Perception: 82% /87% in Wide Open Spaces
1d100:  = 82
1d20:  = 15
1d100:  = 63
Ash watches with unfolding horror as Weiss and Ronith have a falling out. What's going on? What's happened while I was gone?
Ash puts it out of her head and helps organize the refugees' evacuation as best she can, striving to keep families together and keep people provisioned and cared for until it's their turn to go through one of Grant's portals. Huey, for his part, is inseparable from the bouncy hero, and she finds calm, if not contentment, in feeling his emotions.
I am not alone.
Once back at Merctown, Ash retreats to her room to find it exactly as she left it, at once both a comfort and a surprise. Still, in many ways, it feels like a stranger's home. Part of me feels like I just left... and part feels like I've been gone an eternity. I get these flashes... memories. Not mine, exactly, but from my point of view, in my body... and they feel ancient... and the things I do in them...
She shudders. The things I feel...
She feels the warmth of love emanating from Huey before she feels his bulky body thud against her leg, making a noise that might be purring if he were a cat, but comes out as a sort of chirpy gurgling. She smiles at him. He feels what youy feel Ash. Try not to worry him overmuch.
She turns, leaving her room - this stranger's room - and goes to find Ronith back settling in.
She lingers a moment by his door before knocking.
"Sir Ronith? I..."
There's so much to say...
A memory comes to her of her one-time father-figure, the Kill-cat Pangur Ban.
"I owe you an apology. Back... on that rooftop. I made a huge mistake. I... I was trying to help, t... trying to save you all. I .. I'm sorry... I didn't know what I was doing. What I was getting into. Gods know I've made dumb mistakes before. Nearly blew up Heroes Haven. An'... And I'll understand if... if you think I haven't been living up to the cyberknights code as I promised to."
But that's not all - you've been like a dad to me, moreso than a boss - you gave me a home when I didn't have one an' a family when I needed one, an' you sacrificed everything to try to find me, hunting me for hundreds of years, an' that's a debt I can never repay, an' there's just too much! Too much to say all at once!
a memory wrote:"Easy girl - don't bury me in your feelings. Tell me what's important... save the rest for another time."
The part of her mind that she partitioned off in the cold north, the part containing her suffering, torment, fears, that part threatens to break, spilling everything everywhere. She takes a moment, and switches back to the other partition, the business part of her mind that gets shit done when a normal person might not be able to. Her posture straightens, her face hardens slightly.
"If you need me to leave... I will. I'll pack my things and go from here, and keep my promise to you to live according to your code as best I can."
"But I would like to stay."
Leaving her conversation with Ronith, Ashlynn, outwardly stoic but shaken internally, meets with Barracuda.
Barracuda wrote: "So... Mega KillRocket Superstar. You uh... you OK? We really missed you. I mean, obviously because of the whole rescue mission thing. But it was terrible over here. How...how can I help you out?"
The part of her she has partitioned off screams in rage and pain.
She smiles. "I'm good, 'Cuda,"
Nodding, she adds, "It's... prolly gonna take me some time to process everything. I got a lot of memories to sort. I'm sorry to have been so much trouble... and... thank you. I knew you guys would come for me. And you did."
She slips into his arms and gives him a hug, standing on tiptoe to rest her chin on his shoulder as she holds him tightly.
"You guys're the best. An' you'll always be my family."
"... who? Who's Gunnar?"
Daisuke wrote:"Gunnar is still in stasis within my limbo. I haven't much experience with MercTown medical services. Where should I take him to tend to his severe injury?"
Assuming she is told of Gunnar, and his promise to help bring her home, and his sacrifices, the dam holding back all of her pain from the rest of her mind begins to crack. That poor guy - I didn't even know him and he gave everything to save me... What'd I ever do to deserve that?
The rage - at Unsere, at fate, at herself - swells up like a massive wave, pounding at the wall of her psyche.
The pain - at seeing so may dead, at being the cause (either directly or indirectly) of more death, at her own ignorance having led to this cascade of trauma - swells up, redoubling the wave of rage, beating at the dam of her mind with echoing, thunderous force.
The fear - of what dwelled within her for so long and what it made her do that she might not even know, of whewther she might be vulnerable to another entity like Unsere, of the part of her that relished the power - adds the icy chill of death to the wave battering her defenses.
She feels the pull of Huey's feelings, concern, mixed with love, pulling her from the brink. She looks down at the bookwyrm, looking up at her with sadness.
Eyes welling with tears, she says nothing, staggers back, and retreats to the garage to try to be alone.
Entering the garage, Ash tries to compose herself, Huey anxious at her side. She sees Weiss, Jazia, and Zac loading up the Beauty with their possessions.
Her mouth falls open. "Wh.. what's going on?"
When Weiss tells her that he can't stay, she listens, numbly. As if through a fog, she says her goodbyes, to Weiss, to Zac - the little brother she never had - and to Jazia, who accepted her readily though they had little time to get to know one another. She nods her way through the mostly-empty promises to keep in touch, echoing them but knowing that this world, especially, contains no guarantees, and she is just as likely never to see them again as not. She stands, on the verge of tears as they finish loading up, and as the Beauty leaves the garage, with Weiss, Zac, and Jazia aboard, She feels like a part of her is torn away.
First mom and dad. Then Pangur Ban, Ishmael, Hagbard, and T'avi. Then Yanso, Yojimbo, and the others. And now Weiss and Zac and Jazia.
A thought hits the dam of her psyche like a missile.
Who will I lose next?
And with that, the partition she built in her mind collapses, and she is flooded with the repercussions of her bad decision, hundreds of years ago. She crumples to her knees, tears flooding her eyes, fists clenched, and screams silently against the torment. Through her tears she sees the Beauty pass out of view, carrying part of her family in it. She fights the urge to run, give chase, FORCE them to come back. Instead, she kneels on the garage floor, quivering in pain and sorrow and anger. She stays there, tears streaming down her face until she has no more to give, her body wracked with silent sobs until there is no more strength to cry, and, in the end, her consciousness surrenders, and she passes into sleep.
It is icy cold, and she feels weightless, as she did floating in the frozen lake. In front of her, the form of Unsere, drifting in and out of view in the darkness.
A dream? wrote:"Is it possible you miss me already?"
She throws her head back in a callous laugh.
Ashlynn peers at the being with deep hatred and rage.
A dream? wrote:"Relax, girl. I'm not really here. You're alone."
A dream? wrote:"You'll always be alone."
A dream? wrote:"Oh, am I? You have lost nearly everyone you hold dear. Your family rips itself apart over and over again - it is the nature of families to do so. Eventually death or discord claims all families."
A dream? wrote:"Not so. I speak only the truth, as we agreed. In life, all is temporary. Family is no exception."
Ashlynn frowns. Pangur Ban is dead... but... I still hear him in my head all the time. I remember his advice... and... he guides me. Same with Ishmael, and Hagbard. T'avi?
Inwardly, she wonders why she does not well remember the m'raghiile mystic. I remember mom and dad, though I was still little when I lost them. They're... they're still a part of me.
"Family IS an exception. Death can't break love. When you love someone, when... you make someone family, you take parts of them into yourself, and they stay with you, even past death. You think because Weiss and Zac and Jazia is gone now that they're not my family any more? You're wrong. You think because Pangur Ban, Ishmael, Hagbard, T'avi, even mom and dad, are dead that I don't hear their advice in my mind, let their care for me guide me? No. They live on, as part of me. And I don't know what the future holds... my future with the Heroes for Hire... but I know that if we ever part, they'll still - ALWAYS - be part of me. You're wrong... like you've been wrong about everything."
The eidolon of Unsere chuckles.
"That makes you a scab that won't heal."
A dream? wrote:"Interesting. And here you are, dreaming of... me. Does that make ME family?"