Grim Wolf
Joined: November 9th, 2009, 5:39 am

April 12th, 2011, 3:13 am #31

He screamed, and her mouth folded up into a bloodthirsty grin which remained even after a concussive blast drowned her ears and something all force and heat and death crashed into her skull and took her life with it.


No group could be active all the time; what the cameras usually showed were highlights, the most exciting moments (usually rewound to show the time they'd become most interesting). When a group became too boring, the cameras would move on to someone else.

Jean Nesa had not gone into work for several days, leaving his staff to fend for themselves. He had sat in front of the television, leaving only to go to the bathroom; he had eaten twice in the past seven days.

He had seen his daughter fight twice--once against Garrett Hunter (and how scared he'd been when she'd caught that wooden sword on her arm, and what small, fleeting pride he'd felt when she knocked him to the ground) and once against Samantha Ridley (with his heart in his throat as he waited for it, the arrow through the chest, the death of his sweet daughter). He'd seen her smoke, too (as if he hadn't known--he could smell the smoke on her clothes whenever she did it, vague under the perfume she used to try and mask it), and seen her talk.

She wasn't ready for this. She couldn't be ready for this. So what if she wanted to be a martial artist, so what if she was strong, she was still his little girl...

They didn't show any footage of her for days at a time, but Jean could not bring himself to leave the television. There might be something, some sign, and now this idiot box was his only link to his daughter, that slight girl who he'd held in his arms only yesterday, that tiny child whose scream had deafened him the day she was born, always demanding, almost rewarding.

His girl. His petite angel.

On the ninth day, he heard her name. On the ninth day, he buried his face in his hands and howled without thought.

Eloise had not spent the past nine days with her husband.

Something had broken inside her, when they'd received the news. She'd retreated to her study, leaving only when she knew Jean was in the living room. She had spent the past nine days in a drunken stupor; empty wine bottles were scattered all about her study, around the dusty typewriter she'd so loved when she was at college and around her chair. She ate, when she felt hungry; she slept, when she felt tired; she drank, when she began to feel sober.

And she read.

Again and again she read, every story in her boxes--the two novels, the countless short stories (including the two that had been published--just those two, and both in less-than-stellar magazines). She read every broken shard of a dream she'd never lived up to, she read every piece of despair that remained to her, every drop of bitter aftertaste in her otherwise-easy life.

At least she'd had the chance to try for her dreams, even if she'd failed. Belle wouldn't even get the chance to try.

She ran a hand along the yellowed edges of a short story--the last one she'd written, the only one she'd ever shown to her daughter. Stared intently at the first page, with the quote at the top of the page.

The greatest lesson is to live without fear.

The howl shook her out of her reverie, jerked her head into the air. She felt ice rise up like a wave in her and stifle all thought, all emotion, all feeling; she felt the cold, inescapable sensation of violation, of horror, of woe. She felt a piece of herself die in that howl. She reached for a nearby bottle without thinking--this one had half a measure of oblivion left in it, enough to soften this edge, enough to remind her that...

Her fingers touched the glass neck of the bottle. Flickered away as though they had been burned. Without looking at it she got to her feet, set the story in her lap down upon the desk, and went down to her husband.

Lin Xiang had devoted his life to his art--his Baguazhang. Just Baguazhang and his little house with its living room left open for practice. Ostensibly, one should be a master of other martial arts before one ever learns Baguazhang, as Baguazhang is more an underlying methodology than a martial art unto itself; given his location in St. Paul, Minnesota, Xiang's students had been few and far between.

And over the past few years, there had been only her.

He did not own a television, and his life did not end with her abduction. He trained, as always; he shopped, enjoyed a spartan but nutritious meal; he read, to keep his mind active, and attended a local strategic games club to keep his thoughts sharp.

But for the past several days, he had added something new to his schedule. Whenever he felt it--anxiety, restlessness, weariness--he would sink to the floor, fold his legs, and immediately clear his mind and focus only on her--on that strange, wild, spoiled girl who had somehow convinced him to teach her. It had nothing to do with the fact she knew savate, nothing to do with the year she'd spent begging him. It had everything to do with how devoted she was; all the attention she should have given to the other facets of her life had been devoted to learning, to practicing, to growing.

He understood that kind of obsession. He had been the same way, before he'd joined the service and seen just what violence really was. Before he'd come to understand that violence as the world understood it--as he'd understood and as Mirabelle Nesa had tried to use it--was just so much futile flailing in the face of hostile, indifferent death.

One day he awoke and found himself afraid; one day he rolled from his bed and assumed a sitting position on the floor. He stayed there for some time, eyes closed, breathing coming to him in short-rabbit quick gasps. A flare of violence, of aggression, and defiance; a flare of something hot and all-consuming, something alive.

When he got to his feet, he left his tear stains behind him.

During the war, Lin Xiang had learned that his ability to fight (and he had been good, when he was younger; as good as she was, though he'd been a bit older than her) meant nothing; that he could still be beaten, that what he wanted and what he cared for could not always be protected. The martial arts must be tempered with humility--with the understanding that their practitioners are only human, that they can be beaten, that they have to accept their weakness in the world. He had always tried to convince her of this, to accept that she was only human and that she could, in fact, be beaten, no matter how hard she tried.

She had never believed it. Not once in her life.

Want to buy my book? See my short stories? Read my fanfiction? Visit my website!

V6 Players

Tara Behzad: "They don't get to decide how I die."

Lizzie Luz: "I don't want to go."

Alex Tarquin: "No more masks."
[+] Spoiler

G053 Karen Idel, DECEASED: Game over.

B040 Tyler Lucas, DECEASED: I had fun. You?

B046 Xavier Contel, DECEASED : " people, Arthur. G-g-gotta try. C-can't be afraid."
[+] Spoiler

B054 Raidon Naoko (DECEASED): "Dying like this isn't so bad..."

B072 Simon Grey (DECEASED): "I never was a hero, but, God help me, I tried."

B079 David Meramac (DECEASED): "Running towards nothing. Running from nothing."

G072 Mirabelle Nesa (DECEASED): "I'm a weak little girl who couldn't save anyone, even myself, but god damn it I beat you and god damn it you are going to remember that because I am Mirabelle Nesa and I am a hardened goddamn warrior and I am not going to fucking give up now!"

MW's Private Rank
Joined: February 18th, 2009, 7:01 am

May 16th, 2011, 6:12 am #32

The girl fell away, slumped to the ground. Baines fought back the urge to take another shot just to check. She was dead, no doubts about it. A bullet in the head. Anything further was paranoia, not a trait he wanted to foster.

His pulse dropped back towards a more normal level, his breathing stabilizing. The cuts and blows the now-dead girl had inflicted upon him stung and ached, but seemed fairly superficial. He'd had worse, certainly. Still, the combination of factors, the girl's dogged determination and the darkness, had made the whole thing seem truly menacing. It had been a fight for his life, and it had felt like it.

Baines took a few seconds to compose himself, to slowly gather up all his equipment again. He kept glancing over his shoulder, but the body made no further movements, just lay there in the dark, barely visible. Finally, set up again, his gear checked, Baines broke into a jog down the tunnels, in the same direction Domino had gone. His foot throbbed like a bitch, but he could worry about first aid later. Greynolds would not be amused if the little adventure with the dead girl allowed the real troublemaker to slip through their hands.

Christina ran forwards, heading towards the cluster, trying to make out what had happened. A flashlight flicked on. A shape stumbled away from the wall, clutching its stomach. Richards, she thought.

He gave out a groan, then said, "Ah, man, that's a bitch. That's such a bitch. These vests are the worst. Man, fuck, I think that might've cracked a rib."

"You get her?" Christina knew the answer, of course.

"I got her."

She was tempted to look, to confirm with her own eyes, but it was pointless. The dangerous part of their mission was done. Now, all that was left was to fix the remaining cameras—a job which, unfortunately, would likely take a good bit of time. They wouldn't be getting much rest, probably trading shifts sleeping in the helicopter, but they didn't need to be too sharp anymore. They'd use the danger zones as cover. From here out, it was tedious repetition and the extremely mundane.

Richards was still bitching about things as Greynolds turned to Christina and said, simply, "Baines?"

"One of them jumped us on her way out, sir," Christina said, feeling very much like a student herself again, trapped in front of the class by a trick question she couldn't quite feel her way out of. "I prioritized our primary objective."

She bit back the urge to say "Baines can take care of himself."

Greynolds shrugged, then started organizing the group to head out again. Shamino seemed to be having some trouble with the radio. Danya would want to be apprised of their success as soon as possible, but, given the news they'd be delivering, the boss would probably excuse a bit of tardiness.

A scrape came from further down the tunnel, back the way they'd come from, and Christina turned towards it. Shamino illuminated it with his flashlight.There was Baines, looking a good bit worse for the wear and more than a little sheepish, blood all over the front of his outfit, walking with a slight limp. Christina heard Richards stifle a laugh, then let out a little grunt and prod his side. At this, Baines cracked his own smile.

"The fuck happened to you?" he said. "Last I heard, she was barely standing."

"Says the guy who's dripping," Richards rejoined.

Like that, the two were off on each other. Clearly neither was in any imminent danger. It was good like this. It wasn't like the last times squads had been dispatched to handle things. Version Three had been a total wipe, with several key personnel members killed in action. Version One, well, that had been a little different. And, of course, Test Run Eight.

She was in no hurry to repeat that experience.

"Come on," Greynolds said. "The job's not done just 'cause we caught out chief rat. There's still a lot of holes to patch up."

Shamino was on the walkie-talkie as soon as the kill was confirmed, and off it again almost as quickly. It was useless. The tunnels did a real number on reception. That was, after all, what had drawn their target to them. With a sigh, he clipped the device back to his belt, then readied his shotgun. No use taking risks. While any student left should be painfully obvious due to the beeping of the collars in the blackout zones, Shamino wasn't going to take any chances. It was always possible one of the collars wasn't working properly.

Baines returned. Shamino was not impressed by his condition, but withheld comment and serious judgment; Baines was, after all, probably the second most competent hand to hand combatant in the group, certainly more skilled than Shamino was. If someone had messed Baines up, he'd had an off day, they'd been highly skilled, or, most likely, both.

Shamino ignored the chatter and catching up, keeping an eye out. Cecily seemed to be paying close attention as well, glancing over her shoulder often. He nodded to her.

And then they were leaving the tunnels. Their pace was somewhat slower; all of them were a bit burned out, but, all things considered, the operation had gone down as well as could be expected. There were still all sorts of problems. The V5 tech crew was going to have a load of data to mill, and a whole lot of changes to make. Shamino could think of a few things himself, to the tune of, say, spending less time worrying about cell phones and more in figuring alternate methods of controlling the students if things actually did go sideways.

As they emerged into the air again, Shamino took a deep breath. He waited two seconds to adjust and ground himself, then made the call. HQ quickly ascertained what had happened, and decided to just knock the tunnels out of play, something for which Shamino was thankful. The last thing he wanted was to spend a long time fixing up a bunch of underground relays. Sure, he could do it, could probably do it well and in Danya's time frame, but the waste of effort would be phenomenal. They needed to narrow the play area anyways. It was reaching the point where the students weren't close enough to encounter each other with regularity, and that would tank the death pace.

Greynolds informed them that their next stop was the mansion. After that, they would be stopping in the woods to finish up their repairs. It would be several days, in all likelihood. It made Shamino wish they could just make the areas danger zones and be done with it, but the mansion was an interesting environment and the woods were an important transit point for the students.

So they got moving.

It wasn't until after the announcement that Baines remembered to report the girl he'd shot. It messed up the announced death order, but that was nearly standard operating procedure by this point anyways. Besides, who cared about one dead girl more or less?

((Death Squad continued The Ninth Announcement))