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Tyler Durden

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About Tyler Durden

Year 11
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    BZPRPG .GIF Master and OTC RPG Judge
  • Birthday 08/27/1996

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    now arriving at watchpoint gibraltar
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  1. "We're going to find help. And I don't know where we're going to find it, but I do know that we can't stay in this village anymore if things are going to change because I'm sick of relapsing and I'm sick of Dorian Shaddix watching me fail but I want you to understand something:" There was a stern power in her face and eyes, "No matter what the outcome is, I still love you. And that's all I need--" To Burn Out -Tyler
  2. IC: He found the old man underneath the stars, contemplating, with two cigar between his callused fingers. It was the first face he’d seen in days; since the chosen few had boarded the arks from Xa-Koro, with Dorian being the last to have his ticket punched, he had sealed himself off from the rest of Aurelia’s anointed ones into his own cabin, and had not departed in days. The lithe figure that emerged and sidled up to the Colonel looked almost like the glorious lieutenant he’d been a week earlier – the swelling was subsiding, his movements were less shambling, bones had been set and scrapes gauzed up. By now Dorian Shaddix looked less like a man who had been beaten into a mound of flesh and left to slither for his life in the dirt of a doomed civilization, and more like a very, very well-off young daredevil who had just botched a stunt on a Gukko bird. At forty thousand feet. He was still clearly getting the hang of being back on his legs, and the slouch he took beside Brykon came with a relieved exhale. “Hey,” he said simply. His voice was raw from days of disuse. Brykon’s face was expressionless, but he flipped the cigar once between his fingers and held it out to Dorian. “Take it,” his commander instructed harshly. “It’s not for the rank and file. You may not have taste in clothes but you’ve got a taste for vice. How are your fingers? Can you cut?” “I could probably manage butter,” Dorian replied, a little sullenly. “In Po-Wahi.” Brykon’s mouth hardly quirked, but he did take an old, improvised-looking cigar cutter and beheaded the cigar at a few millimeters with the makeshift guillotine. He gave Dor a light, too, and the lieutenant of Bad Company took a long drag on it and puffed. His eyes widened, and he coughed slightly. “Whaaaat the #####?” he rasped. “What is this?” The old man’s laugh was metallic and coarse, like worn old widgets in a purse. There were some notes of humor in it, as potent as the notes of vanilla in the exhale Dorian had taken. “It’s a specialty I’m working on. A man needs a retirement plan for the day his muscles get stiff, his eyesight goes bad, and his stomach starts roiling when he spills some blood. I’m thinking of cigars.” Dorian eyed the old man curiously and took another puff. Now that he knew what to expect, his tongue clucked curiously. “That’s good.” “I’ll send you a box sometime.” Brykon stared up into the stars, face inscrutable as ever. Dorian found himself staring into the crags and contours, as he had so many times, and was surprised at how comforting he still found them, even after everything. He felt like a mountain climber in an old, familiar range, where even the dangers were old friends. “I’ve been waiting for you.” “Yeah?” “Mm. You and your restless legs. Like the whole island is just one big field trip, and you keep on finding stops while your life passes you by. While the world moves on.” Brykon took a puff on his own cigar, synchronized with Dor’s; the two Toa of Iron silently pieced together makeshift constellations from the stars. It was midnight, and their smoke was the only cloud cover. “I know you, Dorian. I know what happened to Xa-Koro bothers you. I can see it on your face.” “Colonel, what happened happen—” “Quiet, boy. We did what we did, I know that. I said I can see it bothers you. Do you think I plan on selling these death-sticks tomorrow? I saw you and Grokk going out for your boys’ nights, tearing up the length of the city. I saw how many nights Illicia’s bunk was empty. I see how Jin and Liacada look at you, then and now. You think you wouldn’t be in my shoes if I didn’t see you coming?” “I don’t want to be in your shoes,” Dorian replied quietly. Brykon stared at him and puffed again; the old man cleared his throat, rubbed by old cigars and bad gin into a hollow with the consistency of an old wallet. “I know. Like I said, it bothers you. You want out?” “No.” “Quiet. If you and me and Jin and Grokk all worked at a Kolhii goods store, you’d be happy. It’s people that bind you, boy, not the jobs. It’s people that will lead you astray. ” Brykon’s cigar was wedged tight between his teeth, distorting the words in his poem. “Aurelia knows it. Much as those dreams she has about you thrill her at night, she knows you don’t tell her anything you haven’t said in a hundred girls’ ears. So she gives me the marching orders and I pass them to you, because she knows whose tune can make you dance. If she asked you to light that match, knowing there was gas in there to blow those islands to Artakha, would you have done it?” Dorian was quiet for a moment, as though he was caught in some trap where the only mode of survival was to gnaw through his ankle. “No, I wouldn’t have.” “You’re the highest paid killer on the island, and you won’t kill for money?” “But everyone in a Koro—” “If you did a circuit around the island, six Koros, six kills, six days, in three months you’d have—” “It’s not a math problem!” Dorian replied; the boy was getting heated. “There was no sport in that. That wasn’t even conquest. Nobody kept anything.” “How many of your conquests have you kept around?” Brykon snorted, barreling over Dor’s response. “If a thing is only a conquest once it lasts, nobody could be called a conqueror for long. No. We did a , despicable thing, Dorian, and we’re on our way to do another. Look, say some brute on one of these boats gets cold feet. Maybe he was on the wrong end of a fight. Maybe he misses a girl or a boy he left at home. Say he’s made some powerful enemy on board and he decides to visit Gukko Force headquarters on shore leave. What do you do?” Dorian’s response was predictable, the assassin’s code of honor. “He’s snitching. He’s a coward. We’re paid to kill cowards.” “He is, and we are. He brings plans to sink Ta-Koro back into the volcano. What then?” Dorian’s mouth was open to respond but fell silent. He sucked on his cigar and finally, visibly, grew contemplative along with his mentor. “Two actions, two motivations. Saving a village, but only because you had to save your own #####. Do you get credit for that? How do you know if it’s cowardice or atonement?” Dorian exhaled the puff he’d been holding in. “We don’t know. Only he does.” “Right,” Brykon said proudly. “Businessmen are rarely conquerors, Dorian. Either of us could crush the skulls of Aurelia and all her ilk if we so cared, and we might never face the consequences. But we’re soldiers of fortune and buying us is easy and safe. Whatever they needed Xa-Koro gone for, and whatever they need this next job done for, the consequences can’t be bought, negotiated, or written about in the minutes of the Cultured Gentry. So it’s conquerors that they choose to hire. They won’t care about the people we conquer. The soldiers won’t care, they just want a slice of what we take. You just take orders, too, and I know you’d do your job. But I also know you care. Don’t you?” Silence. “Don’t you?” “Yeah,” said Dorian, reluctantly. Brykon put a hand on the younger Fe-Toa’s shoulder; he flinched, but not away from the contact. “Redemption is only ever individual, Dor,” the old man said softly, his parchment-thin voice shaky. “It’s not rainwater. Yours won’t land on all of us. Only you. So pray for rain or don’t, but just be prepared to go it alone. You understand me? Hey. You understand?” Dorian had been moved beyond words, and underneath his black eyes the iridescent blue was tearful. He nodded faintly, pursing his lips around the cigar. “Good,” said Brykon Senegal quietly. “Then that’s my poem for tonight. You taste the vanilla?” “Yeah.” Dorian chewed the cigar thoughtfully, looking back up into the constellation and hoping to lose himself there. “I guess I’m not too young for my own retirement plan.” Brykon barked in laughter. “I guess you’re not, too. Well, I got the market cornered on these here cigars. But maybe you could go for some whiskey.” Dor smiled wistfully. “I could definitely go for whiskey,” he murmured. ... The storm had raged for an hour now. If he was a betting man, he would wager that Makuta was still attempting to test the limits of his power; no doubt the dark force that they had watched consume Echelon would be wroth at how his attempt at bluster fell short just outside Kini-Nui. But only one of the two heroes was a betting man, and he was currently still unconscious, body and mind no doubt spent from the ordeal of the past few days - or, given the very particular body and mind, the last lifetime. Dorian had exhausted himself time and again in the pursuit of atonement. He had pulled the Toa of Iron into a makeshift shelter while the storm raged and begun to work on a fire. He still had some of his old power, but Merror felt it oddly invigorating to test the new physical limits of his body. Starting a fire by hand felt so unfamiliar Merror almost lapsed into thinking he'd never done it before. Dorian had a lighter around his neck, a bloodstained, pitted thing that the Turaga knew had once belonged to Joske. He had been wearing it since his drunken confession in Le-Koro, in what seemed like the time before time; the boy had carried that weight on his shoulders since then, and likely before. The lighter was a sign of the bond he and Joske had shared. However this phase of his journey ended, Merror resolved to let Dor rest for now. The boy had heart, and made up in courage what he lacked in sense and patience. It was a fearlessness even Joske lacked; at least Joske had fretted over losing Cael. Dorian could lose everything, and it would only steel his nerve. That kind of drive deserved commendation, but it also exhausted the soul. Yes. It was best to let the boy rest. He must have just been resting. Merror had to believe it worked. It was his destiny. ... “Oh my God,” the waitress hissed to her best friend, the bartender, “that’s really him!” “No way.” “He’s a Toa of Iron!” “Lots of people are, my dad was a Toa of Iron—” “He’s wearing leather pants!” “Oh." “Girl,” the lucky waitress admonished, hissing low so her exclamation didn’t become a squeal. “I saw his eyes. They are so blue.” “Holy Mata Nui—" “--we’re serving Dorian Shaddix!” Since the fall of Ko-Koro, there had been a dearth of good news for the inhabitants of the frigid Wahi that was the village’s namesake. Every day the banter at the hearth would center around the confirmed casualties, the latest on mercenary movements to the fallen Koro’s zealously guarded gates, or the vile rumors about what was happening to the citizens trapped inside by Echelon. The only places of refuge were the secondary Koros and outposts, once used by Sanctum Guardsmen and mountain climbers for long arctic voyages away from Ko-Koro; the only bright spots in those days were the occasional Matoran refugees who came filtering in, carrying small nuggets of information and outlandish tales of escape. Now and then there would be some hero, an adventurer or new Toa who wanted to make a name for himself by storming the gates himself. They never came back for a return trip. The Toa Maru hadn’t shown their faces either, though there were rumors now and again that they were operating in the area. The waitress had to believe that was true. In the old days, when Matoro was still Akiri, she had been to a commencement address that had been held in Ko-Koro for Ambages, the Hand – another who was now allegedly gone, murdered by Makuta’s forces under a flag of peace. He hadn’t been the only beneficiary, however. Two of the Toa Maru had attended. Noble, mystic Stannis, with his sad grey eyes, had been far more handsome than anyone had led her to believe. The memory of his jawline alone… There was Reordin, too, the renegade lieutenant, the hero of the Rama Hive, the people’s Maru. Rarely had a man ever looked so good in uniform – and unlike most of the Maru, who had all come from military backgrounds, Reo had not abandoned his roots. The way that Muaka’s fur on his collar had framed his own jaw, his proud cheeks, the cutting smirk or inscrutable blue of his eyes…they were all etched into her memory, every frozen, perfect detail that still kept her up at night. Blue eyes were the best. Joske Nimil’s were blue, too, weren’t they? And so were Dorian’s. And here she was, keeping him waiting on an order! Oh, no… It was a crowded hall, full of witnesses, but the young woman realized with a flutter in her stomach that would hardly save her if it came to that. Dorian Shaddix didn’t fear doing anything to anyone. He was mad, bad, and dangerous to know – the island’s most infamous killer, now allegedly working for the heroes. It was hard to believe, but it made for a better origin story, right? Heroes with dark sides were even hotter than their counterparts. That was why, everyone agreed, Oreius Maru was the next hottest after Reo. If the merch sales in the bazaars of Po-Koro were anything to go by, at least. Even Korero is…kind of a clean-cut cute, I guess… “It’s…bourbon, right? With…no ice?” The order was legendary, so the waitress didn’t know why she’d bothered phrasing it as a question. “And you want…” “Another beer’s fine,” said the gruff Toa sitting across from him. He was older than Dorian, and shrugged his shoulders as if he didn’t even know how he’d wound up here. “Anything you got. I know times are tough.” “Right. Yeah, they are. But that’s—” She broke off, staring into his eyes. They weren’t just blue, they were purple, rimmed with sleeplessness and faint bruising at the edges. He looked tortured; the waitress wondered what it would take to ease that anguish, and how many girls had been roped into attempting. They had to have known it wouldn’t last. She knew that, too. But boys weren’t beautiful because they lasted, or even because they were good people. For a lot of them that wasn’t the case at all. Boys are beautiful because the Great Spirit hates girls, and wanted to inflict them on us. She knew she should have gone and returned the order immediately – why keep a pair of mercenaries like that waiting? – but something in her knew she would never get this chance again. She leaned in closer, so that the rest of the patrons wouldn’t hear her question. “Did you…” she trailed off, as if there was more than one way to ask the question burning in the hearts of everyone on Mata Nui, “…kill Vakama?” She had heard how the Mark Bearers eyes had used to glow in the face of emotion. Dorian Shaddix had been rage – everyone knew that. His eyes and tattoo were supposed to have been blue. She had no idea how any pair of eyes could glow more than they already did…but maybe the question had infuriated him, and his Mark was working as they spoke. “Yeah.” The cigarette in his mouth, unlit, bobbed when he frowned. “Duh.” Holy . “Well…are you going to kill Echelon?” “That’s the plan. Knock ‘em dead. But, uh,” he cocked his head, “I’m gonna need bourbon to do it. So…” The waitress’ posture went ramrod, as she’d used to watch the soldiers do at home in Ko-Koro. Then she inclined her head respectfully at both Toa and scurried off, heart racing at the fact that she’d really survived. … Dor’s incredulous glance moved from the retreating waitress to his companion. “Here I thought that stupid old man was going to haunt me until I died. Why isn’t anyone I know like that? Do strangers really forgive you that fast if you’re hot?” “I wouldn’t know, but it checks out,” Cipher Compassrose said. The Su-Toa shrugged ambivalently and drained the rest of his first beer, foam clinging to his lips. “If it helps, I still think it was pretty heinous.” “You get paid enough not to think that. Which reminds me, hey.” Dor grabbed a napkin from the corner of the table and pulled it over to him with his fingertips. “You got something to write with?” “Maybe. I’ll check.” Cipher began rummaging through the pockets of the disheveled jacket that had once belonged to his best friend, presumably for some utensil that he’d lifted off Dor over the years. “Can you write with an eraser?” “You might not want me to. I’m writing my will.” Cipher exhaled through his teeth. “That’s a little dramatic.” “I buried my friend tonight. He had a destiny way bigger than whatever mine is. I should start thinking about these things.” “Nothing’s going to happen to you.” “I’m giving you all the money I made off of giving Bad Company to the Akiri.” “Well, would you look at this? You should’ve warned me this thing had inside pockets too. One pen, coming up. This is good thinking, you know. Never hurts to have a plan for the future.” Dorian stared at Cipher for a long moment, as if he was somewhere else with someone else, before rolling his eyes. He cupped a hand around the cigarette pursed in his mouth and lit it. He looked down at the napkin for a long, long time before deciding that there was a simple way to word this. No legalese, no pretense, no personal messages to those he was leaving behind; after all, who was going to know until it was over? Instead, the Toa of Iron chewed on the end of the quill and scribbled out a short, sweet last testament. CIPHER GETS EVERYTHING -DOR “There. Now don’t go losing that, it’s got my autograph,” Dor said through the beginnings of a cheeky grin, sliding the legal document over to Cipher. He looked at the napkin as if Dorian had thrown up on it. “Lotta good this is going to do me when I’m dead in Mangaia, too,” Cipher drawled, pocketing the napkin in the driest part of the jacket. “At least I’ll know I could’ve been rich.” “You’re not going to Mangaia.” Dor was staring at the table. Silence fell over the table. The waitress came back, a smile full of nervous energy contorting her face, and set their drinks down. Dorian’s bourbon was down the hatch in a second. “Do you want anot—” “You should go,” the Toa of Plasma cut in, a slight note of warning in his voice. The waitress’ eyes widened at the implication. Everyone had heard about Dorian Shaddix’s bar-destroying meltdown in Le-Koro years ago, after all. Suddenly, the myth of Dorian Shaddix was growing very, very lifelike in front of her; the truth was starting to catch up to his image. “Now,” Cipher insisted. She scurried off, and there was silence again. “I’m not letting you go down there alone.” “You’ve never let me do something once in my life,” Dorian replied heatedly. “I go, I see, I conquer. You’ve never been mad about us taking off in different directions before.” “This is different, Dor.” “Why? Why would it be different if I’m not about to die trying?” the young Toa’s asked, voice continuing to raise. “You were the one who said—” “And you said I wouldn’t! What, you don’t believe that? C’mon, Ciph! Are you gonna need to cash that napkin in or not?” “Maybe I wouldn’t if you weren’t so stubborn about this! You just buried your friend, you should know what charging in half-cocked could—” The empty bourbon glass went flying. Cipher wore a Calix as well, so whether Dor meant to hit him or not he failed; instead, the glass whizzed by multiple heads and shattered in the fire of the hearth. A chorus of outcry started to rise up as people checked to make sure they hadn’t been cut. Dorian had already risen up on his heel and turned to march outside, hands tucked under his arms in the face of the snow. Cipher followed. Figured that now, of all times, he wouldn’t get lost. Not that the Toa of Plasma didn't hang back. He stood a few steps away,, watching Dorian tremble with cold and rage. His breath was leaving him in increasingly rapid puffs, wisps of frost that dissipated in the wind. Like a man who saw ghosts, Cipher wondered if he had ever seen them at all. Dorian's moods had always been ephemeral, removed from the realities and attitudes of normal people. Had his rage ever been there at all? His sadness? How many things had he cried over that were worth sobbing for again? Had he ever really been happy? Cipher asked himself. When Dor spoke, his best friend feared he knew the answer. "What good does it do anyone to make me live like this?" Dorian asked, with eyes gone blank as Joske's. "Why am I taking self-help lessons from people who never did the things I did? Who never had to climb back from where I fell? He was right. In the end, it only ever falls on me. What does it matter if--" He broke off. "I would do it myself if I could. But I can't. It--It feels like giving up. If Echelon does it, then...there's no giving up. I just lost. That's not as bad, right?" Cipher said nothing. The rain was falling on Dorian, and only Dorian; droplets steamed when they hit the snow. "Will you just ##### tell me I'm right?" he asked. His young voice cracked. Cipher chewed his lip and looked down to the snow. "You're gonna do what you wanna do, man," the worn Toa of Plasma said to the banks. "You always do." "I do." The two brothers stood, staring at each other; Dor's shoulders hunched forward, struggling against his new backbone, trying to hold back an outburst with a maturity he had once lacked. Cipher seemed ramrod, solid as always...but when the two found themselves embracing, Dor could tell he needed the support too. "Catch you 'round the way, then, brother," Cipher said into Dor's shoulder. It was shaking softly as the gunslinger cried, then cleared his throat. "Yeah. Head for Ta-Koro on your way back," Dor sniffed. "That way we'll probably meet in Ga." They both laughed, and Cipher thumped Dorian on his back with a fist. He had managed to shuffle the jacket so it slung over Dor's shoulder, cushioning his traps with the accessory. "You know something?" Dorian mused quietly, voice calming down. "If we ran it back today? I bet the two of us would smoke that ##### ." Cipher chuckled again. "Like Rannare weed, brother." ... The storm had died out. As Merror had anticipated, Makuta had tired himself quickly in his attempt to reassert control over the domain that was once his. He found some degree of peace in that, beyond the satisfaction of knowing that the darkness would have a more difficult return than perhaps anticipated. The winds that had been approaching gale force hours earlier had eased now into a pleasant breeze; it almost felt like the guiding hand of Mata Nui that streaked across Merror's face, and not the tendrils of his malevolent brother. Dorian still hadn't woken up yet. That wasn't so surprising, but doubts began to wriggle into his mind, like the worms from the soil as the rain subsided. He had no idea how long something like this took. Obviously he had never pried for specifics from Joske or Cael. Those wounds ran too deep, too visibly on their faces, to ever be picked at safely. Dor could be asleep for another hour, or for a day. Perhaps he would never wake up, and all he had bought was the young man's life - life in its simplest form. It seemed cruel to bring back a Dorian Shaddix who would never be able to laugh, never embarrass his elders in front of others or win a bartender's heart with a single smile. Merror had never understood what it was people loved about that smile until he had seen it as Echelon was dying - a bright, exhilarated grin, lacking in malice yet full of warmth. What if the sun rose in a few hours, but there was no warmth in the light? Would it even be worth it? No. Dorian had to wake. And soon. He was probably just thinking of something clever to say. ... “If you stay here, you will pass on. I can't tell you where; all I know is that you will leave Mata Nui forever. But I've come to collect you, Cael: if you come with me, you can choose to return.” “Does... does everyone get this choice?” “It doesn't matter.” The First Toa smiled. “But you do, and that's all that matters.” How long had he been here by now? Days? Months? Years? Cael had been right; time flowed differently here, at the crossroads, where everything ceased to matter. Eventually he had stopped tallying, for fear of going mad with the realization of how much time had passed him by. The idea of those he loved eventually going on was comforting, but naturally frightening, too. He had lived most of his life under the auspices of fame, and the idea of eventually fading to legend as the First Toa had came with mixed emotions. Still...those were problems for the world below him. Time flowed differently; for the first time in a long time he had been at peace, whether he had been dead for fifteen minutes or fifteen centuries. At least, that had been the case when he arrived. Telling time had become impossible, now that Dorian was here and able to talk forever. Joske sighed. "I learned this one from a Vortixx named Marfoir, one drunken night in the Final Problem at Xa-Koro," the Toa of Iron crowed, body unnaturally balanced from the tips of his feet against the wall to his wrists propped on the pool table. "I watched him cut through three homeless vagrants with a single shot from this pose. Later he taught me how to adjust it for the pool table." "So you learned how to bank three stripes from the murder of three hobos." "If they didn't want to be homeless, why didn't they buy homes?" Dor asked rhetorically, cue probing between his knuckles somewhat suggestively. "A year after that it was banned from competition in all six Wahi." "You cheated in a tourney?" Joske asked. "Well...no." Dorian screwed up his mouth to one side, looking faintly sheepish, as though he'd had something to do with the crime - or had just never thought to take up a career playing snooker and was realizing how much legit money he'd missed out on. "Marfoir blew half of Matau's head off. But that was another life. I'm done using my talents for evil. Only for money." "That still sounds just like mercenary work." At first he'd had the strength to banter back, but by now they had settled into their routine. Routine was a dangerous thing to have in purgatory -- Dor's cheeky name for what, to him, clearly resembled the Lavapool Inn, "but with more pool tables and less Tuara drooling on the bar." Joske had sworn he'd come to on the Kolhii pitch in Ta-Koro, with the heat of the volcano and the emptiness of the stands weighing on his chest. Neither of their experiences seemed to match up with the blank canvas that Cael had described, and he had said as much to Dorian after a few drinks of bourbon too many. Dor shrugged, grinned, and cracked a joke like he always did: "She was an easy one. They're probably up there weighing our deeds against a feather." He had gestured upstairs ambiguously with his pool cue, and Joske immediately knew what he meant. Both of them had seen the Lavapool enough in life to know, instinctively, that there was nothing up there but rooms for rent. Both of the two Toa, one a reformed womanizer and one making a solid crack at it, had spent enough time up there to know there was nothing up there but hazy, drunken memories. Yet somehow neither of them had been brave enough to venture up into the old, familiar halls of the second floor. They had just stuck to the ground floor, playing pool with the same results. Routine. Dorian banked the last three stripes, as Joske knew he would. Dorian loved to treat each victory like his first, though, kicking off from the wall and spinning the chalk between his fingers with a victorious whoop! and a smile. The Toa of Fire groaned. "You're getting better, Jos. Give it another three hundred and you'll go far with this game. Let's see, so we'll add one more tally mark, that's a five, so diagonal--" "I'm going to the Air Kolhii table." "--don't be a baby, so that's 195--" Dor was scribbling furiously on the chalkboard, blocking it from view. "You said we'd play Air Kolhii at 69." "--nice--" Joske groaned. "...Nice. And then again at 100." "--to 3! Another victory for the Young Conqueror" Dorian moved away from the chalkboard with a grand gesture, revealing a battalion of tally marks under the "KILLED ECHELON" column; the soldiers in Dor's army were swelling up faster than his ego, with only occasional - possibly intentional - defeats at the hands of the suicide squad under "DIDN'T KILL ECHELON." At least it beat "SECURED THE BAG" and "FUMBLED THE BAG." Joske had suggested "WOKE MAKUTA" and "DIDN'T," but Dorian had pouted at that and reminded him that he'd had no fair warning of what would happen if the Vault was opened. Which was fair enough. He had also shot down "CAEL'S HOTTER" vs. "TUARA'S HOTTER" on the basis of feminism and not pitting strong women against each other, which got a little more of an eye roll out of Joske when one considered their track records with women. Try as he might to deny it, he had missed this. Dorian had always been good for laughs - and they were both beyond talking shop. "And again at 150," Joske finished. "Air Kolhii. Or I turn to guerrilla warfare and start burning divots into the table, Young Conqueror." That made Dor pout again, and he balanced one elbow on his cue and clasped his hands together. "You know, you could at least let me have this. You're gonna be out of here any time," he mused. "195 to 3 is respectable for someone who sucks at everything. Up there," Dor jerked his head towards the dreaded staircase by the bar, "they're probably ripping me to shreds." Joske had to admit that was true, but he wanted to reassure Dor somehow about the struggle for atonement, the equivalent weight of good deeds for their own sake, motivating yourself to change. He hated hearing it, though, just like Joske got sick of hearing jokes about performing animal rescues and wearing tights and a cape. "Fine," the Toa of Iron continued. "Air Kolhii. Lucky for you, I learned from the best players of real Kolhii on how to function with a Kolhii striker, and--" "Really? I don't remember teaching you a thing, pretty boy. Have you been hoarding autographs of me somewhere? Or just watching from afar?" "Nah, 'cause I learned from the guys who juked you out at that final in Ga-Koro three years ago." "Prick!" "Poor Joske, couldn't stand a chance," Dor tutted softly. "You were never going to kill Echelon with those snapped ankles." "Well, now I want you to go to Karz." Dorian grinned and opened his mouth to return banter when a voice rang out from upstairs. "Paid in full." Joske understood what it meant immediately, and a smile drew across his own face. Dorian, ignorant of what he had gone through to save Cael, looked suddenly anxious. Before-- "Were we supposed to be paying for these drinks?" Joske laughed, both in amusement and at wonder. Truly, Dorian got all the luck; he held no bitterness, no resentment over the Toa of Iron's fortune. If anything, it gladdened his heart to know that someone down there had seen in Dor what Joske saw. Someone capable of more good than any mercenary, zealot, ally, or even the man himself would ever believe. Joske stepped forward and bumped a fist against Dor's shoulder. "I'll pick up the tab. You're needed elsewhere." Dor didn't understand. Or he was playing dense. "You're right. No time to go upstairs. Air Kolhii in thirty seconds. Just you wait, my wrist action is perfect. I could take my Calix off and nail it to my own hand and I'd still have reflexes that could dazzle you. 195 to 3? You're gonna long for the days of 195--" "Next time," Joske interrupted. "Next time you're 'round the way, Dor. You're being called back." ... "No." "Yes." "No." "Yes." "No!" "You don't get to argue over it, I didn't resurrect you." "Tell them to stop!" "I'm dead, too." "Yell upstairs!" "They didn't get a choice, either." ... "Paid in full," the voice said, more forcefully. "No!" "Yes." "No!" "No." "Ye--!" "You fell for that? I think you've hit the bourbon a little heavy, Dor. Go back to Mata Nui and clear your head. Take two Bula and call Cael in the morning." Dorian chewed his lip, eyes glowing angrily. He looked fit to snap the pool cue and charge upstairs with the splintered halves akimbo. As his gaze roved around the bar, searching for other improvised weapons he could use to charge the powers that be, he squinted. Joske turned to look, and even for a one-time Toa of Light, the sheer whiteness of the glow outside the Lavapool's boundaries made shielding his eyes a necessity. That was it, then -- the light Cael had seen, the light he'd saved her from, the light he'd been prepared to feed himself to make his beloved whole again. Joske had to love his friend for trying. Dorian Shaddix, ever predictable in his unpredictability, was already having similar ideas. His brain was moving at a mile a minute, eyes squinted to protect themselves from the glow but also racing with possibilities. There was none of the acceptance and grace with which he'd met his own face; instead, there was desperation, and longing, and hurt, and guilt. He knew the look well. It was the last face Joske had seen in his life. "Come with me." "Next time around," Joske promised, squeezing his friend's shoulder. "I don't feel like winding up stuck in your body. Or digging my way out from under the snowbanks." "We'll rob your grave." "Yikes. Pass, you sicko." Dor bit his lip harder; for a second, Joske wondered if Dor would attempt to bludgeon him with the cue. He doubted he could fall unconscious in this place if he tried. "Next time around," Joske repeated, clapping Dor's shoulder and letting go. "Tell Cael I love her, and look after her for me." "She doesn't need either of us for that." "No. You're right." Joske smiled at the thought of her; Dor looked like he wanted to say something, but thought better of it. "Fine. Tell Agni not to blame himself, even though--" "--we both know he will?" "Yeah. And tell Angelus I'm sorry. And I'm grateful." "Holy #####, you could just write a will already. You know, we have plenty of napkins, I could--" "And one more thing. The boat won't take you all the way. You'll have to swim for the next one." Dorian blinked. Joske grinned; to Dor's eyes, he seemed more vivid than he had since the Toa of Iron arrived. Maybe even more vivid than he'd been in life. The Kolhii star winked at him. "What?" "It's on you to do this if they don't let me out," Joske said playfully. "Give everyone my best. I believe in you, Dor. The boat won't take you the whole way. You'll have to swim for the next one." "Again with the fortune cookie #####. You know, can't you just tell me something immediately useful? Directions? Lotto numbers? Where Cael likes to eat?" The glow was starting to swallow the whole Lavapool, but it curved around Joske to lick at Dorian's limbs. The more Dor tried to back away into the corners, near the chalkboard that sang of his conquests, the more the light followed him specifically and left Joske to his devices. "Like I'd give you the chance. See you, Dor. I'll keep practicing the Matau Brain Masher or whatever." "--The Sharpshooter, you useless prick, and don't think this is over! I'm totally digging your body up when this is over, and if you don't come back I'm going to chuck you right into the volcano, you fortune cookie, kitten-saving, telegram-booth changing, third-wheeling motherf--" ... "--CK!" I shot upright like a cannon, hand cupping the wound where Heuani had pierced me all those years ago. There was a small fire burning, and the wind had picked up a little outside. A small enclave, formed mostly of low-hanging branches that had been snapped off or vines that had been sawed loose, was protecting the small blaze and I from the outside world. My vision was swimming, as though I'd never used my eyes before - or maybe like I'd just crawled from a grave, and was getting used to seeing something besides the inside of my own coffin. But from the looks of things, I hadn't even been buried. Not unless the old dickhead who was smiling at me from across the fire's tongues had been buried, too. That wasn't a bad bet, honestly. I hated Turaga. They were wizened, pathetic reminders that some people were just too high-and-mighty to keep moving forward. They were proof of how seriously some Toa took the concept of 'destiny,' even though getting one particular job done in your life was no excuse for giving up your power. Becoming a Turaga was basically just taking early retirement. Who said you got to have peace while the rest of us were out here busting ##### to try and outwork the voices in your own head, telling you what you were doing wasn't enough? I bet you wish you had that Toa Power now that Makuta's back, you hunchbacked old #####. Yeesh. I must have woken up bitter. Did I pass out after the fall? I remember feeling something pretty important pop out of place near where the ol' R.I.P. Echelon commemorative tramp stamp was going as soon as I was back in Ta-Koro. And where had Merror gotten off too? "I'm looking for my friend," I grumbled to the Turaga, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. "Did he go off for supplies from the settlement?" "Your friend, eh?" The Turaga looked pleased with himself, green eyes bright behind his Noble Kanohi. "I can't say there are many people out here at Kini-Nui. Not tonight, of all nights, at least." Tonight of all nights... Yeah. The story was going to go flying around, all of it, from Joske and Echelon's deaths to the return of Makuta. A lot had happened in only a little while. Time flew when you were about to die. Wait. My eyes flew back down to my midsection. The Turaga laughed. "And what does he look like, lad?" the old man asked knowingly. "This friend of yours. We might be able to find him together, once you're able to move around a little." "He's..." I closed my eyes, still sore from sitting up too fast, and winced. "Ta-Toa. Big green eyes, sad, looks like a...really old puppy." "A really old puppy, eh." "Yeah. Handsome. Like a DILF, but if he wasn't really hot. He's got a Calix on, and bit of a weird brogue in his...voice..." I turned my head to the left, feeling the protestant creaks of a sore neck, and stared into the Noble Kanohi again. "And here I thought I aged gracefully," Merror laughed warmly. "I gather that the Turaga lifestyle won't be for you when you grow up. Hello, lad. I'm so happy you're ali--" "#####!" Our enclave was torn to pieces by the force of the swing. The cold steel of the rifle's barrel felt good in my hands, but honestly, I could have done it with anything. I just picked up the first weapon I saw poking out of the bag. And I swung it again. And again. And again. At trees. At the ground. I almost tossed it back into Kini-Nui, but the last thing I needed to do was give Makuta one more advantage. I remembered everything now. "What is the matter with you!?" I raged, turning around and screaming at Merror. The look of serenity on the Turaga's -- Turaga's! -- face made me want to pistol whip him. He didn't have the strength to fight it anymore, or to do anything but seize up and twitch if I started really laying into him. He didn't have the strength to...to... "What would you do that for!?" "For you," Merror said softly. "You died, Dorian. Thinking you failed. Thinking the people who love you love a failure. You deserve to hear from them yourself how false that is.." "You deserve better, son. And instead you died." Merror shrugged. "I thought it was a fair trade." ... The fire in my stomach went as dim as Merror's had. I dropped back down onto my haunches, taking deep, unsteady breaths. I had died. For a second, I had known peace. Happiness. Real redemption. But then I woke up. It had started to trickle at some point while I was out. The rain was falling on my head, and the Turaga whose life force the storm had doused crawled out from the remains of our shelter to sit beside me. My friend put his hand, so much frailer than it had been when I took it earlier tonight, on mine and clasped. "It's not," I insisted weakly. "It's not fair. You were...good." "Oh? Did I stop being good because I grew shorter? Did I lose my experience? Did my brain dull with age in the course of one night?" Merror squeezed my hand tighter with a teasing smile. "Sometimes, lad, I think you might put a little too much emphasis on looks. Just something we've all noticed." I had to stifle a small laugh. Merror's smile grew. "Son, that man who died tonight has weighed on me for half my life. Probably all of yours. I know the valleys of failure more than most. Dorian, I look at you and I see a success for every man, woman, and child on Mata Nui. You understand? You did not fail." "...Okay." "Okay?" "I said okay, ##### it." I took a long, deep breath, clenching my fist around Merror's gnarled old hand. "Okay.." Underneath Merror's Noble Kanohi, a smile turned into a full-bore grin -- one with mischief I couldn't ever remember seeing when the Calix had been Great. "Then let's go find a bar somewhere before telling our story. I want to see if I can still keep up with the great and self-destructive Dorian Shaddix." ... Merror saw the boy smile softly. "I could definitely go for that," I said. A beat went by. "So wait, did your life juju fix my liver?" "Nothing I could do on that count. Sorry." This time, I laughed. I even gave Merror a ride on my shoulders for a minute, just to see if it was more comfortable for him than walking. He still had too much pride for that, though, and eventually we just decided on walking back to Ta-Koro as equals. Metaphorically. My neck still hurt, and craning it down to look at him was already proving to be a pain in the #####. But I'd dealt with a lot lately. A little height difference between friends was almost...quaint. "Actually, Ga-Koro," I corrected. Merror looked up at me, puzzled. No doubt he'd tailed me to Ga-Koro but had no idea why. I bit down on the edge of my lip and grinned again. "Whole island's waiting for me." ... "Aaaand it goes riiiiiight there!" Dor let out a victory yell and pumped his arms up in the air as though he'd been crowned the island's Kolhii MVP. From her perch on the couch, sitting atop her calves with a bottle of bourbon in her hand, Tuara Drigton looked at her lover skeptically. "You...moved a piano." "It's not a piano. It's the piano." "Oh, the first piano. Wicked." "Well, no, not--it's the one from the casino I knocked over, in Xa-Koro. There are some good memories that this piano absorbed via osmosis! I mean...most of them were probably knocked out when the island blew up. Or when the water corroded the wood. Or during the restoration process. But the memories of those memories...that's what people remember, babe." "Oh my God, why did you never talk this much when you had a Mark." "Nothing fun to say. Besides, I've been playing music all my life." "Explains the eighty guitars." "Like...maybe half that." Dor rolled his eyes. "And we have the card table." "It seats eight, Dorian. Good luck finding six suckers who will sit down and let you cheat at cards." "I don't cheat!" "You dumped Mark Bearers for other Mark Bearers." "Oh, we're talking Mark Bearer stuff? Well, not for nothing, but you did let Kinvex die." "##### dick, wow," Tuara sputtered through a drink. "False equivalence much?" "For the good Captain, no less. Who you then left. For...who again?" Tuara rolled her eyes as he plopped down beside her, and attempted to scoot away slightly. Dor wrapped his arm around her and kicked his feet up irreverently on the coffee table, back of his neck reclining to rest on the top of their couch. Both sighed. "I'm applying for a job tomorrow," he murmured softly. "Really? Is there anything still sacred enough to kill?" "The ##### mouth on you," Dor rolled his eyes, "no. The Lavapool Inn needs a bartender. It pays alright. Comfy location. Gets a lot of business. I get to be around people. I'm thinking of going for it." "Oooh, a plug," Tuara drawled, grinning and rolling on her side. "I'm in favor. Bring a gun to the job interview." "Wha?" "That way you'll definitely get it." "That makes sense, actually. Just keep it holstered. People open carry all kinds of weapons in Ta-Koro." Tuara's grin stretched cartoonishly. She was well and truly drunk. "Are you gonna be able to handle that?" Dor raised an eyebrow at the mostly-drained bottle in her hand. Tuara jabbed at his cheek with the bottom. "Shhaddup. Dorian Shaddup. Who are you to teach me lessons," she grumbled through her grin. Dor rolled his eyes and smiled back. "You'll never learn your lesson." "Says who?" Dorian Shaddup asked, sticking his bottom lip out in a perfect pout. "Deputy, you wrong me. Would I have managed to get this far if, somewhere along the line, I didn't start learning my lessons?" Tuara giggled; Dor laughed. They leaned in as one, together. The piano sat in the corner, suppressing all the ghosts who had graced its keys or ran fingers across the gilded wood. The angry shade of a callow young Toa of Iron was somewhere, buried alive beneath all that polish. It could not avert its eyes. It watched the couple kiss. ... -Tyler
  3. i'm glad everyone is treating OP with the seriousness he deserves in here. anyway, yes, watch Given. -Tyler
  4. IC: Reo mentally tuned out at the oncoming wave of Treespeak, and out of the desire to give Leah a sense of privacy. She was a more open person than he was, and she certainly wouldn't have minded the Toa Maru of Ice getting to know one of her Gukko Force squadmates, but Reordin himself was fiercely protective of the privacy of the assorted screwups behind him. His relationships with them were his, and even though he'd done a bang-up job of it, he still would have liked to keep his old friends sequestered from his new ones. To get that kind of leeway from the other Maru, you had to offer it first. ... But mostly the Treespeak. His head was already ringing as it was; Skri was drifting off from the group in regular intervals, and he was eager to join her. All he wanted to do was beat the ##### out of something already, feel his axe sink into a Rahkshi's carapace, a Piraka's smile, Echelon's throat... A mountain, blacker than Ihu and more stable than Mangai, uprooted itself to stand beside him. Sulov's statuesque Kimi blocked out the sun. He raised his shovel to the northeast, directing Reordin - and the ILF behind him - to pay attention to a run-down old building. The occupation hadn't been kind to it; wooden supports in the roof had fallen in front of the building, or into the structure itself. The windows had all been shattered or blown out. Charcoal, as black as Sulov Maru's armor, licked at the wounds left behind on the facade. "That's the bar," the hulking Toa of Earth said. His prosthetic was still directing Reo's notice like a vane. Reordin blinked, clearly lost. Skrihen, behind them, clenched a fist quietly. "Seventh Squadron. Inspection period. You sneaked away from patrol. We toured for bars," the Toa of Earth explained, shaking his old saperka - a memory of his old life, the tool of the Ussalry he had given everything to - imperceptibly. "That's the bar." Behind the pale ice of Reo's eyes, some glimmer of recognition shone. "We broke out the Three Brothers," the Toa of Ice said quietly, as if he was worried he was constructing the memory from thin, mountain air. "Yeah. Kol Uskey was asking why it was locked up, and I told everyone, 'Don't get any ideas about that stuff. It's meant for the locals, and if you try and drink it, you'll freeze your ##### to death." The two Maru remembered the warning in unison. Sulov's green eyes were dull and lifeless, but a certain happiness had cracked the mountain's summit, too. He seemed relieved that Reo was taking over the memory. The fist slackened. "And what was his name, ah...dickhead." Reo snapped his fingers a few time, trying to conjure the memory forth like he could conjure frosts. "The sergeant back then." "Viniau." "Viniau. He gave me that look like I was trying to ##### around with him or call him a beta or whatever, and you remember what he said?" "'With all due respect, Lieutenant, I can handle one shot. You've been drinking this like Bula juice all night, and everyone knows you're half-Gukko.'" The two best friends were finishing each other's sentences regularly now; Sulov quietly, matter-of-factly, as if he was uncomfortable speaking in full sentences even for nostalgic purposes, and Reo crowing with increasingly open glee at the memories of his military jock days. "And he was stupid enough to drink it!" "Stupid. But deceived. You poured a double shot. Very cruel." Reo's grin was wolfish, not sheepish; an air of mischief was in his face, and suddenly the wounds across his body, the taut energy in his body was easing up. "He locked up in that pose, remember?" Reo leaned backwards, body tightening up and eyes widening as his posture went ramrod. "Plag, you should have seen him, ##### looked like he'd tried to spank you and didn't get away with it--" "He froze all night. Found him in the snow next morning." "--And...oh yeah! Mata Nui, what was his name, uhh...Tarnok! Tarnok and I were the only ones sober enough--" Reordin was laughing openly now. "--Sober enough to carry him back to my post, and we planted him in the snow! He has the bright idea to him up out there like he was me! On guard duty! I almost went up for a commendation for that, Korzaa told me that she wished all Guards looked that disciplined on graveyard shift. It was one of the only compliments that butch old woman ever gave me, Spirit bless her. I didn't have the heart to tell her." His laugh died off in a wistful sigh, and he leaned back against Sulov's arm. The Toa of Earth's enormous body made for a more stable place to relax than half of the damaged buildings in Ko-Koro. "It was that bar, too, man," he said softly, "God ##### it. ##### Echelon. ######." Sisk's bird was taking off. "Whatever happened to him? Viniau?" "Still around. Still Ussalry. Guards an office now," Sulov replied brusquely. "Mm." The Toa of Earth's eyes cut down to his brother's mischievously. "Heatstones everywhere," he rumbled. The dam broke. Reo's laughs restarted, devolving quickly into breathless giggles, the same hysterical laughter that had bubbled out of the mouths of the Maru in the early days, when Reo's biggest concern in the world was tickling Stannis or hazing Korero. Tears started to well up in his eyes, and by the time Leah turned to face them, she was facing Sulov , playing as innocent as he ever could, Reo, so hysterical that he had even started to hiccup, and Reo's assembled strike team, many of whom were looking at their old friend with mixtures of confusion, amusement, and - in one case - relief. “Well, babe, looks like it’s a party after all. Let’s not keep them waiting.” "Wha? Oh." Reo held his breath for several seconds before giving up and hiccuping again. He felt Sulov's shoulders shake underneath him twice, and a heavier-than-normal exhale leave the Toa of Earth. "S-Shut up. Your fault. I bet everyone would hate to figure out what you were like before you learned to swim, #####. Sulov Koskium, clinging to a lilypad, legs like ##### oars slapping the water. Or how about that cute Ga-Matoran girl who finally taught you the br--" "We should go." "Yeah. Yeah, we should. Fine." Reo led the march to the warehouse initially, but as the minutes went on, the tracks of the strike force began to cover themselves, and Reo began to let Sulov and Leah take point as he slipped back between Skri and Alfon. The Toa Maru of Ice had failed to bite back a grin. "He gets shy about it," the lieutenant whispered conspiratorially, "but he's a total heartbreaker." -Tyler
  5. Silvan's already covered most of what's happening with those particular topics, but I can add on that Ga-Koro is mostly still dealing with integrating the Dasakan expedition led by Ayiwah and Hanako. Other than that, not much. It's good to see you back, House, even if temporarily (though I obviously hope you can find the time to see some of next arc). -Tyler
  6. IC: As Merror drifted back into consciousness, the first thing he became aware of was that everything hurt. It was as though he’d been used as a giant’s Koli ball. The side of his head was particularly sore. What had happened? Where was he? He hadn’t yet managed to open his eyes. He racked his foggy mind for memories of the last few hours. There was something important, he was sure of it...something that had happened? Something he still had to do? Someone he had to — Vault. Abettor. Echelon. Makuta. Dorian. His eyes sprang open and he struggled to heave himself up. There was soil and leaf mould beneath his hands, a tree root poking into his leg. He managed to raise his torso off the ground, and looked around with groggy urgency. Trees surrounded him, stretching up to a star-dotted sky. No sign of the Fe-Toa. With further effort he rose to his feet. He gave his injuries a quick once-over: nothing serious, it appeared, just bruises and the occasional shallow cut. Reaching a hand over his shoulder revealed that one of his swords was missing. The other remained safely in its sheath. Good enough. “Dorian!” he shouted into the darkling forest. No reply but the rustle of a soft evening wind among the leaves. He began to move, searching the trees for some sign of the young man he’d come so far to help. “Dorian!” “Alriiiiight, alright,” came the sluggish reply. “I said don’t start cryin’ over me. Yeesh.” He found Dorian on his feet, but only just; the Toa of Iron had inched himself up a tree, with the slow, deliberate pace of a survivor trying to find his footing. There was already a cigarette in his mouth, but it hung unlit from a split bottom lip. His prosthetic Protosteel fingers were clicking uselessly at the battered lighter that had once belonged to Joske Nimil. The digits had none of their usual fluid grace. It only took a few steps until his eyes adjusted in the pale moonlight, and saw the truth of Dorian’s wounds. What had been serious within the heart of the Vault only minutes previously had turned grievous after their rough journey. The wound on his midriff had opened up considerably, and the pulses of blood were starting to slow between intervals. Dor’s eyes were feverish, but even through the shocked haze of Echelon’s death and Makuta’s return, there was a glimmer of something, hidden under the waves of callow cerulean, that Merror had never seen before. Relief. Wonder. Peace. “Alright,” he whispered, bending his head down to the lighter. The cigarette finally caught, and he sucked on it hard for a second, hissing onyx smoke through his teeth. “You caught me. It’s not...oxblood. All this excitement, guess I...might be a season...behind.” His legs spasmed under him, knees almost buckling; his back scraped the tree before the usually-limber Toa of Iron caught his balance. Merror darted forward instinctively as Dorian shuddered. As he stabilised, the Ta-Toa approached more slowly. “Dor…” In the back of his mind, it occurred to Merror that he’d never called him that before. “This isn’t good. We have to get you to a healer.” He offered the battered young Fe-Toa a supporting hand. Dorian looked at the hand for a long time, and his playful grin grew softer, more serene at the edges. His expression was almost pitying. Once again, the assassin was acting as if he had been let in on some secret, some private magic trick with a prestige that would wow everyone but him. Or like he had already accepted something that had not even entered Merror’s mind. “A healer…” he laughed quietly. His eyes drifted up to the sky above them. The day had passed them by while navigating Mangaia; by now it was midnight, an apt time for the horror they had just unwittingly awakened. But Makuta’s reach had not yet extended to the heavens - the moon was still out, shining a spotlight on Dorian Shaddix, and the stars were in his eyes. “I shouldn’t have kissed her. Tell her sorry for me.” Was he delirious? The Fe-Toa had most likely lost a lot of blood. Merror would have to take charge. “Come on.” He stepped forward, and slipped the proffered arm around Dorian’s back, supporting his shoulders. “You’re going to be all right, lad. I think Kini-Nui’s been resettled; they’ll have someone who can help. Maybe a Sana-user. We’ll get you patched up.” Dorian was still staring up into the sky, and he weakly tried to shrug away Merror’s arm from behind him. He had always been strong; strong and fast, and Merror could not understand why the Toa of Iron wasn’t fighting him more forcefully. Dorian had always hated being dragged around like this. “Listen to you,” he kept giggling, blood flowing from his busted lip, from his rent open core, from the teeth biting down on the edge of his smile. “So full...so full of #####. You and Jos.” His hand brushed his empty revolver, trembled slightly. “Why...didn’t he tell me?” Dor finished the rhetorical question with a curse. “Useless. Frickin’ useless. We...would have pranked his stupid ##### out of Bad Company. Or...led him into a tree when Xa-Koro blew. Told...Told him there were kittens to save up there.” He coughed. “He didn’t...tell me. Left...before me. I tried to…” Dor managed to climb to his own feet again, and shrugged Merror’s arm away from him. The blood was pouring out of him, but what little was left was still the blood of the Mark Bearers. He could stand. “Temple...of Peace. I buried him there. Facing the morning...sun. Couldn't...tell. Tell her. Kay?” Merror froze. He felt something drop in his stomach. “Dorian...you’re not saying…” … “...what happened?” he asked softly, returning to his slow stride. They had to keep moving. Dor turned to glare at him. His eyes rolled back into his head for a second - partially out of exertion, but partially… “I took care...of it...” Merror looked at him for a moment, uncomprehending. Then it clicked. “Echelon…” he breathed. Merror closed his eyes, hung his head as they trudged onward. It had happened again. One more good person, taken by that madman. One more person he couldn’t save. Even dead, snuffed out by his own dark master, he had still managed to remove another friend from Merror’s life. First it had been his team: young, naive, so sure they could take on the world. He had watched them die before his eyes. A lifetime later, Tamaru, plummeting from the Le-Koro treetops; catching him mid-fall, only for him to breathe his last on the lakeshore. Taipu too. Utu, that poor broken shell of a man, just another failed experiment to the Dark Toa. And now Joske too, the fiery young champion he’d seen transformed into a Toa, who he’d travelled with and tried to impart with what little wisdom he could offer. So young...all of them, so young. “Hmmm,” Dor hummed softly, peacefully. And now Dorian, Merror thought with a start, wrenching himself back out of that pit of sorrow. If he did not focus now, keep forging ahead with what strength the two of them could still muster, Dorian would join them. He would not — could not let that happen. He could not lose one more. “They’re pretty tonight,” the Fe-Toa said quietly, staring up into the stars. The stars glinted off his eyes, and Merror was shocked to see part of the light inside them was actually tears, shimmering in his eyes. By now, the gunslinger’s feet were dragging more than stepping; he tucked against Merror’s side, cigarette bobbing in his mouth as he swallowed hard. The cinders fell to earth from the stars. “How many are up there, Merror?” Dor asked, another rhetorical question posed only a hair above a whisker. “How many thousands? ...I did more things wrong...than there are stars in that sky tonight. P-Pew.” The Toa of Iron’s eyes closed tightly, to smother the threat of tears. He plucked the cigarette out of his mouth with what strength remained in his fingers - his real fingers - and crushed the embers out on a thumb. “I just...I just. Really...thought...I did this one right.” Dorian Shaddix’s breath left him in half a laugh and half a sniffle. Quietly, he slumped against Merror’s collarbone. ... “...Dorian?” … “...Dor?” ...
  7. "There's an old saying in Tennessee—I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee—that says, 'Fool me once, shame on...shame on you. Fool me — you can't get fooled again.'" [ -Tyler
  8. Hey there, gang! Well, as many years as it took, it seems like the end of this arc still snuck up on a lot of us. I know most of us, myself included, still have some unfinished business to attend to with all our characters. Keep posting with the same IC/OOC format you would anywhere else, but bear in mind that this is meant to draw things to a close for the time being before next arc comes around, so try not to string out interactions for too long. As for how long you have? Well, given that it seems that some people still weren't entirely ready for things to shut down so fast (even though I for one certainly was) we're going to set a tentative closing date for this topic for Sunday, October 20th, 6:00 PM EST. We reserve the right to take a few days on either end of the margin of error, depending on if people think they need more time or whether we feel people have sufficiently wrapped up their stories in time for next arc. Oh, and speaking of which... Pay close attention to some certain posts in this topic. You might be surprised by the plot hooks you see. I love you guys. We did it. -Tyler
  10. IC: Desdemona knew she had a soft heart. The Fursics had been the opposition party her whole life, a clan of schemers, double-talkers and rebels whose ambitions always raced ahead of their decency. They were cautious to a fault, less impulsive than the Dastana but crueler in their manipulations. The Fursics had risen against Umbraline Roras for as long as histories had been written; the Fursics had taken her mother. Yet the yells of alarm rang coldly in her ears. Every flicker on the mental plane, every candle light that was a Menti's life being extinguished by Inokio's deft fingers, left her stomach clenching. The names and voices that were disappearing had names to her, even if most of them never acknowledged her presence; her tuggings at their minds had equated to an intimacy that almost felt like friendship, and she felt herself mourning for the presences that would never again ring in her mind. Try as she might, she had a soft heart, not a ruler's heart, and she found she could not harden it. They're just people. They're just like me. She tried to close her mind to them, but she had never been good at silencing her mind. Inokio was doing that for her; the sounds of battle had left the mental plane; she heard them outside the door, signs that no mere Fursic had been able to stop the ferocious advance of her sister's Battlemaster. The fight through the castle was no longer abstract, it was at her doorstep...and she steeled herself for whatever Zuto Nui commanded would come through that door. When he did, she bit her lip to prevent herself from crying. Yumi had never lacked for protection. The Hogo were around her night and day since she was old enough to speak, and she and Hana had been inseparable until the expedition to Mata Nui had taken the gentle Herupa away from both of them. But it was Korae Inokio who had been her sister's most deadly sword. Yusanora had picked him for his keen mind, yes, but he had been a killer long before he'd been a tutor. She had read all about the Fifth Fursic Rebellion in her youth, and had relentlessly grilled Rayuke and Commodore Ayiwah for war stories whenever they sat for state dinners with Mother, but Inokio's ferocity was always something that had been unspoken. To Desde, years younger than Hana or Yumi and never subject to their lessons, Inokio had always been an opaque figure, hard to read. She saw him clearly now. He was about Ayiwah's age, and there was still an air of youthful attractiveness on his face that was only slowly giving way to years, but his eyes were hollowed in a way that Des had never seen. His wrist was tied in a splint, and he was favoring it while keeping an unorthodox one-handed grip on his Soulsword. His legs looked fit to give out on him, and his armor was pitted with scrapes and burns, flesh mottled with purpling and yellowing bruises underneath. The look in his eyes was worse. It was as though Inokio was being dogged by something, some force that was nipping at his heels and chasing him towards some hideous truth, previously unknown to them all. This went beyond fighting his way through Kozu. One look at Inokio made her realize that she had been right all along. The Chojo bit her lip. Tears welled up in her eyes as he approached. "My Chojo," Inokio said respectfully, half-bowing before he began to inspect her chains. "I am glad to see you live." "Ino...kio?" she asked softly, surprised at the huskiness of her voice. There was a rasp in the way she asked the word, almost pleading; she hadn't realized how long it had been since she'd spoken physically. "But...you betrayed..." "Yes, Desdemona," he said curtly. "Your bindings. Metal, but not infallible. Your Mindarm has been improving greatly in the past year. The two of us together may be enough to loosen them." "Mom trusted you. Yumi loved you. Hana loved you. Inokio, I loved you. Why?" Inokio's eyes stared into her for a long time. "You have a good and gentle soul, Desde," he finally said quietly. "You could never understand one so black as mine." "Inokio--" "Your Mindarm. Please. Masayoshi will be waiting for us." His voice had grown harsh, the way it was when the Battlemaster quarreled with Rayuke in court. Desde quailed slightly at the change in tone, but closed her eyes and concentrated on her chains. Inokio's remained vacant and far-away, but he was clearly exerting his will in the same fashion. The chains around her right wrist trembled, then gave way; the restraints on her other wrist gave way moments later. Her ankles were still bound, and Desde felt the familiar lurch in her stomach, like tripping in a dream-- --and waking up before you hit the ground. Inokio's arms had caught her, wrapping gently around the Chojo's slender back. The chains around her ankles clinked softly as she flailed, fruitlessly attempting to find purchase in thin air, but Inokio never let her go, and even in his physically diminished state he seemed more than capable of restraining her. He had not let go; with a start, and a sting in her eyes, Desde realized that she was being embraced. Inokio had never hugged her before. "You saved me," she whispered through her sniffles. "No," Inokio replied somberly, "the woman saved you. She enlisted my help. Make no mistake, Chojo. I am here for myself as much as you." "But you are here for me." Desde's head lifted off his shoulder to stare the Battlemaster in the face; he was surprisingly less anxious than she had ever seen him. His face is impassive. "You saved us both." The traitor's lips tightened. So too did his arms around her, until the chains at Desde's feet snapped with a psionic twist and she could be lowered to the ground. "There are ships the way we came," Inokio said urgently as he released her. The fidgeting had returned to his fingertips, and he was rocking back and forth on the soles of his feet, anxious to get moving again. "It has been years since I was at a helm, but the sea is in the blood of my clan dating back as far as our history. I should suffice to at least return us to Sado. There we can consult with--" "You're both a long way from Sado," a voice drawled from the doorway. Desde recognized it instantly, along with the acrid smell of smoke and crackling flesh that heralded her. Battlemaster Sheika had always been a prodigious Willhammer, on par with the Chojo herself; the wildfire that marked her presence on the mental plane raged, threatening to consume them all. The same fire burned in her eyes. "Hello, Inokio. Is it pay day? I'm a little short on dragons myself, but perhaps we could go see dear Nera together." The way that Inokio pivoted his body, blocking the Chojo from sight, was not lost on anyone in the room. Sheika's smile was as catlike as Inokio's mental tell, and her wiry frame was still where Inokio's jittered. "I passed quite a few bodies on the way here. It seems like someone was trying to rescue this poor princess from her tower. As if that's ever gone well for you, young one," Sheika continued to drawl. "I suppose they were too much for the poor guards, but between two Battlemasters, I think we can handle any would-be heroes. I'm sure Nera will be delighted that she has such a loyal retainer in Korae Inokio." Inokio had finally found some steel to armor his voice. "I serve the Empire, woman," he said brusquely, fingers twitching, preparing his Soulsword. "I serve those who benefit her the most. You bring no benefit to the Empire; you bring no benefit to the world. Desdemona, close your eyes." "Yes, Desdemona, close your eyes." Sheika laughed harshly. "Just like Kuno. Just like Arsix and sweet, brave Jasik. The royal family has always been very, very good at closing its eyes. That's why Inokio came crawling here; his eyes were closed, too, and he would do anything to open them. You have always sought knowledge, Inokio, isn't that right? And in return...just close a few more eyes. It was a very sweet deal. One you've now trampled." The silence Inokio's wake had left in the mental plane was being filled with gust; the winds lapped at Sheika's fires with greedy tongues. Desde remembered the night of Yumi's party, the amateurish Soulsword bursting from the chest of her mother. The fires had eaten Yusanora's heart that night. Slowly, but surely, they had eaten her daughters too. "My credit, however, remains quite sound," Sheika continued, a long, thin shape conjuring from one hand. The arrow was joined by a bow, and Desdemona felt as though she'd been transfixed on the spot. Her eyes were wide with shock at the display before her, two distinct Soulswords being joined in a weapon she could never had conceptualized. Of course an orb had been chosen to slay Yusanora; such a majestic weapon, such a Menti, would have been pegged on the spot. And if she had been, who would have been able to stop her... Me. The word felt so foreign, so full of pride, that she thought it had been planted by Inokio. Or Yusanora's ghost. I was her daughter. I would have stopped you. I'll stop you now. The Soulsword was notched and aimed at Inokio's heart; even with the reach of his Soulsword, his wounded legs would never reach Sheika in time-- A vase struck the Battlemaster in the back of the head. Desde, who had found herself brained days ago with a mug of beer, still found the prospect hysterical. The Chojo's face had broken into an impish grin from behind her battered protector. Sheika did not seem to be laughing this time. "You," declared the heir to the Empire, with an unfamiliar strength that coarsed in her veins like hot metal, "are a shitbird." Inokio took the opportunity to lunge. His Soulsword was out and ready to cleave Sheika from waist to collar diagonally, but even dazed from the impact, Sheika was faster and more energetic than the tired, wounded Korae. She nimbly ducked backwards, out of the path of his choreographed attack, and pressed forward with a thrust of her arrow that grazed Inokio's left forearm, cutting it deep. Des could smell the singe of his flesh, but apart from an instinctive yelp of pain, the wound hardly seemed to faze Inokio. He pivoted ninety degrees and gazed down the mercenary Battlemaster, a sworn sword whose focus transcended all his faults. The nervous fidget was gone. The wounds were gone. The indecision was gone. This was Korae Inokio, the demon of Kozu, whose rise to the realm of politics and into the hearts of the Umbraline princesses had been built on Fursic bones. Even as the wounds began to pile up - Sheika's arrow worked well as a makeshift dagger, while Inokio's nodachi strikes were slower and more suited for a range Sheika refused to give - he seemed preternaturally focused, waiting for an opening that Des began to worry would never arrive. In her head, the cats that marked Inokio's presence began to mewl in pain. They licked their paws gingerly. But still, Inokio kept up. The arrow found his right side, and his leg almost buckled. But he pivoted again. He's fighting for me, Desde realized, and even watching the hopelessness of his cause and the seriousness of his predicament, the Chojo's heart sang. He wants me to be okay. "Enough of this, Korae," Sheika growled, lunging forward. Somehow, Inokio managed to step backwards, and cut horizontally in a strike similar to the one that had blinded Masa in the yards all those years ago. Sheika reared back, clearly cognizant of that very risk, and her incisors glinted in a leer. "Enough of this, Korae." ... Inokio smiled. There was a brief leap in the mental plane; the flames had begun to part. Sheika realized something was amiss, but not quite what. Her stance turned into a confused slouch; her smile shifted to an uneasy frown. .:Why did I say that?:. Her eyes demanded of Inokio. .:Why did I say that?:. She realized she had done it again, and began to panic. Her eyes shifted to Desdemona, and the realization struck - but it had struck too late. By now, Desdemona had her. The princess had spent her life in a tower, making it her own and shaping it to her whims; this tower was colder and crueler, with none of the comforts, but a cage was still a cage, and the Chojo had made it her own. .:You killed my mom,:. the mental plane rumbled at Sheika. "...you killed my mom," came the echo from her lips. .:You took her heart.:. "...you took her heart." .:Inokio. Now.:. "...Inokio. No--" Sheika's mind, desperately fighting to keep the raw strength of the Chojo at bay, had started to make progress in the fight for her mind. In the process, though, mental faculties had to be diverted. Her Soulsword had shimmered and vanished. Inokio smiled with grim pride at his Chojo, and finally made his strike. The arm that had wounded him to the quick a dozen times over fell to the ground. The cut was so clean that Sheika did not bleed. But she did scream. The scream grew in pitch and shock as Desde took advantage of the opportunity and pushed into Sheika's mind, without grace or style becoming of a Battlemaster or princess. She was an enraged daughter now, a girl who had been freed from her restraints, ripping and tearing anything she found that seemed vital. It was one of the hundreds of tantrums that Yumi had inflicted on her bedroom, only writ large; the wildfire turned on Sheika's innermost sanctum, lighting fire to the tapestries and the bedsheets. There was nowhere in the room for the Tajaar to turn. Desdemona's hollow blue eyes were in every nook, every cranny, under beds and inside closets. The fires licked at Sheika inside her very brain, and the smell of burning flesh became her own. Slowly, the Tajaar's defeated scream tapered down into a whimper. She sat slumped in the corner, eyes as vacant and sightless as Masayoshi's. Inokio stepped in for the finishing blow. "No," Desde interrupted, before he could bring the nodachi down on her neck. "Leave her." "My Chojo--" "Am I?" "...Desde," Inokio acknowledged, bowing his head in respect for her strength, "she is a powerful enemy. Her recovery from...that...is not out of the question. And she is a traitor besides." "So are you, Inokio," Desde reminded him. The whip in her voice reminded him of Yumiwa. "But I'm letting you steer me home. Leave her be. If she's in there, she knows who her betters are now." A beat. Inokio smiled. "Yes. My princess." ... "And then I said, 'Lady, you are such a shitbird," Desde finished, blowing imaginary smoke away from her fingers the way she'd seen one of the Chaotic Six do, what seemed like a lifetime ago. "And bam. We strolled out like we owned the place. Just like the legend." It was clear that the open air and the smell of the sea had improved Desde's mood. Since they had commandeered the boat - one Des recognized as one of Kuno's private pleasure vessels, still docked at home probably as punishment from his domineering mother - she had been pacing the deck, eagerly recounting - and, eventually, embellishing - every detail for Masayoshi's implicit benefit. The Executioner's assistant could see her charge pacing with the help of her Arthron, and though she could not make out the distinct impression it was clear that the Chojo wore a giddy smile. She was uncharacteristically animated. "The legend," Inokio recounted skeptically. The fight seemed to go out of Desde. "...Yeah," she said uncertainly, turning from the Battlemaster to the Soulsword. "The legend of Desdemona the Valkyr. And her journey into the cave...of the...it's..not a legend. Is it." Masayoshi's sightless eyes revealed nothing. They both turned to Inokio on the helm; typical of the traitor, he could not meet their gaze for a time. Then he did. And he smiled. "Of course it is, my Chojo," he said, stifling a smile as he turned away from them and towards the imprisonment awaiting him on Sado. "It was one of my favorites when I grew up." The smile broke loose; he was glad she did not see it. -Tyler
  11. IC: Ow. Ow. Ow ow ow ow OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW OW Tweaked tweaked RIPPED RIPPED TORN TORN TEARING TEARING ##### ##### ##### ##### CAN’T FIGHT IT CAN’T FIGHT IT TOO MUCH SWORD? SWORD? HE CAN’T WIN. HE CAN’T WIN. HE CAN’T WIN. Ragged breaths breaking through between screams. Bugs eating the corner of my eyes, leaving black spots in peripherals. Thoughts of Joske. Cael. Utu. Tuara. Joske. Cael. Tuara. Tuara. Vault. I was still in the Vault. I couldn't forget. I couldn't give up. I had to stand. Don’t let yourself die you have to remember don’t let yourself die you have to remember don’t let yourself die you have to remember don’t let yourself die don’t, don’t don't don’t.... Echelon’s hand was raising to the quartz ceiling of the Vault, all the power of Makuta contained in his body. Killing blow. Time for last thoughts. I wish I’d kissed Tuara again. I wish I’d kissed Cael again. I should have stayed with my friends. ... “You’re a delightful audience, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you. And I hope this doesn’t come as a severe shock, but I’m through.” No! “Ohh yeah! Oh, it’s boozin’ time!” -- One more! “One more what? I’m going to the bar! I’ll be saying that to the, the waiter in a minute! One more, please!” ... Karzahni was trippy. I wasn’t burning. There were no stalagmites impaling me from mouth to groin, no chains binding me to a legion of sinners awaiting final decimation by Makuta or Mata Nui, not even really a sense of torment. I wouldn’t have minded making some wailing lamentations. This just sucked. It was dusty and arid, not particularly humid, but stiff; the sun’s beating was relentless, its rays pulsed when you looked directly into its majesty, and the only movement in the air was an occasional breeze that brought more sand than relief. Karz wasn’t Karz. Karz was just Po-Wahi. “Well, that makes sense,” I grumbled, moving to loosen the hot pink scarf. If divine intervention wouldn’t bring any relief, I would muster some myself -- -- but the scarf wouldn’t budge. The Fusas seemed to like that. They made amused noises that sound like Tuara’s laughter. Only now did I see them; they numbered in the dozens, as tall as houses, genial creatures that paid me no mind as they flipped and cavorted around their giant enclosure. Only now did I realize that I was enclosed with them, slumped against an oversized, worn wooden gate as I had been slumped against the Vault. I knew this place, too. I’d met Joske here. He changed my life, even though in my arrogance I thought I’d been changing his. Or maybe I had. “...Joske?” I called out weakly, trying not to inhale a mouthful of that stupid sand in exchange for that hopeful word. “Jokesy?” A voice called back, sounding far away and hard to make out. It seemed to come from everywhere at once, like it was piggybacking on every grain of sand in the air. “Boy oh boy, can I do jokesy. How’s this one: what do you get when you cross a Bula berry with a Madu fruit? A burst of energy!” “...I’m in #####.” Out between the legs of one of the closer Fusa, a figure suddenly materialized. Dark, indistinct, all mysterious-looking in its wide-brimmed hat. Even with all the dust in the air, I could pick out the silhouette of a stalk of grain sticking out between the figure’s teeth. Odd, the details you’ll notice when you can’t for the life of you realize quite where you’ve seen this person before-- --Wait. Teeth. “I’m in the last circle of #####.” “Yyyyyep,” Grokk replied, chewing on his cud like a farmer. “Welcome to my party, prettyboy.” “That’s not even funny," I insisted, inching myself up the post in an attempt to stand. I blinked, confused, when I realized that I didn’t have to bother; there was no pain, there was no blood threatening to come spewing out of me like the punctured canteen I was, there wasn’t even a scar. That sword always left scars. I stood up fully once I realized there wouldn’t be consequences for doing so, pushing myself off the gate with a foot casually-- --and eating ##### just as quickly. The act of standing was easy enough, but when I moved forward it felt like something had removed all the bones in my legs, and I was stuck walking on lean sticks of jelly. I rolled onto my back and looked up at the sun angrily, searching the cosmos for answers, and instead of them I only saw the faintest outline of a golden Kakama, a mask that the sun wore with mocking, attractive ease. I knew what it meant. Joske, you prick. I’d have to sit through this one. “You get a burst of energy from a Bula or a Madu,” I pouted up to the heavens. “You don’t need to cross them.” “But when you need extra, let’s say, ballistic force to jumpstart your heart,” Grokk mused, dipping over me and shading my face, “Maybe that Madu pop-rock-factor could go a long way.” Close up, I could see the details of his face. Unfortunately, Grokk looked just as I remembered. Swirling tattoo over one eye; enough gold teeth to open a bank with; cruel eyes veneered in mischief; and, of course, a smile as wide and provocative as a four-lane market road. The only difference I picked out was that he now wore an absolutely enormous hat-- looked to be about 20 gallons. Before I could say “howdy,” Grokk had lifted me up by the armpits, and held me aloft like a rag doll. His scarred hands stole all the strength out of my body, so the jello feeling went from head to foot. I dangled helplessly, my aggravation growing the more I looked on his stupid, stupid face. “You’re supposed to be dead,” I managed to snarl through limp lips. “We have that in common,” Grokk answered, the veneer on his eyes shifting for just a moment. He looked up at the sky, flashing the hazy blue a humorless smile. “But somebody just won’t let me.” “What, sun-Joske?” I mean, why not. “Worse,” Grokk said. “Way-hay-hay worse. This punk has a ‘sense of humor.’” “Sense of humor. Maybe just no sense of fashion.” I fought the urge to smile at him. I would have kneed him in the chest if my legs felt capable of anything beyond being smeared on toast, or wrapped around a dock to keep a rowboat from drifting off, but it felt good to think that there was something out there that was keeping Grokk from drifting off into an eternal siesta. Karmically good, sure. But good good, too. He wasn’t a peaceful person. And it meant that I hadn’t technically killed him. I hated the idea of being held up for the duration of our conversation, but I wasn’t going to say anything; it beat being dropped onto the ground again, which-- He dropped me onto the ground. “#####!” Were my own thoughts not even safe? “Nnnope,” Grokk grinned, spitting out his piece of grass. … Why are there so many Fusa here? Did they kick out your teeth as a little Skakdi or something-- “Agh,” Grokk rolled his eyes, holding his temples exaggeratedly. “It would be easier if you talked. The inside of your head has a real hollow echo, and smells like perfume in there. You been using perfume, Dorable?” “No. So, yeah, what’s with the Fusa? I don’t remember the last time I even saw one in the wild. They must be your thing, right?” I looked at the creatures that had surrounded us, and the more I looked the more they put me on edge. A Fusa wasn’t a threatening creature by nature, just a harmless little marsupial with endless bursts of energy-- “Heh,” Grokk snickered. ##### off. Anyway, Matoran even made little toys of them to flip around the house. My dad had stepped on more than one of them as a kid. He always hated them, but for some reason, he never stopped buying them for me. “S’an entrepreneurial thing,” Grokk clarified. “Way I sees it, even the gods need playthings.” He shot another pointed look up at the sky. “Gods?” “Ooh, you betcha,” Grokk answered, returning his gaze to me. “Lots of those up there. More n’ you’d expect... Enough gods for every one of us to get our own, even. It’s a crowded field. So I’ve had to really up my production of late. Lately, I’m swimmin’ in merchandise.” “I never imagined you’d become an upstanding member of society. Businessman Grokk.” He shot me a wink. “Who said nothin’ about upstanding?” As if on cue, one of the Fusas started to— I don’t know quite how to say it— go haywire? It flipped once, then one of its legs tried to move while the other stayed put. The Fusa flipped again, this time flying sideways and crashing into one of its compatriots. The two kangaroos collapsed into a heap, making plaintive noises and trying to disentangle. Grokk made zero effort to help, which was— “Classic me,” he finished. “Yep. Y’see, Dorable, death doesn’t change people. It gives them a chance to be themselves. Death couldn’t hold me in, no more than it can hold you. Death is temporary if the gods decree it. They don’t care ‘bout giving us any rest. They’re, y’know, just lookin’ for a kick.” My first thought of Utu Kotore, the poor #####ing gigantic Mark Bearer, and how the last he’d ever seen of his only friend was his back, abandoning him again. I thought of Joske Nimil. I thought of all my dead friends, and how many of them had probably gotten talks like this. Joske must have. Gods seemed to favor Joske, in a way they -- didn’t? Did? -- seem to favor Grokk (too?) And here I was, the link that connected them. Joske, Grokk, Echelon, Heuani, Stannis, Cael, Utu, Tuara. And Dor. The center of the spiderweb. There for everything, but always in the shadows, able to flit in and help or bounce out and shelter from any storm that blew my way. I feel so tired. “It doesn’t feel like that,” I protested. “It feels like my skin’s out of the game. I got what I’m after. I was--” Was what? I had been doing something, something that felt important...something I’d thought I’d wrapped up. Echelon? Had I killed Echelon? Echelon was killing me. That seemed ignoble. Everyone was going to think I was a ##### like Joske. Hmmph. “--fine with it.” That sounded wrong. No, it sounded right. It sounded like a blend. I knew what kind of barrel I was staring down when I marched into that Vault; all I wanted to do was burn out, the way Tuara always talked about, and leave Echelon’s corpse snapping, crackling, and popping beside me. That was just an optional objective. “There are people who can do it better than me.” “See but,” Grokk chided, adopting the posture and gestures of a stern teacher. “I don’t give a fusa’s flip about what you think you’re capable of, Mr. Dorian. So you’re the ‘center of a web,’ or whatever other tangled—tangled, hah, I’m good!—analogy you wanna weave—weave!—for me. I’ll letcha in on a little secret, Mr. Self-Involved: we’re all centers of our own webs. Life is all connections. You’re not special—” “—Thanks.” “—But neither is nobody else. Well, except for me. I’m somethin’ special.” “Figures he’d keep his inflated sense of self…” “Don’t mumble, it’s disrespectful.” Grokk wagged his finger one last time, then relaxed out of his teacher bit. “Purposefully obtuse as always. Point is: you’re not special, you’re just dead. Well, close to death as we get, ‘round here. You’re where they sent me after I broke all the rules. You killed me, yeah yeah y’ain’t gotta apologize, I know you did whatcha had to… and I died. But then I didn’t like the, ah, boundaries that created. Flexed my Grokkie self a little too much for the man upstairs, and look at me now. Living in gods-forsaken wasteland in the realm of memory, one more set piece in somebody else’s story. I tellya Dor, I miss having my own story.” For the first time, I thought I got a little honesty from Grokk. If/as he read this reaction in my thoughts—was he reading my reaction to his reaction?—he let it slide. The Skakdi slid onto the edge of a giant trough, some of the vim and vigor sliding out of him as he did so. In that second, the honesty felt suffocating. My head felt like it was going to explode. “I can’t take more of this #####.” Grokk’s brief moment of cosmic relaxation vanished, and some of the strength returned to his posture like he was prepared for me to deck him with one of my noodle arms. Not that he didn’t deserve a good wiggly haymaker. Instead, I stood up and crossed the pen to where the Fusa lay in their own noodly tangle of limbs. The Fusa who had crushed its poor buddy was still flailing and kicking desperately, trying to right its posture, and it kicked me in the stomach as I neared it. If we had been in the real Po-Wahi, I would have stumbled back, breath leaving my lungs in a sudden fwoosh while I sucked in an equivalent amount of dust and hashtagged words. Instead I got closer, and when the Fusa kicked again, I sidestepped to the right, got my hands on its sides, and hoisted it up, as Grokk had done for me. The second Fusa stood on its own, with a bleat of gratitude. Then it started to flip again. Dumb #####ing thing… I turned back to look at Grokk and continue the conversation, and what I saw was a Skakdi different than I had ever known in life. Every detail was the same, everything from the teeth to the tattoo to the pulsing golden aura he liked to pretend was magnetism even though everyone in the world found it repellant instead. But not me. All those years in Bad Company, even when we descended further and further into monstrosity, where the guilt started to creep into me and seemed to bounce off Grokk, it wasn’t Brykon’s pride that concerned me - I had never had that. It was Grokk’s pride that had counted. I didn’t see it on his face even until the moment he died. For a second, finally, I thought I saw it dance along his eyes before wriggling up his tattoo like a serpent and escaping. “Thought it would never shut up,” I exhaled, taking a step towards him. The Fusa that I had lifted in the first place watched me advance back to polite conversational distance before starting to do its circus routine again. I found more and more of the irritation I always felt around Grokk bleeding away from me, redirected to the Fusa. “Why the ##### don’t they just stop?” I grumbled. “What did you do to them?” “Not a thing, Dorbell,” Grokk shrugged. “They was like this when I got here.” That statement hit me in the stomach harder than any kick, and I cocked my head slightly to look at the Skakdi. The motion sent the neon scarf sliding down my neck, but I was too busy looking at him to retrieve it. “I am sorry you’re dead, Grokk.” I smiled, for the first time in my short, sweet second life as a farmhand. “But it was a #####load of money. You would’ve done it, too.” “Eh,” Grokk answered nonchalantly. Typical of him to shy away from a broment. We watched the Fusa continue their erratic dances for an indeterminant amount of time. Grokk finally stood up and stretched. “You leaving?” I asked, bewildered. “Nah,” Grokk answered. “We’re goin’ for a stroll.” … Somehow, once we left the pen and started walking, the scene around us shifted. I found us back in the Vault. A bewildered look behind me, and all I saw was its stone wall. The Fusas had ceased to exist. Did Grokk exist? Did I exist? “You think, therefore you are,” Grokk quipped. “You remember me, therefore I am.” “Sick. Why’d you bring me here?” “Have a look at what’s goin’ down, skinny. Whyd’ya think?” I hugged my abs protectively. M’not skinny. “Like a twig.” M’not! I turned my focus away from Grokk and deeper into the Vault. I looked markedly - Mark! Deep cut! -- “Awful,” Grokk interjected, shaking his head. Hmmph. Speaking of deep cuts, I looked almost as rough-hewn as Grokk in the vision I saw before us. I was slumped against the wall as I had been against the post, looking thoroughly exsanguinated and barely able to keep a sword between my thick, unresponsive fingers. My revolver was useless by my side; the gun that had once kept all of Xa-Koro and the thoroughly psychotic cabal of the Mark Bearers under my thumb was now fully loaded and as dangerous as ever, but the dying lump of flesh beside it seemed incapable of striking fear into much of anything. Echelon loomed over him, holding a beautiful crystalline blade over me as I had once brandished it over-- I felt an electric pang in my chest that would have sent me reeling if I hadn’t been possessed with the fortitude of an ethereal construct. As I once had over him. Heuani’s missive to me rang in my ears. Do me a favor and cut his head off. That #####er was going to cut my head off! Mine! With that ugly mug and that sorcerer’s scowl, he was going to cut my real head off my real shoulders - leaving us eternally deadlocked at one decapitation each, only mine was fake and his was real. Death was one thing. But taking my head… “You think you’re going to bait me,” I eked out through gritted teeth. “Pssssh-ssh-shh,” Grokk chuckled. “Consider yourself baited, Dornament. Betcha he throws your head in the Antidermis. Or hits you with one-a them fancy disks. Betcha you grow legs from your neck or something gross.” “Stop.” “Betcha he names it something cartoon-y and evil. Or something non-threatening and girly.” "Stop!” “Like Dorable.” By now, our little jaunt through purgatory had convinced me that I wasn’t #####ed yet. I’d heard tell of enough of Joske’s exploits, and I was quick enough on the draw, to recognize there was a message here, and why this messenger had been chosen. But I would be #####ed if I let Echelon turn my head into a spider. “I get the point,” I grumbled. “Fine. I’ll go back and kill him. But whatever happens, it’s on you. And your stupid gods.” “My gods? We don’t get to choose the gods,” Grokk sighed. “They only get to choose us. Do me a favor: forget all about me.” I was caught off guard. “Sorry?” “Forget about me. Entirely. Don’t even ‘member my name. I want out.” “What about your crooked business? Who will keep selling the gods recall-worthy Fusa?” “There’s always another crook,” Grokk said. “I’m bored, I want to investigate a different career. The career of being well and truly dead.” I weighed that for a second - the idea of well and truly forgetting about a sin, instead of trying to atone for it. In another lifetime, it had felt so easy to do; now the idea of purging it from my memory, bleaching it beyond any recollection until my conscience shown white and clear, felt impossible. But I had done impossible things before, and the last time I had defied Grokk, it had sent him to a boring afterlife on the ranch. Maybe it could be done. Maybe it would be a favor. I watched Echelon, frozen in time, brandish the sword. Maybe I watched him even longer than I watched the Fusa. “Hey d-bag.” Silence. “Hey d-bag.” “I ain’t ‘bout to dignify your childish vulgarities with a civilized response, Dorian. I’m a changed man now.” Where are you gonna go, dummy? You’re in my head. You can’t walk away, you have to listen. “All you can do is listen and listen, as long as I want,” I finished, turning to wink at him and grinning smugly. I think he may have been surprised I finally had him one-upped. “Hey d-bag.” “What?” asked the unfamiliar Skakdi quietly, like even the four letters were something he was begrudging me. Grokk seemed so… Faint. “I’ll always be your friend,” I promised, punching him in the shoulder with a fully functional arm. “Live with it.” “Too late to live with it. Gotta die with it.” That wasn’t any funnier than that dumb #####ng fruit joke, but I laughed anyway. ... What was that? He wasn't going to cut my head off at all. He was just going to pulverize me into a stain on the wall. That wouldn't have been as bad. But... Still, I wouldn't have been super pumped about it. ... There was no more pain; there was only relief. The blood came flowing from my mouth as my screams turned into quiet giggles; Echelon looked more surprised than he should’ve. Everyone knows I could find a way to laugh at anything. “Hey. D. Bag.” How much blood was on my clothes or the ground beneath me instead of where it belonged? There was no way of telling. I felt like I had been flayed down to my core, stripped bare of every bit of protection Echelon thought I had. But he had forgotten to take my mask - not the Calix, but the facetious smile-and-wave routine that found new and exciting ways to disappoint everybody alive. I smiled, and waved. “Bye.” Echelon’s sneer curdled, and he threw the final ripple of Dark Magnetism down onto my head at the same second that the Protosteel sword was tugged back into my gesturing fingers. The Dark Toa’s attack stopped cold, distorting the air between us for a second before disappearing, replaced only by the glow of the rune. He looked shocked for a second. The first bullet shocked him more. Crack. The smile, the wave, and the gun. The three tools of any good merc. Surprise? Well, that too. But the surprise on Echelon’s face was far sweeter than the feeling of pulling a rabbit out of my hat for the umpteenth time in my life. When I watched his hand go from brandishing the power to rip a Toa apart to touching his torso gingerly, it seemed obvious to me he’d never been shot before. Everyone should try it, honestly. It’s no different from having the wind knocked out of you by a punch - when you’re used to it. Echelon clearly wasn’t yet, but he would learn soon enough. Enjoy paradise, Tuara. I'm building it on this #####er's bones. Crack crack crack crack crack. -Tyler
  12. IC: "Here ya go, Tor!" The giant Onu-Toa hefted Torana Avaliona up onto his other broad shoulder, so that she sat at equal height with her friend. "Now if you need to nap again, you can just lay down." -Tyler
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