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Running on Instinct

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It was the weirdest interaction of Taako’s life, and considering he worked with a two other idiots that called themselves the “Tres Horny Boys”, that was certainly saying something.

All he wanted to do was spend his prize money—he was the one who really won that race, after all—and just kick it for one single evening. He needed a night to relax.

Walking into a tavern to see somebody with your face? Not relaxing.

Taako had wandered around for an hour or so, sighing at the dreary doors of boring businesses that didn’t deserve his money.

Eventually, he had ended up in front of a tavern with a bright, flashing light declaring “COME IN, WE’RE OPEN” in the window. He’d peeked in the window, and the colorful display of bottles was enough to get him to shrug and push the door open.

The tavern had been relatively empty, only a couple of figures sitting at the tables, each of them alone, and each of them evenly spaced out throughout the tavern.

One individual was sitting at the bar, sipping on a tall drink. The bright red cape they were wearing clashed wonderfully with their tall boots. The individual had their hands draped over an umbrella that was resting on the counter; holding it with one hand, and resting a forearm on it whenever they reached for another drink. Taako had to grin—he could appreciate their eccentric outfit, although the umbrella was a bit much.

Taako had slid into the chair two seats down. He’d ordered a drink and was planning on minding his own business when he felt eyes on him. He’d turned toward the figure sitting next to him to tell them off, but he found his own face staring back at him.

The alluring possibility of relaxation flew out of his head. He felt his heart jump into his chest, and he was suddenly gripped with a reaction that wasn’t unlike fear.

“What are you doing with my face?” Taako #2 said.

Taako raised an eyebrow. “What are you doing with my face? That’s a damn good illusion spell you’ve got. I, of course, can understand why you chose this face, but I’m going to ask you one thing: can you not?”

Taako 2 scoffed. “This face? This is my face, one-hundred-percent home grown and organic Lup.”

“Lup,” Taako repeated, testing the name out. “Interesting. Interesting. And, ah, how do you spell that?”

“L-U-P, why do you—”

Taako grinned. “I’m suing you for brand infringement, homeslice. Taako is a one-of-a-kind prize-to-the-eyes, and you’re stepping into the brand Taako’s worked oh-so-hard to create.”

Lup blinked before narrowing her eyes and leaning in. “I’d like to see you try, thug. I’ve been creating this face since birth.”

Taako rolled his eyes. “Nice try. I’m two hundred and thirty years old, and it’s really first-come-first-serve with these things.”

“I’m two hundred and thirty years old—” Lup said, tossing her hair over her shoulder, “—so try me.”

Taako huffed. “You’re just saying that because I said that. This is your second offense tonight.”

Lup shrugged. “Bring it. You can’t copyright faces.” She reached over her umbrella to take another drink. “I know,” she said. “I tried.”

Taako grinned. “And they didn’t let you, because I alrea—”

“No, you didn’t already have a copyright,” Lup said, rolling her eyes. “I know that for a fact.”

Taako shrugged. “The paperwork was too much for a poor doofus like me.” He took a sip of his drink before turning back to Lup. “So what do you do? Aside from stealing faces.”

“I’m a wizard. I spec—”

Taako jumped out of his chair. “Mister Bartender? I need you to kick her out of this tavern. She’s stealing my identity.”

“You’re a fucking wizard?” Lup said, standing up and gripping her umbrella.

Taako snatched his wand out of his boot. “I was a wizard before you!”

The bartender hardly looked up from cleaning the counter. “If you two are gonna pick a fight, I’ll have to ask that you step outside.”

Lup scoffed. “We’re not fighting, so—”

“Stop cramping on our style,” Taako said.

“—stop cramping on our style,” Lup finished simeotaneously.

Lup and Taako froze, argument with the bartender forgotten.

Taako’s stomach twisted into a painful knot. “Okay, ma’am whom I’ve never met, this has stopped being fun.”

Lup had discomfort and confusion written all over her face—although Taako wasn’t quite sure how he could tell, since she simply straightened her back and pressed her lips together.

“I’ll agree not to sue you if we just hang out in separate corners of the bar,” Lup said, head held high.

“That’s another copyright infraction—suing was my idea—but this whole situation is far too creepy to deal with.” Taako picked up a drink he didn’t remember ordering and flashed a peace sign at Lup. “Taako out.”

Taako retreated into a corner of the tavern, still keeping an eye on the figure who somehow looked, walked, and talked exactly like him. He watched Lup finish her drink, shake herself, pick up her umbrella and leave the tavern.

He never mentioned the interaction to Merle and Magnus.

 


 

Taako pointed his wand at Lucretia, completely steady. His aim never wavered as he picked himself up to face her. His vision was fuzzy with the force of a thousand memories; all Taako could see was the face of the woman who robbed him of his mind.

“Ten.”

No response.

“Nine.”

Lucretia unfroze. “Taako, I know you’re upset—”

“Eight.”

Magnus moved to stand beside Taako, and raised the Flaming Raging Poisoning Sword of Doom in Lucretia's direction.

“Listen—” Lucretia said, her voice cracking.

“Seven.”

Lucretia took a step forward. “Please listen to me, please.”

Taako stared her down, eyes blazing. “Six.”

“Please stop—okay.” Lucretia raised her hands in a resigned surrender.

Out of the corner of his eye, Taako noticed Merle looking between him and Magnus.

“What the hell are you doing?” Merle said.

Lucretia glanced at Merle at a moment before returning her gaze to Taako and Magnus. “I know that things went wrong, I know I shouldn’t have kept you all in the dark for as long as I did.” She raised her hands slightly. “I swear, I had no idea how arduous a task this was gonna be, I know I have a lot to atone for. But I’m begging you—”

Taako stepped toward and held his wand at Lucretia’s throat. “All this time I wasted playing your game, I could have spent looking for—” Taako froze. He froze, and remembered.

This wasn’t a newly-restored voidfish memory, no, this was a memory he already had. A memory of a strange interaction that was so unsettling that he didn’t even tell Merle and Magnus about it.

“Barold.” Taako said, the end of his wand making small circles in the air as his hand began to shake ever-so slightly. “Barold, I found her.”

Barry stepped in front of Taako. “You—what?”

“I didn’t know it was her—we have to get to Goldcliff.” Taako was already walking toward the door.

“You’re just leaving us?” Magnus said.

Taako turned back around. “I’ll be back before you can say ‘Phoenix Fire Gauntlet’”

“Phoenix Fire Gauntlet,” Magnus said. “I don’t—”

“Wait!” Merle said, running over to Junior’s tank and filling a vial with the voidfish ichor. He ran over and handed the vial to Barry.

Barry exhaled and grinned. “Shit, almost forgot that. Very important.”

Lucretia took a step forward. “Taako, I—”

Taako almost laughed. “Don’t you get it?” He brandished his wand in her direction again. “I don’t care. I don’t care about the end of the world raining down on us, I don’t care about whatever stupid excuse you have. You fucking took everything from me, and I’m going to get it back.”

He turned heel and marched out of the room.


Avi tried to protest their departure in the midst of an apocalypse, but something about Taako’s anger was enough to get him to aim the cannon at Goldcliff. Or maybe it was because Barry used Charm Person as soon as Avi tried to put up a slight argument.

After that, it was no struggle to get Avi to load them into a glass orb and catapult them into the atmosphere. The air was dark and dense as they fell, fogging up the glass. They lost all visuals on anything outside their bubble. Barry was quiet, and Taako almost forgot they were falling.

The fog cleared and suddenly they were hurtling toward the ground and streets of Goldcliff. Taako yanked on the break.

The second their feet hit the ground, Barry cast Locate Creature. Taako looked around, getting a better read of where they were.

The street they were on was frantic; people running every which way as the dark cloud above descended. The street was void of any vendors, despite the fact that this was the town center. Looking up the street, Taako recognized the sturdy cherry tree in the distance. The wind started to pick up, and Taako turned his attention back to Barry, who was staring straight ahead, focusing on some invisible point.

Barry’s face lit up.

“She’s here.” Barry said, tapping Taako hurriedly, a smile fighting its way onto his face. “Oh my god—Taako—she’s here.”

“Well, don’t just stand around here, lead the way.”

Barry lurched forward, carefully dodging people in the street as he advanced toward a house on the corner of the street. Taako kept pace.

Barry stopped in front of the house and nodded.

Taako didn’t bother pounding the door with his fists. Instead, he cast Knock and swung the door open as the sharp rap reverberated through the air.

The door opened to a house arranged studio-style. Different books littered the room, along with miscellaneous trinkets and clothes. And Lup was there—Lup was there, finally—searching for something in her bookshelf.

“It’s you!” Lup yelped, snatching the Umbra Staff off a counter and spinning to face Taako and Barry.

“It’s you,” Taako heard Barry sigh from behind him.

“What are you doing in my house?” Lup said, slowly moving toward the center of the room.

Barry moved out from behind Taako. “Lup, we’re here to—”

Lup jabbed the Umbra Staff in Barry’s direction. “And how do you know my name?”

Taako stuck out an arm and stopped Barry from advancing further.

“Lup, this is gonna sound like the most buck wild shit, but go with me on this,” Taako said, stepping forward. “There’s a reason we have the same face. Are you ready for this? We’re twins.”

Lup blinked at him. “That doesn’t…”

Taako shook his head. “No, listen to me. We were part of an organization called the IPRE. You and I, we’re the wondertwins that save everyone else from boredom on the Starblaster.”

Lup gripped the Umbra Staff. “Okay, now you just sound like a stone of farspeech that decided to bang a chalkboard.”

Taako stuck a thumb in Barry’s direction. “And that’s the nerd you fell in love with.”

Barry stepped forward. “Lup, you feel like you’ve got a word on the tip of your tongue, except a million times worse, right?”

“What the shit? Are you in my head right now?” Lup said, lifting her Umbra Staff and pointing it at Barry.

“If you believe us, even a little—Barold?” Taako gestured toward Barry’s pocket.

Barry stuck a hand in his pocket and pulled out the vial of the voidfish ichor. He handed it over to Taako, who held it toward Lup.

“It’s the goddamn apocalypse, what do you have to lose?” Taako said.

Lup glanced out the window for a moment, before making eye contact with Taako and snatching the vial out of his hand. She popped the cork and downed the whole thing.

Nothing happened. Lup stared at Taako and Barry, but not really seeing them. Lup stood in front of them, standing straight and looking nothing like herself. A dark panic began creeping into Taako’s chest, gripping him with the terrible thought that it didn’t work.

Lup gasped and dropped the Umbra Staff as she collapsed to the floor.

Barry was by her side instantly, holding her hand as a century’s worth of memories flooded her head. Lup was pressing her hands to her forehead, not entirely curled up on the floor. Her breaths were shuddered and came in gasps.

Taako walked forward carefully and picked up the Umbra Staff.

Barry was stroking Lup’s hair now, and her breathing was steadying. Taako could hear a steady stream of “ow”s that came with each of Lup’s exhales. Her hands were pressed to her temples, one of them still gripping Barry’s hand.

And then Taako saw the tension start to leave Lup’s body. Her grip on Barry relaxed, and she took several deep breaths in succession. She moved one hand to the floor, making an effort to stand.

The fear that had been gripping Taako’s heart melted off of him, and Taako was finally able to move closer.

“I told you this thing was ugly,” Taako said, holding the handle of the Umbra Staff toward Lup on the floor.

Lup looked up, and Taako finally felt like he was seeing his sister. She grinned at him and gripped the handle.

Taako pulled her up, and as soon as he did, she threw an arm around him, hugging him as tightly as she could while still gripping Barry’s hand.

Taako wrapped his arms around Lup, ignoring the shakiness in his legs.

“I wasn’t supposed to be gone this long,” Lup said softly, her grip on Taako silently steadying him.

“That’s your own fault,” Taako said, a small smile fighting its way onto his face. “Back soon my fucking ass.”

Lup just held him tighter. Taako let his eyes shut, letting that smile settle on his face. He focused on breathing steady—he didn’t want to lose it in front of Barold, of all people.

Taako snorted when he felt Barry latch on to the two of them, and he relaxed his grip to let Lup adjust herself to make it more evenly spaced hug.

Taako untangled himself and took a step back.

Barry rewrapped Lup in his arms and tucked his face in her shoulder. They stood like that, just holding each other. Barry’s hands gripped the back of Lup’s shirt, and though his face was buried in her shoulder, he looked like his world was collapsing around him. It was a moment they needed.

Lup eventually pulled back from the hug, putting her hands on either side of Barry’s face. They stared at each other for a moment before she pulled him in for a kiss.

Taako made a face. “Grossaroni.”

Lup threw back her head and started to laugh. She swung half-away from Barry but still kept a grip on his hand. Barry and Taako made eye contact as Lup dissolved into laughter.

Outside, a column of darkness slammed down, shaking the house and instantly wiping the grin off of Lup’s face.

Lup dropped her embrace with Barry and ran to the window. She took one look at the chaos outside before spinning around to face Taako and Barry.

“You didn’t stop the fucking Hunger first?” she shouted, gesturing to the window with both arms.

Barry and Taako glanced at each other.

“...no?” Barry said, shoving his hands into his pockets.

Taako shrugged. “It didn’t occur to me, no.”

“And Davenport just let you ignore the fucking apocalypse?”

Barry winced. “Not exactly. It’s complicated.”

Lup groaned and marched back to the two of them. “What’s not complicated is that it’s the goddamn apocalypse, and you chucklefucks are down here instead of up there—” she pointed up, “—dealing with it.”

“I love you?” Barry offered.

Taako sighed and pulled a stone of farspeech out of his pocket. “Here,” he said, tossing it to Lup, “Moon Base is on the other end.”

Lup caught the stone. “Moon Base?”

Taako made a face.

Lup held the stone to her face. “What’s the 411 on this sitch?”

Lup? Is that really you?

“Yes, Magnus, it’s really me. Taako and Barry got me all straightened out, but how do we stop what’s happening?”

Lup! Hey everybody, Lup’s back! Holy shit, in the nick of time too—

“Magnus—”

Oh, just ride the, ah, bubble thingy back up here.” There was a pause. “Lup’s back!

Lup threw the Umbra Staff over her shoulder, where it stuck to a holster on her back. She took Barry’s hand firmly and locked arms with Taako.

“Lup’s back,” she repeated, as the three of them stepped forward into the chaos of an apocalypse.