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  #126  
Old 02-10-2016, 02:00 AM
Malygos Malygos is offline

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Oh, golly, I can hardly wait for Fagin's execution line of children. At least Miss Pterah has allies this time if she doesn't make like a tree and leave to confront Fagin.
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  #127  
Old 02-10-2016, 09:13 AM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Fagin's execution line of children
What?! Apparently, I know even less than I thought I did. *looks it up* Ah, line of children being executed, not firing squad of children. That would be really messed up. *cough*Joseph Kony*cough*

However, don't expect things to follow perfectly. The interaction with other threads--not to mention the interest of brevity--have created some blades of grass. You've just given me some interesting ideas, though...
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  #128  
Old 02-26-2016, 06:32 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Gold (War3) Dispatch #29

Back again! I originally wrote this in one day, if you can believe it. Unfortunately, it turned into a bear on revision. The plan changed so much as I went that I ended up having to tear up and rewrite pretty much everything. So, what you're reading is actually a second draft, not a first. That's a first. *irony* Anyway, the problem with pushing a character out of her comfort zone is that you can't be sure how she'll react. You end up "gardening" quite a bit more than usual. Hopefully, things managed to become plausible...
* * * * * * *

Personal log, November Terra:
Thirty-one hours in Luxoria and things just keep getting more and more confusing. For starters, the sun came up in the south today. I know I reset "east" to match yesterday's sunrise, so something is very wrong here. Planets don't rotate like that. But that's the least of my worries.

If the intel from my contact is true, Amarnis is in trouble--big trouble. According to her, the bugs outside have killed a lot of people, and my own observations support her story, considering the mere handful of residents out in the cool of morning. Since it looks like most of this district is abandoned buildings, there's no wonder it became a breeding ground for crime.

Unfortunately, extracting information from this source is challenging. Li Li seems to put her at ease, but she won't talk about herself or her surroundings except under duress. While that wouldn?t ordinarily be a problem, the idea of hurting my alternate self at such a traumatic period of her life makes me uncomfortable. It's like back when killing people hurt me as much as them. I don't know. I could get my information just as easily by grabbing anyone off the street, and there'd be no emotional strings.

Then again, my familiarity with her mindset does give me an edge in keeping her available for consultation, as our sleeping arrangements last night demonstrated. Tybi said she didn't know us well enough and insisted on sleeping by herself. I knew what that meant--and I was right. At 0627, my motion alarm started beeping in my ear. I didn't move, not even to shut it off. It's always best for your opponent to think you're still asleep. Across the room, Tybi was silently rifling through Li Li's pack--very careful, very deliberate. Not unlike someone else.

"Going somewhere?" I asked.
Tybi turned, a look of sheer terror on her face. "I...um..."

Li Li woke with a start. "What's going on?"
"Someone thought she could make off with our food and disappear back into the slums." I sat up without breaking eye contact, and her guilty response told me it was true. That's not to say I was guessing: I would've done the same, once.

As Hairball stood up, my other self dropped to her knees. "I was hungry and I can't trust you! Please don't hit me! Please!" I couldn't believe it. She was begging a child for mercy. Pathetic. "I didn't read the letters! Honest!"

I stood up, prompting Tybi to grovel on the floor. Actually, no. Her attention was still focused on Li Li, who was frozen in stunned horror. "You--"

"No! I won't tell anyone! Just don't hurt me! Please!"

Only then did I start seeing what she saw. Li Li was quivering with rage. She was about to go ballistic, and the poor teep just digging herself in deeper. I couldn't let that happen. I marched over, hauled Tybi to her feet, and pinned her to the wall. "You want us to keep feeding you? Then make yourself useful. We're new in town, and last night's conversation wasn't worth breakfast. Now talk." She looked confused. I lifted her off the ground. "Why is there an army of bugs outside the walls?"

"Semkhet sent them to punish us!" she said quickly.
The depth of the fear in her eyes hurt more than I'd expected--way more. I let her down. "Why?"

"The mighty Ta-sadar made a pact with Sut--became his son and started making others. Zagara and her brood swept in from the east and devoured our people. The army could do nothing. We're trapped here forever. Let me go, please."

"Your army must be really wimpy," Li Li said skeptically. "I took out, like, ten of those things, and I wasn't even trying!"

Tybi hung her head in shame--of what I have no idea. "Then you must be mighty warriors indeed. If Sut hadn't turned the Temple of Ka into a weapon, there would be none left in Amarnis. It is by his grace that we live--and for his favor that we are damned."

That last part sounded like a sermon, but I didn't ask. I let go and turned away. "That's enough for now. Hairball, get her a drink."

Li Li looked surprised for a moment, then rummaged through her pack for a flask. She offered it to Tybi with a conspiratorial look. "She likes you."

I ignored her. I needed to digest this information, and it wasn't good news. In fact, it appears I've once again jumped from the frying pan into the fire. Is every realm of the Nexus beset by an evil queen and her swarm? I'm starting to wonder--but that's a problem that can wait. Our immediate safety trumps all other concerns--and if this place is anything like the Gutter, our rescue will bring consequences. I have no intention of waiting for them to arrive.

I forced the intel burst from my mind and focused on how to scout for a new position. Well, that's the easy part. My "friends" complicate things a bit. What would stop Tybi from fuzzing Li Li, taking our rations, and running for it? That would put her right back in danger. I can't allow that.

There was really only one option, and it meant gambling my other self was still unaware of her powers. It would also mean setting myself back in winning her trust. Or would it? A slight tweak, and two potential complications could be prevented at once. I reached into my pack and pulled out my handcuffs. Ghosts generally don't take prisoners, but we have be prepared. For once, the extra weight paid off.

Li Li's clay bottle crashed to the floor when I slapped Tybi's wrist in the shackle. "Hey! It took me three weeks to get that herbal bal--"

She stopped when I clamped the other shackle around her own wrist. "Listen up, you two," I said dangerously. "You won't be getting down the ladder like this, and this key won't return until I do." I held it up. "The ladder goes up as soon as I'm clear and doesn't go back down until you hear my voice. Got it?" They nodded in unison. It was almost cute.

When Hairball thought I was out of earshot at the bottom, she added, "She really likes you." She was right, though there's no way she knows about our connection. I'm not sure I know what to make of it either. Hell, there's an argument to be made that I'd be better off forgetting this whole business, but I just can't bring myself to walk away. Somehow, I want to guide her, to keep her safe--like someone should've done for me. Wishful thinking, I know. Emotions don't get you anywhere. Calculated action does. I am a Ghost, and Ghosts don't let personal feelings get in way. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
And, while musing on Nova's lack of emotional tools, I got another idea. Someone needs to write about some future class of Ghost Academy cadets as they learn under the watchful eye of "Grandma Nova." Those would be fun times.
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  #129  
Old 03-05-2016, 05:47 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Orb of Lightning Dispatch #30

Cranked this out in two days using parts cut from the previous installment. Amazingly, I wrote it straight through. I normally write the beginning last.
* * * * * * *

Personal log, November Terra:
Having spent forty-one hours in Luxoria, it's seeming more and more like I'm in some kind of test simulation. I don't know what the objectives are, but I'm pretty sure I?m failing. These feelings I get from meeting myself keep growing--and they just made me do something stupid. Really stupid. I'm starting to wonder if I've lost my mind. Protecting Lila was one thing, but this? This is a whole other level.

Things started to get out of control when I returned from scouting our new position. I heard audible giggling coming from upstairs, which is always good when you're trying to hide. "What's so funny up there?" I asked loudly. They stopped laughing. "If I was one of the goons, you'd be dead in very short order."

The ladder came down through the hole. "Pretty much everybody ends up dead when you're around," Li Li shot back.

I started climbing. "I'm a Ghost. That's my job. Get used--" I stopped the moment my eyes came over the floor. "Why are you not wearing a shirt?"

Hairball reached around, trying to grab the other side of her khaki uniform--but since the handcuff had forced her to keep the other arm on, she just kept dragging it away from herself. "Tybi was helping me work the mats out, since--you know--someone dunked me in an aqueduct?" My other self twisted to drape the fallen shirt over her shoulders. She finished by shooting me a disapproving glare--a very familiar one.

I climbed the rest of the way, glaring right back. She melted the moment we made eye contact. "Now look, you two, I was expecting to move ASAP, only to come back here and find out you're not even dressed? That's dereliction of duty." I was deliberately rough in unlocking the shackles. "Not to mention--how old are you? You can't be going around without a shirt much longer."

Li Li started fastening the buttons the moment she had both hands free. "Now you sound like Pop," she said acidly. "It's just us girls."

"Maybe so. Just remember I'm under no obligation to keep dragging you along. I'm not you mother."

"Damn right."

This was another case where Luxoria made me do something I thought I'd never do. I actually opened my mouth to scold her for using that word, but that would be ridiculous--especially considering what I'd just said. I settled for glowering while she collected her hat and scarf.

"Ready," she said at last.

"Good. Follow my lead--and stay quiet." I climbed back down, with Li Li and Tybi behind. From there, it was out into the street, deserted in the afternoon glare.

Hairball managed to follow my instructions for all of five seconds. "Hey, all this sneaking around reminds me of the time-- Oh, sorry."

"If people hear us," I hissed, "they'll look outside. For all we know, everybody's a spy in this neighborhood." Tybi?s reaction told me it was true.

However, true or not, there was no repressing the hairball. Every few steps, she remembered some new anecdote, far, far more important than our lives. Tybi actually started helping to remind her, but she knows the danger firsthand.

Still, the farther we went, the more agitated she became. "Um...we're getting awfully close to the flying monkey nest," she whispered.

I raised an eyebrow. "Flying monkeys?"

"Yes! They're a terrible nuisance--always stealing things and biting people."

"Aww. That's nothing! You should see what a nest of wind-- Oh." We both gave her the same look at the same moment. It was perfect.

"Alright. We'll move again tomorrow. You think we can make one night without attracting their attention?"

She thought a moment. "I...I think so." She went quiet after that, but her hypervigilance just kept getting worse, looking around and jumping at every sound. Something about this street had her seriously spooked. I picked up the pace.

Our new hideout is another abandoned storefront. It's bigger than the last one, but works on the same principle. Pull up the ladder, and nobody can get to you. The advantage of this one is that it also has a ladder up to the roof, perfect for keeping watch and unseen travel by rooftop. Then again, if the flying monkeys are as bad as Tybi says, it could be a disadvantage. We'll have to see.

By the time we got there, Li Li was about ready to explode from pent-up babbling. "It okay to start talking again?"

"Yes--but watch how much fun you have. Fun is a luxury you can't afford in this business."

"Yeah, I guess we kind of overdid it last time. We were to the point where she'd crack up before I even got to the punch line."

I couldn't help but smirk at that one. If only you knew, Hairball. If only you knew. Tybi, however, was in far worse shape. The first thing she did was curl up in a corner and cry. Why I couldn't understand--much less figure out what to do about it.

I never thought I'd say this, but Li Li saved my ass. She sat down beside her and waited for Tybi to look up. "Hey, you okay there?" Even if it had occurred to me, I could never have said it that gently.

My other self turned around, facing me instead. "You're taking me back to him, aren?t you?" It wasn't really a question, not with the level of resignation in her voice.

"What? Who?"

"Phagun," she said numbly. "You put us just down the street from his headquarters."

"I didn't know--"

"Tonight, you'll take me back. Back to reading minds so he can kill people." She wasn't even angry. "It was all a lie. From the very beginning. Just like everything else."

I crouched to her level, even though I was five meters away. What was with her? I was far from stable in this phase of my life, but I still had at least some fight in me. To see myself so passive was disturbing. "What? After all the newbie questions I asked this morning, after all the hours you spent with Li Li, you still think we're working for a local crimelord?"

Her eyes narrowed. There. That was something. "I can't see you like her--and she only just met you."

Li Li looked confused. "Is there something I'm missing here?"

I held up a finger to silence her. "Tybi, I am not sending you back. I will die before I let him take you, understand?"

"Prove it," she whispered. It was frustrating, yet gratifying at the same time. She was me alright--different in some respects, but the same where it counted.

I stood up. "Fine. To prove we're not working for your friend, we're going to kill him."

Li Li turned to me in shock. "What?! You give us this ol' lecture about hiding our presence, and now you want to go kill somebody?"

She was right, of course--and it started to show on my face. But it was too late. "I...I think I need some air," was all I managed to say.

I headed up to the roof to sort it out--but I?m not sure I can sort it out. Killing the boss who runs this Gutter would paint an even bigger target on our backs than there is already. It's stupid, absolutely the opposite of what we need to do. And yet, a part of me wants to do it, like I'd be righting some great injustice. What is wrong with me? I'm a Ghost, not a hero. I do my job--nothing more, nothing less. Personal feelings don't matter.

Ugh. The past is bad enough when it hounds you with memories. Watching yourself relive it is a whole other level of hell. I should've left Tybi in the alley where I found her. She's like looking in a damned mirror. You see all sorts of things you'd rather not. I guess I'll just have to pretend not to see them--like in a real mirror. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
I'm a little worried Nova was collapsing into angst at the end there. How does a character struggle with conflicting motivations without being angsty?
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  #130  
Old 03-05-2016, 10:02 PM
Malygos Malygos is offline

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Impulsive declaration is best declaration.
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  #131  
Old 03-10-2016, 01:03 PM
C9H20 C9H20 is offline

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Awesome updates, really loving how Tybi (sidenote, tee-bee or tay-bee?) is getting under Nova's skin now that she is vulnerable from the mindfuck those things that control the Nexus gave her. Nothing like someone like us to inspire sympathy but it is also a key to unlock our emotions and what we really want.

Keep the updates rolling
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  #132  
Old 03-20-2016, 07:01 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Haste Dispatch #31

Quote:
Originally Posted by C9H20 View Post
Awesome updates, really loving how Tybi (sidenote, tee-bee or tay-bee?) is getting under Nova's skin now that she is vulnerable from the mindfuck those things that control the Nexus gave her. Nothing like someone like us to inspire sympathy but it is also a key to unlock our emotions and what we really want.

Keep the updates rolling
You're getting the idea, then. The entire Luxoria story arc is about exactly this. Incidentally, this thread has seen a huge jump in popularity ever since Tybi came on the scene. That might be related.

I've been pronouncing the name "Tibb-ee" because it sounds cute. I have no idea how the Egyptians would've said it. If we look at other words with a vowel 'Y' in this position, some are short 'I' (pygmy) while others are long 'I' (python). Actually, all the words I'm thinking of are Greek--though it should be remembered that Egyptian words come into modern languages through Greek, thanks to the Rosetta Stone.
* * * * * * *

Personal log, November Terra:
I've heard many people recite a proverb about "be careful what you wish for." I heard it so much that I was more surprised by my lack of surprise at the deja vu it gave me than the feeling I'd heard it somewhere before. You know what? They were right. All of them. A mere hour since my last message, and I'm alone. It's exactly what I wanted when I left the Battleground, and now--now I want them back. What is wrong with me?

Ever since Tybi showed up, I've been getting too close. There's a reason Ghosts don't get too close. We kill people for a living. We never work with the same crew twice--and if we do, we don't remember. That's for our protection. People die. Alliances shift. Bonding just sets you up to get hurt when they do.

For that, I probably deserve this--and because I let it happen. Minutes after going up on the roof, I heard someone wailing "No! NO!" It was Li Li. I raced back down to find out what was going on. I saw it immediately: Tybi was gone.

"What happened?" I demanded.
"I-- I don?t know," Hairball stammered. "I kinda zoned out for a minute; and when I came back, she was gone. And my backpack is gone too!"

I massaged my forehead. Of course. My other self fuzzed the vulnerable partner and made off with the nearest food source--exactly as I would've done. Even worse, she did it because I let my feelings get the better of me and left without securing her. Damn it all. "We'll have to wait," I told her. "People are coming out for the evening." I stopped. The timing was perfect. She might be half-starved, but Tybi played us like a pro. She was probably bullshitting about the monkeys too.

"You can wait," Li Li snarled, "but I'm going out there now. I'm gonna get my bag back and teach her not to mess with a Stormstout!"

I folded my arms. "Just how are you going to do that? There have to be a million hiding places in this block alone."

"Yeah? And how are you going to find her when she?s got an even bigger head start?"

Okay, I had to admit she had a point on that one. There was a time when I could've found the little brat just by scanning the local brainwaves, but the Nexus took that from me. "Do you have any idea how much you stick out, Hairball? You won't last two minutes out there. It?s not worth it--no matter how long you spent on your drink projects."

"You don?t understand! There were things in there! Personal things!?

Her fury surprised me. Something had her well and truly pissed. "I'm trying to keep you alive here, kid."

She just put on her hat and gave me a dangerous look. "You're protecting me." She spat the word. "I don't need that, remember?"

"All right. Fine. Run off on your own. See if I care." A part of me was expecting--even hoping--she would defy me by staying. Instead, she slid down the ladder with reckless abandon. I should've followed her. I could've stayed cloaked until the moment she needed me. But. She made her own choices, and the consequences are hers to bear. That's how it works, right? People who do dumb things pay the price.

Li Li certainly did. My two-minute estimate turned out to be far too generous. It was closer to ten seconds. See, she happened to walk right into a pair of thugs. The kid put up one helluva fight, but all that did was attract a second pair. The street was crawling with large, ill-tempered men.

I could've gotten her out. I should've gotten her out--but I was watching something else. While the fight was playing out, another pair of thugs dragged another child past the scene. Then another--and another. They were looking for kids and hauling them back to headquarters. If this "Phagun" is the copy of Fagan in this universe, then I... I don't even want to think about it. If he... I don't know what to say.

One thing I do know: Tybi is safe--for now. Phagun wouldn't need to round up kids if he already had her. But I know what the kids are for--and I have to stop him before he can use them. Not for her sake, but for mine. I can't watch this happen again. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
You can kind of see here why I don't usually write these things straight through. The idea tends to change by the time I get to the end.
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  #133  
Old 04-04-2016, 04:34 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Quick heads-up:
It may be a while before the next post. I say this for two reasons. One, Nova's infiltration is going to be long (but hilarious); and two, my main project is heating up. In fact, it's just weeks away from no longer being under NDA. When you see it, you'll agree it was worth it.
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  #134  
Old 04-05-2016, 04:07 AM
C9H20 C9H20 is offline

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Well more updates is always better but this is a thing you do in your free time so don't sweat it too much and take the time you need.
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  #135  
Old 04-13-2016, 06:48 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Question

So, um, something very interesting happened today. The FedEx man knocked on my door with a package--a package decorated with murlocs. This was official Blizzard swag. However, I hadn't ordered anything--and the package did not list a sender. At first, I thought maybe my sister had sent something for my upcoming birthday, but she would never have paid extra to get a package overnighted from California. Had my client sent me a copy of --REDACTED-- for research purposes? He has money, but not enough to waste on expedited shipping. Plus, I don't recall giving him my street address. Hlaalu knows my address and lives in California. Maybe it was him--but why pay for rush shipping?

I opened the box. It was not the book I'd been half-expecting. In fact, the contents strongly indicate the sender has been reading my threads here on SoL. Further investigation revealed the billing address on the packing slip belongs to the Howard Hughes Center, an office complex. Clearly, these items were not sent by a private citizen. Do I have a secret admirer inside Blizzard? They would know my address and my birthday. Hmmm...

If that wasn't creepy enough, something very strange happened on top of all of it. I have my desktop background set to randomly cycle through HotS characters* at the top of every hour. Somehow, at the moment I opened the box, it switched from Arthas to Nova. No, really. I realized someone had sent me a Nova book, turned around, and there she was, giving me that smug look of hers. I did a double take on that one. (Not that I'm ever sorry to see Nova on my screen.)

In any case, you have my thanks--whoever you are.

*Luke, please post more portrait wallpapers to your DeviantArt page. Thanks.
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  #136  
Old 04-14-2016, 12:12 AM
Malygos Malygos is offline

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Too spooky.
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  #137  
Old 04-14-2016, 11:43 AM
C9H20 C9H20 is offline

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3spooky5me
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  #138  
Old 04-23-2016, 08:33 AM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Update on the mysterious package story:
Someone did come forward as the sender while the site was down. While the party in question wishes to remain anonymous, here's a big D.Va heart for all past and future senders of Blizzard loot.
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Old 05-29-2016, 01:48 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Invisibility Dispatch #32

You probably thought this project was dead. You could be forgiven for thinking that, but I've just been working very slowly in my reduced time. At long last, I have something to show. Future updates will likewise be few and far between, but I do intend to get two more posts at the very least. The coming drama is something I just have to get out of my system.

Sadly, while I had originally planned to "Egyptize" some names from Fagin's gang, there turned out to be too many incompatible phonemes. It could be done, but you wouldn't recognize them--which would defeat the point.

* * * * * * *
Personal log, November Terra:
Some things are just really damn frustrating, and Phagun's HQ belongs in that category. It's surrounded by a three-meter wall with only one gate. That's no barrier to a trained Ghost, but getting a dozen malnourished, traumatized kids out of here is effectively impossible. The watch on this place is just too damn tight. You've got to be invisible or very fast--and the kids are neither.

I got in by tailgating a shipment of...something. Three men were carrying huge bunches of dark, fist-sized fruit. What that had to do with a crimelord, I had no idea. They just came to the place where Li Li was taken, and the guards let them in. I immediately saw my chance. The big bunches forced the gate to be opened wide, which made it all too easy to slip in.

What happened next, though, I almost wish I hadn't seen. "Kaure!" a voice yelled. "What's going on here?" I knew that voice. Fagin. I turned, and he was there, flanked by a pair of massive thugs. Same face. Same walk. Same look. Different clothes, but it was him. No question. My heart was pounding even though I knew he couldn't see me.

The alternate Fagin marched up to one of the fruit carriers and got right up in his face. "I tell you to make Taheb pay up and you come back with this?"

"It's okay, boss. Taheb's a farmer. He paid up in dates. Half his crop is ours for the taking!"

Phagun slugged him full force. I cringed. Yes, me. Since when do I shy away from violence?

Kaure fell to the ground, and his boss started kicking him with every sentence. "You idiot! I don't want dates! I want money!" He motioned to the thugs at his sides. "You two, beat this moron to a pulp."

As Kaure was hauled away, one of his associates got up the courage to ask the obvious question. "What do we do with the dates, boss?"

Phagun scowled. "All right. I'll take what I can get--just don't let the monkeys catch you. If they get in here, we'll never get them out. Got it?"

"Got it, boss."
The three of them went into the largest building in the compound, but I stayed outside to take a breather. I still can't believe it, really. He's a pathetic little man who I could kill in under two seconds. Yet after all these years, and all that mental conditioning, I'm still afraid of him. What the hell? I guess some scars really do never heal. Luckily, I have a mission to accomplish--and that’s all I've ever needed to keep my head straight.

Once I had my bearings, I entered the building and started mapping it out. As big as it looked on the outside, there weren't many rooms. Luxorians seem to prefer a small number of overlarge rooms--and high ceilings. There’s plenty of storage here, plus what passes for a kitchen. Phagun set up a throne in another room, which I assume must be where he holds court. I didn't go in there to explore fully because there were so many people, but the doors in the back most likely lead to his private chambers. There's also an armory filled with various antique weapons. That could come in handy if the situation goes south.

It took me a while to find what I was looking for: a stairway leading down. The one I found was particularly promising, considering it was guarded by a man with keys on his belt. He was also napping on the job. Even if I hadn't been cloaked, getting past him would've been childsplay. Still, I was careful to make as little noise as possible on the way down the steps. Turns out I was right not to take chances--but more on that later.

If you've seen the "dungeon" set from a cheap holovid, that was Phagun's holding cell. Dark, dank, stone walls, iron bars, that sort of thing. It also smelled terrible. Pretty much everybody in Luxoria seems to suck at sanitation, but this place was chemical weapon bad. Maybe it's a good thing the only light came from a torch mounted on the wall opposite the bars. I'd rather not know what all was in there.

The bars ran the length of this basement room, separating most of it from a passage to the steps I'd come down. The only inmate sat in the far corner--one I instantly recognized as Li Li. There's only one kid that hairy. She wasn't looking good, though. Her khaki uniform was torn and stained, and she sat staring numbly at the floor. Someone had finally gotten her to shut up.

I crept closer. She didn't appear to have any serious injuries, but who can tell with fur? But judging by the mattes around her eyes, she’d been crying. Had to be.

Now fully down, I looked around the single, large cell again. Hairball wasn't alone. I counted eight more children huddled in the other corner, not visible from the steps. At least they haven't been taken to do their "job" yet. Then again, the filth down there will probably kill them even if Phagun doesn't. As scared and confused as they looked, my little rescue op jumped in difficulty by an order of magnitude--but I had a ready-made tool to fix that.

I got as close to Li Li as I could and crouched down to her level. "Li Li!" I hissed. "Li Li!"

She looked around in confusion for a moment, then in my general direction. Relief was clearly etched on her features. "Nova? Is that you?"

"No. I'm one of the dozens of other people you know with cloaking fields."

She smiled wanly. "Yep. It's you all right. You gonna get us out of here?"

"Not yet. I only got in because they can't see me. The rest of you aren't going anywhere without one hell of a diversion."

She crawled to the bars. "You have a plan, I take it?"

"I'm...still working on it. But I need you to have them ready to run when I come back." I tugged her shoulder, turning her toward her cellmates. By now, they were staring at her conversation with empty air.

She looked back at me. "I'll try. They don't like me. They think I'm a freak."

"Then make them like you," I told her. "Tell a story or something. You’re good at that."

Li Li nodded gravely, somehow looking much older. "Just...hurry, will you? Phagun wants to sell me to a circus."

"You think that sucks? It's the other kids you should be worried about."

She fell back a bit. "What? Why?"
I reached through far enough to give a reassuring touch. "Let's just say I've been here before--in a manner of speaking. You need to-”

A heavy tread came down the stairs behind me. "Hey! Who are you talking to down here?" I let go and stepped away as silently as I could. It was the jailor. I hadn't thought we'd been talking loud enough to wake him, but he must be an extraordinarily light sleeper. Could be how he got his job.

To her credit, Li Li didn't miss a beat. She stood up and gave him an innocent look. "Oh, just my invisible friend. She's gonna bust us out." I have to admit the kid’s quick on her feet. I like that.

The jailor snorted. "Ha! Your imaginary friend couldn't squish a bug. You be quiet now. Understand?" If Hairball had a comeback, I didn't hear it. I was already on my way back up the stairs.

Somewhere in this hellhole, there's a distraction big enough to pull the guards out of position. I just have to find it--and find it before the time runs out. 'Creative' looks like the word of the day. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
Next time: Nova's daring rescue
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Old 05-29-2016, 02:02 PM
Ethenil Ethenil is offline

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At least this one has comments. I'll save it to read it later since it's still alive!!
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  #141  
Old 07-04-2016, 08:58 AM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Bloodlust Dispatch #33

One of the fascinating things about this project has been the way it's morphed from being a silly way to blow off steam into a serious exercise in character development. Nova is on a journey that is spiritual as much as physical, and the entire Luxoria story arc has been engineered to make her confront her moral shortcomings. This Dispatch was supposed to be the last piece of set-up to bring about the massive Heel Realization I'd planned since Ravencourt.

Unfortunately, it dragged on much longer than planned -- and when retrieving Li Li's hat started turning into an adventure all its own, I had little choice but to leave it for the next Dispatch. You've all been saying you want shorter, more frequent updates, right?

The trouble is that the opening was meant to interact with a sign-off that now can't be used. That's a problem.

And just how did those kids get out of a walled compound? That's right, I was going to have Nova lay up a ladder for them. Oops.

Oh, well. First draft is first draft.
* * * * * * *

Personal log, November Terra:
When you run an op, there are always unforeseen complications. It’s your ability to adapt on the fly, not your training, not anything else, that determines your success or failure. It’s the real reason why Ghosts are so deadly: you can’t just scare us off by disrupting the plan. And when the Dominion’s best Ghost is faced with setbacks, you can bet your ass she’ll use every means at her disposal to overcome them. There’s a reason I’m the best, and my extraction of the captured kids was a perfect case in point. If I ever get back to Dominion space, I’m submitting it to the Academy so future Ghosts can learn from it.

My objective was impossible without a big-time diversion. The guards had to be kept occupied long enough for nine children to run past them. If even one was seen, that would be the end for all of them. The diversion had to be persistent and demand the total attention of everyone caught in it—which is usually hard to pull off. In this case, though, the solution was staring me right in the face from the moment I slipped inside Phagun’s compound.

The whole time I was there, the peons kept bringing more and more bunches of dates. With so many trips carrying so much fruit, some of it inevitably got dropped along the way—and that attracted the dreaded flying monkeys. Yes, they really are monkeys—and yes, they really do fly. By evening, a whole troop of the fluttering, screeching terrors had gathered the courtyard. They’d be more than enough to keep Phagun’s whole army locked down for least a half-hour to dislodge them. All I had to do was give them a breadcrumb trail.

That was much harder than it sounds. Sure, I knew exactly where the dates were being kept, but my cloak drops for a minimum of two seconds every time anything moves in or out of the field. It took me a good two hours of very careful timing to place my lures. On top of that, I had to be careful where I put them. I couldn’t afford for anybody to notice the trail until the trap was ready to spring. Slowly, I built outward from each room back to the front door. Placing the first lures last would ensure maximum penetration.

When it was done, I stepped back and waited. I didn’t even know for sure if it’d work, but it did. Beautifully. At first, it was just a few scout monkeys venturing inside, but the rest of the troop followed in minutes. By the time anyone paid a thought to what was happening, it was too late to stop them. Maybe, if the guards had been gentle about shooing the monkeys away, they would’ve been fine. However, if there’s anything I’ve learned in my time infiltrating high-security installations, it’s that guards are generally about as agreeable as Dylanna Okyl—which is to say not at all.

The first guard to notice the invasion tried to deal with it by crushing a monkey underfoot. Big mistake. The entire rest of the troop piled onto him, clawing and biting. If zerglings could fly, that’s pretty much what happened. His screams echoed through the halls, bringing every thug and minion out to watch. Two of them waded in to extract their comrade, only to become targets themselves.

I almost wish I could’ve stayed to watch the mayhem. Ghosts, however, have the discipline to do what they have to. It’s what sets real soldiers apart from bullies for hire. I made my way to the dungeon stairs, where the last barrier still had to be neutralized. The jailor—somehow—was asleep. Did he only respond to sounds from below? Whatever the case, it made my job easier. One good jab to the base of the neck, and he was dead. The best part was that he was slumped over in his chair exactly as before. As long as nobody tried to talk to him, his demise would go unnoticed until long after I was gone.

I grabbed his keys and turned to the steps—except I couldn’t. Don’t ask me how, but one of the monkeys had gotten deep enough to see when the field dropped—and promptly decided my hair would make a great playground. I didn’t have time for it. I slammed its head against the stone wall and put my cloak up, hoping I could disappear before any more found me. I managed it, but only just. Three more of the things were already heading my way. They went right past—much to my relief. When I turned back to the stairs, the dead monkey was somehow gone, but there wasn’t time to wonder.

Unlike my previous descent, I didn’t bother with being quiet. So what if someone heard boots on the steps? The jailor was dead, and everybody else had more immediate problems. It was time that mattered now. Every monkey the guards wasted was one more bit of attention available for spotting fugitive kids.

The kids themselves didn’t seem aware of the chaos upstairs. They were gathered around Li Li as she animatedly told a story—a very embellished story, I might add. “So, the scorpids where closing in around us, and Nova was like, ‘Oh, Li Li! What are we going to do? They’ve cut off our escape!’ And I was like, ‘Take heart, Nova. We’ll just have to fight our way through them and make for the city!’”

“Come on!” said a boy in the back. “You don’t honestly expect us to believe the two of you fought the entire swarm by yourselves, do you?” It wasn’t a question.

I wasn’t trying, but the timing came out perfect. He’d no sooner finished speaking when I inserted the key into the lock, breaking my cloak. All the kids scrambled back, no doubt surprised at finding Li Li’s imaginary friend was very real. “She is playing games with the truth,” I told them. The latch popped open. “You ready to run? Your diversion is in progress.”

Hairball turned. “Nova! Hey, um, we may have a problem with that.”
I raised an eyebrow. “What kind of problem?”

“Er, well, Titi here isn’t gonna be running anywhere.” She glanced at a shy girl on the floor. All the other kids had stood up when I appeared.

“Shit,” I said aloud. It was way too late to form another plan. “You’ll just have to run without her.”

“What?! You aren’t just gonna leave her, are you?”
I squatted down to her level. “Of course not. You just get everybody else outside and let me worry about Titi, hmm?”

She crossed her arms. “Now wait just a minute here! I’m staying with you!”
I stood, the better to speak with authority. “These kids need a guide who can handle herself in case things get hairy on the way out. There’s no better choice than you.”

The glare she gave me could’ve melted neosteel. “That bastard Phagun took my hat, and I’m not leaving without it.”

I was appalled by her reasoning even more than her language. “Your hat? You’re endangering this entire op over a hat?” I could tell from her look that she wasn’t budging. “Fine. I will get your damn hat. Just get these kids out, and we’ll rendezvous at our last hideout. Deal?”

Her look remained skeptical, but she nodded. “Deal. You’d better keep your word, Blondie.”
I couldn’t help but crack a smile. “Keep your mind on your mission, Hairball. I’ve got this.”

Li Li scowled, then turned to her charges. “All right! Follow me! Go! Go!” The kids didn’t need to be told twice. They sprinted as one up the stairs.
“Watch out for monkeys!” I called after them.

That left me alone with the girl who couldn’t walk. I started closer, but stopped when she tried to crawl away. “Look,” I said, squatting down, “I know I can be kind of scary, but I’m on your side. Really.” She looked back. “What did Li Li say your name was? Titi?”

“That’s what I go by,” she said softly. “My real name is too long to keep saying.”
I smirked. “Yeah, I know the feeling. Can I look at you? What’s wrong?”

“It’s my foot.” She pushed her right toward me. “It hurts—but it hurts even more if I put weight on it.”

I stood just enough to close the distance. Titi’s foot had a swollen cut. It probably started as a minor scratch, but the filth of the dungeon made ideal conditions for infection to set in. Back in the Dominion, any medic could’ve had her running in seconds—but I’m not a medic. Hell, with the technology level in Luxoria, she was probably dead already. “That’s a nasty cut there.”

“Is there anything you can do?”
I shook my head. “Not really. The best I can do is get you somewhere safe.”

She crawled closer. “Can you do that? I’m so scared.”
“I got in here, right?” I gave the gentlest smile I could. As she came closer, I lifted her into a hug. “Sometimes, things seem really dark and hopeless. But you learn to deal with it. You keep putting one foot in front of the other. You do what you have to do.” I let her fall back and looked into her eyes. “You want to know a secret? I’m scared too. You should be afraid when you’re in danger. It keeps you safe. The trick is that feeling fear doesn’t mean you let yourself be afraid.” I took hold of her head and massaged her cheeks with my thumbs. “You can stop being afraid now. Nothing can hurt you while I’m here.”

I could tell Titi took comfort from my words—so much that her hopeful smile remained even after her neck snapped. I closed her eyes and left her with hands folded, the closest thing to a proper burial I could give her.

She deserved better. Hell, she didn’t deserve to die at all. But I had to do it, didn’t I? There’s no way I could’ve gotten out of there with a kid over my shoulder. Would my cloaking field even work with two people inside? I had to play it safe. I did what I had to—as any Ghost should do. I made sure she didn’t suffer. She had absolutely no idea what was coming until the moment it came. It’s better that way, right? Kids shouldn’t have to watch it come.

With the hostages gone—in one way or another—just one objective remains: finding Li Li’s hat. It was stupid, really; but I gave my word. Hairball will never help me again if I break it. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
Nova is starting to be a better person, but she's obviously not quite there.
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Last edited by DarkAngel; 07-04-2016 at 09:06 AM.. Reason: Forgot a word
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  #142  
Old 07-04-2016, 07:26 PM
Malygos Malygos is offline

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Li-li, unofficial best healer in the Nexus, is not going to be pleased with or without her hat.
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  #143  
Old 07-04-2016, 08:35 PM
Mutterscrawl Mutterscrawl is offline

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Wow, that was dark, I haven't kept up admittedly but the murder of a child is a heavy thing to be a step towards being a better person
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  #144  
Old 07-05-2016, 03:59 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malygos View Post
Li-li, unofficial best healer in the Nexus, is not going to be pleased with or without her hat.
This guy gets it.
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Old 07-05-2016, 04:12 PM
Mutterscrawl Mutterscrawl is offline

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Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkAngel View Post
This guy gets it.
I think she'd have preferred Nova prioritize Titi over the hat
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  #146  
Old 07-25-2016, 04:42 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Bloodlust Dispatch #34

I finally got off what was supposed to be the ending to the last post. You wouldn't have wanted to wait until now to see it, right? With the rescue out of the way, we can finally have the conversation I've been planning for...a year? Wow. This is taking forever.

The detour with the crossbow is dumb, but it was intended as a nod toward Novazon. Hey, it made sense when I planned it.

* * * * * * *
Personal log, November Terra:
After a four-hour op, I’m finally in the clear. I’ve done much longer, of course, but this one feels much more satisfying, though I’m not sure how or why. I guess on some other retrieval op, the hat in my hands would be just an object—but it isn’t. I look at it now and see the smile on Li Li’s face when she sees it. That makes it better somehow. More worth it, even if it wasn’t easy. Hell, it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what I was committing to, or I would’ve told Hairball to screw herself.

It took an hour of searching to find this ordinary, child-size pith helmet. Why? Because it was on the head of the one person I was avoiding most. Phagun must’ve thought it would protect his bald head from monkey scratches or something. By the time I found it, the monkeys had finally been expelled—and the whole outfit was assembled in the throne room for an epic tongue-lashing.

“You idiots are gonna pay for this!” he bellowed. “Flying monkeys have no place in my house, and those responsible for bringing them here deserve to die!”

“Uh, but Boss, we didn’t know this would—” I knew that voice. He was the leader of the peons who brought the dates in.

Phagun cut him off. “That’s just my point, Kaure. You imbeciles aren’t smart enough to walk and talk at the same time—yet somehow, your ignorance not only trashed every room of my house, but robbed me of the bait for my trap. Do you know what happens to people who rob me, Kaure?” The room was too crowded to see much, but the menace behind his words told me everything I needed to know.

“But Boss!”
“No buts! You and your entire crew of damned morons will regret every second of your stupidity—as the flesh is pealed from your bones, stroke by stroke. Get these heaps of trash out of my sight!” I pressed myself into a corner to avoid getting bumped as the unfortunate men were hauled from the room. “That goes for the rest of you too—unless you want to be joining them. Not you, Smeru,” he added as the mass of foul-smelling goons shuffled out. “Tomorrow, we start collecting children again—and this time, we’ll be using them the same day. I will have my Anubet—even if it takes me a year.”

I don’t know what he meant by that. Another question for Tybi to explain, I guess—assuming I ever see her again—and she won’t want to. She’s me, after all. Information about herself will take some serious persuasion. In the meantime, I considered my options. Phagun wasn’t going to give up is new favorite headgear willingly, and there were too many guards in the room to even consider taking him out. I needed range—and that meant a trip to the armory.

Even there, it took way too long to find what I was looking for. The Luxorians don’t seem fond of ranged weapons in general, and anything with a mechanism I could aim and fire on the spot is alien to them. I did, however, find something eventually: a banged-up crossbow buried in the back. How it got here is an open question—especially since it seemed unused. It was just gathering dust in the back. Then again, the placement was ideal given that there wasn’t danger of being seen when I broke my cloak to pick it up. I checked the action. It worked. The rate of fire sucked, but it did work. That left ammunition. Out of five bolts, I only took one. I was only going to get one shot anyway.

Back in the throne room, I staked my position carefully. I had to have a clear shot and the ability to reach the throne before anyone else. That forced me to be directly in front of him at as close of range as I dared. No telling how short the effectiveness of my antique weapon might be. It also brought me closer to Fagin’s alter-ego than I’d ever want to be. He looked the same. He glared at people the same way. He even breathed the same way. Just looking at him made my heart pound. Suddenly, he looked right at me. There was no hesitation this time.

The bolt tore through his chest and toppled him backwards off the U-shaped seat. I dropped the crossbow (one more obstacle to slow the guards) and sprinted for the body. It wasn’t pretty. Death never is. Luckily, I managed to grab the hat before the blood pool reached it—mostly. It still got a bit of a stain on the rim here. I hope Li Li won’t be too upset.

Not so luckily, the guards were right behind me. The moment I had a solid grip on my objective, I leapt up on the arms of the chair and somersaulted over their heads—while cloaking in mid-air. The looks on their faces were priceless. While my landing was less graceful than I would’ve preferred, it didn’t matter. I was invisible, and the death of the man up top threw the whole place into shock and confusion. Getting out was even easier than getting in.

So, not bad for an unplanned op with no recon. Tybi is safe, the kids are safe, the streets of Amarnis are down one crimelord, and Li Li has one more story to tell. That’s a win-win for everybody. Maybe I’m cut out to be a hero after all. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
That's right, Nova. Totally win-win for everybody -- except, you know, the dead kid you left in the basement. Such a hero.
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Old 08-01-2016, 08:29 AM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Slow Dispatch #35

Despite trying to work on my original project, the prospect of being so close to the defining scene of the Luxoria story arc just about forced me to write this instead. I guess when you spend so long to set something up, with months to plan every line, you build too much anticipation.

This chapter marks the first time that I've taken my "dialogue first" technique literally. I really did write every line end-to-end before doing any narration. Hopefully, that didn't make things too choppy.

Among the many reveals is the point of divergence between Explorer Li Li and Wanderer Li Li. (Shadowpaw Li Li has a similar origin.) As much as she tries to act all grown up, Li Li is still just a kid -- and is vulnerable to inaccurate ideas. Maybe Nova should've said something about a version of Chen existing in the Nexus, but the moment was too cute to pass up. Really, someone needs to draw a picture of Nova and Li Li hugging.

* * * * * * *

Personal log, November Terra:
My time in Luxoria—now up to fifty-six hours—has been marked by sudden, dramatic changes of situation. What just happened tops them all. Li Li is gone, thrown back into the Battlegrounds by death—and it was my own damn fault. Why did I have to say that? Why? She was so happy when we met at our rendezvous point. The look on her face when I decloaked in the doorway made me feel something I haven’t felt…since the Academy, really—and to feel it this strongly, you’d have to go back to when I was a kid. I guess being around kids has that effect.

“Hello again, Hairball,” I said casually.
She swiped the hat out of my hands before I could let go. “You did it! You got it back!”

“You doubted me?”
“Well, no. I just got tired of waiting, I guess.” She noticed the blood stain on the rim. “Um, what’s this?”

I smirked. “Let’s just say the new owner didn’t part with it willingly.”
Her eyes got big. “You killed somebody over a hat?”

“Of course I did. I’m a professional assassin. What were you expecting?”
Li Li put on the hat. “Um, right. Er…thanks for what you did back there and all, but…I really have to be going now.” She started for the door.

“Going?” I asked in confusion. “I just saved your life, and now you want to leave?”

She took a deep breath. “That’s…exactly why. You’re protecting me. I can’t let you do that.”

This again. “Kid, why the hell are you so pissed about me protecting you? You’re what? Nine years old?”

Her eyes flashed. “I’m eleven and a half, thank you very much.”
“My point stands. You can’t go running off by yourself.”

“Duh!” Hairball rolled her eyes like a teenager. “Why do you think I joined the Explorers’ League? They’re the prefect backup: always new places to explore, and always new expedition crews.”

“And why am I not your latest backup?” I asked. “You just suddenly decided you hate me or something?”

“No! I’m doing this because I like you! It’s the only thing I can do to keep you safe.”

She wasn’t making any sense. “Keep me safe?”
“Yes! Everybody who tries to protect me ends up dead! Master Bo protected me—and he died. Uncle Chen protected me—and he died. That’s why I can never go home, don’t you see? If I go back, my family will try to protect me—and then—and then they’ll die too.” She was in tears by the time she finished.

Contrary to her words, Li Li tightly hugged my waist, pressing her furry face into my belly. I had absolutely no clue what to do, Ghost training or not. I couldn’t step away—nor did I want to. Finally, I crouched down and hugged her back. “Li Li, look at me,” I said. She let me pull away, but kept looking at the dirt floor. I hooked a finger under her chin and made her look up. “Look at me. I am a trained covert operative. If anything happens to me, it will be because of my own mistakes—on my head. It will have nothing to do with you.”

She wiped her eyes. “Do you really mean that?”
“Of course I do. Where’d I be without my hairball?” I stood and mussed up her hair. “Gotta have somebody to rip on. Come on. Let’s get upstairs.”

When I turned, I discovered our doorway had a new occupant: Tybi Pterah. My talent for silent movement got copied with everything else, it seems. She was staring transfixed, as if she expected violence to break out at any moment—which, considering what she said later, she probably was.

Li Li wasted no time in rushing over to greet her. “Tybi! You came back!”
My other self eyed me warily. “You kept your word,” she said curtly. “I’m sorry.” She produced Li Li’s backpack and gave it to her.

Hairball practically tore it open. “My pack! Oh, thank you! Pens, papers, maps, healing draughts. I really could’ve used these.”

Tybi looked down. “Yes, you could’ve.”
I couldn’t help but smile. We were back together again—or so I thought. Stupid, stupid me. “All right, you two. Up.”

I followed the girls up the ladder and pulled it in to give us some security. Li Li launched into her usual patter of idle chit-chat, but only got one-word answers out of Tybi. She looked very uncomfortable, watching my every movement. I waited for a lull in the conversation, but that doesn’t happen with Hairball in the room. Finally, I just butted in. “Tybi, what are you doing back here?”

She recoiled. “You offered to protect me.”
“And you ran as soon as you got the chance,” I added. “Cut the crap. You’re not fooling me. You don’t want to be here, so why are you here?”

She looked down. “Because—because I have to know.”
“Know what?”

“Why you helped me,” she said, looking up again. “We’d never met. You were hiding. But you cared—instantly. You’re not even a compassionate person. Why risk your life for me?”

I sighed, trying to think of how to explain this. “All right. Let me tell you some things about you, Tybi. You grew up in a very rich family—a noble one, I’d guess.” Her reaction told me it was true. “Then the war stared, and everything went to shit. Your parents were killed. You fled out onto the street. A bastard crimelord tried to enslave you because he thought your…talents would be useful.”

She had that look again, like there was a charging rhynadon bearing down on her with nowhere to run. “How do you know that? You’re not from this world, let alone…”

“I know it because I’ve seen the story before. I’ve lived it before.” Now, I was the one looking down. “I—I couldn’t watch it happen again.”

“Are you saying…?”
I smirked, maybe not as wanly as I should’ve. “Don’t tell me you haven’t noticed. We have the same mannerisms. We give people the same looks. You are Luxoria’s version of me.”

Something about what I said left her utterly horrified. “No. No. I am nothing like you. It wouldn’t think of doing what you did—let alone do it without hesitation. You disgust me.”

Li Li looked between us in confusion. “What are you talking about?”
My other self rounded on her in an unsettlingly familiar way. “Nova didn’t rescue your friend. She killed her.”

The kid stepped back in shock. “What?! That’s not true! I mean, Nova can be mean sometimes, but she’s a good person. She’d never do anything like that. Not in a million years!”

“She still did it.”
Hairball turned to me with pleading eyes. “Tell her, Nova! Tell her where you left Titi.”

My hesitation gave my answer long before I said it. “I left her…in the dungeon. How did you know?”

The look of utter betrayal on her face…it was as painful as any torture. “What? How—how could you?”

“I said I was going to take care of her. I did.” My words sounded hollow—almost as hollow as I felt.

“That’s not the point! She was hurt, and you killed her!”
I held up my hands. “Trust me, I’m an expert. She didn’t feel a thing.”

If anything, that only made her angrier. “How can you say that? All you had to do was carry her out!”

That was the point where I lost my temper. I had to push back. “Yeah? Well maybe if someone hadn’t been so hellbent on getting her damn hat back, I could have.”

Li Li was dumbstruck. She staggered back, barely breathing.
Tybi realized how much damage I’d done long before I did. “Do you enjoy hurting people? If you’re me, what could possibly have happened to make you so—so cruel?

I fixed her with a glare. “Do you really want to know? Take a look. I dare you.” I lowered my mental defenses and pulled the relevant memories—some of them raw after all this time—to the surface. The moment Tybi made her first, hesitant steps into my mind, I hurled the package into her with full force. She retreated and collapsed on the floor, clawing at her head. I suppose if I picked up a year’s worth of memories in under a second, I would be too.

Suddenly, she looked up. “Li Li is leaving,” she managed to say. “She’s not planning to come back.”

I looked around. Hairball was gone, but—“She left her hat. She never—” Only then did I make the connection with my last words to her. “Shit. Stay here.” I bounded up the steps to the roof, scanning with my vision system. It took me a full turn to find her, but she was there, clambering up a wall to a higher roof. While she had a good head start on me, it was nothing a trained Ghost couldn’t close.

I caught up to her on a flatter place, the nightly light show from the Sky Temple lancing around us. I approached with my cloak up. Hairball was seriously pissed. “Going somewhere?” I asked casually.

“Yes!” she snarled. “Away from you!”
“I thought you just agreed to stay.”

“That was before. That was when I thought you were a good person. Are you going to kill me too when I get in the way? It’s just a matter of time.”

I sighed, letting my cloak drop. “I did what I had to, Li Li. That’s often a very ugly thing.” I tried to sound apologetic.

Hairball turned, almost shaking with fury. “Did you even try to think of another way?”

“I’m a professional assassin. Death is what I know. I—”
She marched away again. “Get away from me. You’re a monster.”

“Alright, yes. I am an evil bitch who murders innocent children in cold blood just because they’re inconvenient. But I could be more than that. Please stay. I’m begging you.” I don’t even know why I added that last part, but it did the trick.

Li Li stopped again, her expression softer this time. “Well, if you’re gonna get all mushy about it. Just don’t—” She never finished the sentence. She was cut off by a dull thud and a spray of blood.

My training kicked in before her body fell. I dropped and rolled, cloaking as I did so. Once the field was active, I stood again, trying to estimate the trajectory of the shot. It wasn’t hard. The shooter was standing in plain view: the Spectre from the Battleground. She was only one street away, uncloaked for far longer than she needed to be.

It’s only now that I’ve had some time to sort through what happened that I’m starting to understand. The Spectre could’ve easily taken me out first. She should have. I was the greater threat and the one who’d disappear after the first shot. She deliberately left me alive—for reasons unknown—and wanted me to see her.

I’d call that disturbing if I wasn’t focused on protecting Tybi. I’ve ordered her to hide while I watch the stairs. That Spectre will be getting a surprise if she comes here—but I have to assume she already knows where we are. We need to move ASAP. I may have to create some kind of diversion while Tybi runs for a new hideout—and I may not be able to join her there for quite a while.

For now, all I can do is wait, trying to focus on the might-bes instead of the might’ve-beens. Li Li was on that rooftop because I put her there. At least no one is ever truly dead in the Nexus. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
Next time: Dawn of the Spectre

EDIT: On second thought, I really shouldn't have rushed this. With a few hours' separation, there are three glaring problems here.
  1. While I'm trying to have Nova develop a softer side, the transformation is happening way too fast -- not to mention that events like this would throw her back into her more callous way of thinking. She developed that as a defense mechanism, after all. I've never tried to have a character change before, and it shows.
  2. Nova's established tendency is to blame others for everything, yet she blames herself for this. Again, she should be falling back into old habits -- the very ones that caused these events to happen. Is she ready to see that yet? Hmmm...
  3. Nova should be way more surprised to see the Spectre. The natural assumption would be that she was left behind in the Tomb.
EDIT EDIT: Considering an upcoming conversation, realizing that Nova "killed" Li Li should definitely not happen yet. Pretend you didn't see that, folks.
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Last edited by DarkAngel; 08-01-2016 at 10:54 AM.. Reason: Added comments
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Old 09-24-2016, 02:50 PM
Malygos Malygos is offline

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I'm gonna assume the spectre only saw Li-Li jump into the aqueduct but not drop the hearthstone. Then it took her a while to figure it out, giving our heroes a lengthy head start so that they didn't get ganked on night one.
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Old 09-25-2016, 05:06 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Malygos View Post
I'm gonna assume the spectre only saw Li-Li jump into the aqueduct but not drop the hearthstone. Then it took her a while to figure it out, giving our heroes a lengthy head start so that they didn't get ganked on night one.
Go to the head of the class!

Actually, thanks for reminding me about this. It's kind of fallen off my radar of late. Looking at the pre-work, though, the scene doesn't work because Spectre Nova's natural assumption would be that Ghost Nova still has her memory-blocks. Arrgh! May have to cut some lines.
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Old 10-09-2016, 05:16 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

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Bloodlust Dispatch #36

Finally got this put together. I sat on it for a few days, trying to make it better -- revision is still the gaping hole in my skillset -- but I just couldn't. So frustrating. Well, maybe not as frustrating as it's been for the twenty or so regular readers who've been waiting two months for an update. Sorry, guys.

* * * * * * *
Personal log, November Terra:
With my equipment clocks reading sixty-six hours, here’s the sitrep. I’m probably in greater danger now than at any point since my encounter with Atenhotep. Tybi and I are still holed up right where we were before—only now, we’re not alone.

This wasn’t my choice. If I could’ve, I’d have moved Tybi to a new hideout pronto, but it was too dangerous to move her with an invisible sniper prowling the rooftops. Any other threat I could’ve hunted down and eliminated. Spectres are different. You only see them after it’s too late. They kill without warning and without mercy. They’re the most disgusting, evil scum in the galaxy—as this one already proved.

We had one, and only one, shot. If we could hunker down and wait for her to come to us, I’d have the advantage of surprise. I could hold still, track her by her movements—then engage hand-to-hand from cloak. Risky, but doable.

The weak point in that plan was Tybi. The Spectre didn’t know she was here; and for her sake, it had to stay that way. We piled some broken furniture in a corner and draped a cloth over it. I told her to climb inside and stay perfectly still—which she did. For hours. I’d say I was proud of her, but she seemed shell-shocked more than anything. Was she in Li Li’s head at the moment of her death? I hope not.

Unfortunately, no matter the chances of the plan, the enemy didn’t cooperate. They rarely do. Instead of capitalizing on her momentum, she tried to sweat us out. She made me wait all night, cloak up, holding perfectly still—and I mean all night. It was first light before our terrazine-sucking friend showed herself. I smelled her before I saw her, that disgusting blood-stink giving me all the warning I needed—not that I did. Black boots came down into our hideout in plain sight. She was overconfident, not even bothering to cloak herself.

I made no sound as the Spectre swept the room. This all depended on surprise. She couldn’t see me, vision system or no—and she knew it. She tried to taunt me out of hiding. “I know you’re here, Nova,” she called. “You’d be an utter moron to still be here after I saw your puppy, but you love using people’s expectations against them. Too bad that won’t work on me. I know you too well. I know every little kink in your thought process.”

She kept scanning, walking around. “I’m not here to kill you, just in case you didn’t pick up on that yet. Killing people in the Nexus just makes them come back in unpredictable places. Makes the life of an assassin pretty pointless, dontcha think?” She turned a different way. “Then again, with your mind full of Dominion programming, you probably don’t care. You’d happily kill the one person capable of saving the universe if they ordered you to.”

I rolled my eyes. Does every Spectre harp on this? It’s like they have a school or something.
On the plus side, she was coming closer. “Your handlers like you because you eagerly climb inside the confines of your cozy little mission and never think beyond them. But I know you only do that to escape the pain. Oh, yes, I know. Strange how you can feel so much hurt after you’ve forgotten why.” She turned again. “Better show yourself now—or I might just remind you.”

If I didn’t have my discipline, I would’ve laughed. Blood-breath could say whatever she wanted. Anything she might’ve dug up on my past would have no impact on me. I already remembered. I just had to wait for her to come in range. Just a few more steps.

“Calling my bluff?” she asked the silence. “Fine. Let’s put the cards on the table. You never told anybody about how your grandmother disapproved when you complimented a servant. Or how about your first mind-read? A horny teenager’s fantasy? You’re still too embarrassed about it to tell a soul.”

I hesitated. She was right. Those were things I’d never told anyone—not even Mal. But I didn’t get the chance to consider any possible explanations. Tybi, who had patiently sat for hours in her hiding place, suddenly tore her way out. The Spectre turned, rifle coming to bear. She was distracted, and I seized the opportunity. I tackled her before she could get a bead—and before my other self could say a word. “How do you know that?! How?!” Her voice was shaking.

“Tybi!” I shouted. “Get the rifle!” It was taking everything I had to subdue my opponent, and I couldn’t risk letting a gun in the equation. Sure, it’s too big to be useful in hand-to-hand, but even a stick is still a weapon.

Tybi hesitated. The Spectre’s paws went for the rifle. I bought time with an uppercut across her jaw—or meant to. Her head shifted at the last moment, leaving my fist to connect with her breath-mask instead. It went flying across the room.

Everything stopped. My nemesis stopped resisting—and I pulled back too. I think, on some level, I already knew what was behind the mask—but I wasn’t prepared for it. Tactical considerations hadn’t left room for anything else. The face looking back at me…was my own.

She coughed, her lips curling into an evil smile. “Hello, Nova. I’ve been looking for you.” She paused to wipe the trickle of blood from her nose. At least the mask’s departure did that much. “You’re not an easy girl to find.”

I glared. “That’s by design. Ghosts don’t like to be found.”
She sat up. “I meant that as a compliment, Brain-bin.”

“Excuse me?”
Her smirk made me want to throttle her. “Oh, I think it’s an appropriate name. You’re a Ghost. You’ve been brain-panned more times than you have fingers.”

“Keep calling me that, Blood-breath, and I’ll break your jaw to shut you up.”
“Cute. You’re me all right.”

Tybi looked between us. “There’s…two of you. How can there be two of you?”
“And who is this?” Spectre me asked casually. “Taking in another lost puppy was bad enough, but two at the same time? That’s a new low.”

I crossed my arms. “I didn’t have a choice on this one.”
“Oh? I think you need to stop lying to yourself. You’re--”

“You’re not the only copy of me in this room,” I cut her off.
She paused, thinking carefully. “I see. That’s very interesting. Can we at least agree not to kill each other?”

I considered. “I suppose. As you said, it’s kind of pointless.”
She nodded. “Good. Go get some sleep. I’ll stand watch.” That infuriating smirk came back. “I know you were up all night. It’s what I would’ve done.”

I allowed her to stand, but let her see my suspicion. “Me first? How do I know you won’t take me out while I’m down?”

Her eyes flashed. “If I wanted you dead, you already would be.” I couldn’t argue with that. “I’m here to protect you.”

“You have a funny way of going about it.”
For a moment, something flashed across her face. If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was regret. “Just get some shuteye, okay? I need you as rational as possible when we talk.”

Right. Like I’m going to get any sleep with a damned Spectre in the room. At least she’s been quiet—hasn’t made any moves against Tybi or me—but I can’t trust her. Spectres don’t feel remorse. They’re unfeeling, soulless killing machines with no sense of morality. She has no reason to want me dead, true, but she wouldn’t be here if she didn’t want something.

Tybi’s been quiet too. I hope that’s because she’s reflecting on the sheer stupidity of her outburst, but I won’t hold my breath. More than likely, she’s just being slow to warm up—as she should be. New people are dangerous. She knows that. She’s me. Nova out.

* * * * * * *
Three versions of the same person in one room! How existential can you get?
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