I keep a record of the wreckage of my life
I gotta recognize the weapon in my mind
They talk shit, but I love it every time
And I realize
I've tasted blood and it is sweet
I've had the rug pulled beneath my feet
I've trusted lies and trusted men
Broke down and put myself back together again
Stared in the mirror and punched it to shatters
Collected the pieces and picked out a dagger
I've pinched my skin in between my two fingers
And wished I could cut some parts off with some scissors
"Come on, little lady, give us a smile"
No, I ain't got nothin' to smile about
I got no one to smile for, I waited a while for
A moment to say I don't owe you a goddamn thing
No, I won't smile, but I'll show you my teeth
And I'ma let you speak if you just let me breathe
I've been polite, but won't be caught dead
Lettin' a man tell me what I should do in my bed
Keep my exes in check in my basement
'Cause kindness is weakness, or worse, you're complacent
I could play nice or I could be a bully
I'm tired and angry, but somebody should be
Someone like me can be a real nightmare, completely aware
But I'd rather be a real nightmare, than die unaware
- Nightmare, Halsey
She wakes slowly, like from a very deep sleep.
When she blinks her eyes open, however, it is not to the sight of her bedroom, muted colors replaced by dark red and black overlaid with neon.
“What the hell?” A male voice chimes up, echoing slightly, followed by the shuffling of several bodies.
Blinking a few more times to completely clear her vision, she carefully sits up and looks around.
She’s laying on a tiled floor, dark red walls giving the place an even dimmer feel, lit only by the flickering neon she’d first noticed. Pulling herself to her feet, she glances down over the railing to see rows and rows of arcade games on the floors below, lined up in haphazard clusters. A massive poster of a smiling asian girl in a skintight suit takes up several stories worth of the wall, the larger than life ad glowing from within. A groan makes her turn.
There are five others with her, all men in their early to mid twenties, three brunettes, a blonde, and a redhead, all in varying stages of dragging themselves up off the floor to look around.
“What happened?” The one closest to her, one of the brunettes, asks, rubbing at his head as he looks around with a baffled expression. There’s a long pause where no one speaks, then another of the men, the blonde, frowns, rubbing at his forehead.
“I…I don’t remember. How did we get here?” He asks. They all fall silent again and she frowns, wracking her brain. Truth be told, she doesn’t remember either. She has a vague memory of a room, a bedroom decked out in soft blues, but it’s fading just as fast as she tries to remember it. Her frown deepens as she comes to a startling realization.
“Does anyone remember their name?” She asks. A stunned moment passes at that, and then chaos erupts as each of the men starts trying to voice their thoughts.
“Now that you mention it...”
“Holy shit, how is that even possible?”
“I thought this only happened in movies.”
As they’re all steadying themselves and coming to terms with their apparent collective amnesia, a blue light from behind her makes her turn. A glowing arrow has appeared at the top of the stairs, blinking as it points downwards.
She hesitates, weighing her options, before taking the first step for the stairs. Shuffling and footsteps from behind her tell her that the others are following her example.
The ground floor is much the same as the one they woke up on, arcade games cluttering the space, but something in a back corner makes her pause before going to investigate.
It’s a huge, hulking metal form, the domed top and body a shiny pink, broken only by a bubble of green glass over what she quickly realizes is a cockpit.
“Mobile Exo-Force of the Korean Army?” The second brunette asks, squinting as he reads one of the stickers stuck to one of the mech’s arms.
“Is it a suit of armor of some kind? Like a Gundam?” She asks. He shrugs.
“Maybe?” He starts walking around it, poking at its back until a panel slides up.
“Holy shit, it is!” He exclaims, jumping back as if burned.
“Let me see!” The redhead shoves the brunette aside to step up to the back of the mech suit, grin wide.
“This is so cool! Just like a video game.” Before any of them can say anything, he’s crawling into the suit, hands wrapping around the joysticks with glee.
“Hey, be careful!” The third brunette yells, making to step forward, but with a shuddering jolt the mech powers up, lighting up from within as its hydraulics hiss and it stands to its full height.
“Whoa!” The redhead yells, but after a moment where nothing else happens he experimentally moves the joysticks. The mech takes a step, then another, until he’s trotting it up and down the aisles between the games.
She blinks, glancing back at the corner where the mech had stood. There’s a pile of other things leaning against the corner, including something that gleams with a dull, blue metallic sheen.
Frowning, she reaches out to pull it free.
It turns out to be a bow, fancier than any she’s seen before, with a myriad of attachments, including a longrod, fixed to the length of it.
“What is all this stuff?” Brunette #1 asks from behind her, reaching out to fish a rifle from the pile.
“Weapons, it looks like.” Says brunette #2 as he, too, starts going through the stack.
“Should we be taking these things?” Asks the blonde tentatively.
“It’s probably best to be armed with something. We still don’t know where we are or what’s going on.” Says brunette #3.
So the four of them sort through the stack while she steps off to the side, turning the bow over in her hands. The blonde finds a navy shoulder bag with arrows in it that he hands to her. She nods her thanks and starts fishing through it. There are only fifteen shafts in the bag, but several of them have unusual heads attached to them and she rations that, unlike the variety of guns the others are picking out, she can reuse her ammunition if she can retrieve it.
But what makes her finally sling the bag over her shoulder and settle the bow in her grip is the nagging sensation that she’s held one before, that it’s a weapon she’s intimately familiar with. A memory wiggles at the back of her mind, a foggy vision of a heavily wooded area, a smear of fluorescent orange, and the huge, liquid dark eyes of the doe looming behind her eyelids for a split second before the memory dissolves into nothing.
She frowns and heads for the sealed door to wait for the others.
The redhead is still walking around in the mech, but when he notices her choice of weapon he sneers at her from behind the bubble of glass.
“An archer, huh?” She blinks at him, not understanding.
“Yes?” She answers. He scoffs.
“In video games, unless you’re dealing with a high elf, then the archer is always the weak link. Besides the fact that you’re a girl.” He says snidely. She shrugs, but doesn’t reply, and he huffs impatiently before stomping away.
Finally, the other four have all clustered around the door, all of them holding different types of rifles.
“Now what?” Asks the blonde.
Brunette #3 has just opened his mouth to say something when there’s a crackling in their ears and a disembodied voice floats through the air.
“Welcome, Players.” The voice is robotic, monotone, but with the barest hint of an inflection behind it to make the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end.
“Thank you all for arming yourselves. Please proceed out of the Arcade and to the Dragon Courtyard, where you will be able to practice with your weapons before the start of the match.”
The doors behind her, the same ones that had been tightly sealed a moment ago, slide open, revealing a sunny street beyond. A glowing blue line appears on the ground, moving chevrons leading them around a bend in the road.
Again, she hesitates, but the redhead doesn’t, crowing as he steers the mech out the door.
“This is exactly like a video game! Come on, guys!” He sets out at a trot, the loud thud of his footfalls leading the way. The others exchange glances before following after him, leaving her the last one to exit the arcade. With a sigh, she follows them out onto the street.
“I don’t like this.” She says quietly as they turn the corner, a pair of massive, open gates looming over them.
“Me neither, but what other choice do we have?” Asks brunette #2 with a shrug. She sighs again, reluctantly bringing up the rear as they all come through the gate.
A courtyard stretches before them, almost like a zen garden decorated with gravel under their feet and large rocks placed strategically around the area. Straight across from them, housed in a large open pavilion, is a huge bronze bell, a pair of entwined dragons swirling across its surface.
Six painted targets have been set up on stilts off to their left, the first of which the redhead is gleefully blowing to pieces with the guns attached to his mech.
The others all square up with their targets, leaving her to the last one. Cautiously, she pulls a broad-head from the bag, settling the fletching between her middle and ring fingers as she gently places her fingertips against the string. The bow seems to hum for a moment before dying down and she shrugs it off as her imagination. Lifting the weapon, she pulls back on the string.
For a long moment it doesn’t budge, the resistance far too much for her arm strength to pull back on, but then the next moment the string relaxes and she can easily pull it back to a full draw. She blinks and eases up on her grip, turning the bow slightly. A light next to her hand on the stave blinks green before disappearing. Curious, she tugs on the string again, but it doesn’t resist her like it did initially.
Satisfied, she finally nocks her arrow, moving to hold it between her pointer and middle fingers as she lines up the index fletching and lifts the weapon. Her thumb brushes her nose, the sights falling easily within range and she lets out a breath as she releases the shaft.
It lands in the red bullseye with a solid thunk, slightly off center but much better than she was expecting. She tries twice more, both arrows hitting within the red, before she is satisfied and goes to retrieve her projectiles.
Returning to her place, she turns to the blonde, who is firing off rounds beside her, seemingly uncaring that he’s only down to two clips.
“Don’t waste all your ammo on target practice.” She says gently. He blinks, then takes a step back and lowers his weapon, looking chastised, but the redhead pipes up.
“Don’t listen to her. If this is as much like a video game as I think it is, then ammunition shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll probably find a cache or loot boxes really soon.” He says loftily.
“I don’t think game mechanics apply here, though. In all the games I’ve ever played, the archer gets unlimited arrows, and yet these are all I have.” She points out, gesturing to her bag.
“I agree with her, we should conserve our ammunition as much as possible.” Says brunette #3. The red head scoffs and goes back to shooting at his target, though it’s been pretty much reduced to a few splinters of wood. She sets her bow across her shoulders.
“I’m going to go check out the rest of this place before this ‘match’ starts.” She announces.
“Should one of us go with you?” Brunette #1 asks, sounding concerned. She shrugs.
“If you want. But I’m just gonna look around.” She says. The men all glance at each other, but the redhead scoffs.
“Don’t get yourself killed, weak link. We won’t rez you.” He sneers. She shrugs again before heading off deeper into the complex, leaving the other five behind.
This place is truly beautiful. The ancient buildings combined with the mature, flowering cherry trees paint an idealistic picture. Despite the picturesque surroundings, she is sure to tread cautiously. Judging by her senses, everything here is very real and she isn’t willing to take any chances and blunder blindly into a trap. For all the redhead’s talk, she has a feeling that resurrecting the dead isn’t possible here.
She’s been wandering for about ten minutes, making mental notes where staircases and rooms are located. She’s found a few pill bottle shaped things that, when touched, glow bright gold for a moment before shrinking enough that they’ll fit in either her pocket or her quiver. Judging by the giant plus sign on the sides, she figures they’re some kind of health pack and has been stashing them all in her bag and on her person.
Finally, in the largest building of the castle, she finds an open room surrounded by paper lanterns and decorated with more dragons. A tattered scroll hangs from the far wall over a single sword set on a stand, notches left to mar the blade. She glances around, noticing some damage to the tatami mats and walls, and wonders just what happened in this place.
She goes all through the building, climbing to the upper floors and looking out over the city below. She finds a hidden room under the dojo floor stacked full of clay pots brimming with teak oil and tar for the lanterns, enough to soak the entire place. There are hidden areas higher up that would make great sniper nests and vantage points, if the proper person was deployed there. Finally, she decides that this is as good of a place to defend as any, and starts closing up the ground floor, fortifying windows and doors until the six of them could easily survive a siege. Satisfied with her work, she starts to head back to the courtyard to tell the others what she’d found, deciding to take the rooftops back.
It’s been nearly an hour since they all woke up in the arcade and, judging by the sun, it’s nearing mid afternoon. She glances out at the city below the cliff as she steps carefully over the tiled roof, wondering where, exactly, they are. It looks very much like a travel brochure for Japan, but she can’t be entirely sure.
Something about it seems off to what she imagined.
She’s nearly back to the first courtyard when the same voice as before crackles through the air once again.
“Thank you, Players, for your cooperation. Now that everything is ready, we will begin the match.” She picks up her pace, wanting to make it back in time to join the others.
She can just make out the pavilion and the destroyed targets laid across the gravel, the five men all standing in front of them, when the voice continues, a hint of mockery in it’s tone.
“Your objective for this match, dear Players, is to be the last one standing.”
She comes to a screeching halt, eyes wide as she looks around for the source of the voice. Whoever they are, they can’t be serious. This doesn’t feel like a video game, no matter what the redhead keeps insisting. If they die here, she's positive that it's for real. She cautiously falls into a crouch against the tile, bracing herself in an angle between buildings. She can still see the courtyard, the five men clearly glancing at each other.
“The last surviving member of the squad will be declared the winner of the death match and will move on to the next stage.”
A long pause follows and then the voice is back, clearly amused.
“If none of you decide to fight, then all of you will be killed. You have fifteen minutes, starting now.”
She can’t hear what’s said, can’t make out expressions or the like, but she can see the three brunette’s and the blonde step away from the mech a second before it turns, guns up.
Deep down in her gut she knows what’s happening, even if she doesn’t want to believe it, even as she hears the click of the safety all the way from her position on the roof.
There’s ice flooding her veins, cold and jagged and jarring. She feels like her throat is closing up, her horrified scream trapped in her chest as she watches the redhead open fire on the other men, cutting them down within a matter of moments. They fall as if in slow motion, crumpling like marionettes who have had their strings cut, the spray of blood across the ground standing out starkly against off white stone.
She clamps her hand over her mouth, bile burning the back of her throat as she fights back the urge to gag. With a hiss she starts to shuffle backwards, every instinct screaming at her to run, but she goes stock still, the muscles in her legs trembling as she tenses at the heavy thud of the mech’s footsteps as it turns towards her position.
“You might as well come out now, archer!” The redhead yells at the top of his lungs, his voice amplified by the mech.
“We both know how this is going to end, so why don’t you come out and save me the trouble.” Her jaw ticks as her teeth snap together, grinding as she curls in on herself.
She can hear the sneer in his voice, the challenge, but the sudden, burning anger in her chest drowns out everything else, even the tiny voice in the back of her head telling her there's no hope.
She can still see the bodies, left where they fell as the redhead steps over them like so much forgotten garbage. Heat pools in her gut, rage flickering to life in her chest as her anger rises.
Steeling herself, she slinks back along the roof towards the castle proper.
If the brat wants a fight so badly, then she’ll give him one.
She’ll never be able to take him head on, that much is for certain. The mech seems designed for combat, with complete defensive and offensive systems.
Which leaves her only option to attack the man inside.
There are certainly enough vulnerable spots, both in front and behind, but there’s a plan forming in her mind even as she slinks back into the castle, creeping on silent feet into the hidden room under the dojo. By the time she hears the clunk of the mech’s feet she’s already hidden herself up in the rafters, darkness and shadow acting as the perfect cover.
“Come out come out, wherever you are!” The redhead crows gleefully, lumbering over the elevated bridge into the dojo proper, swiveling around this way and that, obviously looking for her.
From up above all she can see is the smooth dome of the mech, confirming her suspicion that it was probably designed for frontal and aerial assault, but there are still plenty of nooks and crannies in the thing where plates fit together and joints bend. After all, armor is only as strong as its weakest seam.
She pulls an arrow from her bag and waits, the tip of the broad-head poised over the rope she’d strung up earlier. The mech approaches the center of the room, drawing closer and closer.
Finally, when it comes within range, she jerks her hand and severs the rope, the precariously balanced pots she'd set up tipping over the edge into empty space, falling right on target. At the last second, however, the mech swivels, the redhead laughing as he smashes the pots before they can hit him.
“Did you think you could get the drop on m…what the hell is this?” He yells, as the exploding pottery unleashes a veritable deluge of teak oil and tar that liberally coats the mech, dousing the redhead in the process.
She throws herself to the side as he opens up on the trigger with a shout of rage, bullets spraying across the balcony where she’d been hidden. She dodges for all she’s worth, but now that he has her in his sights, he seems disinclined to let her escape. Ducking into a stairwell, she presses her back to the wall and sucks in a few hasty breaths, both hearing and feeling the thud of bullets against the wall at her back.
“I’ll be sure to pay you back for that little stunt before I kill you, archer!” The redhead screams, a hint of hysteria creeping into his tone. She takes a deeper breath, steadying, before slinging her bow across her shoulders and looking up at the thin window above her head. With a jump, she grabs the ledge, listening as his heavy mechanical footsteps draw closer to the bottom of the stairs.
With a heave, she drags herself up, getting her elbows over the ledge and hauling herself up enough to wiggle out of the window just as the mech appears in the doorway below.
She crouches on the tile roof for a second, listening as the redhead calls out for her to show herself, steps nearly deafening on the wooden stairs, before quietly sliding towards the edge of the roof. Glancing over the edge she swallows, not particularly liking the almost two story drop to the ground below.
But there aren’t a lot of options left.
She swings her legs over the edge and sits on the lip for a second, her feet dangling into empty space, before she swallows thickly, steadies herself, and pushes off.
Her legs crumple underneath her, despite her attempt to roll with the fall, and she feels the ping as something in her left leg cracks. She bites completely through her lower lip in her attempt to keep from screaming, sucking in great huffing breaths through her teeth as she struggles against the pain. She crouches there for a few precious seconds, simply trying to draw a steady breath, before struggling to her feet.
Limping, she moves around the edge of the building, bypassing the blocked doorways towards the front. Unlike most of the doors of the castle, those at the front are hydraulic, with a huge timber beam acting as a lock once they close properly. She crouches by the open doorway for a moment, listening, but she can’t hear the mech’s heavy steps or the redhead’s yelling, so she sneaks across the open space to the other side, where the control panel is.
The whir and clank of the hydraulics kicking in is nearly deafening, grinding terribly on her nerves as the doors slowly inch closed. She can hear the redhead, now, shouting obscenities as he hears the exit closing off. She, in turn, backs up, limping towards the pergola set up in the courtyard in front of the castle.
With a mighty bang the doors finally close, the timber sliding into place with an almost ear splitting crash. Or that might be the mech, slamming into the closed doors.
The redhead’s yelling is muffled, now, but she can still hear him, spitting profanities and slurs, even as she draws one of the arrows from her quiver.
She’d removed the broad-head from this one, leaving the blunted end free. She’d soaked a strip of cloth, torn from the bottom of her shirt, in oil and wrapped it around the end of the arrow, and it’s this that she dips into the brazier crackling merrily beside the pergola, lighting the end.
Drawing the arrow back, she aims at the front doors of the castle, before lifting towards the second story, where a row of soaked timbers have been set just under the eaves of the roof, propped up next to the slits of the windows to allow air to flow between and around them.
She lets out a breath, the heat of the fire sizzling at her fingers, and remembers, briefly, the faces of the other four men that the redhead had gunned down so callously.
With an angry exhale, she lets the arrow fly.
It’s an old building, timbers oiled year after year to preserve their strength, tatami and rice paper providing the perfect kindling for the teaked wood. Adding the tar and oil she’d found in the secret room had no doubt been overkill, but watching the castle go up so quickly is still surreal.
When the redhead had realized what was happening, his yelling had turned desperate, pleading, pounding on the reinforced door with everything the mech had in it. Those cries had quickly turned to panicked screaming, then coughing as the smoke overtook him, until he’d finally fallen silent.
She continues to watch, though, an arrow notched and ready, until the roof finally gives in, collapsing with a mighty roar. The upper floors go with it, crashing in on themselves as everything seems to implode, timber and tile and white exterior all equally blackened by the raging fire. The cherry trees closest to the castle have withered, the pink darkening to bloody red before turning brown as they crisp in the heat. Those quickly catch, as well, and she finally turns away from the blaze, limping back towards the courtyard in front of the bell.
She stops to crouch by the four fallen bodies, carefully turning each of them over, setting their useless weapons aside before folding their arms over their chests in a show of respect before finally closing their blank, staring eyes.
She sits on the steps in front of the bell afterwards, watching the blaze reach ever higher into afternoon sky.
It’s barely been ten minutes, but it feels like hours. There’s blood on her face, soot ground into her skin, and her clothes smell like oil and smoke. She runs a hand through her hair and comes away with ashes on her fingers. She closes her eyes and tries to keep her breathing even, despite the nearly overwhelming urge to melt down on the spot.
She doesn’t jump when the voice cracks through the silence again.
“Well done, Players.” She tenses, because the use of a multiple makes her think that her job isn’t done.
“Each of you has survived the first test.” She relaxes marginally, but only just. A low drone suddenly fills the air, growing louder and louder until she looks up to see some kind of airship descending towards the courtyard, MV-261 emblazoned on the side.
“These transports will take you to the next stage of our game. As some of you have longer flights than others, you will find accommodations on board. Rest up, Players, the next objective will not be as easy as this one.” The voice takes on an amused tone at the end, mocking.
She scowls, spitting on the ground in disgust, but limps down the steps when the airship touches down, walking up the ramp that descends for her.
Whatever comes next, she’s determined to survive it.
Her hunch turns out to be right, the little pill-bottle like packs emitting a golden glow when snapped in half. She can feel her aches and pains immediately easing and, when the light finally dies down, she experimentally flexes her left leg. Finding no pain or discomfort, she goes about looking around the inside of the airship.
It is unlike anything she’s ever seen.
An open space, complete with tables and benches, make up the bulk of the ship, a ramp leading up to a cockpit of sorts. There’s a bathroom through a discreet door set into the paneling, and some compartments containing parachutes, but otherwise not much else to the interior of the ship.
After her brief tour she plops herself down on a bench and stares at the displays dancing across the room.
A glowing, transparent projection of the planet is suspended over the table closest to her, showing six different colored lines all arching over its surface. She can only assume they are flight trajectories as she observes the blue line, which had originated from Japan, extend slowly over the Yellow Sea.
“Where are they taking us?” She mumbles aloud to herself.
“Watchpoint: Gibraltar.” She does jump this time, having not expected the disembodied voice to answer. But there’s something different about this one. It sounds female, much smoother than the first one.
Despite this, she feels rage suddenly surge through her belly and she stands up, spinning in a slow circle as she searches for the voice.
“Enough already! I’m tired of you assholes jerking me around!” She’s breathing hard at the end of her little tirade, though she shouldn’t be. Maybe it’s the events of the past few hours catching up to her, but suddenly, just as quickly as it appeared, the adrenaline and rage leave her in a rush, making her knees weak. She slumps back into her seat, head falling into her hands.
“What’s happening?” She gasps for breath, eyes burning.
“You have been captured by Talon, a terrorist organization. As to what their purpose is, I do not know.” The voice responds.
She blinks, fighting back the tears burning at her eyes, and looks up.
“You’re different from the other voice.” She says.
“Correct. That is Maximilien. My designation is Athena.”
“Could…could you tell me who I am?” She asks, tentative.
“You do not remember?”
“No. None of us…I don’t remember.” She chokes off, looking off to the side. A moment of silence follows and she thinks that Athena won't answer, before she unexpectedly returns.
“Your name is Tessa Lynn Miller. I’m sorry, the rest of the Talon file was too heavily redacted for me to unencrypt.”
Tessa blinks, wetting her suddenly dry lips as she rolls the name around in her head.
There’s something familiar nagging at the back of her mind, just like before, but it doesn’t spark any other memories like she’d hoped. But the name sounds right , so she nods.
“Okay. Wait, unencrypt? Who are you?” Tessa asks.
“I am an AI responsible for the care of Overwatch agents, as well as for providing certain support during missions. I am currently in quarantine mode due to Talon’s attack on our home base, Watchpoint: Gibraltar.”
Tessa blinks, then blinks again, rolling all of…that over in her head.
“Okay.” She repeats.
A beat of silence follows.
“Overwatch is a global watchdog organization formed during the Omnic Crisis. It was disbanded around ten years ago but has recently been recalled.”
“Omnic Crisis?” Tessa asks.
She and Athena spend the better part of the next three hours going back and forth, with Tessa asking questions and the AI answering them.
Finally, Tessa leans back and sighs.
“God, this is a lot to take in.” She says quietly, heaving a heavy sigh.
“You said that Talon had attacked your base?” She asks, rubbing at her temples.
“Yes. They have taken many of the Overwatch agents hostage, though it seems that Maximilien has also imprisoned some of his own allies alongside them.” Athena explains. Tessa sighs again.
“I really wish I knew what all this was about.” Almost absentmindedly, she sets her bow across her lap, rubbing her thumbs across the stave in a calming gesture. A moment passes before Athena pipes back up.
“If you do not mind me asking, why did you pick up the Stormbow?” Tessa frowns.
“The what?” She asks
“Stormbow.” Athena repeats. “It is Agent Shimada’s weapon and a difficult one to handle by someone unused to it.”
Tessa hums, tilting her head as she looks down at the bow laid across her lap.
“I dunno, really. It just felt…right? Like I knew what to do with it.” She says with a shrug. The AI hums thoughtfully.
“Interesting. He will no doubt want to ask you about it.” Tessa barks a humorless laugh.
“If I survive, I’ll be sure to answer this…Agent Shimada as best as I can.” She says, before her brow furrows and she frowns. “Why was his weapon at the arcade, anyway?”
“All of the agents who were captured had their weapons confiscated. It makes sense that they would place Agent Shimada’s Stormbow in Hanamura.” Athena answers.
“It does?” Tessa asks, confused.
“Correct. The building you burned down was Shimada Castle.”
Tessa’s mouth falls open in shock as she sits bolt upright in her seat, a wave of nervousness washing over her.
“Can we…not tell him that was me?” She asks tentatively.
“I am afraid that is not possible. All of the matches were streamed live at the Watchpoint and were viewed by both Talon and Overwatch agents alike.” Athena responds calmly. Tessa swallows.
“Fantastic.” She groans, sinking down in her seat and pinching the bridge of her nose.
“I would not worry. Neither Agent Shimada nor his brother held any further loyalty to the castle.” The AI says.
“That’s…reassuring, I guess?” Tessa sighs, then lets out a sudden, jaw cracking yawn.
“I’m so tired. This has been a hell of a day.”
Athena hums again.
“There are still another 14 hours before we reach the Watchpoint. I would suggest getting some sleep, Miss Miller.”
“Yeah, okay.” Tessa yawns again, laying out along the length of the bench she’d been sitting on. She holds her bow, the Stormbow, it even has a name what even, close to her chest, partly in reassurance and partly to keep from losing it. After the day she’s had, she’s not taking any chances.
Within seconds of closing her eyes, Tessa is dead asleep.
She isn’t expecting to see anyone so soon after stepping down the ramp of the Orca, but she has an arrow nocked and drawn in the span of a breath, aimed at the huge bear of a man standing across from her. He’s holding some kind of heavy looking canon in his hands, but puts it down in favor of holding up his empty palms.
“Don’t shoot!” He says in a heavy German accent. Tessa hesitates, holding her arrow taught for a moment longer before lowering her bow, easing her hold on the string. The man smiles in apparent relief.
“You are another Player, ja?” He asks. Tessa slowly nods. He beams, scooping up his cannon, before striding over to her.
“My name is Rolf. It is good to meet you!” He booms good naturedly. Tessa hesitates again, before finally putting her arrow away and slinging her bow over her shoulder.
“I’m Tessa. Nice to meet you, Mr. Rolf.” She says. His grin stretches even wider, if that’s possible.
“Just Rolf is fine. You and I are last to arrive, I think.” He turns towards where another blue line is glowing along the ground, leading them away from the two airships.
“Right.” Tessa says, but waits until Rolf starts down the route laid out for them, following behind him.
She’s not going to forget that, no matter how friendly, everyone here is a survivor of the same type of game as she was.
As they walk, something occurs to her.
“Do you remember who you are?” She asks. She sees Rolf tilt his head.
“Nein. I had to check my wallet.” He says. Tessa blinks, the idea not having occurred to her, but after a quick pat down she realizes she doesn’t have a wallet to check.
“Huh.” She says in response.
“What about you?” Rolf asks.
“The computer told me.” She answers truthfully. Rolf makes an inquisitive humming noise but, before he can ask any more questions, they turn a corner onto a strip of barren, dusty highway.
Tessa comes to a screeching halt, a memory bursting to the front of her mind. An apparently never ending straight line of highway disappearing into the distance, the heat haze of the desert warping the cactus into fantastical shapes, the sizzling hot red dirt beneath her feet finally giving way to the lush, foggy forests of California.
She blinks, staggering, but her outstretched hand meets Rolf’s back and she takes a moment to compose herself as the memory settles into the back of her mind. He doesn’t move from his spot in front of her, effectively shielding her from view.
“About time you two showed up.” Tessa takes another steadying breath before stepping out from behind Rolf.
There are four men waiting for them, watching them warily.
The one closest to them, who has an oversized blue and silver rifle slung over his back, tilts his chin when he notices Tessa.
“You must be the Hanamura Player we heard about.” He says, eyeing her up and down.
“Exaggerated, I assure you.” She says breezily, smile sharp. His grin is lopsided and just as prickly.
“Right. Anyway, I’m Sam.” Here he gestures to the man behind him, who stands. He is carrying a mace in one hand and some kind of pole-arm in the other, with a lion headed shield strapped to his back.
“I’m Miguel.” He says in greeting.
The third man, a purple machine pistol strapped to his hip, crosses his arms and huffs.
“Alfred.” He says gruffly.
The last man, a redhead with a long-barreled rifle slung across his back, glares at Tessa when she turns to him, recognition sparking in his eyes.
“You’re the bitch that killed my brother.” He growls, his hand reaching towards his rifle.
“Wyatt!” Sam says harshly, a reprimand, but Tessa ignores him.
“Not much of a waste, in my opinion.” She says dismissively, crossing her arms over her chest.
“What’d you say?” Wyatt snarls, taking a step forward. At this, Tessa lifts her chin defiantly.
“It’s pretty telling that, the instant he was given any kind of incentive, your brother turned into a mass murdering psychopath. What’s that say about you , I wonder?” She hisses venomously. Wyatt’s expression sours.
“Liar!” He snaps. Tessa bares her teeth at him.
“As soon as Maximilien gave the go ahead, your brother gunned down the other four who were in our group. He didn’t even pause to think about it. He would have murdered me, too, given the chance.” She snarls.
“Enough.” Sam steps between them as Wyatt’s expression twists further.
“We can’t be fighting amongst ourselves so early.” Sam says, glaring between them. Tessa shrugs and Wyatt’s face turns petulant, but they both turn away.
“So we’re working together, this time?” Tessa asks cautiously.
“It would appear so.” Alfred says, gesturing to the hovering vehicle behind him.
“We have to move the payload.” Miguel explains. Tessa grunts, glancing behind them at the Diner standing behind the truck.
“And in there?” She asks, pointing.
“The doors haven’t opened yet.” Sam explains. Tessa blinks, before heading towards said doors. As soon as she approaches, they swish open invitingly. Glancing behind her at the gaping men, she steps into the slightly cooler interior.
It looks just like any other classic diner, complete with linoleum floors and Formica tables edged in metal. Except there’s a projected screen over the bar listing the days specials and what appear to be ports lined up along the kitchen window.
Set out along the counter are an array of weapons, firearms in varying sizes lined up neatly side by side.
Tessa steps aside as the others enter the diner, all of them gravitating towards the new selection of weapons.
In all honesty, all of the rifles are far too bulky and heavy for her, except…
She reaches for the sniper rifle at the end of the counter, slimmer than any of the other firearms by far, only to have it snatched from under her hands by Wyatt.
“I saw it first, Archer.” He sneers, turning his back on her dismissively.
Tessa almost rolls her eyes on a sigh, the deja vu brought on by the situation almost too much. Instead, she turns to look over the booths set along the front windows of the diner. Something brown catches her eye and she steps up to it.
It’s a gun belt, complete with a holster, in dark brown leather, bullets lining the outside in a neat row. Curious, she pulls the revolver from the holster, immediately noticing the weight of it. Popping the cylinder she examines the rounds.
And nearly chokes.
Who the fuck carries around a revolver with .50 caliber rounds in it? The kickback must be arm numbing and yet she finds herself hefting the weapon, considering it.
Another memory surfaces, slowly, from out of the smoke of her mind. She’s holding a similar revolver, big and heavy and shiny silver. Another pair of hands, larger than hers and work rough, adjust her grip.
“Like this, pumpkin.”
She blinks and the memory is gone. She looks back down at the revolver and sighs.
The gun belt is too large to actually go around her waist, so she slings it across her body like a bandoleer, adjusting the strap for her quiver so that they criss-cross over her chest. Like that, the holster sits almost exactly at her right hip, the revolver heavy against her outer thigh.
She turns around just in time to see the others milling around by the door while Wyatt turns some kind of helmet this way and that in his hands. It’s lumpy and black, with little round lenses set all over it, but something about it makes Tessa uneasy.
“What’s that?” She asks. Wyatt throws her a disdainful look.
“It goes with my new rifle.” He says dismissively. She glances at the sniper rifle, long and elegant and a sickly dark purple.
“Maybe you should leave that bit.” She says, her gut twisting.
“Maybe you should mind your own damn business.” He snaps, before turning the helmet over and reaching up to put it on. It beeps, plates shifting as it settles around his head, snapping into place with a soft hiss.
Tessa feels her insides go cold, alarm bells going off in her mind as the helmet makes an ominous clicking noise before going quiet. A few seconds of silence follows where no one seems to breathe.
And then Wyatt starts screaming.
The noise makes Tessa’s hackles stand on end, high and grating, a horrible animal sound of pain that makes her instinctively flinch.
She takes a shaky step towards Wyatt right as he collapses, clawing at his head in a vain attempt to get the helmet off. His scream cutting off on a whimper finally galvanizes her to move properly, rushing to his side as Sam, Miguel, Alfred, and Rolf all cross the diner in a few hasty steps.
“What happened?” Miguel asks, eyes unnaturally wide as Sam kneels and turns Wyatt on his back. Tessa hisses, the sight of blood seeping out from under the helmet making her grimace before she taps Sam on the shoulder.
“Hold him still.” She barks, reaching for the revolver at her hip. Sam does as told and she grips the gun by the barrel, lifting it slightly before bringing the butt down on one of the seams of the helmet. It cracks just enough for Sam to jam his fingers into the fissure, prying the the helmet apart like two halves of a coconut.
Tessa jerks back as if stung, hissing in pained sympathy.
“Jesus Almighty.” Alfred sounds like he’s going to be sick and Rolf turns his face away.
Wyatt’s eyes are effectively gone, either gouged or drilled out, leaving two raw, bleeding cavities behind. He’s wheezing, a high pitched groan coming from the back of his throat on every exhale, fingers twitching feebly.
Fumbling in her bag Tessa pulls out one of the med packs, cracking it over Wyatt’s twitching form. It briefly glows gold before flashing purple, the light snuffing out in an instant.
“Did it work?” Alfred asks. Miguel gestures to Wyatt’s still bleeding face.
“Obviously not.” He snaps.
“What the hell happened?” Sam turns to Tessa, who is staring at the spent med pack. She frowns.
“I have no idea. I’ve only used these once before, and they didn’t do that last time.” Behind her, Rolf kneels to pick up one half of the helmet, lifting it to his face to sniff at it lightly.
“Poison.” He announces gruffly, letting the piece of metal drop back to the floor with a grimace. A moment of silence passes before Miguel stands, hefting his mace.
“There is only one thing to do, then.” He says decisively, lifting the weapon. Surprisingly, it’s Tessa who steps in front of him.
“What the hell are you doing?” She snaps. Miguel gestures to Wyatt, laid out on the floor behind her.
“Putting him out of his misery.” He says.
“We could still save him.” She argues.
“How? The med pack didn’t work. If we can’t find a cure for the poison then he’s just going to suffer more before he dies.” He says.
“He’s not dead, yet. We have time.” She says, desperation creeping into her voice. Sam places his hand on her shoulder.
“Let it go.” He says softly.
Tessa turns to him, horrified, before looking to Alfred and Rolf. Both men lower their gazes rather than meet her eyes. Her mouth twists, lips pressing together into a harsh line before twisting in a sneer.
“Fine then.” She says harshly, shrugging Sam’s hand off of her shoulder.
She doesn’t quite make it out of the doors of the diner before the sound of Miguel’s mace hitting the ground with a wet thud reaches her ears.
Outside is still hot and dusty, but Tessa lifts a hand to shield her eyes and looks off into the distance, despite the glare. Something about the heat haze seems off, wavering in places it shouldn’t, but she files that thought away for the moment as the other four finally exit the diner.
She doesn’t acknowledge any of them, instead stepping up to the vehicle parked in front of the diner. She’s just reached out to touch it when Maximilien’s voice crackles to life all around them.
“Welcome, Players, to the second stage. Your objective this time around will be to move the payload from point A, the diner, to point B.” As his voice dies down the truck rumbles to life, lifting slightly into the air as its wheels light up.
“Seeing as the Players’ squad is not complete, we shall be enacting a short handicap to compensate. Enemies will not generate for the first forty-five seconds of the match. Good luck.” He says, voice petering out to nothing with a faint crackle.
The truck rumbles again before starting to inch forward.
Miguel silently takes point, Alfred and Sam flanking on both sides while Rolf takes up the rear. Tessa, an arrow nocked and ready, flattens herself against the rocky wall of the canyon and slinks along it, parallel to the payload.
Alfred, to her immediate left, throws her a look.
“Why don’t you just ride on top?” He asks, gesturing to the truck. Tessa snorts, keeping her eyes moving constantly as she tracks across the landscape.
“And paint a giant target on myself? No thanks.” She says, glancing down what looks like a mine shaft to check for any kind of movement before darting across the opening. Alfred’s expression has turned thoughtful, calculating.
“How did you know the helmet was dangerous?” He asks, accusation coloring his tone. Tessa blinks, then turns to stare at him.
“What?” She asks.
“The helmet. You obviously figured out something was wrong with it before we did. Did someone tell you about it? Or are you really working for the ones who are forcing us to play this game?” Alfred has come to a complete stop, his voice rising as he squares off with her, his grip on his sub-machine pistol tightening.
“Are you kidding me? What the hell makes you think that?” Tessa snaps, anger blooming in her chest. In front, Miguel has drawn up short, the payload stopping when he does. Sam is frowning.
“You knew the name of the voice and you told Wyatt to leave the helmet behind. It all seems suspicious to me.” Alfred sneers.
“There is no need for that.” Rolf says, making as if to step between them, but Tessa bristles at the accusation.
“First of all, I asked the AI on the airship about what was going on. She was the one who identified the voice. Second, I just got a bad feeling from that thing.” She says. Alfred’s expression doesn’t ease.
“Still seems pretty suspicious.” He accuses. Tessa bares her teeth at him.
“Oh, so you’ve never had a gut feeling before?” She snaps.
“Enough!” Sam steps around the payload, rifle held across his chest, just as Rolf moves to stand in front of Tessa, facing Alfred.
Both men have just opened their mouths to speak when a crack splits the air.
There’s a moment where it feels like time has stopped, all sound suspended for that heart wrenching moment, before Rolf goes down on one knee with a yell of pain.
“Rolf!” Tessa steps forward in concern as Sam and Alfred both swing towards their rear.
“Behind us!” Alfred opens up with his pistol while Sam hefts his pulse rifle, likewise returning fire. From the front, Miguel lets out a bark of surprise.
“They’re coming from the front, too!” He yells.
Tessa ignores them all, falling to her knees beside Rolf, the big man taking big puffs of air through his nose. She clenches her teeth as she assesses the damage, bow already slung over her shoulder.
Rolf's right leg is torn to shreds, the jagged edges of flesh turned a dark, reddish brown from where the bullets had burned as they passed through it. The gore still seeps, staining her hands red as she tries to find the highest point of the damage.
“Rolf, can you feel this?” She asks. He shakes his head, still huffing, until he finally yelps when she pokes higher up his leg.
“Okay.” Tessa says quietly to herself, bloody fingers going to the buckle of her belt.
“Hold on, just a little longer.” She says, trying for reassuring as she yanks the leather strip through the loops of her jeans, the slithering sound almost lost amidst the staccato of gunfire from in front and behind them.
“How bad is it?” Rolf asks as she manages to get the belt slid under his thigh. He hasn’t looked down at the wound once.
“You’ll live.” Tessa answers, absentmindedly, pulling the tongue through the buckle.
“Take a deep breath.” She instructs and waits until Rolf has sucked in a huge lung full of air before tightening the makeshift tourniquet until the skin all around it has turned bright white and Rolf is whining, high pitched, stuttering whimpers falling from his lips as she fastens the belt in place.
By the time she’s cracked a med pack to numb Rolf’s pain the gunfire has died down.
“Help me move him onto the payload.” She says to Miguel, leaving no room for argument. When he doesn’t immediately move Tessa turns to him.
“What’s the problem?” She asks.
“He’s dead weight.” Alfred says from behind her.
Tessa feels the air still in her lungs, something that is becoming frighteningly common as of late, before an equally familiar anger takes its place.
She has a broad-head aimed at Alfred’s face in an instant, her glare sharp enough to cut.
“One more word out of your fucking mouth and I’m going to make you a dead weight.” She legitimately growls, eyes sparking. Alfred, seemingly taken aback, retreats a step. Sam, however, lifts his chin.
“What can he do in his state?” He asks, his tone inflected in such a way as to imply that she’s the one in the wrong and he is simply attempting to make her see reason.
“What the hell does that matter!?” Tessa is suddenly shouting, teeth gritted so hard she can feel the enamel creak in protest.
“Why does someone have to be useful to you to live , dammit!? I’m sick and tired of people dying!”
Quiet falls over them all after her outburst and Tessa takes a few deep breaths to steady herself, but doesn’t lower her bow. Turning her head to Rolf, she addresses him in a much calmer voice.
“Can you use your weapon?” She asks. He shakes his head, eyes wet and lips pressed tightly together. Her eyes drop to his cannon before flicking to Miguel.
“Give him your shield.” She says.
“What?” Miguel stands up a little straighter, blinking.
“You’re not using it, so give him your shield. We’ll set him up on the payload as defense.” She says. Another moment passes where no one moves, then Sam seems to deflate as he nods.
“Okay.” He agrees and Tessa relaxes her hold on the bowstring.
After that the five of them are a flurry of activity, Sam and Miguel helping Rolf up onto the payload along with his canon and Miguel’s lion head shield. In the end, Miguel retakes his position on point while Sam and Alfred go back to their respective flanks. Tessa gestures towards one of the mine shafts.
“I’m going to try and scout ahead.” She says.
Sam’s lips thin, looking for all the world like he’s going to argue, before he nods in agreement.
“Try to stay within shouting distance.” He says.
Nodding, Tessa steps into the first shaft.
It’s like a maze, passages twisting and turning all through the cliff side. It’s disorientating, even if Tessa can almost always see light from the outside when she’s in the tunnels.
She’s a dozen or so turns into the tunnels when she comes to a staircase cut into the stone itself, leading upwards towards what looks like a natural skylight. Cautiously ascending the steps, Tessa finds herself coming out at the beginning of a wooden gangway suspended over the road that leads directly to what looks like an abandoned gas station.
She can just make out the payload on the other side of the building, but movement catches her attention and she looks down to see eight heavily armed, masked soldiers hiding behind the abandoned fill pumps, ready to ambush the truck. They’re dressed similarly to the ones who had attacked them before and injured Rolf, so Tessa assumes they’re not exactly friendly.
Almost instinctively she reaches her her bow, but hesitates at the last second. She’s running out of arrows, down to only a few normal broad-heads and the oddly shaped ones she’s unfamiliar with. Frowning, she instead reaches for the revolver at her hip.
It’s heavy as she wraps both hands around it, the stock worn shiny smooth by years of use. She’ll only have six shots at the most, but hopefully her companions will have noticed the firefight by the time she has to reload. That’s even if she can reliably fire the revolver, because the .50 caliber rounds are more likely to make her arms go numb, which will make aiming difficult.
But the payload is rounding the corner, Miguel still out front, and Tessa has run out of options.
She’ll make it work.
Stepping out onto the gangway, she moves on silent feet across to the roof of the gas station, careful not to cast a shadow where the masked soldiers could see it. Crouching in the fork created between the roof and the gangway, she takes careful aim with the revolver, lining up the soldier with the largest gun in her sights.
She takes a deep breath as the payload clears the turn, Sam and Alfred coming into view.
On her next exhale, she fires.
Tessa was right and the kick from the revolver is powerful enough to make her hands tingle with a burst of numbness, but the soldier she’d been aiming for goes down with a solid thud, red seeping out to stain the dirt. The gunshot hasn’t even finished echoing through the canyon when she squeezes off her next shot, knowing she’s running out of time.
A second soldier goes down, but that seems to be the signal and the remaining six scatter, four of them turning their weapons up towards her.
She jumps for the roof, rolling to prevent landing on her arms and narrowly avoiding the smattering of bullets that peppers the gangplank where she’d just been.
Thankfully, just like she’d hoped, her gunshots have alerted Miguel and the others, who engage the soldiers in a firefight. Tessa pops her head up over the edge of the roof in time to watch Sam and Alfred both take out one of the opposition, before using the distraction to her advantage and getting off another shot.
She doesn’t see the rest of the soldiers fall, having to duck back down to avoid another rain of bullets.
Silence falls over the canyon but she waits, breath held as the seconds tick by.
“You alive up there?” She finally hears Miguel’s voice and pushes herself to her feet.
The ground in front of the gas station looks horrible, the dirt kicked up where it hasn’t mixed with the blood of the fallen to create a dark slurry. Tessa casts a quick glance over the others, waving back to Rolf when he lifts a hand to her with a weak smile.
“I’m heading back into the tunnels.” She says down to them as she steps back out onto the gangplank. Directly below her is Sam, who looks a little shaken. He shivers, tearing his gaze away from one of the soldiers they’d killed to look up at her.
“Thanks.” He says gruffly. Tessa just shrugs, before making her way back across the gangplank.
At the entrance to the tunnels she hesitates, glancing back over her shoulder to look out over the canyon.
She knows she’s not imagining it this time when she sees something flicker in the distance. It’s like a lagging video stream, the image breaking momentarily before catching up to itself. She blinks, but shrugs it off.
Whatever it is, it will have to wait.
Tessa makes her way back down the stairs into the tunnels, following them for so long as she can see the payload while she does so.
She pauses, however, when she comes to a curve in one of the tunnels.
Something flickers up ahead and she hesitates, the shape indistinct enough to be disorientating. She presses herself into the stone wall, knowing none of her teammates have left the payload, and reaches down for the revolver as she takes another step backwards, keeping her shoulder to the stone.
Footsteps suddenly echo through the tunnel, loud enough to drown out the thunder of her heartbeat in her ears, and she draws, shuffling back another step.
But instead of a stone wall her shoulder meets empty air and she stumbles, nearly shouting in surprise as she passes through the stone.
She hits the ground with a soft thud, blinking in surprise as she looks up and sees the stone tunnel through a metal doorway. She almost screams when two soldiers appear in the tunnel, heart hammering in panic, but neither of them even spare her a glance, crouching to look down the way she’d come. Confused but curious, Tessa carefully draws two arrows from her quiver, nocking them both and drawing the string back.
The arrows pass easily through the doorway, both soldiers crumpling without a sound. Tentatively, she steps forward through the doorway to retrieve her arrows. When she glances back there is nothing but seamless stone, no sign of the doorway at all. Carefully, she reaches out, watching in fascination as her hand seemingly passes through the stone.
Tessa steps back through the doorway, frowning at it for a moment before looking around.
Directly in front of her is a set of metal stairs leading upwards, fluorescent lights set into the ceiling to light the way.
Tessa hesitates for a moment, weighing her options, before she ascends the first step.
Whatever this facility is, it’s state of the art. Everything is shiny silver or white, transparent screens cover the walls, and there isn’t a speck of dirt to be found anywhere. Even the air smells clean and new, like detergent, even if Tessa can detect just the faintest hint of peanut butter carried out from the vents.
The top of the stairs feeds into a perpendicular corridor. Glancing both ways, Tessa heads right, towards the distant, muffled sound of voices.
Skirting along the walls, she comes up on a window. Peeking through it, she can see the canyon she’d just left, all red dirt and blazing sun, a complete contrast to her current surroundings. Confused and determined to get to the bottom of all this, she continues on.
The voices are getting louder, originating from behind a door at the end of the hallway. There’s another door right beside it and she presses on it gently, holding her breath when it slides open a few inches. The room beyond it is empty, however, and Tessa slips inside soundlessly, closing the door behind her. It appears to be a utility room, a bank of shelves on her left and rows of exposed cooling tubes on her right, running from floor to ceiling.
Tiptoeing along the wall, Tessa finds another doorway which is stuck partially open, light streaming through the gap. Crouching on the floor, she peeks through it.
It’s some kind of control room, a huge screen taking up most of the far wall, showing the payload moving slowly across the map. There are more of the masked soldiers, sitting at computer banks underneath the screen. Standing behind them, closest to Tessa, is only what she can imagine is one of the Omnics Athena had described. It’s wearing a dark suit, hands clasped behind its back, head tilted up slightly. With its back to her she can’t see its face, but she recognizes its voice immediately when it speaks.
“How many more?” Maximilien asks.
“Thirty-two, sir.” Replies one of the masked soldiers. Maximilien hums, head tilting this way and that. He might have started speaking again, but there’s a loud thump and an angry shout from underneath him.
Tessa glances down at the grating and is surprised to notice there’s an entire room underneath the one where Maximilien is standing. She can’t see much detail from her position, but the room appears to house over a dozen or so glowing blue structures of some kind, each of them containing a person.
At the shout, Maximilien tilts his head down and makes a soft tutting noise, almost like a reprimand.
“Now now, I will deal with you later.” He says before straightening again.
“Where is the girl?” He asks and Tessa feels an icy chill creep down her spine.
“Still in the tunnels, sir.” Is the reply. Maximilien hums again, reaching up to tap his chin.
“Send a squad in after her. She has been the wild card since the beginning, and I would hate for this experiment to fail because we did not keep proper tabs on her.” He says.
From her hiding place, Tessa swallows thickly, hands clenching into fists.
If they send a squad out looking for her then they’re going to find the two soldiers she killed, because she left them sitting out like an idiot. Then they’re going to figure out that she’d made it into whatever the hell facility this is and there aren’t nearly as many places to hide in here as she’d like.
Which means it’s only a matter of time before she’s found.
She reaches down for the revolver, slowly sliding it free from its holster.
Well, might as well strike first.
Athena had told her that, if faced with an Omnic opponent, she should aim for the head. That unless the CPU was destroyed, they would continue to function even if they were dismantled.
Slowly, with as much care as she can, she slides the door open just enough so that she can squeeze through the gap. On silent feet she creeps across the metal grating of the floor, careful to tread as softly as she can.
Coming up behind Maximilien, she raises the revolver, pointing the muzzle directly at the back of his head. She’s within a few feet of him when she takes a quiet breath and pulls back the hammer.
Maximilien’s spine seems to stiffen, his back straightening as the sharp click reaches him, and his head turns the slightest bit.
“Now, why don’t we talk about this?” He asks, but all Tessa can hear is the mockery in his tone as he’d announced the first death match, sealing all of their fates.
Ignoring his open ended invitation, she squeezes the trigger.
Her ears are ringing, her arms are numb, and she’s pretty sure there’s blood on her face.
She’d kept firing as Maximilien’s body had crumpled to the deck, squeezing off the last two rounds in the revolver before dropping to one knee in a crouch.
Everything around her seems to be moving in slow motion, even as she releases the cylinder with her thumb, the sound of the spent shells hitting the ground little more than a distant tinkling echo. A shot goes off over her head and she’s up and running even as she reloads on autopilot, slamming the cylinder shut and pulling the hammer back.
She keeps firing even when both of her arms are numb, aiming and reloading through muscle memory alone. She has no idea how many of the soldiers she takes down before they finally wise up and try a different tactic. Something hits the deck on her left, bouncing with a metallic pinging sound and she catches a glimpse of something matte black and round and throws herself away from it.
The explosion from the grenade takes out the grated floor under her, the feeling of momentary weightlessness making her stomach swoop, and she hits the concrete slab below with a painful thud a moment later.
Now, on top of her ringing ears, her head feels fuzzy, like someone has stuffed cotton inside her skull. The adrenaline means she doesn’t really feel the pain, but her left leg won’t support her weight when she rolls over and tries to stand. Her left arm is twinging, too, protesting whenever she tries to extend it, but there’s no pain, yet.
There is, however, the thunder of boots above her head and so, despite her body’s protests, Tessa pushes herself to her feet. She gasps a little when she finally settles weight on her left leg, swaying, but shakes her head and checks the revolver.
She’s down to only five rounds, which means she’s going to be down to arrows and wit pretty soon. Something shiny silver catches in the corner of her eye and she turns.
There’s a sword sticking out of the rubble, having been laid out on the table that had been reduced to splinters when the metal roof above it had caved in. Reaching out, she pulls it free and hefts it, testing its weight.
It’s only about the length of her arm and single sided, which means it’s not a katana. A wakizashi? A tanto? Tessa’s not quite sure, but it’s better than nothing.
She glances around, finally noticing the faces staring back at her, but she really doesn’t have any time to really get a good look at the people trapped down here with her.
Six soldiers descend the stairs, spreading out in a loose formation to sweep the room. Tessa, hidden behind one of the glowing blue prisons, waits with bated breath for them to pass by before she strikes.
The first two get a bullet in their skulls for their troubles, but her third shot goes wide when she has to tuck and roll to avoid getting shot. From the floor, she squeezes off her fourth round, taking out another soldier, and scrambles to her feet.
The fifth one gets hit in the upper chest because her hands are starting to shake from exertion and the kick from the revolver is just too much for her. Out of ammo and running on almost pure adrenaline, she does the first thing she can think of.
She throws the revolver at the last remaining soldier, hitting him square in the face. His shots go wide as he yells in surprise and pain and Tessa rushes him, bringing the sword down point first with both hands, slicing easily through flesh and bone alike. Her weight bears the corpse to the ground and she crouches there for a long minute, gasping for air.
Her body is starting to catch up to her, the pain of getting blown up and falling through the floor and having to deal with this entire fucked up situation finally manifesting itself. Her limbs are shaking even as she staggers to her feet, yanking the sword free with a wet sucking sound.
There’s definitely blood on her face, now, but she still tries wiping at it impatiently. Her attempt is made ineffective by the fact that there’s more blood on her hands and she really wants to laugh or cry or scream in reaction to all of this.
Instead, she sighs heavily and limps away from the pile of bodies, towards a bank of softly blinking lights that looks like a computer server. There’s a white cylinder sticking from the bank, the claws and the damage around it identifying it as a foreign body. Frowning, Tessa reaches out and, with as hard a yank as she can manage, pulls it free. Turning it over, she examines it. Maybe she can pull together some kind of shock baton or something from it and some of the computers parts? It depends on how much time she has before the next wave of soldiers overrun her.
The thought hasn’t even passed through her mind when she hears a loud clang from overhead, followed by another, and another.
Tessa realizes in horror that they’re footsteps and that whatever is coming is much bigger than the soldiers she’s faced so far. She stumbles back, away from the computer bank, and fumbles for her quiver.
She can’t feel her fingers and her arms are nearly useless, but there has to be something she can do. She refuses to go down without a fight.
Her fingers have just dipped into the bag when there’s a huge crash and something falls through the hole in the ceiling. Tessa stumbles and nearly falls, but that becomes a moot point when the looming form of a much larger Omnic unfolds itself from its crouch and swings at her. She has nowhere to go, nowhere to hide and not enough strength to dodge the strike, which sends her tumbling across the room like a rag doll before slamming into one of the glowing prisons.
Tessa doesn’t feel herself crumple to the floor, can’t even hear the things footsteps as it comes closer. Her whole body is seizing up with pain, her lungs struggling to draw adequate air, every muscle screaming in agony. Her head lolls when the Omnic grabs her and drags her up off the floor by her neck, her feet dangling uselessly in the air. She wheezes as her airway is further constricted, the nerveless fingers of her left hand scrabbling at the unrelenting metal digits holding her in place.
She can just make out a pattern of red lights over thin slits that might be eyes, the more angular helmet-like face looming in her blurring field of vision.
There’s a familiar voice in the distance, female, soft, saying something about ‘virus quarantined’ and ‘defenses online’ but Tessa is just too tired to focus. Instead, she grins at the Omnic holding her, revealing bloody teeth set in a no doubt deranged expression.
“You can all go straight to hell.” She wheezes, before jamming the arrow in her right hand up under the joint between the Omnic’s arm and torso. The oddly shaped head beeps, lights flashing from green to red, before it explodes, just like she’d hoped it would.
Tessa welcomes the darkness that rushes up to claim her with open arms.
She has no idea if its been ten seconds or ten hours, but Tessa comes awake violently, coughing as she struggles to draw breath. There’s something blocking her airway and she reaches for it, weak fist closing around what feels like a hose of some kind jutting out of her mouth. Her eyes won’t focus and she’s disoriented, her limbs almost too heavy to lift. There’s no discernible sounds, only fuzzy, disjointed mumbling in the distance as she tries to tug at the hose in a vain attempt to dislodge it so she can breathe properly.
It’s only when hands land on her, trying to stop her from removing the tube that she panics, lashing out. Her fist connects and then she’s kicking and scratching to get away. The noises are louder now and she jerks her head when she hears someone say something that might be her name. That turns out to be a mistake because it yanks viciously on the tube, battering the soft tissue of her throat, and she chokes, the pain overwhelming in its intensity. There are tears in her eyes as she gags, still trying to twist away when more hands try and restrain her.
Then, suddenly, it feels like steel bands are closing around her, locking her arms to her sides. She thrashes, kicking feebly, but it feels like all of the strength is being drained from her body, her movements slowing to little more than mere twitching in a matter of second.
She blinks desperately as her head falls to the table with a sharp thunk, her neck no longer strong enough to support it. A blurry face fills her vision and she distantly realizes that she’s being held in a person’s arms, restrained while someone else looms over them both, dressed in white and still talking, though their voice is still indistinct.
She has the briefest moment of clarity before the sedative takes full effect of brown eyes and sharp cheekbones before the darkness rushes up to claim her once more.