Always Taking Over Me: Coda
By: Paige K Duffy
"Ima kara chousensha?"
The bright techno strings blended into the deep bassline and clashed with scuffle from the sidewalk turned battlefield. Leia's console shouted battle cries to the bustle, resulting in a crash that Alis hoped was the Deathbringer getting knocked down. Not wanting to lose his combo, Alis focused on his own Console, hitting the buttons in time to the song and muttering Japanese lyrics under his breath.
The rhythm game model wasn't a popular one, given that it couldn't cause damage until the combo broke or the song completed. Fighting game Cartridges, like Leia's, could cause instantaneous damage if you had a good handle on your character. Leia did; Alis didn't feel so guilty about his delayed assaults.
"You ready over there yet?" Leia shouted, her feet pounding against concrete in a retreat. The Deathbringer's dark form flashed by in Alis's peripheral. He didn't look up. The final chorus was the trickiest part, and he couldn't afford to lose his combo now.
"Gimme a minute…" he muttered. Humming the rest of the tune, Alis struck the rest of the buttons in time. Leia fell back to his side, her own Console still gripped between her fingers. The Deathbringer—dark, skeletal, and wielding a short sword—dived forward in a straight up frontal attack. "Mayowazu, go, go…!"
The number 467 flashed across the air and his Console's screen, the latter giving the celebratory fanfare for a full combo. Alis pumped his fist. A clattering of high-speed tambourine notes struck the Deathbringer in time, stopping it in midair. Alis's game results screen showed the total damage inflicted, enough to knock out the Deathbringer and send it up in smoky shadows, leaving behind the faint scent of burnt plastic.
"And that's how you do it!" Alis boasted, turning to Leia with a grin.
"Yeah, two-thousand years later," Leia retorted, a smile still curving at the ends of her lips. Wiping off her Console screen, she returned the device to her pocket. Alis scanned the area as a precaution, only putting his Console away once no rouge Deathbringer signals were confirmed. "You're lucky there weren't more opponents. You wouldn't stand a chance in a bigger fight."
Alis didn't drop his grin. "I'd be okay. Because you'd be there to cover me."
Leia scoffed and blew her hair out of her face, though the bangs just fell back into place. "I can only do so much, you know."
"Yup." Alis held up a finger apiece as he started listing off points: "You can fight off Deathbringers solo, practice for your exhibition, study hard, and still find time to hang out with me." Leia rolled her eyes, but didn't reject the praise. "Speaking of which, we finished that Patrol early. We could go pick up a snack. My treat." He jerked his finger in the direction of a fast food hub a few blocks over.
"Alright." Even with the casual tone of her words, her hand still rested over her pocketed Console, as if waiting for an alert. "Do you think they'll be alright?"
Alis frowned, their expressions matching. "The person that Deathbringer was after?" Leia nodded, staring blankly at the buildings around them. Even if they had been seen, passerby would have only seen two kids playing on outdated handheld consoles. "You know as well as I do that the Deathbringers we hunt can't reattach to the same target unless it's actually their time. We just saved them from an impending accident." He reached a hand out to Leia's shoulder. "Whoever they were after will be okay."
"I know," Leia admitted, her fingers twitching but not taking Alis's hand. "But sometimes it's nice to be reminded."
Leia pulled her Console from her pocket from the sound of the alert. The weeks up to her solo exhibition had flown by in a blur of practices, school assignments, and Deathbringer Patrols. With the performance the following night, most students would be resting. She preferred the spike of evening air, the chill from the last traces of winter, the wet scent of post-rain to cover her nerves.
Navigating the menu to open up the tracker, Alis's hand caught her wrist, pulling her Console out of the line of vision. Even in the dim of the evening, his fingers felt too cold. His pale hair almost glowed in the moonlight, the worried lines of his face setting up a stark comparison.
"We shouldn't do this one," he said, tone harder than the small hills of gravel underfoot. "There's too many of them. We'd need a bigger Party."
"You're always preaching that we can handle anything." If there were too many of them, that meant the person they were targeting was in real danger. There could be more than one causality. "We can't let a disaster happen."
"I'm not saying that we should!"
"Then what are you saying?"
Alis looked around. They had gone to the practical edges of the City, to avoid the Friday night commotion in the streets. "We're far out enough. We should be able to pull them far out enough that they won't take out anyone else."
Leia wrenched her hands from Alis's grip. The friction left fire across her skin. "So we just sacrifice a random stranger? Not gonna happen!" Alis fiddled with his own Console, volume shut off. Leia finished booting up the tracker program, eyes trailing along the target threads. If she could just get to them on time, they could—
"It's not a random stranger this time."
The lines pointed through and behind her.
They pointed at Alis.
Protests couldn't even leave her mouth. Denial tasted like fermented strawberries. It would be impossible to keep that many enemies away when they were dead set on Alis. The first thing she spoke was a curse. If they had stayed closer to the City, they could have contacted the Market, gotten more Hunters on their side.
And killed how many other people?
Leia turned around, only to have a barrage of blows into her stomach. The Console's organic filter helped prevent permeant damage, but the sting still knocked her to the ground. Alis had initiated PVP combat. Her Console's battle screen flicked to life, but fell from her fingers as Leia hit the ground. Alis had used a lower level combo, but her HP was still close to the red. She couldn't fight him.
"I'm going to go somewhere far away," Alis said. Leia craned her neck to look at him, but only caught the trace of his hair. She tasted rocks and blood. The ground was cold, gravel scraping into her cheeks. "Sorry, but it's better than both of us dying."
Numbness prevented her from moving. She wanted to yell after him, but her vocal cords refused to cooperate.
The smell of mud was replaced by the clog of decay as the Deathbringers flew right past her.
Alis had gotten far enough away that she couldn't hear him scream.
This week brings us another piece from my Setting and Description course. The original prompt for this piece was to use flashback sequences/something that triggers a memory. Since that wasn't present in this drabble, you might be wondering what's up, but this is instead the radical revision version, where I changed opening POV from Leia to Alis, scratched the original opening, then added the closing scene. It's a repetition with a different outcome, hence the "Coda" of the title. In the end, I'm still not satisfied with how it pulled together, but this makes a good exercise with these characters for me, and a good sneak peak at them for readers.
This is part of the premise for Re:Connected/United, the fourth Days of the City book and a tale of searching for the truth while fighting off errant and mistaken death with...old handheld video game consoles. The number of battle mechanics in store for me will be ridiculous, but I look forward to it nonetheless, especially since Leia and Alis are very near and dear to my heart. (Oh, stop thinking about other stuff you wanna write when you haven't even finished revising Twelve Zero Zero...)
This is also the last of the December Drabbles, and I'll be taking the next week off from posting here (though my Patreon, Plot Bunny Productions, will still have something in store for Patrons), though I'll return with something a bit different at the beginning of 2018. Keep an eye out for announcements and updates on my Twitter, Plot_K_Bunny!
Until then, happy holidays and best wishes for the new year. And, as always, thanks for reading!