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Old 11-30-2017, 05:50 PM
DarkAngel DarkAngel is offline

Priestess of the Moon
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Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Northwest Ohio
Posts: 563
BattleTag: Samael#1487

Runes Dispatch #40

With mere hours remaining in November, I'm dropping one more bit of November. I really wish I could've gotten more out to you guys, but I'm also trying to improve my quality as much as possible. The two things just aren't compatible. Sadly, production will have to slow down again until next year. I do hope to get off a few more dispatches before next November, though. Commentary after the passage.

EDIT: Merry Christmas, everyone! I managed to find a new ending after all.

* * * * * * *
Personal log, November Terra:
There are times when I miss the predictability of the Battlegrounds. At least there I know what my objective is and who my enemies are—even if we’re fighting over nothing. The world outside is more...complicated. In the past, I’d just shut it out and wait for the next memory wipe; but I don’t have that luxury anymore. The only thing I can do is try to stay focused on my self-assigned mission to escape the Nexus—which has become all but impossible. It seems more and more like my enemy is toying with me, creating alternate versions of myself as a distraction. Well, it’s working. Eighty-three hours since my departure, I’m still at a loss for how to move forward.

Of course, even when you don’t know what to do, it’s important to keep the initiative. Letting your opponent dictate your moves never results in success. I thought I was doing that by giving Tybi a surprise. I’m certainly good with surprises, but mine usually involve bullets. This one was about food. Tybi hasn’t had anything but field rats since we met, and I figured something local would pick her up a little. Actually, the bland, preserved cuisine in my pack has been starting to wear on me too—which is odd. Ghosts never complain about the chow because of the memory wipes. You can’t miss having better food because you can’t remember anything else. You just have a vague feeling that something’s missing.

Luxorian food, though, I’m reluctant to try. The dish I grabbed was a platter of mashed beans and onions with flatbread pockets. Whatever it’s called, it smelled stronger than Vilnorian curry. The family I dropped in on smelled like it too, and I’d rather not join them. In any case, my appearance was enough of a shock to disappear before they could decide what to do about it.

Tybi was...less than impressed. She was more suspicious than happy when I decloaked with her present. “I brought you a treat,” I told her. “Not the Antigan buffalo you used to get, but it has to be better than a protein slurry pack. Well, okay, anything beats those.”

“Nevermind. It’s real food. From here.”

Her eyes narrowed as she came closer. “How did you get this?”

I held up my hands. “Nobody died—and I waited ‘til after they were mostly done, so they’re not starving either.” Her look of suspicion only deepened as she scooped some filling with the bread. “Alright, compassion isn’t my strong suit. You said it before. I just...don’t like exposing myself.”

She sighed. “I know the feeling. I shouldn’t judge.”
“You’re only judging yourself,” I added with a smirk.

My other self instantly unleashed my own glare against me. “No,” she said forcefully. “I am not you. Similar, but different.”

“Similar, but different,” I conceded. “Do you mind if I ask some more questions?” She paused, but then resumed eating. I decided to take that as a ‘no.’ “Is there a reason why the sun comes up in a different direction every day?”

Tybi shrugged. “It just does—ever since the war started. Some say Ka is angry with us for defiling his temple.”

I paused. “ did the war start?”
“I don’t really know; It happened when I was very small. I just heard messengers reporting to my father.”

“That’s more than I’ve got.”
She stopped to chew another handful. “Well, Semkhet sent Zagara, the Scorpid Queen, to kill us for our wickedness. The gods refuse to help us—except for Sut. The scorpids just kept coming and coming until we couldn’t fight them anymore. We’ve been trapped inside the wall ever since.” She took another bite. “They say we have enough farmland inside the wall to hold out forever. But people keep disappearing.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Disappearing how?”
“They...disappear. Why do you think there are so many empty buildings?” Her eyes narrowed. “You think you can fix this.”

“I didn’t say that. I just want to have situational awareness.”
“Yes you do,” she declared. “You like to think of yourself as a hero.”

“I...what? I’m a Ghost. I take orders, and I carry them out. That’s the opposite of a hero.”

Tybi chewed harder. “You can’t lie to me. I know you too well.”

I had half a mind to tear the platter away from her. “No, you don’t,” I told her. “I’m not letting you read my thoughts, so don’t think you know what I’m thinking. Similar but different, remember?”

The look she gave me wasn’t angry. In a way, I wish it was. It’s easier to ignore something when you’re under attack. “I don’t need to hear your thoughts. No one made you help me. No one made you rescue Li Li. No one made you go back for her hat. You like helping people. You’re just not very good at it.”

That was when I heard the sound—a very quiet sound, but one I know all too well: a cloaking field dropping. I turned. Tybi dropped to the floor. Blood-breath was there, a stupid grin on her face. She used our hear-to-heart to get the drop on us. “Way to make my point,” she said casually. “You dropped this, by the way.” She shoved the rifle back into my arms. Something about that grin made my skin crawl. It was my face, but so not me.

I positioned myself between her and Tybi. “What are you doing here?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” She cocked her head at a strange angle. “I’m here to protect you, same as before.”

“Then why do I feel like I’m in danger?” I unobtrusively jiggled the rifle’s ejection lever. The feel told me there was a round in the chamber—not that it mattered at this range.

The Spectre took a step closer, bringing us almost nose-to-nose. “ are in danger. There’s a mob outside, screaming for your head—all of our heads.”

I listened. I heard only the sounds of the city at night. “Is that something to smile about?”

Her expression stiffened. She backed away, blinking. “No. No. I won’t do it!” she shouted at the wall.

Calculations spun through my head as my training kicked in. Blood-breath was an unstable, unpredictable threat. We might be perfectly matched in physical terms, but her distraction gave me an opening to end the fight before it began. There really wasn’t a choice. I swung the rifle’s butt across her jaw.

She reacted faster than I’d anticipated, spinning out of my swing and planting a boot in my gut with one motion. The kick, however, took too long to come around. By the time it arrived, I had caught it on the rifle, directed it up, and layed her out on her back.

The Spectre landed heavily, now staring down the barrel of her own gun. “Finish it,” she breathed.

“What?” I tensed, ready for her to spring up as I would do.
“Finish me. You have to.”

My finger twitched on the trigger. “You...want this.” I said my realization out loud.

“I’m out of jorium.” The stupid grin returned. “You know what that means.”
I almost lowered the gun. Almost. “You’re going to die anyway.”

“No.” Her voice cracked. “If I run out of terrazine, I die. If I run out of jorium, you die—the whole damn city dies. There’s only one thing I can do to keep you safe.”

“Kill yourself,” I finished. “With me being the only one you trust to do the job.”
She nodded. “And if not...” Her hand went to the knife.

Maybe, if it had been just the two of us, I’d have ended things right there. But I wasn’t alone. Tybi blew past me before I could react to stop her. “No! Not again!” She was headed for the exit, but her path took her too close to Blood-breath. A grab to her ankle brought my younger self down beside her.

The Spectre turned on her. “Get out of my head, you little brat! Get out of—” The knife flashed in an arc, up and over. The motion exposed her chest, and I already had a bead. She was dead before she hit the floor—or rather Tybi. The body came down right on top of her.

Tybi screamed. Over and over. I tried to dig her out. I tried to hug her and say something comforting, skills in that area aren’t up to the level they need to be. The only thing I could do was hold her close while the body dissolved—and the rifle with it. It’s like the Spectre was never here at all, but the damage she did… I don’t know.

Eventually, Tybi just went quiet. I’m taking that as a good sign. If there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that Tybi Pterah has the strength to pull through this. We’re different—but similar. Nova out.

* * * * * * *

This passage was one of those infuriating cases where you think you have everything planned out, then you start writing and go somewhere else. There was supposed to be another philosophical discourse with Spectre Nova, in which she would taunt our heroine by suggesting she'd inherited her father's naive humanitarian streak -- which would then lead to admitting she knows Nova has her memories. Instead, the appearance flowed so naturally into the fight that I couldn't not take the opportunity. It's almost always better to go with the flow on these things. You have to let the story be what it wants to be.

On top of that, I had to take a pause to really pin down what's been happening in Luxoria up to this point. I honestly had no clue what my notes from a year ago meant. Then, I had to take another pause to research Egyptian food. They like spices and pitas, apparently.

The irony is that both of those points were for the first part, which I added because I wanted to lighten things up before the big, bloody mess. Sorry about that. It's the most envelope-pushing thing I expect to do in the whole run of the story, but it has to be done. You'll see why. Actually, that was one of those go-with-the-flow things. Spectre Nova's suicide had to be messy, yet Ghost Nova ended up with a gun in her hands. So, if you thought it was a little out of character to freeze up in that situation, you're right.

I hope someone out there is enjoying reading this as much as I am writing it. There was a certain joy to seeing how many different meanings I could give to that "similar but different" phrase by repeating it in different contexts.

As you may have noticed, the new ending is in place. The plot-essential events have happened, and there was no bloody mess. I even still used the knife I foreshadowed earlier, if quite differently. That's a win for author abilities. My only regret is the loss of how the other version used the "different but similar" reversal to show Nova acknowledging the Spectre as representing a facet of herself.
Every ending is but a new beginning.

Last edited by DarkAngel; 12-23-2017 at 09:06 AM.. Reason: Added new ending.
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