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I Will Follow You into the Dark; Private. Day 8
Topic Started: Apr 18 2011, 01:06 AM (5,398 Views)
Rattlesnake
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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 Bait and Switch))

The announcements had come and gone once more. Twenty-nine people had been killed. Twenty-freaking-nine. Another record. Probably. Definitely a record, just not 100% on the "another" bit. Nick hadn't really listened to all of them, but he could've sworn that they'd set a record previously. But at any rate, twenty-nine was an enormous amount. The class, it seemed, had lost its collective mind. A couple girls had killed each other, and then a couple of boys. A few got themselves killed in random accidents that forced him to ponder whether there would've been a bodycount on the class trip had they not even been abducted. But what worried him most-

Alex White made his shocking debut by shivving William Hearst and Rena Peters.

Alex white. The second person he'd met, and the first who'd almost killed him. There were times, holding four feet of beautiful high-carbon steel in his hands, that he felt sure he could take on all comers. And then there were times when a more sobering idea took over - he'd just imagine Alex White, or some other slab of meat, doing his best to kill him. What in the world would he do? Size wasn't everything, of course. It sure didn't give you an easy win in a sword fight. But it was also far from trivial, especially in the brutal winner-take-all matches on the island. He recalled pounding away at Maf with the same degree of success he might find in cutting a tree down with a frozen herring. And if you took someone with less fat, more muscle, a personal grudge, and the power of experience...

He needed to get off the island, as soon as possible. There was another way out, one that had a door unbarred by Ivan and Alex and Maxwell - and he knew precisely how to find it. That was what kept him going. Kept his legs pumping step after stupid bloody steep thorn-entangled step.

But of course it would hardly be simple. Also disturbing was the news that Liz had died - or, rather, how she'd died. Gunned down personally by the terrorists running the game. Which meant that if he tried to start something once he'd freed himself of his collar, or maybe even if he didn't, he might find himself outnumbered with well-trained, armed-to-the-teeth adults. He'd need some advice, some support, some comfort. And that was why he was climbing a mountain.

Hut or mountain? He'd made what he hoped to be the right choice. The note said that they'd move on if the groundskeeper's hut proved too dangerous. That was what he was banking on. It was, of course, silly to think of any location as safe in the slightest. But there couldn't not be some murderer lurking there. It was a hut; it was, basically, a space designed for living in. The rest of the island was not. There were, of course, two other areas - the town or whatever and the mansion - that would also offer a roof over one's head, some insulated walls, a bed, maybe even some other comforts of home. But the hut would be easily defendable and somewhat out of the way. The only advantage, albeit a big one, was that he'd know when he was done searching. The mountain was a little trickier: one could even say, provided they had a dry enough sense of humor, that it was as big as a mountain.

He stopped for a rest. He'd reach the top sooner, if he was correct about his location, or later, if he was wrong. And from there - well, he didn't know quite what, honestly, but he'd figure that one out at the proper time. At the moment, however, he was more concerned with getting something in his stomach. He wasn't, come to think of it, entirely sure when he'd last eaten. Really, it just wasn't something he'd been bothered to do much about. What did bother, or at least just annoy, him were the molotovs he'd been carting around. None too light, and every cracker tasted by now like licking a tailpipe. Making rather too big a show for the cameras of pretending his flashlight collection and tangle of wire didn't exist, he-

"This sucks."

-nearly inhaled his cracker. He coughed hard, sputtered, tried out wheezing for a second, suppressed a sudden inclination to go the whole nine yards and just vomit up the whole noxious meal.

"What," he managed to croak. "Really? I'm- Jennifer, that's you?"
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Still reeling mentally from the force of his abrupt discovery, Nick closed quickly in to a nice conversational distance. The usual emotional cocktail - surprise, joy, apprehension, relief- was swirling around his mind, this time with an entirely new ingredient. A sort of feeling that he cuoldn't quite put his finger on. It wasn't quite satisfaction. Definitely not peace. Incredulity, perhaps? That was a good guess. It certainly fit. The only problem was a real lack of anything earth-shatteringly unbelievable. The meeting, granted, was quite the stroke of luck, but that wasn't the first time-

He dropped the thought midway. No, maybe it wasn't just luck. Oh, definitely. No luck involved. None. That was the source of his mind-bending disbelief. He'd left the perimeter of the fair totally lost. Just one vague notion to check off, and that would've been the end of his clues. But then, then came the true genius. He'd found the girls' note. Read it. Extrapolated. Inferred. Guessed - correctly. And not only that, oh, definitely not just that, he'd left that mirror house with a master plan in place. The power to take a third way out, an exit strategy that went beyond screwing the system just to see how many of his classmates' collars he could get blown. Surely Jennifer wouldn't agree, but once the collars had been beaten for the second time, Danya would have no choice. Simply put, he needed Nick. Needed the ingenuity, the cleverness, that raw collar-destroying intellect. Let Nick die, and Danya could get a short-term rating boost. But if he let him live, Danya wouldn't have to worry about subversive activity ever again. Not on Nick's watch.

Another throaty cough pulled him back into the present. He took the proffered water gratefully, wetting down his throat and replying in reverse order.

"Fine," he said. "Just got a bit down the wrong tube." Two thoughts occurred simultaneously, one being that maybe Jennifer wasn't talking about his experiment in respirable rations, and the other being that of course there was no technically wrong pipe, because the power of speech came with a larynx situated in a manner that made choking not only possible but rather facile in some situations. The second thought was unnecessary in the extreme, but before he could fully harangue himself, another flashing idea made him decide to spare the mental rod. That overpowering flow of thought was in fact exactly like his vulnerable larynx, a side-effect of something that allowed him to be so much greater than he was. Something that made him a Survivor. The Fittest.

He took another swig. The water didn't taste like something you'd pour into a fuel tank, which was a refreshing change. Capping the bottle, he cleared his throat and began a response in earnest.

"Hard time? Oh. No. Heck, if you don't count that guy behind the truck, that's only one attempt on my life," he said, still gripping the bottle aimlessly in one hand. "Oh. Oh, no, wait, two. I guess h- um, she counts too. Crossbow," he blurted after a second's pause. "Pulled off some diplomacy, I guess. I mean, I didn't get shot, obviously, so I did something right. Normal day, basically. Not too busy. You guys?"

He waited for their response, mind drifting quickly astray. Was one of them going to mention the announcement? They'd heard it, right? How he'd just gone ahead and slaughtered some other kid? How could they just smile and wave and ask how his day was? They knew what had happened. And it hadn't been long since they'd split, either. Jennifer had spent a good bit of time with him, and he'd acted civilized with her, more or less. And the same arms he'd squeezed her to his chest with - Marty was dead because of them. He saw no reason to think he'd undergone some radical change. So they had to know they were hanging out with a top-tier danger now, that they had been. Was there not a fear for their own life there? Were they glad to see him at all, or just pretending out of fear or obligation of some sort?

Nick felt an uncomfortable twinge in his gut with the depth of his second-guessing. He snapping back to attention, listening but also watching. Watching for the glint of camera lenses. Looking for a spot that they didn't quite cover, at least not very well. He could talk for days, really. And he probably would, if he let himself. But if he focused, they'd have all the time in the world in just a few minutes.
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
So. Walking, talking, announcements, sleep, hunger. Nothing new. Nothing surprising. Typical island watercooler (waterbottle?) talk.

Announcements.

The topic hung in the air heavy as the stench of rotting flesh. He was thinking about it. Jennifer was thinking about it. Melissa was thinking about it. He knew they were thinking about it, and they knew he was thinking about it, and everyone knew that everyone else knew that they were thinking about it. And it was so nice to pretend that there had been no announcement, that Marty was still alive, that he hadn't betrayed their trust in the most spectacular fashion possible.

And it was so hard not to play along.

"Oh," he said, seizing a second's pause. "Yeah, I haven't really - well, just now, obviously, but I guess I haven't really been all that hungry. At all, really."

Light conversation. Skirting around the dead elephant in the room, just having a little chit-chat about how he was wasting away before their eyes. How he wasn't even skipping meals, but he didn't even feel like eating. Maybe, he thought, it worked kind of like hypothermia. He'd just watch his body grow thinner and thinner and weaker and weaker until he'd just crash and never wake up. Never feel a thing. There was something attractive about the idea, and that something wasn't much of a mystery. The problem, of course, and didn't there always have to be a problem, was that it would probably take a couple of weeks. He didn't have that kind of time.

He let the words stand for a couple of dangerous seconds, dangerous for the possibility that the silence would collapse itself into a singularity of pure awkward and suck the whole Earth into its maw. But it was better than-

"...Ok, we're not kidding anyone here. I'm fine with talking about the announcement. I just-" He swallowed, forced himself back into composure. "Let me rewrap this thing, I'll still pay attention."

He waved his free hand lazily, then turned to his bag. There was a camera just to his left, and presumably a shaky coverage spot exactly underneath it. Lifting the bag and taking a few paces, he waved the water bottle in search of a good place to set it down. Finally tossing it lightly to his side, he reached into his bag and popped open his medkit.

He'd make it all worth it.
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Three pairs out, looks like six left. Eighteen batteries, that's two stacks of five and two of four. Just go with 16 and make it even?

He wasn't, of course, rewrapping his arm.

Three dissected flashlights lay in front of him, with another six waiting to be gutted. The confines and limited visibility of the bag worked to impede his progress, but at least he was safe - for the moment. Long-fingered hands moved like a pair of dancing spiders, grabbing, twisting, sorting, spurred on by a rising feeling of hope that clashed with creeping paranoia. He was directly underneath a camera. And he had some pretext, some concealment, the advantage of surprise. Maybe they couldn't see what he was doing. Maybe they wouldn't blow his collar even if they could. It was all chance. Something that had kept him alive so far.

He hated chance.

And, of course, they wanted to talk. Or at least Melissa did. Jennifer wanted - what, really did she want? Fine with her if he didn't go all the way with the issue, let it fester in the air between them. Fine with her if he bowed out, pretended like nothing was the matter, postponed the moment of judgment. She, again, just wanted to lift the burden, try to make his life a little more bearable. But it hurt enough already, and there was nothing they could do to make it hurt any less. What could he have done? He could've run away, taken the note and gone off in the opposite direction. They wouldn't have to hurt each other any more, but uncertainty and loss would make it unavoidable in the end. But meeting up, trying to comfort each other... the deeper the bond they formed, the more they supported each other, the deeper it would hurt when that bond was forcibly, inevitably shattered. It would break them along with itself.

"No," he said. "No, it's fine. That's just - it's like putting a band-aid over a gunshot or something. It doesn't really help at all. You can just pretend like it does and, um, you're still bleeding and crap. Or something."

"But really, it's well, not really simple. I just don't want to sound like, some horrible whatever, but it's gonna happen anyways." He turned away from his work momentarily. Fragmented explanations rolled through his mind, all potentially damning.

He turned away and kept his back to them, concentrating on keeping his face straight for absolutely nobody in the world. "I'll just be flat-out plain here. I happened upon a girl. Anna Chase or Anna or Chase or whatever you guys call her. So she was a little freaked out I wonder why, and then the guy - Marty just bumrushed, totally went nuts at me, with this."

He pulled out the Jutte, turning just long enough to check for comprehension on their faces. The next part would be important. Looking at the little dagger in his hands, seeing it coming at him in Marty's hand, spinning, reaching, hammering the point home with awesome, perfect, impeccable aim...

"...and then, well you know, or maybe you don't, I know I've talked about it, but I do heavy fighting. SCA. Some other stuff too. Well, I did, I don't think now I could ever -" He cleared his throat, trying to flush the lump away. "That doesn't really matter, it's just, I don't think he even felt himself hit the ground."

He took a couple deep breaths. Tried to calm himself as he peeled the insulation down from the ends of the wire-

Oh please no.

He froze completely. Even his breath caught on its way out. Four stacks of four batteries each lay wrapped in medical tape in front of him. Alternating positive and negative, so if he peeled the wire back and laid it down in a winding pattern, he could hit all of the terminals. And that wouldn't work. He needed - he counted quickly - one, two, three connections besides the main wire to get the correct current pathways.
Improvise, improvise...

Another second of deer-in-the-headlights shock, and then his hands and his mouth moved at the same time. "But it was just so fast, he attacked and I reacted and one of us was going to die and I know this probably sounds so bad but I know he didn't suffer and can - could you really wish for more on this island?" His face flushed, sweat moistening the grime on his temples, hands wrenching away in a frenzy, trying to twist a little medkit-issue pair of scissors apart. He was on shaky ground. Maybe past the point of no return. But really, was it so bad? He'd died so quickly, so peacefully...

He broke one of the stacks in half, strapping one onto the end of two of the three remaining stacks. The last two batteries he fished for, wrapping them quickly and completing the third stack. Three stacks of six. Eighteen batteries. Twenty-seven volts. Who knows how many amps. Checking the line with his finger - positive, negative, flip, positive, negative - he strapped down the broken scissors, one on top and one on the bottom. Heartbeat rising with anticipation, he taped down one end to the free negative terminal, and then, scarcely daring to believe it, stretched a piece of tape across the bare wire, moving it to touch the positive end...

Sparks popped. Metal melted.

"Look. I'm the same Nick Reid that stepped onto that bus a week ago. And this is really freaking important, because Nick doesn't try things, he does things. And if you wanna see that in action, you better get over here."

"Right now."
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Nick was shaking, trembling with excitement and anticipation. This was it. The big one. It wasn't just a birdsnest of tape and wire and batteries sitting in his bag. It was his redemption, a ticket home. Vindication. A blend of simplicity and sophistication, an answer so beautiful it had to be right. Applied physics at its best. The ratty spirals of tape, the broken scissor contacts, the lumpy coils of wire, conspiring together to create the most awe-inspiring electromagnet he had ever seen.

If he was right, it would destroy their collars with no kickback, simply vaporize the microcircuitry and destroy their explosive potential. And if he was wrong? He wasn't. Simple as that. He'd run it through so many times over in his mind, tracing pathways, visualizing field lines and fine wires until he could almost feel the Lorentz force shoving his fist away.

But there was no time for admiration. He had a window - twenty seconds? Fifteen? Heaven forbid, five? - in which to act, a narrow timeframe to destroy their collars before Danya could do it for him. Jennifer and Melissa were there, standing to either side of him. Even without seeing them he could feel them. The warmth, the energy, the vitality, the sound of them breathing in and out, scarcely rising above his own heartbeat.

Words spilled from his mouth in a frantic rush, piling upon each other in their haste to fly off his tongue. He opened the bag wide. Showed them - and the cameras, if they had an angle - his jury-rigged device.

"Look, they've probably caught on already, I've got like ten seconds tops. Electromagnet, pop your collar off, no boom. 95% sure. You in or out? Two seconds!"

They were all clear.

With his left hand he grasped the coil, searing and smoking with an energy he couldn't quantify past "ridiculous." He reached out towards Melissa. She was first, most awkward to reach. Positively shivering with excitement now, he felt the magnetic field sink its claws around her collar, felt the metal pushing back with invisible force, waved the coil once...

twice...

...

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

There had been happiness kindling in his heart, real tangible joy at having beaten the system, saving his friends, outsmarting the terrorists. Shown his worth. He made one swipe, two, three, his heart rising with the confirmation of that which he scarcely dared to hope and yet couldn't help but believe. It was going to work, they were going to be free, they could go home. Saved by his own brilliance-

It was like stepping inside a lightning bolt. It was so blazingly fast, deafeningly loud, shockingly visceral. Not just a little boom and a gout of flame. The shockwave pounded his eardrums into his brain, slammed his hand into a mousetrap, kicked him full force in the sternum. Launched a fireball that seared and blinded and plastered atomized gore over his sweaty face.

An eruption so powerful it left his mind totally blank.

Seconds slipped by while nobody was looking. Jennifer screamed. Thoughts poured back into his mind.

what

He could register only the barest sense of shock.

no

The feeblest protests against harsh, unbreaking reality.

No. No, no, no. Please. Please be a dream. Please don't be real. Don't be real. Please, no.

Everything he'd ever known could be a fake. Let reality unwind itself for all he cared, let everything he'd ever known be just a counterfeit of a dream, let the universe boil away into nothing just as long as it meant those last five seconds never happened.

Reality stood its ground.

There were times when he'd been speechless, where he'd even experienced a momentary stupor of thought. But this... He could only stand rooted to the spot as wave after wave of emptiness tested the bulwarks of his mind. The plan had been a risk. He'd known that full well. But the risk wasn't - it wasn't supposed to turn out that way. It was supposed to be daring. Empowering. Fun, even. He'd put the collar together in his mind. Circuits, sensors, detonators, capacitors, wires, batteries, explosive. Just a puzzle for him to solve. Extra credit. Basic principles - and bookkeeping.

And there he was. Nick Reid, the most spectacular failure in four bloody years of Survival of the Fittest. Steeped in the blood of his would-be ally, unable to offer the slightest comfort in return to the girl who'd given him so much. He'd be dead without her, most likely. She was crying. just crying, looking as terrible as he felt as he hammered impassiveness into his face so hard it seemed on the verge of breaking. He just wanted to bury his face in his shoulder, let her rest her head on his, squeeze her against himself and invite the world to go screw itself.

But that couldn't happen. Not now, not in the future, not ever. He wasn't a hero or a victim or an innocent bystander or anyone else that deserved her comfort or even to touch her. He'd been right the first time they parted. He had no business sullying her with his presence. And yet, running away would be the worst thing he could do. She'd be alone then, nobody to support or protect her, maybe even wracked with guilt about how she hadn't managed to save everyone, make everything all better. How she hadn't done the impossible and made everyone happy again.

He'd have to stay with her, at least until she found her balance again. And then? He had no idea what. The only thing he could do then would be to leave her with some food and water and his wishes, a hope for her death to be a quick one. Just like Melissa. For a moment, his careful facade slipped.

He should have died instead of her.

He became aware of a crashing sound not far away. They've found me, came the first ridiculous thought. He didn't know who "they" would be; his list of people willing to kill him contained, to his knowledge, every person on the island. There were, of course, a few standouts. Maxwell, Maf, Alex, probably another handful he'd forgotten. People he'd come to blows with and failed to kill or get killed by. Ivan. Tabi, maybe. One of Anna's friends, or Marty's, or Will's, or David's and so on. Heck, he even thought he recalled hearing something about a bear...

He wasn't too far off. Maf, from the tunnels. A kid who had to have a constitution score of 20. He'd been searching for Jennifer too, watched him kill a man, took Nick's pummeling fists and knees like they were nothing. And in his hands - Gun.

The object planted itself firmly, immediately into his mind. He'd seen so many guns in the past week, and all from the same freaking direction. The weapon held no fear for him now. He wasn't going to get shot. It hadn't happened the first dozen times, and it wasn't going to happen now. He wasn't going to stand like a deer in the headlights, watching chance dictate the remaining span of his days. He was going to do something about it. And that something didn't involve negotiation.

"No. Just, no. Leave. Put the gun away."

Neither boy moved.

"Okay, then," he said, laying one hand on the hilt of the sword thrust through his belt loop. "You've got five seconds to put that thing down and God help you if you think I'm joking."

...

...two...

...one...


Deep breath. Swallow. Hand on the hilt. Crouch. Coil.

Charge.
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Nick sprinted over uneven ground, jumping in a harsh zigzag to frustrate Maf's aim. Whether that artifice was what kept him safe or whether it was simply Maf's own stupid unwillingness to pull the trigger on a sextuple-murderer, he wasn't sure. But there was one thing he did know: if you hesitated in SotF, you were as good as dead.

He bent his knees, gripped his weapon, powered up and forward, drove the hilt of the weapon into Maf's gut and his own shoulder into the boy's chest. The effect was nothing short of miraculous. Maf slipped, lost his footing, fell backwards. It surprised even Nick, who scrambled to keep his own footing. He'd bowled the kid over. Right onto the ground. Absolutely vulnerable.

No hesitation.

Righting himself completely, he whipped the sword free of the belt loop, placed his right hand on the blade, took one step forward and plunged it-

Right into the ground. He fell forward after it, hitting the earth with a mixture of confusion and frustration. Maf had managed to strike back, take him down in return. That wouldn't do. He hopped back to his feet just after Maf, heaving himself off the ground with his sword. He swung the swordpoint out of the ground in a wide arc, feinting high before coming in low, moving with deadly speed and power, driving home to shatter Maf's kneecap. Or at least that was the plan. In reality his swing was arrested midway by one meaty hand closing around his wrist, followed shortly by one around the blade.

He jockeyed for position, tried to aim the tip at his opponent, but there was an almighty jerk and blade and handle ripped free from his hands. The ferocity of it was shocking, frightening even. Nick's formidable grip broke almost instantly, his lifeline of a weapon wrenched free with a force that brought tears to his eye.

And that wasn't the worst of it. Maf was gloating. Insulting him, seeing how deep he could cut his his words. Adding insult to injury in the most literal way. He probably thought he'd won, thought he'd saved Jennifer, thought he'd brought a quick end to a gleeful murdering spree. Nick clenched his teeth, seething with resentment, roiling with waves of hot anger. He'd would show him. He'd show him just how wrong he was.

"Why should I explain myself to a dead man?"

He slipped the jutte from his back pocket and drove forward. His breath was coming harder now, his arms and legs alight with the warning of fatigue. He had to finish this, fast. Before he wore out completely, before he lost the element of surprise, before Maf used his superior range to run him through.

He pressed forward like a man possessed, scanning the battlefield, determined to take seize any edge he could find to overwhelm Maf's defenses. He snatched at the sword with one hand, nudged the tip aside and jumped in to strike, looked for something that would take him inside Maf's defenses, where he could end it all with a stab between the ribs.

He found the something.

Melissa's sword. It was just lying there, abandoned, shining in the sun. He could win with it. Quickly. He just needed to fight his way over, grab that beautiful shining blade. There was no doubt, absolutely no doubt in his mind that once he seized Melissa's weapon, engaged Maf in a real, honest-to-goodness swordfight, he'd find himself the victor the space of a breath. He could see himself already, making great flashing arcs of blood and steel, carving through flesh and bone, cutting Maf down like a tree.

He tested the tip of Maf's sword with the jutte. He just needed to get over there...
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Nick rushed forward, jabbed, darted back out again. He'd done this sort of thing a hundred times before. Taking on a swordsman with just his little backup surprise. Coming out on top more often than not with the less experienced fighters. It hadn't been real back then, though. Back in St. Paul. Back in the old life. This wasn't a bridge battle, or a zombie match, or a bearpit. This time he was playing for keeps.

He tested the tip of Maf's sword - no, his sword, darnit, his sword that Maf was temporarily borrowing. The sword he'd won with his bare hands. He tested the tip, at any rate, with the weapon in his own hand. He needed to think. Look for openings. Imagine himself back at the park, battling a spearman. You had to get inside, avoid the point, throw the weapon wide and rush in. Do it right, and there was nothing they could do.

He pushed at the sword, swatted like a cat, tried baiting thrusts with his own body. Several times he closed in for the kill, and several times the opening proved too fleeting, his style too conservative, and he was forced back out of the killzone.

A word flitted through his mind like the memory of a fading dream. Stop. He shrugged it off. Stop? It was pointless, counterproductive. Why had he thought the word stop? It was clear, so abundantly clear that someone was going to die. Either he'd out-think and out-fight Maf, or - screw the second option. He'd out-think and out-fight Maf no matter what. He wondered where that though had come from, anyways. There wasn't anyone else there to say it. Just him and Maf and the jutte and the estoc, locked in their deadly dance until one of them was gone.

Stangely, Maf's eyes flicked away, as if he'd heard it too. That was his chance. Darting in, uninhibited, instinct and experience screaming out against the waste of a single precious second, he engaged the estoc, threw it wide, rammed the jutte forward.

Contact.

It slipped in with that feeling that was like nothing else on earth. That shhhk sound, the resistance of human flesh, the insane knowledge that you were stabbing a human being, trying to kill someone and not doing a bad job of it. It was horrible, insane, bone-chilling, nightmare-inducing. And so fulfilling. It meant you were doing something about your situation, doing something about the competition, coming another step closer to home. And it resonated deeper still, darker still. It meant, through sheer revulsion, that you were still capable of human feeling.

Feeling.

It meant so much.

They didn't know what it was like not to feel. What it felt like to stumble through school and home in a daze, wearing that grim little face that wasn't a face, just pure unadulterated impassiveness. Carelessness. Apathy. There was an idea, it seemed, that emotion bred only weakness. The unshakable, unfeeling assassin. The endlessly logical Vulcan, genius unimpeded by feelings. They didn't exist. Stoicism wasn't a show of strength. It was a denial of all that it meant to be human, a thinking, feeling, imagining, creature with a brain that ran off of emotion. There was nothing to fall back on without the ability to feel. No hidden reserve of knowledge or strength. Just an endless waste, an expanse of nothingness that would rub one's mind raw and prolong every miserable second of it. It was instinct that made him ditch the drugs that stabilized his emotions into a flatline, all the way back on the first day. And then he'd carried on, half-denying the flood of adrenaline and endorphins and all those other chemicals that made his brain tick, half-terrified at the prospect of having to wrench it all out with a price paid in blood.

He pulled the weapon back, brain sparking like a loose power line. There was something else he knew. Jumping back, darting out of the way, moving just a little slower than he could have.

Pain exploded across his face, a searing agony more intense than anything he'd felt in his life. It almost obliterated his senses, sending him crashing to his knees, blacking his vision for a fraction of a second.

But when it flickered back, not all of it returned.

Blood. He was covered in it. Spattering, spraying, gushing, oozing, crusting over, flaking off, tacking skin together as it dried. He'd seen it all, felt it all, smelt it all. There was no shortage of it. Maf's blood trickled onto his hand from the bloody jutte. Melissa's blood daubed his shoes a muddy, dirt-caked rust. And his own blood oozed through his fingers, soaking his free hand clamped tightly over what was no longer an eye.

"I'LL KILL YOU!"

The exclamation tore from his mouth almost of its own volition. He had to do it. There was no other possibility now. He could see clearly now his future. And it all depended on pressing the attack, keeping the offensive, never for a second letting up.

Breathing heavily, drenched with sweat and blood, he hurled himself again at Maf.

"I'LL KILL YOU!"
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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Rattlesnake
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Now you may be wondering, who was wearing the bolo tie? Me or the shark? Answer: YES!
[ *  *  *  *  *  * ]
((Come, sweet death))

I'll kill you I'll kill you I'll kill you I'll kill you I'll kill you

He ran. The ground pounded beneath him. His heart pounded inside him. The world spun around him.

Just him and Maf, alone in the world. A world of blood and pain and blood and death and blood. Thick, pungent, salty blood staining his teeth and reddening his tongue. Endless, gushing, slippery blood running between his fingers, down the back of his hand, along his arm. Crunchy, rusted blood on every flat and fold of his body. And above it all, more persistent than the dribbling warmth, more pervasive than the smell of iron,

Pain.

It was what drew the world close around him, obliterating everything but him and Maf, bound their fates so that only one could ever walk away. A maddening, frenzied pain that would have a man splitting his fingernails against his opponent's bones before the end, just to spite him. They'd die together, a thousand stab wounds apiece, cut and jabbed and bled to death.

But he could end it right there.

He was flying through space, rushing forwards ever faster, flushed with purpose. Driving his starved, reedy body towards the massive boy with the massive sword. Maf was moving, too. Nick watched the estoc whirling in an arc, glimmering and bloody, beautiful and deadly. The motion wasn't practiced, the aim not precise. A telegraphed swing. So simple to dodge. It would be the work of an instant, just a tiny sidestep and the point would skim his billowing jacket instead of ramming through his side. Half a dozen instinctive movements flashed into possibility. One of them fired.

He moved.

The point missed his side.

It hit him dead-center instead.

He surged forward, feeling his body splitting around the cold steel as it passed deeper into his gut, watching his blood run in gushing rivulets down the blade, over Maf's hands. He threw a wild stab, but his target was retreating, moving back, drawing the sword out and leaving a gaping hole behind. Nick took a faltering step, dropping onto one knee.

It's over.

"Heh."

No more.

"Hah. Ha, hah."

I'm done.

He laughed. His throat seized, his stomach tore, his entire body shook like a leaf, but he laughed. He vomited up each syllable, bubbles of blood and spit and bile popping over his lips, splashing his cheeks with tendrils of sticky ooze. But he laughed nonetheless. He wanted to grin. He wanted to cry. He wanted to live. He wanted to die. He wanted to touch off every emotion he'd ever locked away, feel them surging through his body as they shot off like fireworks. There was so much to do, and so blessedly little time to do it all in. So he laughed.

Over. The word hammered itself into his mind. It was all over. Everything.

He was going to die.

He rose unsteadily to his feet, pressed the attack for the hell of it. Grabbing, parrying, creating openings he was too slow and weak to take advantage of. It was his last fight ever. He was bleeding out. Exsanguination, that was the fancy word for it. Not that it mattered. Not that anything mattered now. There was nothing on earth that anyone could do to him now. No one could save him. No one could damn him. There was only pain and bleeding and dying to do. He was never going home again - except that this was his home now. His new home for his new life, where all that he'd become lay rotting in the caves and on the grass.

He staggered forward, still laughing, still floating on a cloud of pain and adrenaline. There was an opening there, an opening no one but him would ever take. An opening that wasn't really an opening.

Starting as fast as his quaking legs would move him, he moved forward. One hand swinging the dagger toward Maf's gut, the other stretched out to intercept the tip of the sword.

The bloody point slid into his outstretched palm.

It didn't stop there.

He stood silently for one second, looking at his ruined palm, tracing the blade where it protruded just past his elbow. He stood for just one second before Maf released his grip. The sword fell. He collapsed. The crossguard hit the ground, wrenched his bones apart, pushed every pain receptor to its white-hot screaming limit and beyond, blocked out all his other senses with the explosion of agony.

Pain wracked his body, pain so intense he wondered that he hadn't died of it already. He was lying on his back, staring with one eye at the brilliant sun overhead. It wasn't a bad last thing to stare at. The progenitor of life on Earth, the silent witness as four billion years of evolution ticked off another failed attempt. Everything else was growing dim, fading away, swirling into blackness.

But he didn't mind.

His ruined arm was just a little split, a burst seam on an empty shell of a body housing an empty shell of a life. A life that was finally, mercifully, over. There would be no more coasting through existence in a haze of antidepressants and sleep deprivation. No more expectant silences by doctors and psychologists. No more quiet sobs drifting under his door while his parents thought he was asleep. No more wondering if there would ever be a light at the end of the tunnel, no more gazing at a bottle of sleeping pills and pondering for just a second how nice it would be to take them all at once. No more wondering if his endless thoughts would ever leave him at peace. The stage of his mind would be finally, mercifully, blank. The last curtain call. The end of thought. Oblivion.

He couldn't laugh. He couldn't breathe. His mind was spinning away, shutting down, dissolving into nothingness.

For the first time in a long, long time,


He smiled.

B055 Nick Reid: Deceased
93 Students Remaining
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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