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Death Is The Only Freedom...; (Private for now)
Topic Started: Jan 17 2017, 11:58 AM (1,010 Views)
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((Clarice Halwood continued from If It Bleeds, It Leads.))

How or why she ran here, Clarice couldn’t say. All she knew is that she’d burst into a library at some point, and then that seemed a good point to stop. And by stop, she meant drop her things and sit down exactly where she was, leaning against a bookshelf.

The library smelt… corpsy. She didn’t see the body, not yet, but she knew by the smell that one was nearby. She would normally leave, but… god, fuck it. If Nancy followed, if Nancy pushed off Jennifer and pursued, there wasn’t shit Clarice could do about it right now.

She knew Kizi was still with her. She wasn’t sure about Bart. Jennifer… Jennifer certainly wasn’t.

“Kiz? Is… who’s still...” Clarice couldn’t make her words happen. Her mouth was dry and her shoulder was too wet, and pulsing with heat, pain and that horrible itch that wouldn’t go away. “Shit, I tore my arm, can…?”

She couldn’t die yet, she had too much to do. And if she died here, Kizi might die if there was no-one to protect her, and then what would Jennifer’s death have been for? It was one long chain of fucked.
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“It’s fine, it’s… not fresh, just… think I tore it.” Clarice gritted her teeth after shifting made it hurt all the more. “Fucking Nancy, why is it always...”

She trailed off. Maybe not the best time to bring up Nancy, after what just happened. Kizi and Bart must be… Oh, Bart was there. Okay, she might have lost track, that’s all. It was probably all the damn itching.

“Just… need help re-bandaging it. Maybe, uh… just stop the bleeding best you can? I can’t really… don’t have full dexterity.”

She rested the back of her head against the bookshelf, eyes shutting briefly.

“Uh… are you… are you two alright? I mean, no, you’re not, but… you know,” Clarice finished awkwardly. Just because she’d experienced grief by now, it didn’t give her the knowledge on how to deal with it in other people.
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“It’s not that bad… just, uh… need to sleep it off?”

Clarice gestured at the area of her shirt that was soaked in bloodstains, both old and new. Most of the shoulder of her shirt had been torn away anyway, leaving her in some sort of bizarre off-the-shoulder hobo-edition shirt. She tried to pull the t-shirt out of the way as best she could. How had she bandaged it to begin with? No, wait… Conrad had done that. She didn’t remember the details.

Antiseptic wipes…

...Had she sterilized the wound? Fuck, that would explain… god, she was a fucking idiot. Clarice looked down at her shoulder, tugging what she could of the torn shirt away so that she could see it. Underneath the bandages—in themselves rather loose after her last attempt at changing them—the wound was not only bleeding again, but it was a raw, irritated red that didn’t look like it was healing well.

Well, shit. She’d just have to hope she would last long enough for potential rescue.

She looked away from the wound and stared around the room. At the shelves and shelves of old books. Anything to look away from whatever her shoulder was doing.
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“Holing up here is fine, but searching the books… no, it’d take too long. This isn’t a puzzle they want us to solve, they’re not going to leave a keycode in one of these books,” Clarice said. “Our time’s too short as it is, I don’t want to pass it so—”

Kizi’s attempt to distract her turned out to be futile, because good god did the antiseptic burn.

When Bart rubbed antiseptic on her wound Clarice let out a sharp, high-pitched whine that sounded like when her dog, Grommit, wanted her attention really badly. She recoiled, as her arm burned even worse than before. But that was… maybe a good burn. That was why cuts stung when you sterilized them, didn’t they? It was the germs dying or something.

“It’s fine!” Clarice tried to sound casual, but absolutely failed. Instead, it came out strained, barely audible because she was trying not to cry. “It’s fine! It’s… it’s a good burn, a little burning never hurt—“

It clicked.

Holy shit, was it really that simple?

Clarice stopped talking, the pain in her arm momentarily forgotten. That was it. Maybe it wouldn’t work, but it was something she could try.

...Though there was one issue. If she did, and the terrorists realised why, they’d certainly kill her. And Clarice wasn’t ready for that. Not yet. Not if she could help it. So what other reason could she have for setting that big a fire?

The burning of the antiseptic brought her attention back to the other two. Two people trying to help her.

Two people who, should she have intent to win the game, would be in her way.

...Hmm.
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It was simple, really. This was propaganda. If she showed them what they wanted to see, maybe they’d focus on just that. Maybe they wouldn’t pay attention to what Clarice was really doing. But… how did she tell the others?

...That was a tricky question, and it was hard to fight through the fog in her brain, settling back in after the pain had briefly driven it out.

“Sure. Bandage. Good,” Clarice said through gritted teeth.

She needed time. She needed something to bounce off. And she needed to know what Kizi and Bart were doing, so she could work with or around it. But that was fine to ask. Anyone, killer or otherwise, would ask.

“So. What now?”

Clarice tried to sound businesslike, even if everything hurt and images of Jennifer were playing under her eyelids. A player wouldn’t emphasize too much. Not someone planning betrayal.
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“Tried that.”

Alright, alright, she needed to think. She needed to get them to listen, like, super intensely listen to her words.

“Thought if I gathered people together, we’d figure a way out. Thing is… y’don’t know who’s bad until someone’s hurt, lot of the time. That’s how Nancy got me.” Clarice waved her good hand at the shoulder that was being bandaged. “And… and that’s how Conrad killed Harold.”

Tragedy. That always fucking drew people in. Although Clarice had to stop for a moment. Trying not to cry, yell or throw up remembering that. Remembering that Harold was still out there, rotting. That Conrad probably was, too. Now Jennifer was sharing that fate, rotting in front of the cameras while the terrorists jerked off.

“...That was day one. What are we on now? Four? I’m not saying we should trust no-one, just that ‘non-players’ is a pool that shrinks every day. And one person flipping out is gonna get everyone else hurt. We… when I got hurt, we had five-to-one numbers over Nancy. T-today… we had four-to-one. Where’s strength in numbers got us so far? The problem isn’t the numbers, the problem is that all those numbers are here.”

Clarice let that last sentence hang for a moment, just a moment. Internally wishing she’d learned morse code or something so she could communicate it through blinks or something weird like that.

“But maybe you pick better people than I do,” she finished.
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“I am giving it thought, that’s why I’m questioning it! Look, I can appreciate the idea of a sanctuary, but you need protection to make a refuge. How are we going to stop anyone from ruining it? And how do you mean to bring them in? Approach them? Are you gonna keep the gun up, trade safety for mistrust? Or are you going to approach them unarmed and hope they don’t shoot you? Or are you going to bring them here? Ring the bell? Send a signal?”

Clarice blinked quickly a few times at that sentence, enough to be a little conspicuous, and hoped that the terrorists weren’t paying attention to eye blinks.

“And once you gather everyone, what are you going to do then? Are we just going to wait? And hope someone somehow finds us? Because that’s a long shot. Unless someone turns up—“ Blinkblinkblink. “—we don’t have a chance in hell of escaping, and if we stop killing we’ll only have a day left. Look, I don’t want to crush your ideas, but if I don’t voice it then we’re going to figure out the flaws in a very bad way.”

Clarice checked her shoulder once the bandages were on. Not bad. Better than Clarice could do on her own, for sure.

“Thanks. Much better.” Of course, the fever was still wrecking her, and who knew how long she could hold up with that going. But it was something.

“Also… you’re wrong, Bart.” Clarice looked at Bart. “I am fighting. Or I would have jumped off a cliff by now. Whatever happens, I intend to go out in a blaze—” Blinkblinkblink. “—not by just lying down and dying.”
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...Did Kizi understand? Bringing SotF down in flames… did she understand what Clarice had meant? Was this really an argument? Because Clarice had never heard that level of anger in Kizi’s voice. It wasn’t much, compared to someone like Clarice who spent about half their day yelling at people. But for Kizi? It was massive.

“Eventually, yes. But they don’t broadcast live anymore. The island being inhabited doesn’t matter, since there’s clearly no-one else here. They know we’re out here—hopefully—but we’d need… weeks. Months, maybe. And if we gathered everyone together we’d only have as many days as we had people.

“But… yeah.” Clarice looked over at Bart. “Yelling won’t help. And coming to a consensus is… yeah. Alright. We can settle that later. Tomorrow, maybe,” Clarice said. Her voice was snippy and pissed, and that wasn’t something she needed to act. She wasn’t pissed off at Kizi, but at the fact that waiting was necessary.

She could set the fire right now. But it was wet outside. And dark. No, daylight would be best. ...Plus, she was exhausted.

Clarice acted a little huffy for the rest of the day. She hoped that Kizi wouldn’t take it too personally.

-

They took watch in turns that night. Clarice’s was last, since she needed to spend a lot of the afternoon resting.

Once it was Clarice’s turn to keep watch, she sat quietly for a while. She couldn’t tell if her fever was going down. She felt too warm despite the lack of blankets or actual sources of heat. The best she could say was that her wound hadn’t been oozing.

She waited. And watched to see if Kizi and Bart were stirring. Once they weren’t, Clarice got up. She crept over, and did her best to look like she was trying to be subtle. Silent footsteps and hunched shoulders. She knelt near Kizi, reached out and unzipped her supplies. She rummaged through them, occasionally glancing at the other two.

She really was nervous that they might wake up. If she explained herself too well, the terrorists might catch on that she wasn’t really robbing them. If she explained herself poorly, they might kick her out to somewhere with less paper.

Clarice zipped back up Kizi’s bag. She tilted her head slightly as she grimaced. Good angle for the camera. She knew her shots, her angles.

Kizi’s gun sat close-by. In reach of Kizi, should something occur. Clarice glanced at Kizi before picking it up. She aimed it at the wall, with the air of a kid holding their desired nerf gun for the first time. Then she turned and stared at Kizi and Bart, still asleep, for a while. Long enough to make it look like she was thinking deeply on some moral quandary.

Maybe the terrorists weren’t even watching. But if they were, she’d give them their narrative.

Eventually, Clarice sighed and put the gun down. She moved to sort through Bart’s bag. She never took anything from either Kizi or Bart, just grimaced like the contents had disappointed her.

Before she settled back down, she wandered over to the bookshelves closest to the door, checking where she’d be just out of sight of Kizi and Bart. Enough books to set a decent blaze, she hoped. She didn’t linger there long, doing a quick loop of the entire room just to make it look like she was patrolling.

Then she sat back down and waited, hoping the rain would have dried up by the morning.

-

Kizi and Bart woke up. They ate. There was small talk, but nothing much.

And then the announcements.

Jennifer was on there, of course. Followed by another girl that Nancy had killed. And Isabel had murdered again. Same as the other announcements. A lot of the rest blended together.

Two names stood out.

Bernadette Thomas and Irene Djezari.

Clarice didn’t say anything. The announcements stopped, and Clarice’s fingers started picking at the bread she was eating. A lump had formed in her throat. Her eyes started to water.

But she pushed it back. She wanted to grieve, but she had no time.

This needed to happen now. While there was still the chance of saving someone.

Silently, Clarice started to put her food, and any other belongings that had been brought out during the last day, back into her bag. Tried not to show any urgency, like she was just tidying up.

She tilted her head down a little, trying to hide in case the liquid burning behind her eyes managed to spill.
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Kizi got up and started to wander around. Bart remained where he was. Clarice continued to pack. She located her first-aid kit, open from when in the night she’d gone through it briefly looking for painkillers. She put her hands in it, under the guise of rearranging the contents a little, and palmed the lighter that came with the kit. The air freshener can was still sticking out of her pants. Keeping her hand closed around the lighter, she put it in her pocket with the can.

There was a noise from the entrance. A voice followed by coughing.

Clarice immediately shut her bag and got to her feet, slinging the strap of her bag over her good shoulder. The bad one didn’t feel as itchy today, but maybe it was because she had something to focus on.

She headed over, hoping like hell that it was someone peaceful. Or someone who wasn’t coughing because they’d been stabbed in the gut. She approached, and found Kizi there—not injured, not shooting—and a small girl who seemed to be being friendly.

Might as well be friendly back. Clarice didn’t have much trust left, but if she started turning people away she was one step away from making them go away with lethal force. It might be a little dangerous, but turning her away would be more likely to create a commotion anyway.

“If you’re friendly, you can come in,” Clarice said briskly. “This is a safe zone. Right, Kizi?”

She didn’t bother to suppress any tension in her voice. Worked for the cameras. Let them wonder which part she was tense about.
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Bart joined them. Kizi mentioned that other bags had been left here. Somehow Clarice hadn’t noticed them. In any case, the new girl seemed friendly enough.

The problem was that the entrance was getting a little crowded. And Clarice needed this area to be clear. It shouldn’t be too hard to escape the library—it wasn’t like the hospital area of the island, where everything was built for security. This area was for comfort.

“Listen. Maybe you two should… should take, uh… new girl… further in. Give her the bags. Tell her what’s up. Eat. Stuff. I, uh… I want to patrol for a bit. Get my feet moving?”

As Clarice spoke, she glanced around. There were some shelves not far from the door, though far enough so that they wouldn’t block it entirely if knocked over that way. One had already been knocked over, and there were books scattered across the floor. Clarice looked at that, then started eyeing the other shelves.

Yeah. This would work.
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Clarice nodded and waited for Lili to head for her things, and for the three to move deeper into the library. As they did so, Clarice reached for the door and opened it a little, peering out to make sure no-one else was standing outside.

It was still damp outdoors, but it wasn’t raining. Clarice wished it was drier, but…

Bernie and Irene came to mind again, and she pushed it away. Tried not to think of them. Of Harold and Conrad. Had to think of Kizi. Of Ty. Of Scout.

Clarice looked back over at the three, making it a point not to look at the cameras—they’d see what she did, no matter what—and made sure they weren’t looking at her before ducking behind the shelf nearest to the door. She looked at it, then gripped the side of it and shifted it a little so it was facing the door better. She tried to do so quietly.

Once that was done, she pulled a few books from the shelf and opened them, lying them on the shelf with the slightly mouldy pages exposed.

“Safe zone, my ass,” Clarice muttered underneath her breath as she did so, too quietly to carry.

She pulled out the air freshener and gave it a quick test spray. A little spurt of something that smelt of pot pourri soaked in dishwashing soap. Clarice smiled slightly, shaking the can again and removing the lighter from her pocket. She glanced over in the direction of Kizi, Bart and Lili.

“I’ll show you ‘safe zone.’”
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Clarice’s heart was thumping away like crazy, almost drowning out any other sound. This could be it. If they figured her out, she was fucked. Her collar could pop at any second.

But fuck it, right?

So Clarice clicked the lighter. The lighter was in her bad arm, and even just that little click made her shoulder send little pulses down her arm, but she needed to be able to aim with the air freshener. It took a couple of tries for the tiny little flame to appear. Clarice stared at it for a moment, then raised it and the air freshener and held the nozzle down.

Flames. Fire with no real heat to it, that would vanish with nothing but a few scorch marks. But Clarice pointed it at one of the books she’d opened and left on the shelf, and after a couple of seconds the pages started to burn and fuel a proper fire. With a quick glance in the direction of where Kizi and the others would be, Clarice did the same to the next. The next. And by the time she got to the last book she’d left open on the shelf, the fire was starting to crawl across the shelf.

Clarice was grinning, maybe a little manically, and it wasn’t any act. And she heard noises coming from where the others were. So, with no time left, she lifted a foot and kicked the shelf, aiming for one side of the shelf to let it turn just a little away from the door.

The shelf landed with a thud that sounded faint underneath her own heartbeat, not far from the door. Flaming books flying in all directions. The fire would soon block the doorway. But the others would have heard it, and there were other ways of escaping the library. It wasn’t like the mental hospital, this was meant for staff, it wouldn’t be inescapable. It’d be alright.

She hoped.

Clarice jumped over the flaming bookshelf, ignoring the sting of fire licking her legs and leaving scorch marks along the edge of her jeans, pulled the door open—the door so close to where the bookshelf had fallen that it wouldn’t even open all the way—squeezed through it, tugging her bag a little when it got stuck in the doorway. And then she ran, bolting like she wasn’t concerned for who was left.
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Clarice sprinted. She sprinted until she was far from the building, and only then did she stop to look around.

By the time she did, she could see flames licking the windows. Slowly, but surely, smoke was starting to rise from the building. Right now, only a trickle. But the fire was still growing. Clarice stopped not far off, hiding behind a different building to peek at the smoke.

She held her breath. Waiting for her collar to pop.



……

………

Nothing happened, except that the fire continued to burn.

Clarice breathed out—and regretted it somewhat, since now she could taste the smoke in the air—and left, jogging instead of sprinting. She hoped Kizi and Bart knew what she’d meant by the fire. Hoped them and the other girl had made it out. Hoped that if they didn’t understand why she’d done if they could at least forgive her for it.

And she had to hope that if that smoke was bringing help, that it would bring help soon enough.

In the meantime… she’d try to live. And try to think of something else. Because like fuck she was done yet. She wasn’t done until there was no-one left to fight.

((Clarice Halwood continued in All Good Things To Those Who Wait.))
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