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Devil's Choir; Morning, Day 3
Topic Started: Nov 2 2016, 06:12 PM (1,858 Views)
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((Min-jae Parker continued from Into the Veil))

The pew wasn't the most comfortable place Jae had ever tried to sleep, but it wasn't the worst. He lay on his back with his head pillowed on his bag and the crossbow resting across his stomach, dozing in and out. He kept his good hand on it, near enough to the trigger just in case. He was banking on the back of the pew shielding him from the view of anybody entering for long enough for him to get a handle on whether or not they were trouble. He never quite managed proper sleep, waiting for the crackle of the speakers to tell him whether or not he'd need to get the hell out of dodge on short notice.

He didn't, as it turned out. That was the good news. The better news was that everyone he knew and cared about had made it through another night.

He already knew the bad news. Hearing his own name wasn't as much of a sucker punch as he'd thought it might be, and Danya's insincere congratulations to him weren't enough to get more than a raised middle finger in response.

The worse news: he couldn't return to the vehicle depot, and Hazel and Jordan couldn't stay there, assuming they hadn't already made themselves scarce upon discovering him gone. Jae wondered for a bit how they'd reacted to that and to how the announcement had described him. Brutality. Putting his heart into his work.

Jae had never tried to create anything without putting his heart into it in some form. Dedication, emotion.

Hurting people wasn't art. Death wasn't poetic or beautiful, or any kind of bullshit like that. Anyone who tried to claim beauty in human suffering was either trying to cope or just fucked in the head. He hadn't been trying to accomplish anything other than mindless violence.

The senselessness of it, the fact that he had no excuse, was the bitterest pill to swallow. Maybe the crazies were onto something with claiming to have a method to their madness.

The light shining through the chapel's stained glass window created an image of a rising sun that moved across the ceiling and pews as the real sun outside climbed into the sky. Jae stared at the colored patches of light until they blurred into abstract shapes and he drifted into a doze again. He muttered in his sleep, and his fingers twitched on the handle of the crossbow.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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The groan of the chapel doors pulled Jae from his doze. The ceiling came into focus again and he furrowed his brow in momentary confusion before his brain caught up with his consciousness and he drew in a sharp breath, grip tightening on the crossbow.

There were approaching footsteps - just one person, from the sound of it. No voice calling out. Sneaking, or just careless? Or Kimiko, whose name he'd heard twice now, who had won a prize the previous day. Any or all of those could be a bad thing for him.

Jae rose just far enough to steal a look over the back of the pew.

Brendan. He'd heard Brendan's name too, not long ago at all.

And wasn't that a hell of a thing? Brendan Harte, spineless, tail-between-his-legs Brendan, had gone and stabbed someone in the back. The kicker was, he still looked as pathetic as ever, slinking in here with his makeshift spear, looking like the building itself might snap at him. He was so familiar, so normal, it was almost amusing.

Nothing was normal here, though.

Jae sat up fully, bringing the crossbow up to rest on the back of the pew with a dull thunk, aimed in Brendan's direction. "Don't move."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Fuck.

He'd had the situation in hand. Brendan didn't look dangerous, but Jae had made that mistake before. He was keeping Brendan at a distance. He started going over his mental checklist and everything was in order: nineteen bolts for the crossbow, the one already loaded in and the eighteen he'd pilfered from Samuel's bag. Decent cover, and Brendan lacked a range weapon unless he decided to try his hand at javelin throwing with that broomstick. Jae was in control here.

And then Asha stumbled in, raised hands and nervous smile aimed right at Jae. It was hard to tell from where he was seated, but he thought her eyes looked red and puffy, like she'd been crying. Just because he hadn't lost anyone yet didn't mean that other people he cared about hadn't.

Dorothy appeared just a moment later, all but using Asha as a human shield. Jae didn't know Dorothy so much as know about her, but Brendan apparently did. The four of them formed an odd overlapping shape; Jae versus Brendan, Jae and Asha, Dorothy and Asha, Dorothy and Brendan. He could nearly see the crisscrossing lines in his head pulling them all together, like points on a map connected with string.

Jae's eyes darted from Brendan to the girls and back again. Brendan didn't look dangerous. He looked like he always had, so pathetically normal that it looped back around to being surreal here. No thousand-yard stare like Alvaro had just before he snapped.

But Brendan was closer to Asha, almost close enough to reach with the makeshift spear, and neither she nor Dorothy were armed that Jae could see.

He couldn't afford to make the same mistake twice. Not when it was more than just his own life on the line.

"Brendan," he said slowly, "back away from them. Keep your hands where I can see them." His fingers twitched, but he didn't let them rest on the trigger just yet. If Brendan so much as looked at Asha the wrong way, though... well, that nice little prize that had been left for him at the radio tower just might go uncollected.

He glanced back at Asha, trying to split his focus between her and Brendan. He was glad to see her, nerves and sad face and all. Out of everyone he knew and liked, Asha was probably the best person to run into after the announcement that had just played. He didn't know how Hazel would react to him anymore, Henry would probably keep trying to pretend everything was okay even though it obviously wasn't, and Nadia would probably judge him, rightfully or not.

None of them knew what he had been through. They hadn't been there, in the dark.

"You're fine," Jae said to Asha. "I'm not going to hurt you."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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This wasn't progressing the way Jae had expected it to.

What else was new, right? Ever since he woke up, he'd been reflecting on how the normal, proper way of things was essentially fucked up the ass. He'd paid the price for it and had tried to adjust accordingly. Then, just when he thought he'd started to get a handle on how things worked here, they got turned on their head once again.

Jae had come to expect violence and wrongness. Alvaro was insane and violent, things between him and Hazel might be irreparably damaged, and Jae himself had crossed a line so dire that most people tended to agree that you couldn't ever recover from it and be the same person you were before. Almost everyone was a potential enemy. Fuck - if Brendan of all people had found it in himself to kill, who could assume anything about the rest of their classmates?

But here they were. As Jae was trying to convince himself that he could shoot Brendan if he needed to, that it would be justified, Asha started in with the peacemaking. She'd never doubted him, even after hearing his name on the announcement and finding him here like this. She hadn't given in. Asha was the same as always, off-kilter since of humor and happy nihilist shtick intact. He couldn't be as sure about Dorothy, but he could reasonably assume she hadn't made any attempt to fuck Asha over in the time they'd been together.

And Brendan - Jae could hardly even look at him without feeling that familiar disdain settle over him. Spineless Brendan, always looking at him like he'd done something horribly wrong because Jae refused to walk on eggshells around him, stammering and cringing and making excuses about taking a life just the same way he had when he'd messed up Jae's painting in the art room. It was like he hadn't changed at all. He wasn't crazy. He never had been.

And if Brendan wasn't, and Jae wasn't, maybe none of them were.

Dissonance was the word for it. Three days of the fear, of feeling control slipping through his fingers and being unable to do anything about it, and now this. After everything else, it was the idea that maybe none of them had changed that much after all that set him off-balance again.

Brendan dropped his weapon.

Jae watched him move towards Dorothy and took in a deep, shaking breath.



He lowered the crossbow into his lap.

He didn't feel calm. The world, as always, refused to align itself the way he thought it should and it agitated him. The tension had seeped out of the encounter somewhat though, with Brendan now unarmed and Asha making herself comfortable on a pew not far from Jae. He still didn't know what the fuck was really going on or what it all meant, but it all seemed less likely to end in another murder at this point.

That left him with the disdain. Everyone kept poking at the idea that Brendan had won the weapon for the day, which was almost laughable in itself when you stopped to think about it. A double slap in the face, both to Brendan and to anyone out there who was actually gunning for the prize. If they knew Brendan and what he was like, if they could see him now... Jae snorted a bit in spite of himself.

"So, Brendan. How's it feel to be a winner for once in your life?" And it came easily. Just like they were back at school. Like they were all the same people they'd always been.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Jae's expression shifted somewhat over the course of Brendan and Dorothy's awkward almost-reunion, but it was all some variation of frowning. Mildly interested, a bit more than mildly annoyed, vaguely disbelieving, in that order.

He tensed again when Brendan retrieved the broomstick, but the next words out of Brendan's mouth just brought the annoyance back rather than anything else. "What, you think we're just going to sit here all day?" He asked, but Brendan was already out the door. "Right, sure, because you're the only one around here who has people to see," he continued at the empty space where Brendan had been.

The thought occurred to Jae, fleetingly, that he could have raised the crossbow again and put a bolt right between Brendan's shoulder blades as he hurried off.

He huffed out a sigh, a short, sharp note of disgust. "Whatever."

There was something to be said for normalcy, but Brendan had always been worse than useless. Brendan with a gun, jumpy, uncertain, with only the faintest idea of what he was going to do? Yeah, fuck that. There was no way that was coming to anything other than disaster. Brendan could dig his own grave if he wanted to, but he wasn't taking Jae down with him.

Jae felt an irrational twinge of resentment; he'd been here first, but now he he had the urge to leave just because Brendan had to go and show his face.The problem was, he didn't actually feel like running off anywhere even if he'd been physically capable of running. He had no idea where to look for Hazel, he was tired, and he wasn't keen on leaving Asha behind. He had half a mind to try barricading the door against any other unwanted company and going back to sleep.

How long had it taken him to get from the garage to the asylum the night before? He'd had no way to tell time besides the position of the moon when he could see it and his own increasing exhaustion.

"The radio tower's on the other side of the island," he informed Asha and Dorothy. "I was there yesterday. There's no way he's getting there and back before nighttime, even if he doesn't make a detour to look for whoever the fuck." Or get himself killed, was the unspoken addendum.

Jae sighed again, quieter, and let himself flop bonelessly backwards to rest his head on his bag again, uncaring if he was squishing any of the food inside. The colored pattern of the stained glass window had crept across the ceiling to the opposite wall in the time since he'd last looked at it.

"I'm going to rest here for a while, but I'm not waiting for him to get back," he said aloud, a sulky note to his voice.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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For fuck's sake, couldn't they have a moment of peace?

Jae wanted to relax. He wanted a cigarette. He wanted to go to sleep for a few hours, proper sleep, not passing out because he'd pushed his body past its limits. He wanted to get Asha alone so he could talk to her, because if he wasn't able to get everything off his chest to someone who would actually listen at some point he was going to explode.

But no. Of course it couldn't be that easy. Dorothy was getting all misty-eyed because Brendan had rejected her, though Jae could still kind of ignore it since the tears hadn't started flowing yet. Asha was trying to keep things moving forward, bless her, but Jae didn't even have time to respond before the latest unwelcome visitor made themselves known.

He didn't even have to sit up fully again to get enough of a glimpse of Whoever The Fuck Number 3 to decide that he absolutely was not welcome to stay, no matter what Dorothy said. Jae had a good eye for detail, and it was obvious even from a distance that Mr. Prospector hadn't been using that pickaxe to dig for any gold.

Aside from that, he legitimately had no clue who this kid was. Unknown factors were bad, as had been demonstrated to him again and again here. Maybe not all the killers were crazy. Maybe most of them weren't, even. But some - Alvaro, Nancy, Isabel - some seemed overwhelmingly likely to be.

"Whose blood is that?" He called across the church in lieu of adding another superficial greeting to the pile. He shifted his grip on the crossbow, keeping it out of sight but ready to be raised at a moment's notice. Dorothy was closer to their visitor than she should have been, again, but she wasn't blocking him. Jae had a clear shot if he needed it. He just had to actually follow through.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Shit shit shit

Asha don't do that what are you thinking

shit shit fuck shit

She was in the way now. Asha was blocking the goddamned shot. There was a tension that was quickly approaching panic climbing in Jae's veins now, on edge from the lack of sleep and the memories of Alvaro, of Sam, of how quickly everything could go wrong. He wouldn't put it completely past Asha to know that she was in his way, maybe trying to prevent him from getting an itchy trigger finger. Nice in theory, but it would mean fuck all if it ended with her taking a pickaxe to the face.

He didn't know what to make of Dorothy's outburst; he couldn't recall ever seeing something like that from her in the few interactions they'd ever had. All Jae cared about was that it didn't serve as motivation for their dodgy visitor to go to town on her. He'd just been in a fight of some kind, that much was obvious. He knew who he'd been fighting with, given that he'd said he didn't want to talk about it rather than that he didn't know. He hadn't been running and didn't look panicked. There were conclusions Jae could draw from that, and none of them spelled out anything good. Asha and Dorothy were surely capable of figuring it out for themselves, but they seemed content to just stand around and shoot the shit with the potential pickaxe murderer, Dorothy's sudden cursing notwithstanding.

Jae was going to drive himself fucking crazy if he kept sitting here trying to work out a plan of action when potential disaster could unfold in front of him at any moment.

He took a deep breath and pushed himself up off of the pew, biting back a grunt as his muscles and injuries protested the movement. In the brighter light of day now, the full extent of his injuries made themselves clearly visible, splinted leg and all. There were shadows under his eyes and the bruising on his face from where Samuel had hit him spread out from underneath the bandages he'd replaced over the gash across his cheek. The crossbow stayed at his side, pointed at the floor, but his grip on it was firm. The baton was still safely tucked in his belts if he needed to reach it.

There was a headache beginning to throb behind his left eye, exhaustion, irritation, and nicotine craving weaving together to stab at him. He hoped that he looked as done with all of this shit as he felt, and that it adequately got the message across.

"Asha, Dorothy," he began, fighting to keep his voice even, "come here." Have some common sense and get the fuck away from the guy with the bloody pickaxe, in other words. It took all of Jae's fraying self control not to just say it outright, aware that doing so might somehow incense the guy. Peacemaking was fine, but they could do it from a distance, preferably from behind the person on their side who actually had a weapon.

Jae kept his eyes fixed on the intruder. It served the twofold purpose of driving home his show of intimidation and keeping him from paying attention to Asha or Dorothy's reactions to the state he was in. Your move, fuckboy.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Jae couldn't tell if his headache was more from a nicotine craving or lack of sleep and stress in general, but it was throbbing behind his left eye, creeping back over his temple and the back of his head to his neck. He gripped the crossbow as tightly as possible with both hands, hoping it hid how they were starting to shake.

Also? Fuck you right now, Asha. She obviously knew both what he was trying to do and what she was doing by defying him, he'd known her long enough to recognize that "come over here and make me" smile for exactly what it was. Her moral point wouldn't be worth much when Mr. Prospector started trying to dig her insides out. At least Dorothy knew what was good for her and had retreated behind him.

He almost pulled the trigger when the doors flew open again. Five minutes, all Jae wanted was five goddamn minutes to get his shit together without some fuckface barging in and making him wonder if they were going to try and kill him or his friends, if he was going to have to shoot them. Michael was half a centimeter and a few stretched-thin threads of self-control away from taking a crossbow bolt to the face before he even started in with his stupid quips.

"Fuck off, Michael." And shit, hadn't Brendan mentioned him too? Michael and Jeremiah, trying to kill a girl. Now he was swaggering in here like it was nothing, like his partner in crime hadn't even been shanked in the back by the least likely person imaginable. Jae took brief note of the bandage on Michael's hand and wondered if Brendan had been responsible for that too. It was... alright, maybe he'd be a tiny bit impressed if that was the case. Maybe.

Didn't change the fact that he was stuck here with the choice of focusing his attention on an attempted murderer and a probably-successful murderer, with Asha disregarding him in between. He had a clearer shot at Michael, but Prospector was closer to Asha and his eyes had that same sort of blankness that Jae had seen in Alvaro's.

Jae was dimly aware that his breathing was getting faster and shallower, and he could feel the threat of a cough tickling at the back of his throat. He'd never had a panic attack before - was this what the beginning of one felt like? He needed to breathe. He needed Asha to move to safety. He needed all of these unwanted people out of his fucking sight.

"Fuck off. Both of you get out, now." His finger twitched on the trigger.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Jae had never liked Michael. Fake accent, fake bravado, probably-fake loser friends who congregated around him and basked in the kind of power trip that you only got from making people like Brendan cry. Michael was the kind of bully that Jae knew people tried to lump him in with, and he despised them all the more for it. The Isabels and Michaels of the world weren't his people. They were hardly even the dirt under his boots.

This was what he had expected to see from Michael: the swaggering, blustering, filthy coward that he was, talking big to try and cover the fact that he was just another name on the long list of people that needed to be put in their place. Like he was so subtle, edging behind Asha for cover as the crossbow unsteadily followed him. Jae gritted his teeth, struggling to breathe in deeply. Michael was taller than Asha, but not by much. She had traded standing within pickaxe range to regular axe range, and he couldn't trust his aim enough to be sure that he wouldn't hit her if he took a shot.

And if there was anything Jae hated more than people like Michael overestimating their importance, it was their telling him to pity them.

"Boo-fucking-hoo," he ground out in response to Michael's tirade. "If you think I give a blistered, bleeding fuck about what kind of problems you've had, you haven't been paying attention for the last few years. You want to whine about how hard you've had it, running around trying to kill people with your buddies? Quit hiding behind Asha and come tell me to my face why I should feel sorry for you, you phony greaser piece of shit."

Was Michael even telling the truth? Who knew? On some level, Jae must have decided that he trusted Brendan's account of things more than whatever bullshit Michael would undoubtedly come up with. So. On the hierarchy of "Who Does Jae Most Want to Destroy Today", Brendan was in a slightly sweeter spot than Michael. He should tell Brendan he ought to feel honored, assuming that they both lived long enough to see each other again.

"The way I see it-" he had to pause, swallow thickly, remember to breathe, "The way I see it, Jeremiah deserved what happened to him, and if you so much as look at her wrong, you will too."

His hands were shaking noticeably now, and the crossbow along with them. He was starting to feel a little lightheaded. He kept his gaze on Michael as firmly as he could, eyes dark and challenging.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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It was an odd thing, realizing in the span of a few seconds how deeply and coldly you could hate someone.

There were five, maybe a good ten seconds of silence after Asha returned Michael's ultimatum with her own. To Jae's racing thoughts, they lasted an eternity.

He wasn't angry anymore. He'd passed far beyond that the second Michael went so far as to threaten Asha for the sake of taking a cheap shot at Jae.

Murder was an emotion.

There was static in the edges of his vision, from his overtired brain or his too-shallow breathing, or the firm, simple certainty that he could put a bolt right between Michael's eyes right now and he wouldn't regret it. He flinched instinctively at Dorothy's scream, but really, he was barely aware of it.

Isabel? Fine, he'd kill her too. He'd kill anyone else who set foot in here, because anyone who thought they could waltz in and tell him what to do, threaten him, threaten the people he cared about, try to rip away the last little bit of control he had over anything after Alvaro and Hazel and Samuel deserved it.

Michael deserved it.

That icy calm that had enveloped him in his first waking moments in the asylum was back. Jae was an outside observer to his own body, aware of his shaking hands and his inadequate breathing, the cough threatening to distract him, the hammering of his heart and the roaring of blood in his ears.

"Listen to her."

His own voice sounded far away, utterly different from his yelling moments before, flat and alien.

The static threatened to overtake him, but he kept his eyes on Michael's face, some part of him wanting to memorize every line and angle and color of this moment. He wanted to see Michael scared. He wanted to remember it.

"Listen to her, or I'll kill you."
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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Jae's vision was static.

He could shoot Michael, he had a clear shot, he would be right to do it, but he couldn't move and he couldn't see-

oh right he was hyperventilating.

As soon as Michael's retreating back disappeared from view, the crossbow clattered to the floor. Jae followed it halfway, sagging against the pew and heaving in deep, ragged breaths for several moments.

"I'm okay," he mumbled to Asha, not really grasping what she'd said to him, "I'm fine." He was absolutely not fine, had never been further from fine ever in his life, but nobody here was dead and that was a better outcome than anyone had reasonably expected from this little encounter.

He hobbled the few steps over to where Asha was sitting and sat down heavily next to her, vaguely aware that the crossbow was still on the floor at his feet. There was a buzzing in his ears and in his fingertips, and for a minute he just leaned over with his eyes closed, trying to steady his breathing.

After a minute or so, a quiet, humorless laugh bubbled up from his chest. "...It was Nancy." He stayed bent over, laughing to the floor until he gave in to the hacking cough that had been nagging at him.

"Brendan, you fucking idiot."

He was still trembling from lingering adrenaline. On impulse, he reached over and grabbed Asha's hand, squeezing tightly and ignoring the twinge of pain in his fingers. "Sorry," he said, not entirely sure what he was apologizing for.
"Art enriches the community, Steve, no less than a pulsing fire hose, or a fireman beating down a blazing door. So what if we're drawing a nude man? So what if all we ever draw is a nude man, or the same nude man over and over in all sorts of provocative positions? Context, not content! Process, not subject! Don't be so gauche, Steve, it's beneath you."
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