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Pale (Any%)

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Verona leapt from her bed and grabbed her alarm clock in one fluid motion, slamming into her art shelf across the room to break her fall.

Three seconds in, segment perfect so far. She performed several half-A presses as she backwards long jumped out her bedroom door and down the stairwell to land in the kitchen. She crashed into the kitchen table, smashing it to break her fall as she sprinted towards the corner of the kitchen. She shoved her alarm clock into her mouth for safekeeping, her dad stumbling into the room.

"Verona, what the hell!?" Brett called out, standing in the doorway.

Verona grabbed a knife from beside the kitchen sink and threw it with perfect accuracy into his skull, Brett falling limp to the floor. She could see Miss looking through the kitchen window, obscured by the trees, though as that had no effect on her backwards long jump technique it was easily ignored.

Alarm clock grabbed for the awakening item, since really anything would work. Her dad taken down so he couldn't call the police and potentially cause a minor disruption to any of the sections. Miss wasn't a factor either way, and shouldn't affect her time. So far, she'd done well for each section- the perfect long jump down the staircase was tricky, and instantly killing Brett with one hit saved her time on this section.

Now all she had to do was build up momentum in this corner, and... Verona clipped through the wall and shot out from her house, a sonic boom reaching behind her and shattering the neighbour's windows. She was launched high up over Kennet and arching towards the school, a blank expression on her face.

Wasting time on emotions meant wasting precious speedrun milliseconds, and Verona was a speedrunner god.

While many lesser beings would be able to note that their target was coming into focus at points like these, Verona's backwards long jumping only let her see what was behind her. See the dust she left in her wake, the hordes of sniped and noscoped enemies who just couldn't compare.

Kennet soared beneath her as she adjusted the alarm clock in her mouth, her trajectory moving downwards. She didn't need to see her target to know she'd struck gold, the terrified screams of Avery Kelly and Ms. Hardy alike proving she'd made her mark. She accelerated through the classroom window, collided with Avery, and accelerated through the other wall and out the other side of the school.

Now with an unconscious and battered Avery pushed against her back she soared towards the forest, briefly turning around to check her position.

Good. At this current rate and trajectory, Avery would be perfectly launched into the clearing where the Others were gathered. Verona did another backwards long jump to clip out of Avery's hitbox, sending the unconscious Avery ragdolling towards the forest.

Verona spat out the alarm clock and pressed it to her head, using the wonky collision on the circular surface to push her body down towards the ground faster. She landed with a crash in front of Lucy near the school gates, already running towards her friend. Lucy's look of utter terror at seeing Verona fly down from the sky turned to total confusion as Verona turned mid-run and began to backwards long jump, giving Lucy a meaningful glance as she long jumped away. Verona knew that was enough to get Lucy following for this part of the segment. Her friend's trust was there, even at an early stage of the game like this before they'd had team bonding experiences to level up their social ranks. Verona backwards long jumped around a lightpost, clipping through its hitbox to launch herself down another street and towards the forest.

Lucy understand Ronnie most of the time. Knew when her friend was acting weird or being too quiet, mostly knew when she was pushing her boundaries.

But as she stared at the unconscious body of Avery Kelly in the middle of the forest clearing, horrified horror movie monsters surrounding her, she felt like she didn't understand Ronnie in the slightest.

"I'm not sure what it was, but it wasn't human," the Other that'd introduced herself as Miss said, standing close to Avery and looking down at her. Branches obscured her face, leaving Lucy now somewhat unsure if Miss was looking at Avery or just blankly staring ahead into space. "She moved with the sort of skill one might expect to see on the Paths- but it wasn't a Lost technique, nor a Finder's trick. It was something more insidious, more dangerous, more... optimised."

"But where did she go?" Matthew Moss (Lucy had learnt all the names of the town Others between this paragraph and the last one for plot convenience) asked. "If she's been accelerating through the forest, wouldn't the perimeter have stopped her? Set off goblin wards, or activated any wisps?"

"I observed her briefly." Miss replied. "She knew where they all were, perfectly backwards long jumped past every defense we'd set up. Her skill is beyond even what I can do, almost as if she'd reached such optimisation that gravity itself bowed to her."

Charles emerged from the bushes, entering the circle of gathered practitioners. There was a shout from Maricica as she noticed the darting force approach him, but it was too late.

A shadowy blur that Lucy had to assume was Ronnie backwards long jumped straight through his skull, obliterating his head and leaving him to collapse to the floor. Ronnie continued to accelerate around the clearing as she backwards long jumped here and there, an empty expression on her face. She locked eyes with Lucy, challenging, and Lucy felt fear more visceral than any fear before in her life.

"I could've broken his skull earlier." Verona said deadpan, longjumping over the Goblins and shooting past Miss. "But my apparent skill issue has come to fruition once again, leaving this run sub-optimal. I'll have to restart once again, Lucy."

"Wh-what?" Lucy asked, realising it'd come out barely audible. Verona appeared to have heard anyways from halfway across the clearing, her head now tracking Lucy perfectly despite all her movements.

"It's like Ted Havens, Lucy. Not that you'd know who that is- we're early into the game's story." Verona replied, backwards long jumping off a tree. "The Judges, they trapped us in this loop- I never should've introduced the Aurum to Super Blario World speedruns. Maybe then... maybe we could've avoided this. But it's too late now. If we can't clear Pale in under five minutes, the Aurum'll just reset us all."

Lucy stared at Verona, mouth agape. The rest of the Kennet Others were left silent, Verona's patterns so perfectly struck that they mesmerised both Faerie and Goblin alike.

"You don't remember the resets because you aren't strong enough. I've adapted, shaped my mind, became the ultimate human being. I've figured the perfect route- with my alarm clock I have all I need to clip my way through the town and do the Awakening on a good run. Bringing Avery here solves that problem, and my dad is easily taken out of the equation. All emotions and non-relevant memories have been shed, leaving only godlike speedrunning perfection in its wake. In a minute I'll hold R to reset this run, and we'll all wake up this morning as if none of this had happened. You'll go on with your day as usual, and we'll all arrive here- Avery, you, and me. Maybe a bit faster, maybe a bit slower, maybe the same time. Maybe those milliseconds that matter to me but not to you will be the difference, and you won't be able to tell. But either way we'll be back here, and I'll be backwards long jumping my way into godhood."

Tears were streaming down Lucy's face, and she couldn't quite tell why.

"Goodbye, Lucy," Verona said. "I'm resetting and uploading my score to, and hopefully I'll get a few FrancisCoins for this. Not that they serve any purpose, but at least they grant some reward in this hellscape of a world."

The letter R manifested behind Verona, and there was a moment where she landed in the middle of the clearing, perched upon Avery's unconscious body. Verona's body turned away from the 'R' and crouched down, preparing to perform her final backwards long jump to end the failed run.

All Lucy could do was scream as Verona launched herself into the button.