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August 2, 2008
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If ever more significant was a sky as red as the apple that stopped the white maiden's breath, then tonight, a simple Wednesday, would serve as a reminder of such significance. But as it were, a night in which fate itself would take a spin on loaded probability, would stand alone, unabated, waiting to taste and to bathe in such a sky as this.

Tapered fingers explore soft dark curls of hair, twisting one lock and pressing into it with ease a pin soon made invisible by another such lock. This process continues, labouring slowly, as perfection takes as long as it damn wants to get ready for the evening.

Her tongue glides over the edge of a pin that is held between her lips, which she no sooner tastes than she plucks from her mouth and slips expertly into her hair to hold in place another flawless loop. For a woman in her power, she could have commanded someone else do this chore for her, or, much less strenuous, magicked it so. But, in truth, Pandora savours the ridiculous amount of time it takes to prepare herself, indulging in herself and only her; and it's very likely that she believes it to be truly the only time in which she can do so, though more truly told, the woman's life is the sun in which all things revolve.

As she twists the last curl into place. Pandora straightens up and admires herself in the wall mounted mirror. As it would be a sin not mention it - granted, the woman herself is no stranger to sin, but I digress - she dons the most stunning piece of material - er, clothing in the deepest of reds, barely covering the bits that mattered but emphasizing them all the same. She is of Indian descent, her skin a delicious shade of brown, her nose slightly hooked, and her hair an enticing, dimensional black. Her teeth are just sharp enough on the edges that one might think her vampiric if not the best hooker money could buy. A human tooth dangles across her collarbone, wound and held in place with a thin but strong black thread. And though Pandora is mostly average in height, she is never without at least two inches of heel to boost her height and confidence.

She slides her hand across her dresser, drinking in the touch of delicate, stained cedar wood, before her fingertips practically pulse atop the ornate lid of a certain little box. A secret smile crosses her lips, and she turns in her place, leaving her quarters furthermore untouched, by means of disintegrating in her place.

No, not disintegrating. A Time Ranger's teleportation is no such mere trick as this, but it is in the breaking down of particles that wisp and mimic the sands of an hourglass; so it is also fitting, too, that those who are innately blessed with the whims of time can also pass on its breath in a measure of counting it. In a blink, in a moment, they are gone with it, and elsewhere with another.

The volume immediately increases as Pandora opens her dark eyes to a setting very unlike the one she just left. Just another Wednesday night, partying with the High Council.. of Hell, that is. The woman is one of twelve members of the leaders of her own race (ironically also named the High Council) so it also fitting, too, that she wishes to feast with the kings and queens of the underworld, as well. All the while, hungry for power, she continues to reign a people who naively fail to acknowledge her corruption and deceptions.

Two men rush at her to take her coat, the only piece of decency she dons, their Slavic faces greedily and blatantly exploring her flawless bust. She tosses her head back, curls sliding across her smooth shoulders haughtily as she passes them.. but not after slipping out of said jacket with naught but the curve of her back visible to the dirty Hell servants. When the jacket hits the ground, one leaps forward, sniveling and groping it perversely.  

"Fine tiding, gentlemen," Pandora croons in entrance, her heels clicking with every saucy swing of her hip.

Their meeting place is very much a miniature gambling hall, employing the most obedient of servants to take the place of what activities the guests would partake in on this particular Wednesday. It seems, from the colossal wheel with red and black pockets, that the game of choice would be roulette.

Pandora snatches up a cocktail from the plate of a wall-eyed waiter, downing it less than daintily. She regards a few comrades, making small talk into the later hours of twilight, catching up on the week's activities like a good socialite. It was in the middle of a particularly dreadful recounting of an attempted rebellion from within the interspecie-correction facility that the party finds itself on its first upsidedown twist of the metaphorical roller coaster.

"Friends!" A man interrupts in a shout, stepping up onto the leveled platform prepared for the honoured participants of the Games, calling everyone's attention toward him. He continues to shout, even though most of the noise has now died down. "We gather together again!"

He swivels in his place, clearly charismatic in the manner in which he holds himself. A malicious grin slips easily across his dark face. "I trust we've all now had the chance to mix and mingle appropriately by now."

An expected and almost scripted pulse of laughter erupts from the guests, who range somewhere from differently raced people to those of hellish influence and inhuman traits. They are the most respected of anyone who matters, as deemed by themselves - and, more importantly, Pandora is regarded as one of the top of these demented elitists. She claps politely, saving her laughter for something more worth the effort.  Ever defiant is she, even in the smallest of matters.

The man, presumably the host, is of the hellish influence, blessed with sizable horns, a delightful crimson tail, and pointed and oversized ears. Pandora makes note of his pleasing appearance, letting her eyes drift over his defined arms and slim torso. As her eyes find their way a little more south of the border, the man is already into another stanza of his charismatic speech.

"Dolls and demons," he croons, leaping up onto a pool table and consequently ending the game with a twist of the wrist that sends the cues up in flames. "Let's turn up the heat."

Pandora rolls her eyes at the cheap trick, turning back around to lean on a poker table, tipping back her drink and downing it, the liquid almost missing her tongue entirely. The host continues to ramble off about the fun of torture and wouldn't it be great if they were timed to have an execution, ramblings that the High Council Ranger completely ignores. She'd seen enough to know that she'd need to knock back another dozen stiff ones - alcohol or otherwise - to find herself any enjoyment tonight. She can already forecast this one, and, as attractive and well endowed a host it might have, the party reeks of failure to this power hungry princess.

So it is with genuine surprise that she feels cold fingers slide across her bare shoulders. She sucks in her breath with a hiss, whipping around immediately and withdrawing from beneath the touch of the one who invited himself in. She raises her hand defensively to give the bastard a good smack, finding, instead, the host not inches from her face, and, displaying most unnatural speed, a hand crushing her raised wrist.

"Now, now, none of that, glitter-bug, I only made a misstep," he breathes down on her flirtatiously, bringing her arm down forcibly to press between her accentuated breast.

She hides a snarl as he leans over her to snatch up a drink from a server, twisting it into an entirely fake smile through which she purposely overacts in her responded banter.

"Gracious, no, Ioann, I understand how difficult it is for someone of your affliction to adjust to average gravity, when you're so used to your ego emitting its own!" Pandora jerks her hand suddenly, reclaiming it only to massage away the pain caused by the host to whom she can, she thinks, feel she's getting right where she wants him.

But for the second time that night, and surely making some sort of record for the temptress, he surprises her. He backs up just enough to provide space, should she wish to slip away, and in fact looking as if he's expecting her to. "My apologies, again. I wasn't aware that peaches with their own castles in the sky knew a thing about the ways of the so called 'everyone else'. My mistake."

Pandora feels heat rise to her cheeks, her shoulders stiffening in seething anger. Not one to easily turn down a challenge, never mind one she feels she can easily beat down into the mud.. and then maybe have her way with.. before feeding to piranhas, the Ranger woman flexes her fingers at her hips and chews down on her plump lower lip in preparation to unleash fury she's confident will knock this demon back to the grave.

She opens her mouth, ready with a feisty retort on her tongue, but Ioann speaks louder, reclaiming his announcement voice, and talks over what she might have said.

"What's that, apricot? You think a little friendly competition's in order, to put a twist in our party?" He tosses up his toned arms and turns to the attentive crowd in a gesture that welcomes their response, to Pandora's horror. "I don't know, we seem t' be having a grand ol' time over here! What say you, comrades?"

As expected, the other guests roar in support of the challenge, some shouting out suggestions of maimings and pawn fights and even one encouraging a pistol fight at dawn. Most others chant for a gambling duel. Ioann raises his hands to silence the rowdy guests, commanding the authority of the room with ease that causes the pampered Pandora a pang of jealousy to witness.

"And you, sugar? You up for a little.. tango?" Ioann slips a hand around her waist, his fingers lingering at the line of her hip, barely separated by a very flimsy fabric from touching bare skin.

Pandora, exhibiting the best possible degree of self control known to man [or demon, for that matter], only returns his advance with a smile, her pointed canines slipping into view over glossed lips. "Certainly," she hisses in response, loud enough for the other guests to hear. "A lady of prestige never turns down a good challenge."

The crowd roars with support; jolly good, jolly good, that is the answer they are hoping for!

Ioann, as if expecting such a response, waves a hand to his servants on the raised platform, signaling a sort of chain reaction of events. First, the obscenely oversized roulette wheel collapses into itself under the assistance of two strong men. Next, the table is lengthened, and as a woman brushes her hand over the symbols on it, they switch and change themselves into symbols of torture, death, and sin. The platform raises, air hissing out from the cracks followed by dry, dusty plumes of smoke.

And as the roulette wheel is in the process of shifting and changing under its own weight, Ioann walks Pandora to the smokey platform with a very satisfied grin upon his lips. Pandora doesn't share his enthusiasm, but keeps her head high, and suspicion higher.

The wheel unfolds into a more majestic version of itself, most superfluous and lavish with beautiful black and red satin pockets and exquisite polished wood of a very dark stain.

Ioann leads his challenger, his prey of the party, up the impromptu stone stairs to take their places at the head of the platform. But not, of course, without one more speech from the party's grand host.

"Comrades! Tonight, for your entertainment, Ranger High Council delegate Pandora, and myself, your humble host of Hell," the man smiles, giving the appropriate cue for himself before pressing on, "Ioann, have for you tonight a very special game of roulette."

He rubs his fingers against the subsequent palm of his hand a half dozen times before pulling a ball out of thin air. It appears to be made of polished bone.

Pandora sidesteps to avoid Ioann's next action, which involves him slamming a hand down on the edge of the grossly oversized wheel. He doesn't damage it, as it seems he knows exactly what he's doing, and probably, to Pandora's disgust, rehearsed this entire thing.

Which means he predicted her not turning down his challenge. Annoying.

Instead, the wheel tips so that the audience can see how it is numbered. For it is not numbered at all; the numbers are all replaced with symbols, meant to represent methods of torture. Tiny drawings, etched in white paint onto the squares, are very involved and probably cost its artist - and commissioner - a pretty penny. Pandora's gasp is lost amongst the dozens of others as the room leans in to admire the craftsmanship. Ioann seems to have scripted in enough time to allow for a few moments of such admiration before pushing the giant wheel effortlessly upright.

Pandora is silently grateful that the game won't be of physical strength.

Ioann, ever charismatic, engages the crowd once more. "Our game will involve nine rounds, if that many are required to .. obtain the objective." He glances over his shoulder at his company, savouring her attention more than that of the whole crowd. "A back and forth sort of game, where a spin of the wheel will decide the delicious theme of the round."

He moves again to the wheel, his back to the crowd, but still aware of maintaining every eye in his direction. He smiles, running a large hand on the symbols affectionately. "That is where the real fun will be, sugar," he says in Pandora's direction, lowering his voice just for her to hear. She scowls as another pet name passes his lips, only feeding his enjoyment.

He whips around the balls of his feet and tosses open his arms. "She and I will conduct an illusion based on the theme that the wheel decides for us! The winner will be decided when the subjects.. are broken." He slowly brings his arms back to his sides. "As I said, if it takes nine full rounds to break them, then the ninth round will be a tournament of her and I, head to head. A race, of sorts."

He gestures dismissively with a hand. "But I highly doubt anyone will possess the strength and sanity to last the full tournament."

The crowd chuckles knowingly, a few men elbowing one another and nodding their agreement. They are, after all, in the company of beings from Hell.

"And the prize, if I win?"

Ioann grabs Pandora's hand between both of his, giving it a pat with the topmost one. "Darling, the keys to my kingdom."

Pandora is stonefaced, almost unimpressed. So he really doesn't expect her to win this. "And if you win?"

A menacing smile upturns the corners of Ioann's dark face. "Sweetpea, don't worry your pretty head about that."

She tugs her hand from his, reclaiming it with a narrow-eyed stare. Trust is something to be earned, and, certainly, there is a severe lack of it floating throughout the room itself, between the cursed and the accursed party-goers, never mind the clashing forces now, through the veil of a polite smiles of proprietors.

"An' who'll be the lucky sod on the chopping block?" a voice pipes up.

Ioann flashes an irresistible grin. He'd thought of this already, too. "We'll leave that up to chance, too," he replies with venom on his tone, and he pulls Pandora into him with an arm around her dainty neck, his free arm holding up the shiny ball.

"Pandora and I have our favourites. And by favourites, I most certainly mean the ones that get away, that constantly grind our nerves to ash and we can't do a fucking thing to get back at them the same way." He clenches the ball in a way that startles Pandora; she doesn't know if it's because she's worried he'll crush the expensive looking thing to pieces, or if she's shocked that Ioann felt so passionately about something that shouldn't easily get to him. She files this tidbit away for later exploitation.

He loosens his grip on the ball, turning it over and considering it in his hand. "Our favourite toys," he murmurs in a scratchy, strange voice, and Pandora can feel the muscle at her neck loosen a flex she wasn't aware of earlier. "Like little plastic action figures, they'll be, and we'll finally, finally get to control everything."

Pandora idly wonders who could possibly slip through Ioann's fingers. Her mind searches, raking through her endless list of enemies for someone who's actually evaded her wrath and her little soul-shredding box. Not many, that's for certain.

And then a face arises, boiling her blood and making her hot around her neck and slightly pointed ears. A Ranger who had fucked over her carefully orchestrated and meticulously webbed system, her world of people. Hers, belonging to her, and uprooted, to her absolute horror, by him. Only temporarily, of course, but still.. those moments of lost control were absolutely horrifying to the woman who has spent eternity living every spoiled bitch's fantasy.

Ioann takes her face in his hand, letting a finger slide across the strong of her jaw. "Precious, let's decide whose toys we get to play with. Yours, or mine." He speaks in such a soothing tone that, to Pandora's better judgment, she relaxes beneath his touch and complies with a lick of her lip and a nod.

She reaches up and takes the ball from him, her perfectly painted nails clicking on the surface. "To decide this, then," she quips, moving around Ioann with a luscious, purposeful swing of the hips, designed and executed flawlessly to steal the attention to her enhanced frame. With her free hand, she clasps a side of the massive roulette wheel. "We'll let the wheel do the choosing."

Ioann joins her at her side, grabbing, too, the wheel. "I call black."

Pandora turns her head slightly to look up at him. "Then that leaves me with red," she confirms.

She feels the wheel tug back a little as Ioann prepares to throw it forward, and follows his lead, just a little after him, so that, when the wheel is released, her throwing arm recoils a little more than his. She offers the ball to him, as the massive wheel spins with resounding clickclickclicks, but he just curls his fingers around hers, cupping her entire hand in his much larger one.

And this time it is she who pushes first, and him following her lead, the way she finds more suitable. A woman, especially one with power such as herself, should always have men right where they want them, not play to their whims.

The ball thumps and skips across the pockets, teasingly hitting every few pockets with a promise of slowing down. The entire room, even the party's servants, seem to have stopped and wait with baited breath, to witness the first of what they hope to be many tense, back and forth challenges between the pair..

Pandora's thoughts swirl. Does she want the ball to land in a red square? To share her toys would mean allowing the other the pleasure of playing with them, and in a flare of childish selfishness, she decides she wants her toys all for herself. She'll be the one to break them, and only she. Her fingers idly push the tooth on her necklace as she tracks the slowing ball.

The wheel clicks to its final stop. The ball spins within a pocket scribed with a symbol resembling some sort of acidic substance, a bucket, and four fingers.

The pocket is red.

Whispers instantly ripple across the party hall. Pandora clenches her teeth, driving her nails into her palms to hold back a frustrated scream. She is certain this whole scheme has been concocted from the start to set her up, but under no circumstance can she risk her prestige by firing out such an accusation, especially not in mixed company. It'd be her own death sentence to do so.

Hot breath on her left ear doesn't help. Ioann whispers to her, "Don't worry, sweets, I'll at least let you have a turn before I claim victory."

It's thankful for him, and for Pandora's sanity, that he turns away immediately after to address the crowd, for one more second of his smirking face and she'd be forced to remove it. She, unlike him, remains with her back to the audience, staring at the ball in disbelief. Rigged, for certain.

"Comrades, I invite you to hear whom will be entertaining us this fine evening!" Ioann roars, absolutely giddy with anticipation. He throws back an arm at Pandora. "C'mon, angel, share with us the names of your favourite toys!"

Pandora closes her eyes and purses her lips as she collects herself. She whirls around on her incredibly elevated heels with a trained smile gracing her plump lips. "Long has this certain individual grated upon my last nerve," she begins coolly, starting into the necessary pretense. "He is one of my own kind, sadly, but has recently chosen to defy the ancient laws of our people."

"Why didn'tcha jus' tear'm a new one?" a sloshed party-goer pipes up.

Pandora glares in his general direction for the interruption. "Because, dolt, he is of my own kind! And it is by the hands of a murderer, his own murderer, that he was given the balls to revolt in the first place!" she snarls, heat rising into her face once again.

No more further interruptions, drunken or otherwise, will cross her, not after that tone.

She smooths her demeanor to her previous facade in an instant, straightening up where she stands just to reclaim her dignity. "As I was saying, he defied the laws of our people. He became the first of our kind to be killed in action, and through his irresponsibility, returned to us changed, defiant, and revoltingly more powerful." She gives a side glance through her lashes at Ioann. "So, as proven to me many times over, he will not be easy to break."

Pandora stretches her arms a little, pressing her shoulder blades together by bringing her wrists back beyond her hips. "Fortunately, one of his unRangerlike qualities has been exposed to us, in the form of a girl, whom he illegally endowed with time magic in his rebirthed youth." She emphasizes a sigh to make it audible. "We'll just have to bring both here, and teach them their place in the order of things."

Though not at all charismatic as Ioann, the High Council Ranger can command a room with both her body and with fear. Taking advantage of the silence following her final words, with no one wanting to speak, less she not actually be finished and thus earn their own terrifying scream from the fanged woman, Pandora reaches into the wheel and picks up the ball. She slips it into Ioann's hand, sliding past him, ensuring she touch him as much as possible, under her own terms, as she moves out of the way to give her blessing for him to take the first spin.

It is Ioann's turn to act shocked. As it seems, Pandora is making sure to take her own misstep to each of his preplanned ones, forcing him to adjust on the spot. Intriguing.

"Allow me to introduce them to you." Pandora reaches a hand into the air, grasping at something invisible, but pulling through the air with fingers entwined with blackened smoke. The air slides down under her will, outlined by a swirling border of corrupted black air, and within the center is a small visual.

She guides the mess to the centre of the raised platform. With a clean motion that an orchestral conductor would be envious of, the woman gestures by opening up her arms and flicking both wrists rapidly. The visual extends subsequently into something resembling a screen for the guests to watch the play-by-plays. She does the same, only horizontally, across the roulette table, creating a sort of playing board for their little game. While the visual on their table is currently blank, having not a scene set within it, the one made for the courtesy of those spectating is now alive with real time feed..

--

There'd been nothing worse than getting used to living alone again. It's a silly notion, she'd reasoned with herself, to miss something that had never really been there for her in the first place, not really. But that didn't stop her from missing him all the same.

He had not left her behind. It was just in protecting her that he had been forced, more than a year earlier than the present day, to disappear without a trace from a life he'd struggled to provide for her and for him. And, as part of the agreement, that had meant April had to be kept out of the loop.

Was it in continuation of her visible immaturity that she continued to live out of their loft, in the slums of an urban wasteland? That she wait, with little company beyond the mental and soulful connectivity of her spirit companion, Curiosity, a miniature spiked orange turtle daemon with whom she shares a soul? Most probably.

The betrayal had settled into a numbing passing of days, of hours, of minutes in solitude and self-imposed exile. No, not pure exile, but not one which allowed for any sort of outreach beyond ritualistic necessities of socialization and daily activity. April, with Curiosity clung to her breast and concealed by her jacket, was a shell of a person, cast inward in the most literal of ways. She could go days without saying a single word aloud, but instead ride the bus to its route's end and have, say, a philosophical conversation spanning the proper way of consuming an Oreo cookie to the reason for which love exists, all of which takes place through the cognitive link between her and the daemon of which she is fused.

It is on this particular day, a Wednesday afternoon, that this very sort of conversation is taking place, en route of bus twenty, heading toward the subway. Not that April and Curiosity had any intention on riding the subway; they'd just get off this bus, and wait for the one going back east again.

And so it goes, another deep discussion regarding why hot dog vendors always seem to feel the need to charge four fifty for a sausage that would easily cost that much for a whole package in the corner store not ten feet away from the location of their cart.

Seriously, though, I could really go for a piece of Italian sausage right now, Curiosity muses, his little slitted nose emerging from under a fold of soft fleece scarf.

Are you even supposed to be eating meat..? April teases lightly, her dark eyes wandering over those of her fellow passengers. She studies their faces, her mind slipping away from her into the wondering of what stories come along with each individual, why they might be on the bus at that time, what they possibly ate that morning, and what colour their toothbrushes are.

A little, barely audible snort breaks her contemplations, quite purposely, from the one whom she can't hide from or ignore even if she tried. I'll eat what I want to, thanks. He rests his head down again, disappearing quickly beneath the folds of her soft scarf. I don't care if it used to be someone. Natural selection and all that.

April brings her hands to her hair, playing idly with the section that isn't tied up, just to occupy her hands. A man to her right glances up, probably at the sudden movement, but quickly looks away out the window when it turns out to be nothing. She raises an eyebrow, making silent note of this absurd behaviour.

I'll buy you a sausage next I get the chance, then, darling, she reassures him soothingly, returning her hands to her lap. But I get to pick whi-

A flash of white interrupts the minds of both girl and daemon, and, in front of their eyes, a brief scenes plays out, taking no more than a moment in real time, but slows and extends itself in the experienced time of April and Curiosity. April sucks in her breath suddenly at what she sees: the bus becoming twisted metal in a very fatal looking crash.

She panics at this vision, twisting in her seat to look out the window, wrapping her arm around the pole, too, as buses have no other means of security than this. The same man looks at her with utmost curiosity, as if finally finding something of interest to occupy his damaged thoughts.

Words are not necessary between daemon and Forgotten child. They have both seen such things before, the flash of the future before the event itself takes place. And all they can really do right now is brace themselves, for, as they can see the very street from the precognitive vision roll up beside them, they both know it is far too late for anything to be done to prevent its happening.

The biggest curse for a precognitive is knowing exactly what's about to happen, and having no influence in chancing the outcome.

A truck at high speed t-bones the public transit bus at the intersection, just behind where April sits, clinging in vain to the pole as if that will make any difference. Windows shatter in glass that snows on passengers. Screams blast from all directions as the bus swerves and begins to collapse onto itself unnaturally. Belongings fly every which way, followed closely by their owners in a swell of inertia.

The bus driver clasps the wheel, fighting against the force to try and regain control of the damaged vehicle, to no avail. The bus slips from the pavement, favouring its right side, on which 67% of its passengers currently are, according to April's rapid evaluation. Even in the face of death, she can't help but observe and classify, to her bitter surprise. Curiosity burrows himself against her breast and against her heavily beating heart, his own smaller one thumping identically in fear and, worse still, anticipation.

As the bus buckles under itself like an injured horse, collapsing head-and-side long into the pavement with a brutal amount of noise, April cries out a prayer to whatever god would listen to her, drowned out amid the screams of the other passengers. Before everyone knows it, they are removed from their seats and suddenly on the ceiling, and as quickly as they can adjust to this, they are now plastered against the side, some thrown against the mangled mess and provided a quick death, while others are served lesser injuries and continue to suffer consciously through the ordeal..

April really isn't sure which group she falls under, for the world goes black, save for an extension of the horrible noises in her ears, which last just a little longer than her vision does.

--

"Take this coin, fer example."

Sitting on the edge of the a bascule bridge in Chicago, a young man with crimson hair and a very outlandish style of dress sits with a middle aged woman, each dangling their legs freely over the water. He rubs a silver quarter between his fingers, pushing it to the tips, and leans over to show the woman, as if she's never seen a regular quarter before.

She looks up at him and the coin. Her face is tear stained, and she carries a little more weight around her neck and thighs than she probably did years ago. Skeptical, but willing to give anything a chance by this point, the woman makes a little noise in the back of her clenched throat to indicate that she's listening.

Dare takes this as a good sign, and begins into his spiel. He waves his free hand over the coin as if about to perform a magic trick. "There're two sides t' this coin, am I right? A head, and a tails?"

She thumps her head forward into folded hands against the rail, the only thing keeping the woman, currently, from tossing herself over the side. She was very, very discouraged to realize she wasn't immediately able to maneuver herself through the twisted sheets of metal to fulfill her suicidal urges. And now she's been stopped by an idiot with a coin, who'd spent the last half hour trying to talk to her, probably, she supposes, buying time before emergency personnel come to take her away.

Seeing that he's losing his audience, Dare skips ahead in his coin speech and explains that life is all flip flop, sometimes giving you head and sometimes tails, but all together it's a part of something much bigger and worth its weight in silver.

He idly wonders, watching the woman slowly and politely nod, how he'd gotten so bad at this shit. No, he doesn't go seeking out suicidals and try to get all preachy because he enjoys it, or he's some new age cult recruiter, or something. Far less voluntary.

Dare is a Time Ranger: a race of people who are affiliated with time magic, who are ruled by twelve self-important idiots who suppress the freedom of their people and regulate everything from their magic, to their diets, to their breathing. Well, none of this is proven, but Dare really wouldn't be surprised if that were true, too. He was taken at age eleven, though in fact he didn't really belong to his parents to begin with. The lackeys of the High Council hand picked a "vessel" who would raise him until he could be reclaimed and shaped, molded, and formed to do their bidding.

Which included dirty work like trying to talk a jumper off a bridge. Real guardian angel type stuff, only without the halo, and with a less frilly and preachy vocation. Usually. You still get the nutjobs, the ones who think the Council is admirable and mighty and just. Hah.

"See, ma'am, you jus' gotta pull through. Fer yer kids, and stuff. They need you."

Really convincing. How fucking lame a sweet-talker he's gotten in his time off!

The woman sighs, leaning forward onto her chubby fingers, her fleshy elbows pressing into her thighs. "I know," she whispers meekly, eyes clouding over. Dare lets out a breath he didn't know he was holding, relieved that even though he's recycling old television cliches, his words are still getting through to the woman.

"Good. So, no swim for us today, right?"

The woman smiles at him, though Dare can tell from her heavily lidded eyes and distant gaze that it wasn't the thought of her kids that made her all misty-eyed. He lurches forward, thrusting out a hand to stop the woman from slumping forward on herself. He catches sight of a pill bottle and a few remaining pills fall off the side of the bridge and into the water.

"C'mere, c'mere, precious," he coaxes the woman as he pulls her away from the edge, in fear that she, too, would make that trip into the water. Her breathing is shallower, but her smile remains.

Dare scrambles with his phone, thumbing in the emergency number. A hand touches his cheek, causing him to jump in his skittishness. He gives the hand a reassuring pat, and answers the "Please state your emergency" with a quick low-down on the situation.

"Sir, can I have your name?" the anonymous emergency response personnel inquires, just as Dare clicks the phone shut, and tosses that in after the pills.

He gets onto his knees, one of them shocked at how cool the metal of the bridge is. He hadn't noticed the sun going down, but now, the natural light is dimmer, and he's straining between the extremely low sun on the horizon and the impending darkness to find a neutral for his eyes to adjust to. The woman coughs a little, causing him to stroke her face as she did his.

"Lemme tell you a story, pretty," he says hoarsely, fingers now stroking her hair, instead. She groans a little, and he leans over her so she can see him crack a smile. "It'll be better than th' last, promise!"

He holds up two fingers in a mock Scout's Honour, making the dying woman's strained face loosen into a relaxed smile again.

He concentrates on the metal above the woman's eyeline, part of the bridge's support system, and pretty much the only thing he figures the woman can stand to concentrate her eyes on without rolling of into a place he doesn't want her to go, not on his watch. Deaths involve a shitload of paperwork. Do not want.

The metal swirls, not all together too different from what the woman is already witnessing sans magic. From this nonsensical motion forms a solid image, compact to fit the surface, like a little movie screen with crackling sound.

"Mama!" the soul clip says in the voice of one of the woman's sons, five years previous. "Look, Mama, look what Santa got me! Spiderman feetie pajamas!!"

Dare strokes the woman's hair, gently untangling a lock near her ear, as his charge begins to cry in silence at the images in front of her eyes. In her head? In front of her face? She can't tell the difference. Her life is flashing before her eyes, and she realizes.. two sides of a coin, and she's just recently been stuck on the flip, waiting for the flop.

Sirens wail in the distance. Dare slips, very carefully, away from his dying charge, leaving her to her own memories, assisting only in bringing them back to her through the file of her life. He sighs heavily, hoping to the pizza god that those sirens get here in thirty seconds or less, or this gal's free.

He waves his fingers in the air a little, half-waving, simultaneously vexing the spot to continue to play for the woman for another twenty seconds longer. He glances over his shoulder, spotting flashing lights not far off.

He relaxes his shoulders, shaking his head into the wind that picks up around him. His hair flies every which way, currently at the inconvenient in-between stage of length that is neither long nor short, but all together an annoyance. Beginning at his fingertips and shoulders, Dare starts to disintegrate, and closes his eyes to this scene, hoping, as always, that he's done the right thing.

He waits for the process of teleportation, the familiar mode of transportation that he, like all Rangers, has become so dependent on.

But an all too different sequence of events interrupts the relaxation that is supposed to come next, and he shoots his eyes open as pain replaces the parts of his body that have begun to disappear. To his horror, these areas are blood sodden, weakened. Hesitating as the sirens surround him, Dare furiously tries again to teleport, managing only to keel over as worse pain strikes him in his weakened joints and muscles.

"Hands where I can see them!" shouts a faceless police officer.

Dare's vision is hazy. He writhes on the pavement, a sudden panic gripping its dirty skinny fingers around him; is this death? What is happening..? Could he have been attacked and not realized..?

Cold metal touches his wrists. Handcuffs? But why? Dare can barely see; blood has trickled over his brow and into his eye, never mind what he can see is clouded over. He's tasted death before, but it was quicker than this, a sweeter release. This.. this is just agony. And on top of that, from what his fading consciousness can derive from the sounds and blurred sights, is that he's being arrested.

How absurd. He called it in as a suicide attempt, not a homicide. Granted, the blood on him must look suspicious, next to the body of a middle aged woman. Oh, his charge..! He struggles against his eyelids to force his eyes open to look over at the woman, whose name escapes him but whose file details he poured over daily and whose life he monitored for weeks, to see only that she is relaxed, her eyes closed, head flopped over as if she intended to be sniffing her armpit.. for an extended period of time.

Wonderful. He'll lose a case, and his life, all in one fell swoop. Certainly, there can be none at his occupation more talented at failing than he.

"Unngh," he groans, struggling in his current position to gain control over his breathing. He's face to the pavement, within arms length of two uniforms, hands cuffed behind him, and losing ridiculous amounts of blood. The fucking irony is that this does not at all concern the city's finest law enforcers, as they work heavily on reviving the woman who looked to be long at peace, who died, at least, with a smile on her face.

Well if I'm dying, Dare reasons, there's no further harm in trying once more to escape. He closes his eyes, concentrating on a nice hospital bed in Rome, and feels his limbs begin to seize up. He howls involuntarily as the gouge of his right leg deepens, and breaks apart at the knee, separating as if eaten away by a fast acting acidic compound, blackened straight through.

A cracked scream erupts from his chest as his leg breaks in two pieces. With newly renewed strength, he flips himself over onto his side, his naturally half-lidded eyes wide with horror.

And the best part? The officers give the situation a once over, and continue to try and resuscitate the long deceased woman by any means possible.

"My fucking leg, you bastards, fuckin' get me to a hospital a'fore I BREAK TO BLOODY PIECES!" He thrashes, his arms still bound, but with enough momentum to move just a little bit. The nauseating sound of sloshing liquid is cause for Dare to painfully aim his eyes down, and he really, really wishes he hadn't just noticed the amount of blood he's swimming in.

He turns his torso, considering the edge of the bridge for a solid dozen seconds. He can feel, in the tiny hourglass pendant at his chest, beneath his shirt, the little granules of sand leaking from a crack at a very rapid pace.

Once more. Once more is the chance I have, even if it kills me. Fuck, it seems I'm dying anyway, so whatever prick did it, let me have my just desserts in my next life.

Dare mentally tugs at the release mechanism in his subconscious, the little "abort" button, as he pictures it right now to be. His little mental self slams down his hand, trying to steer his vessel out of further harm's way, like a spaceship avoiding a meteor shower with all its sirens wailing as if the pilot hadn't already noticed that he's completely fucked.

He doesn't even notice anymore, after pulling away in disconnect from reality and withdrawing into his subconscious as a sort of fetal position for his bruised little Ranger soul, that he is very slowly dissolving, peacefully, properly, and lifted up onto the wind, leaving behind only a set of locked handcuffs.
Introduction for :iconvert-is-ninja:'s Nine Levels of Hell contest! I can't believe I'm getting this in on time!

This is part one of two, of my first entry, anyway. I hope I can stay in the contest long enough to do a few more entries for y'all. I also hope that I can try my hand at comics, or just accompaniment artwork, anyyything but write this bloody much again!

This is just the introduction. Please continue to the next post!
Part two, the Roulette of Grief: [link]
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:iconcesca-specs:
cesca-specs Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Woww, I love this. It's awesome how you integrated the High Council into the story.

You've characterized Pandora really well, the entire bus scene has a really great atmosphere, and that moment of seeing Dare through the middle-aged woman's perspective is great.

Also: "Deaths involve a shitload of paperwork. Do not want." LOL.
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:iconph00:
ph00 Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Professional Filmographer
Thank you! It was a double edged sword in involving both Councils - it made the story twice as long as it could have been, but it certainly provided me with more reason and more depth.

Pandora's too much fun, XD. And I referenced the House finale for April's scene, tooootally helped, <3.

XD I loved splicing in randomness. I think I win the random award for having referenced Saw, Charlotte's Web, and House, |D.
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:iconcesca-specs:
cesca-specs Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
HAHAHA, Saw, Charlottes Web, and House- lovely combination. XD
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:iconph00:
ph00 Featured By Owner Aug 4, 2008  Professional Filmographer
inorite? That's gotta be the most pop culturally diverse reference evarrr! -video game victory music-
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