                   splashing off into puddles
     reeking of death and decay,
                                                                                      running down the walls,
     drilling into his skull not like
                                                                                             little drops of liquid,
     harmless beads of moisture
                                                                               making little plip plip noises,
     but like bullets
     through his skull, unbearable reminders of his classmates lying
                                                                                                    across the floor,
     dead because of what he'd done, hounding him until his blood, too, would flow
                                                                                          like a miniature river.

He'd run and yell and scream, but it would do no good. It was a trap, and a cunning one. The darkness that was his sometimes-friend was pummeling him now with fear and paranoia and claustrophobia. The only thing that could help him was his own self - his own self, and the blade thrust once more through his belt loop. The grip was solid, pleasant to handle in his spindly fingers. Flashing forwards at a million miles an hour, his mind seized upon the image of thirteen dwarves, a wizard, and a hobbit all pressing down a tunnel so much like this one that he could almost believe his very own ring of power lay silently on the floor. There were noises. Footsteps. Whispering echoes reverberating around hidden corners and jagged walls. And like the fifteen, he knew not whether they were his footsteps or those of an assailant waiting to run him through at the nearest opportunity in an act of brutal vengeance. He wished his sword would glow to alert him of the enemy, and then wished instantly that it wouldn't. That would mean it was all coming true, just like that unbelievable notion that he was fighting, killing, trying to slaughter his former friends in a desperate bid for survival.

Before his tired mind, worn raw from its spinning and sliding, could break entirely under the overwhelming weight of fear and paranoia, he remembered that he had his own tool to replace the glowing wizard's staff. Shoving his hand into the bag weighing on his shoulder, he grasped that magic little rod, his bulwark against the terrors of the deep. Flicking it on, a tenacious strand of reason told him he'd illuminate nothing but empty space and rocky walls, with no being there but himself.

It was a comforting idea.

But it wasn't a correct one.



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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Another person was the last thing he'd expected to see.

No, that wasn't right. It was like that all the time in scary movies and stuff. You were never supposed to turn on the flashlight, because that meant the creature was about to kill you. Or something like that. Nick never watched those sorts of movies. Saying that he dwelt on them too much would be like saying that the ocean is a bit damp.

Another person was the last thing he'd wanted to see. And that was why he had started so badly, why he'd tried to shove a scream through unyielding vocal chords, why one jerking hand shot towards the hilt of his sword and made contact after three or four tries. There was no time to lose, because there was all the time in the world to gain. He knew what was happening. He'd been there before. It was all instinct now. It was just another test from a universe toying with him for lack of anything better to do. If he passed, he'd get to live until the next test, and the next, and the next, until maybe he'd get a few more decades of PTSD and therapy. If he failed, then that was that. Oblivion, a concept that was so tempting and yet so horribly repugnant.

But at any rate, he wouldn't fail. Couldn't fail. Why would the universe give up its favorite toy so soon? His hand whipped skyward (roofward?) and his body whipped forward. He didn't care what the other boy had to say. There was nothing to say to him. There were no last requests, last drinks, last cigarettes. Every evil overlord knew that. Every evil overlord also knew to cremate the bodies. He'd messed up the last two, then. He-

was thinking about evil overlords while life hung in the balance. Maybe his mind was shaking loose, or fraying. But that didn't matter, because-



He'd been hit. The kid had a weapon, and Nick had screwed up, badly. Three feet of blade, so comforting to hold out in front of him, now caught in his belt loop, just a couple inches too long to draw straight out. But it wasn't the end of the world - or, at least, it wasn't the end of his world. Not just yet. He'd try to end the other kid's world first.

He grabbed the sword near the tip with one hand that still held the flashlight. No sooner had he nudged it free than two more hands clasped around the weapon. They weren't his. That wasn't good.

It was a tug-o-war now. Nick was confident that he could keep his grip come Hell or high water. The problem was breaking that of his opponents'. He yanked and jerked and heaved. Spun, twirled, keeled, jumped, all without result.

As it flashed back and forth, the piercing cone of light illuminated the kid's face, one William Sears, not that Nick needed any more confirmation after seeing the kid's frame. He considered dropping the light to avoid blinding himself, to strengthen his grip, to shroud his opponent into darkness and let his mind run with the Hobbit analogy like a football until he was fighting a nameless, faceless goblin.

His mind jumped like chain lightning. Darkness. Hobbit. Goblins. Orcs. Orc helmets. Two spikes, exactly the same spacing as a human's eyes.

More than one end of a sword.

An experimental shove confirmed his need to find an opening. He'd have to pull with one hand, push with the other, get his opponent to mirror him, and then with their combined strength -

He'd have to rank the sound it made as the fourth-worst he'd ever heard. It wasn't the sound of crunching bone, or of a man burning to death, or of a head splitting open like a watermelon. But there was still something bone-chilling about hearing a metal crossguard enter a human eye.

Time didn't stand still. It raced along so fast it was all Nick could do to keep up. He removed the blade with another sound he hoped never to hear again. He hurled one foot back, then he hurled the other one back, then he hurled his body around. Spinning around, swinging hard at his target. There was a loud BOOM and Nick released the handle of the shuddering shield. Scarcely had he called "two!", abandoning his grip, when another pair of blows rained down, one on his forearm and the other on his torso.


The man known to his fellow fighters as Ogre stopped his assault and picked Nick's shield up off the ground to return it. "That wasn't bad, but if someone gets your shield like that, you wanna step back, because I'm gonna be driving right into you."

"Mhm. Thanks," Nick said. "Wish I was strong enough to pull off shieldbreakers like that..."

Ogre laughed, letting the tip of a five-and-a-half foot long weapon rest gently on the ground. "No strength required."

"Say what?"

"Alright Nick, give me your shield." He held one hand out to accept it, handing over the sword in return. "Now go for it."

Swoosh. Thwack.

"Ok, we can work with this." Ogre said, taking his sword back. "I'd probably take that as a shieldbreaker. You don't have to hit all that hard. But watch: where does a good red swing start?"

Nick stared off in thought for a brief second. "Hips, right?"

"Ankles." Seeing Nick's puzzlement, he motioned for him to hold up the shield. "Ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, elbow, wrist, that's -" he counted off quickly. "Six-"


"No, it's si-" he counted again, more rapidly. "Seven."

A small handful of people laughed. Ogre held up the foam weapon with feigned malice. "Said seven, didn' I?"

They shrunk back in mock (and in one case, real) fear. "Right you did," one of them said.

"Thought your mother told you never you to lie. Anyways, if you wanna learn how to knock someone to next Tuesday, come watch. So you've got your seven or so-" His pupils suppressed chuckles. "-pivot points. Each level, you're going faster. Like running up an up escalator." He motioned for Nick to hold up the shield, which he did hesitantly. "And so you really only need four, five inches to make a shieldbreaker. Like this."


"Right," he said, "Now show me what you've got."

Nick hefted the sword, making a short experimental swing. He could do this. Ogre held up the shield, and everything came togeth
er. Feet planted. Ankles, knees, hips, back, shoulders, elbows, wrists, all working in perfect harmony. Arms relaxing, letting the weight fly forward, uninhibited by the sluggish path of his own arm, then tensing up a split-second before impact. Swinging the weapon by the blade, he sent the pommel skimming past the ceiling before bringing it hurtling down towards the prone figure, aimed not at him but at a point a foot beneath the ground...

There was a terrible, ghastly noise.

And then only the sound of his own heartbeat.



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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]

So, Nick thought, hunching up, withdrawing like a turtle into its shell from the goosebumps springing up so powerfully that they stung.

He waited for something brilliant to spring forth. It wasn't a bad start; that was the first word of Beowulf, after all. But there was something stifling in the air, and for the first time he could remember his mind was nearly silent. It was an oppressive silence, one that seemed to reverberate off the walls of the cave, but one he didn't dare break. At last he formed a truly coherent thought.

I wonder if blood stains leather.

That was it. Those were his thoughts on murder. He wondered if it would stain. There wasn't even a jolt in his stomach. He found that so alarming that his stomach jolted. He eased himself down, sitting on the cave floor, and leaned his head against the wall. No sooner had he made contact than a bolt of pain arced across his head so powerfully it felt like a lightning strike. The goose egg in back, courtesy of his biggest mistake so far. The lacerated forehead, courtesy of one of his triumphs.

Or was it?

No, it was courtesy of temporary insanity. He'd killed someone for shining their flashlight in his eyes, that's what it really boiled down to. What a great guy he was. Slipping back into a well-worn mode of thought, signals flitted through his neurons like they had thousands of times before. Fear, doubt, self-loathing, all things that he was extremely good at. He was just hitting his stride when one hand found the estoc's wrapped leather grip, wet with blood that wasn't his.

He remembered.

The scene in the forest in the shade, where he'd decided his course of action. There was nothing, he thought, rubbing his hands until the blood grew sticky and rolled off like brown clay, that that mode of thought would accomplish. Unless you called an early death an accomplishment. There was most definitely a light at the end of the tunnel, but he'd have to go it it, not vice versa.

He was on his feet again, squatting beside the corpse. Examining the bloody mess confirmed his earlier actions; the instinct had been to flip the sword around, find somewhere suitably vital, and plunge it in, sending his foe to the other side with the speed and efficiency that he deserved. But he hadn't, because he thought then and knew now that there was no need.

He was shaking. It was a sudden realization, and he wasn't quite sure if he'd just started or if he'd just noticed. He snapped his eyes away from his own personal train wreck with reluctance, and was glad once he did. Still shaking, though. He put a hand on his chest, where every rib was available to feel. That was why he was shaking. How long had it been since he'd eaten? And, for that matter, how long had it been since he'd entered the tunnel again? It seemed he'd spent half his game in that one tunnel - and, thinking of three former classmates bleeding from the head in that single passage, he realized he probably had.

He turned to Will's bag, with its crudely-stenciled B085. Personalized, no doubt, with a profound lack of care. It was all his to pillage now, horrible as it felt to be doing it. He considered the thought for a moment, then considered the body. Then he grabbed a shirt and threw it over the body, where it clung to the tacking blood. That was better.

Medkit, water, flashlight, crackers, all usable. It was a nice relief, actually, to be able to eat something that didn't taste like something you normally poured into your truck. The problem was trying to do so in his present company. He munched a couple crackers. They crackled like human bone. He swallowed. The mash slid down his throat like brain matter.

He stopped eating.

Nick turned to leave, but curiosity and self-preservation demanded that he find the kid's weapon first. Unfortunately, there was nothing dangerous in the bag on his first search-through, something that didn't change the second time. And there was nothing on the ground or in his hands except for a stick and a rock. He had no desire to pat down the dead student, but a couple quick prods with his foot didn't uncover anything hard or heavy. Finally he decided that either someone had stolen Will's weapon, or that he'd tossed it himself.

As he started off, something caught him. He turned and opened his mouth to say something. For a moment, he stood in silence, and then he simply walked away. If he'd learned anything in that tunnel, thinking back to Tom and Phil and Jennifer, it was never to apologize.

((Nick Reid continued in Leaving Me Lonely Still))



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