The Rough Riders

Discussion in 'ROLEPLAY GRAVEYARD' started by Elendra, Aug 18, 2016.

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  1. “This place holds a lot of memories.”

    Her fingers ran along the edge of the doorframe, where the old wood sat upon creaky hinges. Dust came up as she flicked them off with some casual disregard, and began to clean out the grime from under a nail, “Pretty much all of them terrible,” she said turning round to face the other Rough Riders.

    Down below, on the ground level, they were trying to sort whose stuff went where in the back of her van. Hers was the largest car they had, and took the lion’s share of the belongings they hadn’t already shipped across the empire to their new home. Other than a roll of the eyes, there wasn’t much of a response to her. They were busy. And the ones who weren’t, like Miru, weren’t exactly ones to talk.

    She let out a sigh, huffing softly as she closed the door to the place one last time. The creak behind her resonating well. As always, it meant she didn’t have to deal with the city any more. Just today, it meant that a lot more permanently than normal.

    Miyako walked over to the stairwell to go down to the first floor and make sure that everyone could get their shit sorted, but stopped at the top of the stairs.

    “So, Mimi,” came the voice. Haughty. Self important. Bought from the coffers of someone with just enough money to make this place liveable. Someone with just enough money that they could pick on people like them. “You’re really leaving? The Diamond won’t be the same without you.”

    Miyako turned to the voice. To the head bitch. Her skin was the trendiest exact shade of tan. Her hair dyed blonde. Her eyes the only real feature on her face, but they were hidden behind sunglasses that Miyako knew weren’t the name brand they pretended they were. She didn’t give her two words, just shifted her posture to convey her annoyance.

    “Not even going to say bye? My, wouldn’t want your manners so poor. May convince the wrong people that the 14th are right.” Miyako didn’t bother restraining the sneering snarl spreading to her face at that comment.

    “What do you want, Courtney?”

    “I’m just seeing you off,” she said putting her hands up in a gesture of near surrender, “No need to sound so peeved with me. We’ve been flatmates for years, I’m going to miss you.”

    Miyako didn’t respond.

    “But you know what the real shame is? We never traded numbers. I won’t be able to call you to talk or find you on-” her lips curled into a grin, “Oh you don’t do social media, that’s right. But hey, here.” Courtney shoved her hand out, in it between her fingers was a small card. “If you’re ever back in town, or just want to talk, give it a call.”

    The card remained in the space between them, before Miyako took it and put it into a pocket of her hoodie.

    “Whatever. We need to get going. Bye,” she didn’t bother to see what Courtney did as she went down the stairs and joined the only people who made the Diamond worth it. The Riders. Some had taken to looking up at the exchange, but she didn’t pay them any mind. They were already back to their shit by now.

    They had a few things to do before they could finish leaving. Giving keys back to the landlord, making a forlorn attempt at getting back any sort of deposit, and then they were going out towards the walls, and then into the Marches, and she could hardly wait.

    Eventually everyone would get into the couple of cars, and they’d depart. From the apartment, Courtney and her mutts- her friends- watched and waved the group off. Immediately exiting, they had to stop at a light, and Miyako could distinctly hear them calling out.

    ‘You’ll be back’. ‘See you soon’.

    Would they? She hoped not. If it weren’t for the Landlord, Courtney, Kyle, Horace, Tito, Cynthia, Bart, and that little annoying yappy dog would have been the worst part of the place.

    The Landlord never fixed their shit.

    Bart was loud, rude, obsessed with MOBAs. She heard more than a handful of slurs shouted into his mic, enough to make her never want to speak with him.

    Cynthia shouldn’t have been in the group, but became a bully to avoid being a victim for her weight. One could have pitied her if she hadn’t become so mean.

    Tito was a father but not a dad, with a streak that would make Rake green with envy. He creeped on everyone, even those too young to.

    Horace held the others back, turning harassment into a game. Disguised under rules only he knew, like a malicious jester with a solemn face.

    Kyle didn’t say much. He spoke with his hands more than his words. Everyone at the Diamond knows he has connections with the police to keep him out of jail.

    And then there was Courtney. The Queen Bitch.

    Each name, each person, sat in Miyako’s memory as she sat at that light. And when the light turned green, she drove away, leaving the place, those memories, those people all behind.

    And passing through the CRIT checkpoint at the Palisade, and seeing the marches again? She was content to never think of them again.



    Five Hours Later


    The drive had been agony. Her butt hurt. Her head hurt. Her stomach growled.

    The town was called Hillview. It had no walls. It had no skyscrapers. A single CRIT outpost stood near the fire department- and even that appeared to be more of just a watch tower. There was a historic library, or dubious historic value, but it did have something historical to it. In the middle of downtown Hillview was a pizzeria, one of many mom and pop shops that still proliferated the hamlet. But unlike the others, this one was special.

    Fat Aunt Sally’s Pizza had an arcade.

    Video game cabinets from decades ago, with classic games still running in them. Claw machine games sat beside light gun shooters, and little machines for one to put a coin in, twist a crank, and get special marbles, or toys, stickers, or candy. The pizza? Nothing to write home about. This place was pure dumb atmosphere, and was connected to a gas station. If it had a hotel, and if it were later, it’d likely have been an ideal place to stop.

    But they couldn’t stop now, it was barely lunch, and they had so much further to go. What they could do, was use the restroom, stretch their legs, have a slice of mediocre pizza, maybe take some pictures of the true relics of Hillview, and then they had to get going.

    So the Rough Riders had a table, or rather two pushed together for them, sat around it, and unwound as a waitress, an older woman with grey hair pulled back in a bun and light skin, took their orders before offering the arcade to kill time while the pizza was ‘made fresh from scratch’. The line came out somewhere between rehearsed and filled with a grandmother’s love. The latter was probably why she had the job here. Or maybe she was related to Fat Aunt Sally. Miyako didn’t really pay attention to if the lady said that, or if her nametag said she was Sally herself- though she was hardly fat enough to have the nickname.

    Regardless, it just wasn’t that important.

    Then again, would anything be all that important? It’s not like they would ever be powerful like the nobles, or the magi.
     
    #1 Elendra, Aug 18, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2016
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  2. Miru was finished packing. All of her belongings ready to go on the trip, minus the small bag she was to carry with the personal things she would want on her person. So she simply sat back in silence par usual while watching the others struggle and fiddle with the rest of the items. There were getting everything in very neatly, but was taking an awfully long time. At least to her anyway. With nothing to do but wait and watch her eyes would wander. So much so that she would come to look for Miyako, which would come to her finding nothing. "She must still be in the room."
    The thought was quick to cross her mind and she was most likely right.


    Another reason she would think so would be the sight of Courtney walking up the stairs for no real reason. She was going to confront Miyako. With a small groan to herself, Miru would follow far behind the girl. A flight or two later she would come to hear Courtney's voice. Her really annoying voice. Miru heard everything and it immediately put her on edge. Gods how she wanted to shut the girl up.

    Miyako finished up with Courtney herself and started down the stairs past her, and Miru was to pass Miyako just to put in her two cents as it would be the last time she was able to.
    "You're really annoying.. Why do you talk so much."
    Miru spoke softly yet direct, looking Courtney straight in the eyes. But even though Miru had her confidence about her, the other girl was quick to bite back.


    "Because I wasn't molested by my daddy when I was a little girl." And gave a shrug to follow her words as if it where just a normal thing to say to someone.
    Miru thought it best to not follow up on her comment. It would just get to extremes and end most likely in a physical confrontation. But she didn't need that. They were leaving today. Miru wouldn't have to see her again. So she turned around with a shake of her head and followed Miyako down to the others.

    By the time she would make it down behind Miyako, the group seemed to be finished and ready to go. How long was she gone? Whatever. It didn't matter too much to her. Everything was said and done, and they were on their way.



    Five hours later.

    "Such a loud place.." She mumbled to herself as the constant sounds of games and children filled the room. The clinks and rattling of silverware hitting plates. 'Ugh'. Miru had already given her order and was just sitting around waiting for the others to do so as well. Sitting around always grew so boring, so quickly.

    "Miyako."

    Miru spoke up just a bit more than normal to get the girls attention.

    "I'm going to go play games." That sentence honestly sounded more like something akin to what a child would say when they would ask to go play games. But Miru had her own money. She could just go and do whatever she wanted for the most part. Without really waiting for a response or reaction she left her seat and made off towards the arcade part of the pizzeria, quarters in hand.
     
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  3. Staring under the hood of the big Chevolds, Cody examined the engine bay, mentally going over the checklist. Together with Gaige, they had changed all of the fluids, from the brakes to the coolant. Regreased the hubs, and other bearings, tuned the ignition, and swapped the fuel air filters. Generally giving the big, crew cab, long box dually, the solid maintenance checkup it needed before they hit the road on this somewhat, ridiculous journey. The 3500 series truck fit right in with the surroundings; rust around all of the fenders, the front passenger wheel well having the worst of it, some patches of white bondo from unfinished rust repairs from years gone by, all set off by the flat blue primer paint that was sun faded, and weather streaked from years of neglect. He had bought the truck back when he had a solid job, in the interest of restoring it, even went so far as to start prepping the body for paint....that never happened, and likely wouldn't.

    The bed was a large, cavernous space, scarred from used and abuse, covered with an old fibreglass canopy, with the right side window missing, replaced with a battered sheet of aluminum that had been pop riveted in place, to keep the rain out, while the rear lifting hatch was replaced with a wooden frame and a scratched piece of plexiglass that was beginning to yellow. Stored in the back, he carried much of the bulkier things the members of the riders couldn't bear to sell, give away or leave.

    He had said his farewells to Bart, Cynthia and Horace. Cody had gotten along well enough with Bart, played some games, shot the shit. Accepted that the asshole was an asshole, and tolerated his sometimes disgusting opinions and outbursts. A sort of low-order friend, not someone he knew very well, but better known than an acquaintance. Cody was never really sure about Cythia, but she always seemed nice to him...if the same couldn't be said for others. Horace however? Cody just didn't understand the man's attitude really. Sometimes Horace was a pretty chill guy, but then he'd seem to knife him in the back when Cody was having a good day.

    The other three...Cody did his best to simply ignore them as they prepared to leave. He had never had a good word with Kyle, and had crossed a fist with the man-child on two occasions. The idiot just seemed to get more hostile as time went on, and Cody could honestly say, he would be glad to be away from the asshole. Disgust was reserved for Tito; Cody had wished the man would do something to cross the line of being a general creeper, just so he could have a legitimate excuse to put the lecherous sack of filth in his place, at least Cody thought he would at any rate. Of them all though, Cody actively avoided Courtney; a past fling, and drama later? Cody felt she was a crazy bitch, and nothing would change his mind.

    As the group got ready to roll, Cody climbed into the truck's driver's position, on the broad bench seat. The old rough fabric coverings of the seats were in decent to worn condition, lived in, but not filthy. Everything had been freshly vacuumed, and emergency kit was sorted out last night, with jacks and tire changing equipment, jumper cables, and tow strap stored beneath the seats. Cody also kept his single bolt-action hunting rifle stored in its case behind the back seat, along with a nearly full box of ammunition (seventeen cartridges out of twenty). It was something he refused to do, having been in CRIT for a spell in his early twenties: He never went beyond the wall without a firearm, regardless of how unlikely it was he would need it. The rifle was stored safe: magazine was loaded with its three rounds, bolt was removed from the action.


    Five Hours Later...

    Leaning back in the chair, Cody watched as Miru announced her intention, and went off to play some of the old boxes. His face shifted slightly, troubled, concerned as he scanned those who were already on some of the machines. She was the youngest in the group, still a teenager even. Perhaps it was because he was the oldest of the them all, he felt a hint of responsibility of making sure nothing happened to them. "Anyone else going to hit up the boxes?" His voice was a low tenor, a bit rough, helping to lend to the question...a suggestion that someone else should also join Miru, even if they don't play the same games.

    While waiting for the pizza to arrive, especially his choice of "Carnivore", he looked to Miyako, deferring to her, for this trip was her idea, "Where do you think we will make it to, for the night?"
     
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  4. The floorboards gave a soft, echoing crack! out into the empty apartment’s air as Beatrix pulled them back, revealing a small space beneath them. Fishing her hand in, she grasped at a small, dirty plastic bag, secured tightly with a zip tie. Beatrix let out a quiet sigh as she peered through the accumulated grime of a few years of rest. This was the last of it. She roughly tore the bag open, and out fell a wad of bills, secured by a rubber band. The girl weighed it in her hand. It was heavier than she remembered.

    She flipped through it for a moment. Just a few hundred bucks, but it was all there. Her emergency fund. It was originally just fuel for a possible relapse - resting beneath her room, begging her to go out and get some more of her addiction. But she had been clean for a while, and now it was something different. A beacon of hope. She snorted at her own thoughts, and shoved the wad into her inner backpack pocket, zipping it up to make sure it wasn’t going anywhere. It wasn’t like she had anywhere better to keep it.

    Beatrix sighed and leaned against a wall. She felt empty. This place had no real happy memories for her, but there was still something about it that pulled her heartstrings as she thought about leaving it forever. You spend enough of your life in one place, good or bad, you’re going to miss it. She glanced out the tiny window, letting light pour into the barren room. She was done. After a moment of sadness, she quickly moved to pick up her things. She couldn’t be here any more.

    This is what it had come down to. One box, already shipped away across the country, one small suitcase, stuffed with her few outfits and cosmetic gear, and one backpack, packed light with only the essentials. Some entertainment. Some food. Her chargers. It was hard for Beatrix to think of herself as more than just her things. Is this it? She glanced at the empty doorway, leading out of the apartment. Yeah. This is it. She replaced the board, stomping down the loose nails with the heel of her shoe, grabbed the suitcase, and slung her backpack over her shoulder. She strode from the room, and slammed the door behind her. Probably harder than she had to. But she didn’t look back.

    Voices could be heard as Beatrix walked briskly from her first floor apartment, slowly making her way through the complex hallway to where the cars were waiting to leave. The suitcase behind her drug slowly against the uneven ground, and the sound grated against her eardrums. Of course, there was a sound that boiled her blood even more as she neared the corner.

    “Hey, Bea.” With two words, the man could make the hair on the back of Beatrix’s neck stand up. As light as she was a moment ago, she could feel a stone drop into the pit of her stomach, as she turned her head, slowly, agonizingly, to look at Tito.

    Hi, she mumbled back at his grinning face. She didn’t want to talk to him, but his door was open wide to his apartment, and he was leaning nonchalantly in the doorway. She didn’t know if it was the politeness her father had drilled into her, or some hope that he had somehow changed in the day since she had last seen him, but her feet wouldn’t move her away from him.

    “You guys, uh, leavin’ already?”

    Yes. I’m not carrying around this suitcase for a workout. Tito let out a loud chuckle.

    “Well, sure is a shame to lose all of ya. Especially you.” Tito took a brief step forward, pushing off from the doorway. Beatrix fought the instinct to move back a step, herself. “You know, I was always sad that we didn’t get to know each other a little… better, Bea. I always felt like we had a lot in common.”

    Beatrix gritted her teeth. This wasn’t the time. She was almost out of this hellhole. A moment ago she couldn’t help but feel bad about leaving, but now the desire to sprint out, ignoring even the cars and just running down the open road by herself, was overwhelming. Still, she stood tall. Maybe. I guess we… We won’t find out, now. Hopefully never.

    “Well,” he said with a wink, running a hand through his greasy hair, “When you find yourself back in town, maybe look me up, huh, pretty woman?” A smirk played across his lips, and Beatrix resisted the urge to take a few steps forward and whack him across the face. That wouldn’t deter him at all.

    Yeah. Sure. Whatever. I’d better be going, bye now. The words tumble out, quickly, not as measured as she would have liked. She spun on her heel and began to walk away without waiting for a response.

    “Stay in touch, Bea!” she heard Tito shout after her, and with that she speedily walked around the corner and to the cars, beads of sweat already rolling down her neck. It was going to be a long day.

    Five Hours Later

    Beatrix sat uncomfortably, legs crossed, on the hard wooden chair beneath her. Every shift in movement brought new creaks and groans pouring out of the aged material, and she feared that if she tried to move too much, it would simply fall out from under her. Beatrix had her share of experiences in places like this, but she hadn’t been to one in a while. It made her teeth ache, the smell of bodies mixed with metal floating into her nostrils. After some careful consideration, she landed on ordering a salad from the menu. Everything else was swimming in grease.

    The party had been quiet to her on the drive so far, and she certainly didn’t mind much. She was happy enough to sit in the back, knitting away to keep her hands busy, and think about the future. It certainly was intimidating, but having these people alongside her, even if she did not know them well, made her feel confident. It was like being back in group.

    Hey! What’s your name again?” Gaige asked her, pointing. “It was something snobby sounding, right?

    Lost in thought, she barely registered the finger pointing at her, until a gruff voice finally echoed through her ears and caused her to perk up. Me? She pointed at herself, unsure for a brief moment who he was talking to. But it was obvious. I- what? Snobby? She wrinkled her nose. This hulking thing was Gaige. She remembered, now. He had lived across from her, but she didn’t know much about him. She couldn’t even remember how she found out his name. “It’s Beatrix,” she said simply, offense clearly taken by the look on her face. I didn’t choose it. What kind of name is ‘Gaige’, anyway?

    "Beatrix, right. I was thinking Trixie, but that's a stripper name. And you're not--uh--built like one.

    My parents did a lot of drugs," Gaige said flatly about his name. "I should be happy that my name isn't Whiskey or Cocaine or Kid Number One. Though, that last one implies that they could count." He shrugged. "So, what's your story? Why do you need to travel halfway across the country?"

    Beatrix crossed her arms and frowned. I really don’t know which part of that sentence to be offended by most. Her crossed leg began to tingle, so she firmly planted both feet on the floor. She was speechless for a moment, letting possible comebacks run through her mind as he continued.

    She furrowed her brow for a moment at how blunt Gaige was about his parents. She supposed that she would have expected something like that, but for him to just bring it up out of the blue… Lots of people do drugs. Do you have some daddy issues, Gaige? Maybe you should be the stripper. Not that a stage could actually support you. She smirked slightly in satisfaction at her insult. It wasn’t her best, but it was something. Beatrix shrugged at his question. Didn’t want to be here anymore. Don’t like the people, don’t like the place, it’s too expensive, too many… Just looking for a change from all the shit, you know? She recrossed her legs and sat back. What about you? Do you have a special reason to escape from the Diamond?

    You and I both know that they’d pay me to keep them on.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, and most strippers can’t bench-press another person. Thank whatever stripper god there is for that.

    I lost my job,” he said. “And I was blacklisted. So. Moving very far away was the only way to get another one.

    Beatrix gave Gaige a once-over. She hadn’t really examined him closely before, but his size was always intimidating whenever she saw it. Even now, sitting, he rose what felt like a few stories above her. Still, she maintained her relaxed pose, trying to not show what intimidation he could easily wrought upon her. I suppose, but I’ve seen some places around that’d take you on. At least you bathe. Albeit rarely. She cocked an eyebrow. Is that your preferred religion? Stripper God?

    At his answer to the question, Beatrix gave a small grin. What did you do? Drop a girder on someone? Or maybe someone did see you with your shirt off. Beatrix had no real recollection of what the man did. She had some vague idea that he was handy, but she could have just pulled that out of her stereotype hat. Must’ve been pretty bad to get yourself blacklisted.

    I’m more of a Beer God worshiper myself, but on some Saturdays I convert to Stripper-ism.” He was actually non-religious, but Beatrix could probably figure that out easily enough.

    You’re a bitch, you know that right?” His tone wasn’t aggressive or rude. It was as if he was reading out loud from a book—stating the fact. “I punched my boss. Then again, he had it coming. No one calls me a—“ he stopped talking. “You know what, never mind. I’ll just get pissed again.

    Let’s go back to that first thing you said, though,” he said, placing his palms flat on the table. “What sort of places have you been where I would be the quality of entertainment? You actually might be more interesting than I first thought.

    Ah, of course. I wouldn’t expect him to have any sort of real connection to religion, anyway. As his frown grew heavier, Beatrix tensed. She hadn’t thought that would have offended him. They were both shooting insults at each other, and he had started it. She was well within her rights to… Her smile completely disappeared as he called her a bitch, and she noted again just how big he was as he stuck the toothpick in his mouth. Her position became a bit straighter, leaning back forward and uncrossing her arms, letting them lay in her lap. Even if he was being so matter of fact about it, Beatrix couldn’t help but tense up at the sudden bluntness of his insult.

    But she needn’t have worried, apparently, as he calmed himself down a bit. At least she knew something was off the table now. She’d have to be more careful. Even if I am a bitch, bitches are interesting people, she shrugged. Beatrix felt obligated to tell him something about herself at this point. Not that, but… I used to be, uh… homeless. For a while. A lotta those low-end places you can just wander into and, you know. Cheap, disgusting entertainment, a roof, and a bathroom. Worth a few singles.

    Well, I now feel like a piece of shit.” He rubbed his head, his fingers threading through his thick black hair. He paused and then reached into his back pocket, procuring his wallet. He grabbed some quarters. “You wanna go kick my ass on one of those machines over there?

    Beatrix let out a deep sigh and rested her chin on her hand. She almost seemed a bit wistful after giving out the information, but she shook her head. It’s all right. I know how I come off. She gave him a soft smile. It was probably the least bitchy expression she’d had all day. I can’t say that I’ve played much, but if I remember Bart’s voice right, if I say ‘fuck’ enough and call it a bitch, I’m sure I’ll kick plenty of ass.

    She stood, sending the wooden chair screeching across the linoleum floor and wincing at the harsh sound. She started sifting through her bag for her wallet, made of rough, fake leather and torn nearly to oblivion, it was almost more tape than wallet at this point. She shifted around in it for a few minutes and pulled out a few single dollar bills for the change machine. I’ll pay my own way. I’m sure you’ll need all the quarters you can get, can you even press a button without hitting all the others with those meat hooks? Her expression had returned to a bit of a smirk again, and she nodded towards his fingers.

    Gaige flushed a moment at her smile. He chewed on his toothpick. “Eh. The last time I played one of these things was when my mom would let the arcade babysit us while she went to the bar next door. So. I’m pretty rusty myself.

    He stood up at the same time she did, except his chair didn’t squeal like a stuck pig. He scratched his belly. “Alright,” he said to her comment about paying her own way. “More quarters just means more lives. Your loss.” She made a jab about his fingers, and he smirked. “I’m an auto mechanic. I am very good handling small things. So, you should just worry about yourself. Can your delicate lady fingers even push the buttons all the way down?

    Beatrix interlocked her fingers and stretched them to the sky, hearing multiple bones pop in her hands and arms as she did so. Well, I’m sure you’ll need all of the extra lives you can get. She walked over to the coin machine and started inserting her bills, grinning slightly. There was something very satisfying about the mechanical *clink* of coins hitting the tray. As he questioned her strength, she gave out a small giggle. Hey, I’ve had to scratch out some eyes before. Buttons are nothing before my might.

    She glanced around at the machines set up, and after a brief bout of dizziness, she pointed to one that had a small, green dwarf running around and swinging an axe at some ogre-like creature. That one. She jingled the coins around in her left hand. When was the last time she could just throw away money like this? She took one quarter over to her other hand, snapped it up into the air with a light ring, and caught it. Hope those things are small enough for you. Does that talent extend to before you started working on machines? Was a young Gaige always alone in his bedroom, handling his… small things?
     
    #4 Niiwa, Aug 22, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
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  5. Maggie undid her hair yet again, letting it down. She had bunched it up and wrapped a hair tie around it three times already, trying to perfect the effortlessness she so admired in woman far wealthier than her. Of course, it was anything but effortless. Even before obsessing over the lie that was her "casually" pulled back hair, she had spent far too long touching and retouching the wings of her eyeliner, the outer edges of her lipstick, going over the smudges to her foundation yet again. The result was striking, to be sure, but everyone else was bustling about, loading bags into the van, and she was still getting ready.

    Finally, the bun met her exacting standards and she wrapped a scrunchie around it to catch stray hairs. She had dressed first, to avoid making a mess of her face while putting on her top, and all she needed to do now was clasp her favorite necklace in place. It was costume jewelry, as all her real silver had been purchased on a whim and sold for half what she paid when rent loomed, but it was a reminder of one of the few people in her life who showed her any love. The heart-shaped charm was nothing special, and in all honesty, most girls wouldn't be caught dead wearing it. Maggie would probably have thrown it away herself if it didn't conjure up memories of that silent nod of acceptance her grandmother had shown after she came out. It never blossomed into understanding, the woman was very religious, but acceptance made a great deal.

    She tucked the charm beneath her shirt and gave herself a final once-over before standing. The chair scraped against the floor as she pushed it back, an awful grating sound that sent shivers through her. But worse than the noise itself was what it brought down upon her.

    "Jesus, finally. I figured you were staying behind, couldn't stand to leave your "job" after all." Cynthia loomed in the doorway, almost as if she had been waiting for some sort of cue. She was more of an actress than a person anyway, having abandoned her sense of self in favor of safety in numbers. "It's not like a freak like you is going to be anywhere near as popular with the perverts in... I don't even remember what that shitty little town you're headed to is called."

    "Good morning to you too, Cynthia," Maggie responded, trying to keep her cool. Of all the tenants at the Diamond, none had been so cruel to her as Cynthia. The slurs still rang in her ear, louder even than all the times men used them during the act. Gathering up her bag, a duffel full of clothes that were cute but wearable on the road and her simplest cosmetics, she tried to push past the bigger girl. Well, broader. Maggie stood four or five inches taller.

    "What, you're gonna leave without a hug? What a rude bitch you've become. You've got a big head because weirdos pay to fuck you. Or... do you fuck them?" That wicked grin erased any shred of sympathy Maggie felt for Cynthia. "I mean, hell. For all I know, you've got a big head over your... big head."

    Perhaps it was the fact that they were leaving, or perhaps it was one insult too many, but when Maggie's hand shot out and caught Cynthia across the cheek, it surprised both of them. Cynthia cried out and Maggie's eyes went wide.

    "Fuckin' tranny," Cynthia spat, hand on her cheek as it began to turn red. It wasn't hard to see the rage bubbling up inside her. Maggie's height amounted to nothing here, she would be wrestled to the ground without any trouble. Knowing she had to escape, she used her duffel as a sort of buffer and muscled past Cynthia into the hallway. "Do you run away from the men like that too? Take their dirty money and go? Get the fuck out of here, and don't come back!"

    And Maggie went, hustling down the stairs and putting her bag in the back of the van. She looked up at the Diamond one last time, to the window she knew had been hers. "I hope this place burns down," she muttered under her breath, and climbed into the vehicle.


    Five hours later...

    Maggie regretted buying such a thin book. It had been all of fifty cents at the used bookstore around the corner from the Diamond, and even that had felt like too much for the yellowed pages, tattered cover, and piss-poor premise. But she needed something to do while they drove, and reading seemed better than staring out the window for hours on end. Well, it had before she realized the book was even worse than expected. Romance novels were a lot more miss than hit, she had found.

    Instead of tucking the book away in her purse as the first installment in her new library, she tossed it in the trash where it belonged. The cover had even fallen off while she read. The waitress set a slice of incredibly greasy pizza on a paper plate down in front of her, and her stomach managed to roll over in disgust and grumble with hunger at the same time. She bunched up a napkin and dabbed at her food lightly. Even then, when she picked it up and folded it slightly in half, she could see it glisten in the light of the fluorescent overheads.

    She had already tuned out Gaige and Beatrix's flirting, but Cody's question caught her attention. "I hope the beds are more comfortable than what I had back home. Well, back at the Diamond..." It was going to take some getting used to, the fact that their home was no longer Chesterfield, and their roommates were only each other, not the human refuse they had been subjected to. "Shouldn't be hard, right?" she asked, with the slightest hint of a smile, trying to inject a little positivity into what had been a fairly somber expedition.

    She took another bite of her pizza, painfully aware of how it smudged her lipstick, and looked over to the arcade. Some of the 8-bit graphics beckoned her, but her own neuroses proved more powerful. Girls don't play video games, a voice in her head whispered. It didn't matter that Miru and Beatrix were both mashing away at buttons and wiggling joysticks, by her own backwards logic, 'real' girls were allowed to break the rules of girlhood.

    Maggie though, she was not.
     
    #5 Piper, Aug 23, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2016
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  6. Heidi and Parker

    "Parker?" Heidi tapped out a quick beat on the ajar door, head turned away to look out the window. "The others are already getting together outside." Heidi was packed light, only a single backpack pulling at her shoulders. Clothes, laptop, some charging cables. Phone too, at the moment, headphones bridging the gap between it's hidden recess and Heidi's ears. "I can carry some shit if that'll help."

    "Oh! Heidi! Yeah, sure, just let me grab my toothbrush." Parker shot Heidi a quick smile before vanishing into the bathroom. "You can grab my laptop bag, it's right by the door, thanks." They unzipped a pocket in their duffel bag, making short work of the toiletries. Mouthwash, floss, and a toothbrush went in first, followed quickly by their medication, a box of band aids, and their hairbrush. "I'm trying to cut out non-essentials but I feel like I must be forgetting something important." They paused for a moment. "I really should have done this yesterday."

    Parker left the bathroom, coming to stand in front of Heidi. "But seriously. This is it. New start. It's probably going to be a shit show. Are you as excited as I am?"

    "Oh definitely. Love me a shitshow." Heidi hefted the laptop bag and slung it over her should before stepping aside to let Parker through the doorway. "That's why I think we should take the back stairwell. I saw some of the, uh, other tenants kicking around out front, saying goodbyes. Loveable, huggable, goodbyes."

    Parker stepped through the doorway, cringing. "Yeah, I can imagine. How much do you wanna bet someone's bleeding before we make it out of the parking lot?" They continued on down the hallway, assuming Heidi would follow. "Not gonna lie, the neighbors definitely weren't a selling point here. Whatever. It's their loss." Parker maneuvered the door to the stairwell open with their hip, holding it so Heidi could pass through. "We're taking anyone remotely worthwhile with us. I'd like to see them try to fill our rooms with fucking Courtney heading the welcome wagon."

    "Heh, yeah," Heidi stepped into the stairwell before propping the door with her foot so Parker could follow before heading down. "Get some desperate people. Like us! Man, we'd be the ideal target audience, if we had just a bit more money." Heidi fell silent for a few moments, limping slightly as she went down the stairs, bandage poking out the top of her knee-high socks. "Do y'know what car we're supposed to- oh," Heidi cut herself short as her music stopped for second. Pulling her phone from the side pocket of her backpack, she looked at the screen. New Message: Alex <3 (3 Total Unread Messages) . With a grimace, she tucked the phone away again. "Sorry. So, uh, yeah. What car we taking?"

    Parker's smile faltered as Heidi checked her phone. It clearly wasn't anything good, but Parker figured it wasn't any of their business. For all they knew she could have just hit her data cap or something equally as trivial. Maybe they'd push it later, but Parker wanted to start the trip off right.

    "Cody said we could pile in the back of his truck if we wanted." Leaving the building, Parker looked over their shoulder back at Heidi. "Thank god you pack so light; we'll have tons of room. I warn you now, I'm probably going to pass right out as soon as we're on the road, and I've been told I snore. Sucks to be you guys, I guess." As they moved around the building towards the vehicles, Parker could make out figures moving to and from the front entrance of the building, carrying a few final pieces of luggage.

    "I think of we make a break for it we can get our stuff in the truck and settled with minimal casualties. Looks like Cody's ready to go. Actually, we might be able to bypass the farewell party entirely." They snorted. "It's like walking by a kiosk; just avoid eye contact."

    "C'mon. Anykiosk employee worth their salt knows to shout at anyone and everyone that ignores them." With that, Heidi jogged across the parking lot to Cody's truck and tossed the pair of bags in the back. The headphones, still linked to the phone in the backpack, were pulled out painfully. WIth a muffled curse, Heidi grabbed the phone and jackknifed herself into the cab of the truck. "Go, go, go" she sang out loudly to Parker, "pick up the pace, recruit!"

    "Shit, shit, shit," Parker chanted as they darted after Heidi. "Way to abandon me, holy crap." Tossing their bag in to Heidi ahead of them, Parker climbed into the truck as quickly as possible. They gave the back of the driver's seat a solid thump. "Come on Cody, let's get this show on the road." They paused for a second before sitting back. "Fuck, I totally forgot snacks. We're screwed. I might not make it. You're going have to drag my gross, emancipated corpse out of the truck after I starve to death."

    Parker slumped down in their seat. "Whatever. Let's get out of here."

    "How tragic," Heidi droned, "I'll make sure to take care of your stuff when you pass." Waving a lazy finger in the air, Heidi hailed Cody. In truth, the age difference between him and her left her feeling uncomfortable being so casual with him, but Parker's intensity balanced that out by leaving her feeling pressured to be more like them. At least while they were around. "Driver. Far side of the Empire, if you please."

    Five Hours Later

    At the table, Heidi's chair left a comfortable distance between her and the table. Far enough to put her slightly outside the circle of influence of the others seated there, but close enough that she could join in by leaning foward. Her phone buzzed accusingly at her. New Message: Charlie - Work (8 Total Unread Messages). Of course. She was supposed to be at work an hour ago. The only surprise was that it had taken Charlie so long to notice. Sighing, she dropped the phone into the side pocket of her backpack, which was leaning against her chair. "Hey, Parker. Trade you some of my garlic cheese for whatever you got."

    "Ham and Pineapple, baby. Take a piece, it's disgusting." Parker was quick to pick at Heidi's plate, jumping at the chance for more junk food. A low beeping from their pocket distracted Parker for a moment. Hydrate, jackass. Their phone wasn't much more than a glorified IPod without a proper phone plan, but the alarm system continued to work just fine. Flicking off the reminder, Parker looked up at the table. "Hey, maybe we could get a pitcher of water? I'm dying here." They pulled a tray of creamers toward themselves and nudged Heidi. "How much do you want to bet I can stack all seventeen without knocking them over?"

    Rooting around in her bag and studiously ignoring the offered pineapple, Heidi pulled out a small pouch and upended it on the table. Sorting the coins that tumbled out, and throwing the bills back into the pouch, Heidi did some quick math. With a grin, she leaned back in her chair. "Five twelve says you can't. So get to stacking so you can get to paying."
     
    #6 HerziQuerzi, Aug 24, 2016
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2016
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  7. Of course, it was time to go and Parker wasn't ready. They had woken up earlier than usual, shuffling around in their typical early morning fugue. It wasn't until they had eaten a bowl of corn flakes and downed two cups of coffee that they remembered that today was the day that the Rough Riders were going to get the fuck out of Dodge. Of course, they hadn't done shit all to prepare. The next few hours were spent in a scramble as Parker tried to stuff as much as they could into their bags.

    They hadn't been living at the Diamond long enough to accrue too many personal belongings, but Parker still had to pick and choose what would be making the trip. Clothes, a few select books, and their small stash of cash all were placed snugly into the duffel bag, while Parker's headphones and spare set of glasses ended up in the backpack. They debated taking the small portable radio stationed on the bedside table before finally deciding to pass. Best to leave some kind of nice surprise for the next tenant. Lord knows they'd need it.

    Parker was just packing the last of their socks away when they were startled by a sharp rap on the door frame.

    "Parker?" Heidi stood in the doorway, waiting. "The others are already getting together outside." Heidi was packed light, only a single backpack pulling at her shoulders. Clothes, laptop, some charging cables. Phone too, at the moment, headphones bridging the gap between it's hidden recess and Heidi's ears. "I can carry some shit if that'll help."

    "Oh! Heidi! Yeah, sure, just let me grab my toothbrush." Parker shot Heidi a quick smile before vanishing into the bathroom. "You can grab my laptop bag, it's right by the door, thanks." They unzipped a pocket in their duffel bag, making short work of the toiletries. Mouthwash, floss, and a toothbrush went in first, followed quickly by their medication, a box of band aids, and their hairbrush. "I'm trying to cut out non-essentials but I feel like I must be forgetting something important." They paused for a moment. "I really should have done this yesterday."

    It was true. Parker had known about the move for a while, and had ample time to prepare. Instead they had chosen to focus on other things. The previous night had been spent at their laptop with a bowl of grapes, blogging about the portrayal of a mage character in a new Netflix original. Parker had made the mistake of tagging the post with the show's name, and there went the rest of their night.

    Parker left the bathroom, coming to stand in front of Heidi. "But seriously. This is it. New start. It's probably going to be a shit show. Are you as excited as I am?"

    "Oh definitely. Love me a shitshow." Heidi hefted the laptop bag and slung it over her shoulder before stepping aside to let Parker through the doorway. "That's why I think we should take the back stairwell. I saw some of the, uh, other tenants kicking around out front, saying goodbyes. Loveable, huggable, goodbyes."

    Well, they couldn't argue with that. Parker had tried to start their tenancy off on the right foot, but the people living at the Diamond had proved anything but agreeable. Courtney had immediately identified Parker as a threat, and worked hard at turning as many of the other residents away from them as possible. It was a blow to their pride, but Parker didn't mourn the lost relationships. Bart and Cynthia were far from kind, while Tito and Horace made Parker's skin crawl. Luckily they fell in well enough with the Rough Riders.

    Parker stepped through the doorway, cringing. "Yeah, I can imagine. How much do you wanna bet someone's bleeding before we make it out of the parking lot?" They continued on down the hallway, assuming Heidi would follow. "Not gonna lie, the neighbors definitely weren't a selling point here. Whatever. It's their loss." Parker maneuvered the door to the stairwell open with their hip, holding it so Heidi could pass through. "We're taking anyone remotely worthwhile with us. I'd like to see them try to fill our rooms with fucking Courtney heading the welcome wagon."

    "Heh, yeah," Heidi stepped into the stairwell before propping the door with her foot so Parker could follow before heading down. "Get some desperate people. Like us! Man, we'd be the ideal target audience, if we had just a bit more money." Heidi fell silent for a few moments, limping slightly as she went down the stairs, bandage poking out the top of her knee-high socks. "Do y'know what car we're supposed to- oh," Heidi cut herself short suddenly. Pulling her phone from the side pocket of her backpack, she looked at the screen. With a grimace, she tucked the phone away again. "Sorry. So, uh, yeah. What car we taking?"

    Parker's smile had faltered as Heidi checked her phone. It clearly wasn't anything good, but Parker figured it wasn't any of their business. For all they new she could have just hit her data cap or something equally as trivial. Maybe they'd push it later, but Parker wanted to start the trip off right.

    "Cody said we could pile in the back of his truck if we wanted." Leaving the building, Parker looked over their shoulder back at Heidi. "Thank god you pack so light; we'll have tons of room. I warn you now, I'm probably going to pass right out as soon as we're on the road, and I've been told I snore. Sucks to be you guys, I guess." As they moved around the building towards the vehicles, Parker could make out figures moving to and from the front entrance of the building, carrying a few final pieces of luggage.

    "I think of we make a break for it we can get our stuff in the truck and settled with minimal casualties. Looks like Cody's ready to go. Actually, we might be able to bypass the farewell party entirely." They snorted. "It's like walking by a kiosk; just avoid eye contact."

    "C'mon. Anykiosk employee worth their salt knows to shout at anyone and everyone that ignores them." With that, Heidi jogged across the parking lot to Cody's truck and tossed the pair of bags in the back. The headphones, still linked to the phone in the backpack, were pulled out painfully. WIth a muffled curse, Heidi grabbed the phone and jackknifed herself into the cab of the truck. "Go, go, go" she sang out loudly to Parker, "pick up the pace, recruit!"

    "Shit, shit, shit," Parker chanted as they darted after Heidi. "Way to abandon me, holy crap." Tossing their bag in to Heidi ahead of them, Parker climbed into the truck as quickly as possible. They gave the back of the driver's seat a solid thump. "Come on Cody, let's get this show on the road." They paused for a second before sitting back. "Fuck, I totally forgot snacks. We're screwed. I might not make it. You're going have to drag my gross, emancipated corpse out of the truck after I starve to death."

    Parker slumped down in their seat. "Whatever. Let's get out of here."

    "How tragic," Heidi droned, "I'll make sure to take care of your stuff when you pass." Waving a lazy finger in the air, Heidi hailed Cody. "Driver. Far side of the Empire, if you please."

    As they pulled from the lot, Parker plugged in their headphones. After opening their nighttime playlist, they settled down to rest, leaning against the backpack between them and the window. The comfortable thrum of the vehicle was quick to send Parker to sleep.

    Five Hours Later

    Parker wasn't sure who had roused them awake. It wasn't until they were settled at a table in the diner that Parker managed to shake off the heavy layer of fog that naps so often left them with. The matronly waitress set Parker up with a strong cup of coffee, and Parker was finally able to settle into the group. Miru, Gaige, and Beatrix all quickly fell victim to the bright light of the arcade, but Parker stuck to the table with the others. They were starving.

    It wasn't long before the food arrived, and Parker dug in with enthusiasm. The food was hot and greasy, something that was still a novelty to Parker. It definitely wasn't doing any favours for their health, but Parker wasn't going to skip the opportunity for some authentic junk food.

    Heidi moved in her seat next to Parker, tucking something away in her bag.
    "Hey, Parker. Trade you some of my garlic cheese for whatever you got."

    "Ham and Pineapple, baby. Take a piece, it's disgusting." Parker was quick to pick at Heidi's plate, jumping at the chance for more junk food. A low beeping from their pocket distracted Parker for a moment. Hydrate, jackass. Their phone wasn't much more than a glorified IPod without a proper phone plan, but the alarm system continued to work just fine. Flicking off the reminder, Parker looked up at the table. "Hey, maybe we could get a pitcher of water? I'm dying here." They pulled a tray of creamers toward themselves and nudged Heidi. "How much do you want to bet I can stack all seventeen without knocking them over?"

    Rooting around in her bag and studiously ignoring the offered pineapple, Heidi pulled out a small pouch and upended it on the table. Sorting the coins that tumbled out, and throwing the bills back into the pouch, Heidi did some quick math. With a grin, she leaned back in her chair. "Five twelve says you can't. So get to stacking so you can get to paying."

    Oh, it's on.
     
  8. The apartment had felt much larger with all this shit in it. Now that it was empty it was much smaller and much more cramped. Gaige scratched his head. He’d liked this place well enough. Of course, that was without the noise, people, rent, and décor. Well, maybe he hadn’t actually liked the apartment that much. Maybe he’d just liked the thought that there was a wall, however rickety, between him and the outside world.

    Now here he was, abandoning that wall and shoving what he could of his worldly possessions in the back of a van with everyone else’s. There was a clear division of who packed what. Gaige’s things were in boxes with color coded tape on the top of them. That had been a gift from his sister. She was always the organized one.

    He’d gotten into an argument with Paige while he’d been packing up. She’d come over to help, even if she was no help at all. He kept telling her to sit down. She was eight months pregnant and trying to deadlift a box filled with his pants. Gaige had only let her come because he wanted to talk to her. Yet, his sister was not one to sit still. She found a rag and began dusting the invisible cobwebs from the corners.

    “I don’t know why you have to leave,” she said. “We can take care of you.”
    “I appreciate the offer, Paige.” He crossed his arms. “But you and Tadd don’t have to be my new mom and dad. I can handle myself.”
    Paige bore daggers into him.
    “What?”
    “Gaige, how long have I been married?”

    He shrugged. “Like, five years or something.”
    “I’ve been married eight years to Phil. To. Phil.”

    He sighed. “He should have just stuck with Tadd. Phil is an awful name. Why would I even let you marry a Phil?”
    “You were at the wedding, Gaige. You gave me away.”
    “I was also drunk at that wedding.”
    Paige sighed and finally took a seat. She brought her hand to the crest of her head and rubbed softly. Gaige could tell that she wasn’t angry at him for forgetting Tadd—Phil’s—name. There was something else there.
    “Look, Paige, I’ll be safe, and I’ll be good.” He approached her, squatted, and looked her in the eye.
    “Will you?” She asked.
    Gaige patted the top of her head, something he regretted immediately because his hands were grimy. “Of course, as long as you promise that when I return I won’t be related to half the population. This is your fifth kid, Paige.”
    She scoffed. “Strange that you know the amount of nieces and nephews you have, but no idea about my husband’s name.”
    “You’re children are precious. Your husband is interchangeable with a sitcom dad. I bet he wears sweater vests and has this gimmicky saying that he annoys you and the kids with.”


    Paige didn’t say anything, but instead just laughed. He would miss that, but he had no choice. He’d been blacklisted by his employer, and he couldn’t find another auto mechanic job anywhere. Near about the only place that would hire him would be food service. And quite frankly he didn’t think it was physically possible for him to work in a cramped kitchen without accidentally knocking someone into a vat of hot grease. Yeah, he didn’t need that nightmare. So, he’d sold his car and pocketed the extra money. The car was an older, sporty type that he had restored. It ran fine here, but he didn’t think it was feasible to take it across country. He’d miss it.

    Hopefully, he would find a job quick enough after all of this. Hopefully, this wasn’t another giant mistake to add to his long resume of fuck-ups that formed his life.

    Five Hours Later

    Gaige hated this place. The ambient noise of undisciplined children would have been enough to give him a headache into next Tuesday, but it was punctuated by the clanging of old pinball machines and the beeping of the arcade. He was surprised that their server was not a grotesquely obese woman, but instead a quaint matronly type that smiled and chirped through their order. That was a lot more comforting than the name of the establishment implied. Whoever owned this place apparently had it out for their Aunt Sally.

    Gaige’s stomach grumbled and he grumbled as well. Their server had said it would be a while, and they could entertain themselves on the machines. He didn’t really know the rest of the group that well beyond Cody, and he’d only met the other man recently. He’d asked Gaige to look over his truck before they made this trip across country. Cody was nice enough, but there was an overwhelming somberness to him that made Gaige think that he’d mind the intrusion. His eyes settled on a woman. She looked familiar. He had thought she rented the apartment across the way from his. Then again, he rarely paid attention to anything beyond his beer and his friends.

    “Hey! What’s your name again?” He asked her, pointing. “It was something snobby sounding, right?”

    “Me?” She pointed at herself. “I- what? Snobby?” She wrinkled her nose. “It’s Beatrix,” she said simply, offense clearly taken by the look on her face. “I didn’t choose it. What kind of name is ‘Gaige’, anyway?” She retorted.

    She acted baffled. Gaige bit his tongue on responding to the "Me?" comment. Of course, her. He wasn't pointing to the invisible person behind her. Though in a world of mages and magic, he might have been. "Beatrix, right. I was thinking Trixie, but that's a stripper name. And you're not--uh--built like one." He let that thought trail off and die. Any other day he'd finish it off, but he was trapped in a vehicle with her. Didn't need her kicking the back of his seat the entire time, or whatever Beatrixes did when they were angry. Probably scratched. Yeah, she looked like the scratchy type.

    "My parents did a lot of drugs," he said flatly about his name. "I should be happy that my name isn't Whiskey or Cocaine or Kid Number One. Though, that last one implies that they could count." He shrugged. He'd been harangued on his name before, and he would be for the rest of his life. Thanks Mom. "So, what's your story? Why do you need to travel halfway across the country?"

    Beatrix crossed her arms and frowned. “I really don’t know which part of that sentence to be offended by most.” She firmly planted both feet on the floor. She was speechless for a moment.

    She furrowed her brow. “Lots of people do drugs. Do you have some daddy issues, Gaige? Maybe you should be the stripper. Not that a stage could actually support you.” She smirked slightly in satisfaction at her insult. Beatrix shrugged. “Didn’t want to be here anymore. Don’t like the people, don’t like the place, it’s too expensive, too many… Just looking for a change from all the shit, you know?” She recrossed her legs and sat back. “What about you? Do you have a special reason to escape from the Diamond?”

    Daddy issues? His parents were just shit parents. They weren’t abusive, cruel, or manipulative. He’d apparently struck a nerve and she was lashing out in a way that seemed fitting for Beatrixes to do. He was right, her name was a snobby bitch name. Still, she was trying to weasel herself underneath his skin, and he was too tired and hungry to let her win so easily. “You and I both know that they’d pay me to keep them on.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “Yeah, and most strippers can’t bench-press another person. Thank whatever stripper god there is for that.”

    Beatrix leaned back, but Gaige didn’t move. The chairs were insanely uncomfortable, and he’d managed to settle himself on one precariously enough that the flat woodenness of the seat wouldn’t dig into his ass. Her excuse for leaving was painfully transient. Had everyone come on this trip for some sort of “change of scenery?” That seemed stupid.

    “I lost my job,” he said. No need to lie about it. He didn’t have some sort of Great American Novel reason for leaving. “And I was blacklisted. So. Moving very far away was the only way to get another one.”

    Beatrix gave Gaige a once-over. “I suppose, but I’ve seen some places around that’d take you on. At least you bathe. Albeit rarely.” She cocked an eyebrow. “Is that your preferred religion? Stripper God?”

    At his answer to the question, Beatrix gave a small grin. “What did you do? Drop a girder on someone? Or maybe someone did see you with your shirt off. Must’ve been pretty bad to get yourself blacklisted.”

    “I’m more of a Beer God worshiper myself, but on some Saturdays I convert to Stripper-ism.” He was actually non-religious, but Beatrix could probably figure that out easily enough.

    She smiled at his mention of him losing his job. His frown deepened. It was times like these that he really regretted having stopped smoking. He grabbed a toothpick from the chest pocket of his shirt and placed it in-between his lips. “You’re a bitch, you know that right?” His tone wasn’t aggressive or rude. It was as if he was reading out loud from a book—stating the fact. “I punched my boss. Then again, he had it coming. No one calls me a—“ he stopped talking. “You know what, never mind. I’ll just get pissed again”

    “Let’s go back to that first thing you said, though,” he said, placing his palms flat on the table. “What sort of places have you been where I would be the quality of entertainment? You actually might be more interesting than I first thought.”

    “Ah, of course.” Her smile completely disappeared. Her position became a bit straighter, leaning back forward and uncrossing her arms, letting them lay in her lap.

    “Even if I am a bitch, bitches are interesting people,” she shrugged. “I used to be, uh… homeless. For a while. A lotta those low-end places you can just wander into and, you know. Cheap, disgusting entertainment, a roof, and a bathroom. Worth a few singles.”

    He hadn’t expected her answer. Honestly, Gaige just thought she was possibly a lot kinkier than her snooty persona gave away. Yet, her being homeless hadn’t crossed his mind. Yeah. He’d missed the hygiene comment all together. She’d hinted at it, and a smarter person would’ve caught on. Sometimes he only heard what he wanted to hear.

    “Well, I now feel like a piece of shit.” He rubbed his head, his fingers threading through his thick black hair. He had an idea. He paused and then reached into his back pocket, procuring his wallet. He had a bit of cash in there, but that’s not what he was looking for. He grabbed some quarters. “You wanna go kick my ass on one of those machines over there?”

    Beatrix let out a deep sigh and rested her chin on her hand. She almost seemed a bit wistful after giving out the information, but she shook her head. “It’s all right. I know how I come off." She gave him a soft smile “I can’t say that I’ve played much, but if I remember Bart’s voice right, if I say ‘fuck’ enough and call it a bitch, I’m sure I’ll kick plenty of ass.”

    She stood, sending the wooden chair screeching across the linoleum floor and wincing at the harsh sound. Beatrix pulled out a few single dollar bills for the change machine. “I’ll pay my own way. I’m sure you’ll need all the quarters you can get, can you even press a button by itself with those meat hooks?” Her expression had returned to a bit of a smirk again, and she nodded towards Gaige's fingers.

    Gaige flushed a moment at her smile. He hadn’t expected it, even after his crappy apology. He chewed on his toothpick. “Eh. The last time I played one of these things was when my mom would let the arcade babysit us while she went to the bar next door. So. I’m pretty rusty myself.”

    He stood up at the same time she did, except his chair didn’t squeal like a stuck pig. He pulled his shirt down and his pants up, everything having lost its positioning on his body from trying to find the single comfortable spot on that chair. He scratched his belly. Man, he needed to go on a diet. Eh. He would after today. Well, maybe after this trip was over. It would be hard to do anything trapped in a vehicle all day.

    “Alright,” he said to her comment about paying her own way. “More quarters just means more lives. Your loss.” She made a jab about his fingers, and he smirked. Alright. Fine. She could have a few good pokes at him. He’d deserved it. “I’m an auto mechanic. I am very good handling small things. So, you should just worry about yourself. Can your delicate lady fingers even push the buttons all the way down?”

    Beatrix interlocked her fingers and stretched them to the sky, hearing multiple bones pop in her hands and arms as she did so. “Well, I’m sure you’ll need all of the extra lives you can get.” She walked over to the coin machine and started inserting her bills, grinning slightly. As he questioned her strength, she gave out a small giggle. “Hey, I’ve had to scratch out some eyes before. Buttons are nothing before my might.”

    She glanced around at the machines set up, and after a brief bout of dizziness, she pointed to one that had a small, green dwarf running around and swinging an axe at some ogre-like creature. “That one.” She jingled the coins around in her left hand. She took one quarter over to her other hand, snapped it up into the air with a light ring, and caught it. “Hope those things are small enough for you. Does that talent extend to before you started working on machines? Was a young Gaige always alone in his bedroom, handling his… small things?” She let out another laugh as she made her way over to the cabinet.
     
  9. Zola Bellerose - Hitting the Road

    As she gathered up the last of her things in preparation to leave, Zola hummed to herself. Humming, she’d found, always made things go faster. And the faster I get out of the Diamond, the better. The sentiment was an old one, since she’d always viewed her stay at the Diamond as a temporary one, a minor stepping stone on the way to fame and fortune. It had taken forever, but now she was about to embark on the next step on the path to stardom, just as soon as she got all her shit together. For the first time in her life, everything was coming together the way it was supposed to, and it felt good.

    Soon enough, Zola had everything she hadn’t shipped ahead of her packed and secured in her suitcase, ready and waiting to go. Her guitar was in its case along with her amp, the only items in her musical repertoire that she had decided to keep with for the journey ahead, having shipped her loudspeaker ahead for convenience’s sake. Most of her clothes and other personal items were in the suitcase, with anything that didn’t fit in there thrown into a duffel bag along with the basic necessities for the trip. If she needed to get anything on the road, she had a little bit of money saved up from the last few gigs she’d been able to do in Chesterfield and whatever cash she had in her wallet. It wasn’t exactly a lot, but it’d do for now, and that’s all that mattered. After all, once she reached stardom, she’d be rolling in more cash than she’d ever imagined, she was sure of it.

    With her possessions now in order, she took a moment to look in the mirror one last time, to make sure that she wasn’t leaving the Diamond looking like a hot mess. It didn’t really matter much, since she wasn’t coming back, but it felt good regardless. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail for the first time in a while, she had on her favorite purple shirt, and her skirt positively sparkled in the light. Making sure that her jackboots were on tight, she grabbed her guitar case with one hand, the suitcase with the other, and slung the duffel bag over her shoulder before heading out to meet up with the others. She thought briefly about confronting Courtney or one of her friends, but decided against it in the end. She was leaving Chesterfield and the Diamond, while they were stuck here for the foreseeable future, and that was that.

    As she hauled her things down to the van, Zola turned to take one last look back at the Diamond, and whistled. ”Well, it’s been grand, but I’m off to bigger and better things, Ta-Ta!” With that last farewell having been said, she gives a big wave that she’s sure that Courtney and her pack of cackling hyenas can see, before tossing her things inside the van and climbing in.

    Five Hours Later

    Zola took another big bite of what was quite possibly the best slice of pizza she’d had in her entire life. Pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, onions, and cheese all combined to make something the menu had listed as the ‘Fat Sally Supreme’, and it was even better than Zola had anticipated. Sure, it was a bit greasy and probably contained more calories than one person needed in a day, but it tasted so good. Once she finished devouring her slices (she’d ordered two to be on the safe side), she leaned in close to the table to chime in on the conversation about where they’d be staying the night. ”So, I don’t know about you guys, but I hope we find a nice little hotel or B&B somewhere along the way. Cause I’ll be honest, I’d rather not sleep in the van and risk dealing with any bad BO, no offense.”
     
  10. Miyako watched as Miru went off to the cabinets, matter of fact in how she did so. Her own things were to be arriving shortly, no doubt. Or take too long. She wasn't sure on that yet. But she got pulled out of that bored contemplation to look over at Cody. "We'll make it to Gildbrooke, or Creston if we push it." Both were march towns along the way to their destination, laid out in a way that avoided going through cities. Cities meant CRIT checkpoints at the Palisades, and that meant slowing down their trip considerably. They'd be driving entirely within the marches for maximum efficiency. It may have meant it was nominally more dangerous, but she trusted CRIT to keep them safe.

    Her eyes drifted over to Miru, and she sighed. She saw others getting their food at irregular intervals, at least answering that particular question. This was not the kind of place that had the best of service. Frustrating.

    "I'll keep an eye on her. Tell me when my food's here." She got up and began to make her way over to where Miru was, leaving the table-sitters to their advanced food arrival.

    She had done her best to approach quietly, to loom over from behind before speaking- using the noise and lights of the cabinets to distract Miru and better her sneaking. "Hey, squirt."

    Miru was already at the cabinet, Galaga, well on her way in the repetitive levels as Miyako attempted to surprise her. "I'm hardly any shorter than you." She spoke in her regular monotone voice without taking a peek away from the screen as she seemed to have missed the notion she was calling her young. Her eyes seemed disinterested, but that was just her focus. Regardless of being young she was very much familiar with this game. Duel ships and an extra life already. She was on a roll.

    "What is it. Do you need something?" Miru continued to speak as she had her eyes on the game. Still not taking the time to look back at the girl. Not that she was being rude, at least not on purpose.

    "Twerp, then," she said, matter of factly. Her eyes looked up to the game that Miru had going, and her eyes glazed over from trying to watch it all. It was sure pretty, but it wasn't something for her. The noise around them was already heavily stimulating, but the lights and display would only make it worse.

    Still.

    "Just watching you play." Truth. Misleading, but true. But not something she could do for very long. Watching Miru? The girl wouldn't get into any trouble. Watching that game, however, would get her a headache. She looked away momentarily, and noticed something that was a bit more her speed. Claw game. There had been one in her home, and she had wasted allowances to get toys from it. Would've been cheaper to just buy them, in retrospect, but the feeling of earning the toy, of beating the machine to get it, made the victory and toy combination all the better.

    The call of nostalgia tugged at her like a siren. She had some loose change, maybe she could find the coin to take a hand at it for old time's sake. Her lips pursed, and she looked back to see if Miru was still doing well at her game.

    Judging by the lights and sounds, she still was.

    Miru seemed to ignore her second comment as her body shifted slightly more towards the machine, most likely nearly died. But she was alright. She returned to her par-usual silence to Miyakos words. This time may have been more acceptable as she was somewhat distracted with not losing. So much so that she didn't even notice Miyako had left to play her own game.

    Or maybe she did, but didn't really care. She was much to in the moment.

    Hadn't quite left yet, but was certainly considering it, and from Miru's silence, she took that as unspoken apathy towards her doing so, and with that out of the way she did do so.

    The claw machine was old. Maybe as old as she was. The panels on the sides looked poorly in place and electrical tape helped hold them there as well. If she kicked it particularly hard, she felt quite certain that she could get all the toys out of it immediately. But, she wasn't going to risk the trouble, and whatever stampede may have come her way to get the toys as well.

    So she dug a hand into her hoodie, and pulled out a handful of change. Only two quarters. Fortunately, the old thing didn't seem like it had been updated to require more than that. She slipped them in, and watched the machine come to life. More lights. More noise. More annoying. She looked at the stuff inside- it was a outright mess of random baubles and trinkets and toys. She mused to herself, other arcades had tickets you could turn in to get prizes, maybe they used to do that here.

    And then stopped and just shoved all the prizes into the claw machine.

    Could the claw even hold onto some of these things?

    She shook her head and tried to find something worth grabbing. Or easy to get.

    Centre-right, there was a doll. Nothing special, aside that it was clearly an old style cloth one. Not a plushy, not even done in a hip-retro way. Just old fashioned looking.

    She was going to get it.

    She moved the claw over slowly and carefully, and then let it descend. The thing opened up, and grabbed at the doll, under its arm. She watched with baited breath as it moved the doll up, and over, and then almost immediately dropped it. The doll fell over onto its side, revealing that there had been some sort of stuffed cat beneath it. Miyako took solace in that the fall had fortunately positioned the doll for an easy second grab.

    If she had more quarters.

    The claw deposited its nothing to her with some fanfare before going back idle and Miyako simply groaned, trying to find more change. She didn't have any. She knew Miru would, and hoped that maybe she could wander over and knick a quarter without disturbing her.

    Not much would have changed with Miru as she continued to play, around 36 actually. She heard Miyako come back up behind her how she had the first time to speak to her, thought this time Miru would be the first to speak. "So how was it. I know you're a grandma and all, but losing that fast?"

    She would have laughed if she were one to do so. But she didn't. Just continued to play.

    "Pipe down, pipsqueak," she retorted, almost defensively. Was she actually upset that she messed that up? "I almost got it on the first try. Just need another quarter. Where are yours?"

    "They are in my back pocket."

    Miyako waited for a moment, for some sorta of indication that Miru was going to get them for her out of the pocket, but got no such things. "Are you going to..."

    "Busy."

    Miyako looked at the numbers going up on the screen and the continued cacophony of sound and colour that came from the cabinet. She shrugged, letting out a, "Suit yourself," before just reaching into Miru's back pocket to get what she needed. She pulled out more quarters than necessary and put the rest near the controls before walking off to get another shot at the doll.

    Money in, she tried to make sure she carefully lined it up to grab the bulk of the toy...

    ... only for someone to bump into her on the way to play one of the other games in the arcade. Her hand jostled the controls and the claw descended not even at the doll, but next to it. The dumb cat toy. And just her luck, the claw picked it up and brought it over successfully before dropping it down for her to collect. Which was when she noticed that it didn't even have the common decency to actually be a plush cat as she thought it was.

    It was some sort of cat hat, with fake ears.

    She groaned to herself, before walking back over to Miru with them. She won something, even if she didn't necessarily want what she won, may as well get something out of it.

    She went to just place the cat ears on Miru's head.

    Miru had simply ignored the fact Miyako was so eager to play again and just reached down her pocket to grab the quarters. What she didn't completely ignore was her leaving the extra she took on the cabinet. She rolled her eyes at that.

    Again the time passed and Miru was silent other than the noises she was making with her button presses. Though it wasn't to matter how quiet she was being due to all the other noises and people around. She just wasn't adding to that.

    Something bumped her head, or more like curled around it like a headband.

    It was a headband.

    "What." Miru spoke softly before completely turning around from her game to look at Miyako as she would reach up and touch the side of her head.

    "Got bumped while playing," she explained, "Won them on accident." She shrugged noncommittal, "Figured you should get them then. They were your quarters."

    She looked over her shoulder, catching glimpse that the food had finally been served for everyone. Turning back to Miru she spoke up, "Alright, twerp, food's ready. Let's eat." She ruffled Miru's hair and cat ears a bit before turning around to return to the tables they had for themselves. She was hungry, and the sooner they ate, the sooner they could leave all of the distractions of this place and get going to their new home.

    "Don't forget your quarters."

    With a small groan, Miru somewhat ducked from Miyakos hand much too late to stop anything. She messed up her hair a little. More than enough to bother the girl to where she had to fix it back into place, along with the headband.

    There where only three things that really got to Miru. And one was cats. So in turn she liked the gift.

    With a small sigh she would turn to grab her money off the machine and follow after Miyako to sit in the chair she was before she left the table. She flashed a short look at everyone around the table, seeing the ones talking to the other. Then her eyes ended on Miyako for a little longer than the others. But not long enough to really be caught as she returned to her lone silence.

    Miyako took a small breath as everyone would have convened back at the table by now. They were eating, drinking, and her food was presumably going to get cold if she didn’t join in. She took a small drink from her glass, and then Miyako took up a slice of her pizza from her plate. The room was still filled with the noises of games blasting from the other side of the building, multiple televisions tuned to different stations all on, ambient music, and the chatter of dozens of conversations. Orders from the kitchen, the chewing of food, kids playing and screaming.

    And yet, it was hard to not hear her suddenly start to scream.

    She dropped the slice, eyes wide, looking around as if she had seen more than her fair share of ghosts. Her body shook, trembled, and she looked ashen and sickly. She gave the group a look of utmost worry as she curled up on herself, clenching hands to opposite arms, huddled and centred like a frail child. “G-guys… I…” she lurched, as if about to throw up, steeling herself against the table with both hands. Her face beaded with sweat, drops falling to the plastic cloth before she looked out towards the window.

    She could already see it coming in the distance, by the dust in the air.

    “This is going to sound crazy but there’s no time. A skultch is coming. Get to cover, and get something to cover your faces. You’ll have powers soon,” the words spilled out of her like sand from a bag, her lips barely containing as each poured out. The pace, the frantic horror, the rising tension of nausea. She gave Miru a particularly remorseful look, as if there was something she was leaving unsaid, before she turned to the window.

    It was here.

    She stood up, and pointed at the window, and shouted out “Skultch!” as the music shut off but no other noise did. New noises joined in. Panic. People began to trip over themselves as they tried to get out and away from the charging monster. The beast called a skultch. The thing that should never have gotten this close, let alone be charging in like this.

    The skultch was a large quasi-avian creature. The bulk of its body was like a bulbous chicken head, with rings of scales around its eyes. Each ring was several cords of tendrils, that when the skultch would attack its prey, would unfurl and lash around like whips of blades and reveal that its eyes were kaleidoscopic, more like an insect’s. It ran across the ground on six legs, each fairly poor for doing anything other than propelling it forward and ripping up anything soft and stupid enough to get in their way. Trailing behind the skultch was its long reptilian tail, covered in various plates down the spine before ending in a mess of barbs and spines. It had wings, but they were not meant for flying, but rather helping it come to very sudden stops, by stretching and catching the wind before flapping. And its mouth, its beak, was large and could crush through cars. Which the skultch was larger than. It may as well have been the size of a small house for how threatening it was, but really it was more the size of an RV.

    And it was charging straight at the pizzeria, with CRIT nowhere in sight.

    Everyone had only but moments before it got here, which as Miyako began to grab masks, bandannas, cloths, and more from the walls as people scattered, she shouted out one last thing that was ultimately drowned in the noise of it coming into a stop as it crashed its beak into the pizzeria. A warning, a suggestion, whatever it was it was lost in the dust and the smoke and the water leaking in, the sparks of electrical wiring ripped, and the sheer threat that this creature was.

    She had suffered a terrible, deadly premonition, and was hoping that the bit of warning she could give them now would be enough that things wouldn’t go down as she had seen. Already, they were different, but she wouldn’t know if it was enough. She could only hope.

    And try to help the others get a grip on their powers sooner than later.
     
  11. After several embarrassing rounds of terrible combos, awful blocking maneuvers, death and defeat on either side of the fighting game, Beatrix had finally caved. “I really haven’t been keeping track of the score, whaddya say we just call it a draw?” Beatrix gave a small grin. Of course she had been able to keep the win count in her head, and of course she knew that he had won twice more than her, but she hoped that he couldn’t count that high.

    She noticed her food had arrived, and nodded to Gaige, strolling back to examine her salad. To call it that may have been a bit of an understatement, as she could barely count the browning leaves of lettuce, drowned in some combination of ranch, bacon, and grease. She stuck her thumb and index finger down to grab one of the pieces of actual green, and lifted it up, watching the gob of dressing slowly slide off of it. Beatrix grimaced. “Well, then. I guess at least they give you caloric value for your money here, no matter what you get,” she joked quietly to herself. She went to work, scraping the extraneous ranch off of her salad and popping the limp leaves into her mouth, shivering as the texture and flavor combined to completely disgust her. One leaf was enough. She put the fork back in the bowl, slid the food away from her, and leaned over the table, sighing. At least she still had her power bars.

    Her eyes started to drift. She hadn’t been driving, but still she felt the drowsiness that came with a long trip begin to envelop her. Maybe she’d just… Beatrix bolted up at the sound of a scream, inches from her face. “What th-” her chair fell backwards and shattered from the force of her movement, sending her sliding across the floor on a bed of splinters. She banged her head on the floor, the fall causing her to black out for just a few seconds, but she could hear two things between the blackness - “skultch” and “powers”. But what could a skultch be doing here? She propped herself up on her arm and looked to where Miyako was pointing. Oh. It was right there.

    Dust filled the air as the monster crashed through the wall, and Beatrix began backing away from it, scrambling to stand as her mind ran wild on why it was here, what it was going to do to them, what pain it was going to stab into her, how it was going to tear her- Snap! She hadn’t even noticed her hand move to the rubber band on her wrist, and had sent a slight pain running through it. It was a reflex. Right, she couldn’t think about that right now. Miyako ran up to her, giving her a mask and spouting off a set of words to Beatrix. “Hot. Gravity. You’ll be fine. Don’t touch us.”

    “I - what?” Beatrix glanced at the mask in her hands. It was faceless, featureless, and painted completely black. Why was she given this? She didn’t have time for this. She threw her gaze around the room, knowing she only had a few seconds to process and plan an escape from this creature. Her eyes flitted to the doorway. People were running, screaming through it. She’d get trampled in a second. Maybe Gaige or Cody could get through, but they were... She glanced at the two large men, and then the rest of her travelling party. There was nothing anyone could do here, was there? Some of them were strong. Some of them were fast. But this thing was the size of a truck, and there was nothing they could do against it.

    Unless these powers were real. Her mind made connections between Miyako’s words and her actions. How could she have known what was coming? Were powered people going to come and save them, soon? Then they could do something. Okay. You’re going to be okay. The thing was slow but powerful. She could see its eyes twinkle in the harsh florescent lights of the arcade. She could tell maneuverability wasn’t it’s strong suit. Slowly, a plan formed in her mind, and she started shouting, projecting her voice loudly over the din of the screaming patrons.

    “C-cover! The arcade!” She shouted, stuttering for a moment before finding the confidence and aggressiveness in her own voice. She pointed at the maze of cabinets and noise, knowing that even with her shrill and loud voice, she may not be heard over the screaming. “Listen, whoever’s closest, draw it in there! We need to stall until we can get out of here!” She gestured to her own eyes. “It’ll probably disorient it, then we can run out through the hole! Just don't get caught!” She then directed her fingers to the hole in the wall, “And spread out! We can’t deal with it in this cramped space, we need to get outside!” She then made a wide gesture with her arms and hands.

    The shouts had only taken a few moments, but they had stolen away any time she had to react. Beatrix looked at the position of everyone else. She hoped that Gaige would be the one to react and draw the monster away. It was probable that the person would take a hit, and she knew it - it wasn't likely that any of the smaller of them could even stand after getting struck by that monster, meaning that Gaige or Cody were the best candidates. Still, she didn't have time to express this, and she didn't think that it would go over well, anyway. She hoped that whatever powered people were supposed to arrive, they did so soon. Without help from them, the riders probably wouldn't last long.
     
    #11 Niiwa, Sep 1, 2016
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2016
  12. "A draw?” Gaige questioned, but didn’t press it. She was the probably the type to hiss and claw when she lost. Not that it mattered, his pride was not a thing that could be blemished so easily. He sat down at the table, the chair protesting all the while. His food had gotten there. He’d half-assedly ordered, being annoyed with the place and all. The pizza was called “And the Kitchen Sink,” and pretty much had every topping one could imagine being on a pizza. Well every topping except for onions. Gaige wasn’t a picky person, usually, but onions were some nasty shit.

    He barely tasted the food as he crammed it into his mouth. Not eating anything before leaving this morning had been a bad idea. He’d just been so focused about Tetris-ing his shit into the van, he barely noticed he hadn’t eaten. Which might surprise some people—well, a lot of people.

    Gaige might have ignored the scream, children being around and everything, but it was nearly in his ear. He gave a strong stare at the one lady—who may or may not have been named Teriyaki—as she grabbed the table so hard her knuckles whitened. What in the literal hell? Had the table offended her or something? Sure it wasn’t nice to look at, this entire place was a low-rent shit hole, but her reaction seemed a bit over dramatic. Gaige turned back to his food, but he heard her stream of consciousness. A skultch? Here? That seemed—his eyes followed hers out the window, and for a moment he didn’t see anything but the massive chicken silhouette only became more obvious. It was at that moment that Teriyaki pointed out the obvious.

    “Son of a dick,” he said. Not what he meant, but it was what came out. He stood up, quickly, the chair falling to the ground. Beatrix yelled something about getting to cover in the arcade, and someone needing to lead it in there to disorient it. Gaige looked around. No one was doing anything. While he wasn’t fond of these people, hell the only two people he knew were Cody and Beatrix, he didn’t want to see them get eaten. He didn’t want to get eaten. Beatrix’s plan was better than no plan.

    Gaige grabbed his jacket from the fallen chair and waved it at the skultch. It turned its head towards him and let out a nasty screech. This was such a bad, fucking idea. He slipped his jacket on and popped the hood up. Anything to give him cover from the nightmare fuel that was following behind him. He managed to lure it away from the others and towards the blinking lights and flashy sounds of the arcade area. That must have been enough to disorient the monster, because one of its massive talons flailed, hitting Gaige square in the back with the fleshy side of it. He was thrown into one of the arcade cabinets. The curve of the machine hit him just right that it knocked the air out of him. He fell back.

    The skultch stood over him. Shit. He was going to die saving a bunch of fuckers that hadn’t done anything for him. Good plan, Gaige. Good. Fucking Plan. It was then that he felt something clench up inside of him. Like some sort of physically active organ was getting a little rowdy in his chest. Something was wrong. He was pissed. He was in pain. And the more he felt those two things, the stronger that strumming became until it felt as if his entire body weirdly in sync with it. Something was happening. Something was wrong. Yet, whatever it was, good or bad, he’d never know. There wasn’t enough time between the skultch possibly killing him and this weird feeling reaching peak.
     
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  13. Heidi Donovan

    Move. But Heidi's legs removed to move. She sat still in her chair, the shulk's terrific visage filling her vision as the sharp tang of the abandoned pineapples filled her nostrils. The lethal and the mundane, pulling her this way and that. Move. But a lifetime of withdrawing from problems and letting them wash over her reared it's well conditioned head and urged her to remain frozen. Let what may happen happen, and deal with the consequences afterwards. Except now, the consequences were lethal, and there'd be no afterwards. It would simplify things. Make everything stop quick and easy-

    Something brushed past her face, the physical contact providing the catalyst Heidi needed to move. Snap back to reality. Gaige and his jacket moved away from the table, and as he drew the skultch away, Heidi slipped out of her chair and backed herself away towards the wall. Her headphones snapped taut as she did so, and in an act more reactive than practical, hooked the bag with her foot and dragged it with her. Picking it up, she slipped sideways towards the counter of the pizza parlor. Ducked behind it. Perhaps running outside with the other customers might have been the better option.

    But Heidi was a hider. Not a runner. Avoidance by absence rather than absconding. Clutching her bag to her chest with one hand, Heidi crawled towards the kitchen.
     
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