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Six-armed underwater miner trying to win opportunity for her surviving family.

0 · 685 views · located in The Prime

a character in “Impending Pursuit”, as played by Connected


Image Image
Played by: Connected
Speech will appear in this color (#4A7EAE).
Thoughts will appear in this color (#9B99AF).

Full Name: Ljilja Kasun (pronounced LILY-ah KAS-un)
Age: 15
Gender: ♀
Species: Finfolk
Face Claim: Invader by ORiHiRA_
Height: 5 ft. (153 cm) without appendages. 6 ft. (184 cm) with.
Weight: 93 lbs. (42 kg) without appendages. 283 lbs. (128 kg) with.
Hair Color: Blue
Eye Color: Blue

Overall Appearance

Ljilja Kasun is a lithe and willowy young girl often found wrapped up in a sleek two-tone hydrodynamic suit. When wearing her mining arms, her flowing blue hair is framed by sharp black teeth and topped by a large bluish fin - an aggressive design intended to deter would-be undersea predators. She's flanked on both sides by two massive clawed appendages that look fit to rip and tear, although their bulk appears to hinder them on land.

"You can't reach the Son by staring into the sky. But the sea always rises into clouds eventually, right?"

Ljilja is a hopeful soul, young and naïve. She cares far more than she should about those around her, and does not shy away from hard work when it's for the right reasons. Little seems to deter her from her goal of ascending to the skies; she has lost so much already - what is a little more?

Place of Origin

Ljilja hails from an island in the Adriatic Sea, where Croatia once was. Maritime culture is strong there, as is the mining work, which keeps the islands relatively prosperous. However, the inhabitants live in gilded cages, their amenities afforded at the cost of their free will. Officially, the island is known as Mining Claim 4008, but the locals call it "Fort Kate" colloquially.


Mining. At Fort Kate, all locals with mutations that aid them underwater are conscripted to work in the Deepmines. Ljilja and much of her family were born with such mutations, and were forced into perilous caverns in search of minerals, ores, and gemstones worth bringing back to the surface. Most of them didn't last very long.


Surviving relatives are slim to none. Her family was split when the claim was staked shortly after her birth - her mother remained, while she and her father were moved to Fort Kate. She lost her father after a botched demolition, giving her the motivation to enter the competition and try to reunite what remains of her family.

  • Water, fish, all things aquatic. Reminds her of home.
  • Bravery. Failure does not rule out eventual success.
  • Men. Her respect is hard-won, but enduring.
  • Sand. It burns and sticks to her feet.
  • Hatred. In her eyes, it destroyed the planet.
  • Surprises. The sea harbors many dangers; she does not welcome a scare.


  • Her mining suit is designed to ward off teeth, spines, rocks, and other cutting implements, although enough force could surely penetrate it.
  • Her body is adapted to withstand the pressures of deep sea diving, and her lungs can absorb oxygen from H2O when needed.
  • She wears four massive mining arms like they were made for her; she grew up wearing and using them at every opportunity.


  • The bulk of her mining arms makes them relatively unwieldy on land. Although she's adapted to them, their weight limits their effectiveness.
  • Her mutated lungs function better underwater than on land. She can't run for very long without the help of her arms.
  • Although her arms can recharge themselves, it takes time. They charge while she sleeps - if she is awoken early, expect their lifetime to be shorter.


4x Longjack Excavation Arms
"Make it move."

Current Charge: 100%
16 hours primary power, 8 hours reserve

A feat of engineering, the Longjack Excavators are designed for long range deep-sea mining operations. As such, they are rugged, self-recharging, and powerful enough to crumble a cave with a single blow. Their claws tear through rock and metal like foil.

They are not meant for land use, but Ljilja has become so well-acquainted and adjusted to them that she rarely parts with them even when not underwater. When on land, one or two arms are forced to the ground to support the weight of the rest of the hulking machinery. They enable her to move at a brisk speed for quite a long distance, as she does not have to use her actual body to move around. However, she is quite useless once they run out of power - she must rest and recharge them, for she cannot move them unaided.

So begins...

Ljilja's Story


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Character Portrait: Ljilja
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Monarch Superprocessor


Cloistered from the jealous eyes of skybound humanity, deep beneath the Adriatic Sea, lay the gargantuan Monarch Superprocessor and unfathomable riches within. Neither day nor night held any meaning here―the sun's jurisdiction ended a thousand leagues above, supplanted by an insatiable hunger for earth's bounty.

Ljilja, a sanguine girl with hair and eyes as blue as the sea, was but one of many tasked with slaking the colossal beast with ore―an assignment which last year claimed the life of her father. Yet she toiled undeterred as the remainder of the world gave ear to a call to arms: the drawing of the contestants for the 100th Game of Pursuit.

Clawing away at an undersea mineral vein, young Ljilja carved out hunks of glimmering ore with each swipe of a massive four-armed mining apparatus. Each limb was roughly as large as she was, yet she wielded them fluently as extensions of her own body.

"He's from the tundra," an attentive female voice proclaimed from Ljilja's communicator. "They seem pretty excited about him."

"Come on, tundra?" Ljilja answered. "Everything is fluffy and soft over there."

CHUNK, rattle-rattle-rattle.

"He won't last..." CHUNK, rattle-rattle. "...two weeks!" CHUNK-CHUNK, rattle-rattle-rattle.

One after the other, Ljilja thrust mighty metal palms into the rock face, steadily tearing it apart as she spoke.

"Yeah, well, people like that have a tendency to surprise you. Oh, hang on, they're reading off the next ID. One-six-two..." she began as usual, but stopped short of reading the whole number.

Suddenly, for the first time since Ljilja started her shift, the girl on the other side fell speechless.

"Talk to me, Sonja. Anyone interesting? Anyone we know?"

The pause continued, leaving an eerie silence in its wake.

"Sonja?" she repeated.

At last, a response.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Sonja hissed.

Ljilja was stunned at the harshness of those words. She answered instinctively.

"Tell you what? We tell each other everything."

"Apparently not," came Sonja's scathing reply. Before Ljilja could muster a response, the commlink was interrupted by an announcement.

"ID #1624163-0, report to the surface immediately. A shuttle is waiting for you."

Instantly, her chest felt as heavy as her mining equipment. She had submitted her ID for entry into the Games. And by the sound of it, she had just been selected.

Now trembling like a leaf in the wind, she fumbled with the communicator in a desperate attempt to try to explain herself to Sonja―the girl who was her anchor when she was most lost. But as she read the words on her communicator screen, a chill crept through her core:

This contact is ignoring you.

Fort Kate - Surface


Lumbering forward with each step, Ljilja's body slumped with anxiety. The motion of her slim legs on the rocky shores of Fort Kate was perfunctory―four Longjack mining arms alternated their fists upon the ground in a ballet of metal that kept her upright and moving ahead.

Ordinarily, she would be glad that her workday had ended early. But not today.

She trailed the path to the shuttlepad with naught on her but her work gear and pack. A change of clothes, some basic supplies and toiletries, and a little bit of food was all that she had stored on her person. Apart from that, she had only her mining suit and Longjacks with her.

Before her was the departure pad, a flat, cordoned-off zone near the top of the mountain settlement she called home. Around it, security fencing and armed guards prevented mutants from passing unauthorized. In the center was a polished white aircraft no doubt valued many times in excess of her own life.

One of the guards, seeing Ljilja approach, motioned for aid. Some of the maintenance personnel joined to meet her at the gate. Ljilja expected them to confiscate her mining equipment, but as she stepped out of the Longjack harness, she saw the personnel begin carrying it to the shuttle. Ljilja looked about in confusion, then peered up to the guard before her. She could not see beyond his helmet, but she recognized his voice.

"Be safe, bubica," he said, and, noticing the puffiness of her eyes, knelt down to wrap his arms around her in a warm embrace.

"I'll try, Valentin," Ljilja answered, giving way to sobs for the second time this day. A friend of her father's before his passing, Valentin and many others saw her as one of their own. She felt confident entrusting him with one last request.

"C-can you...tell Sonja goodbye...? She doesn't want to listen to me," she pleaded, her voice quiet as a whisper.

"She will hear," the man assured her. "Go now," he urged, "and don't look back."

He let her go with a pat on the back. Procedure demanded he check her ID, but they would do that on arrival―he knew Ljilja well enough to be beyond that.

As she was escorted to the shuttlecraft, the guards and maintenance workers crowded around her. The announcement of her acceptance into the Games had turned her into an instant celebrity, and she struggled to filter out the noise of her people chattering and cheering. Overwhelmed, she wordlessly boarded and took a seat, buckling in for the ride.

And as the vehicle rose from the pad to the skies, Ljilja was left for a moment with her thoughts. Thoughts of Sonja, of Valentin, of her late father, of her extant family, of all the resident Katonians that would swell with pride or wince with disgust as they watched her on their holoscreens. The craft rose higher and higher―this would be her last chance to see her home for a long time, perhaps ever.

So she peered out the window at the mountain below, watching it shrink and shrink beneath her until it disappeared beneath the clouds. And when it was gone, she settled back in her seat, staring blankly ahead, her mouth slightly agape as the reality of her situation sank in.

I'm not coming back, am I?


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Character Portrait: Ljilja
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The Skies Between


Musical Accompaniment

Effortlessly the craft soared through the air, past the haze of polluted skies, up beyond the highest clouds, making hardly a sound to show for it but the droning of wind past sleek airfoils. Shielded from the elements outside, Ljilja beheld a once-in-a-lifetime new perspective. Long had she wondered what sights the sea birds saw―now she could witness it for herself. She pressed herself closer to the cool glass, eyes growing wide as saucers as she witnessed the raw beauty of the night sky at altitude. Gone were the rocky shores of home, replaced with ethereal mounds of fluff that formed hills and valleys beneath her. They caught the moonlight at angles, glimmering and glowing in the dark, while from above the star-specked canvas shone like mottled platinum ore.

I never knew the sky could look like this, she thought to herself. But the beauty through its awe was masking the pressure building deep inside her head.

The craft abruptly lurched, jostling Ljilja from the window and thrusting her into her seat. A pit formed in her stomach. She clung to her seatbelt and tried to gulp down her nausea to no avail. Her body was strained by an unseen force forcing its way out, building and building and building...

Ljilja yelped in horror as she felt her ears abruptly pop. Her body froze. She felt at the sides of her head, checking for blood, fearing the worst. She started to writhe in her seat, tugging at her belt for freedom. Panting grew to hyperventilating, and no sooner had she gotten her harness off than she bolted, desperate for escape. Feeling certain that death was near, she scrambled down the aisle to try and reach the back of the nearly empty craft for any sort of respite from this suffering. She spied the emergency exit, and every fiber of her being urged her to reach forth and grab its bright red handle.

But before she could, another set of hands appeared. They grabbed her by the shoulders, pushed her to the wall, held her steady. Ljilja could not see who was restraining her―her gaze had long since become clouded with tears, and her mind was in a hysteria too thick to reason through.

"Let me go!" Ljilja demanded, but all the wriggling in the world wouldn't free her; she lacked the strength to fight back without her Longjacks.

"Come on, little fish, we can't have you out of the game this early," spoke a male voice from just before her. "Deep breaths. Try it."

She heaved and gasped for air.

"Okay, look at me," he continued. "Just stare. Come back to the real world."

Her eyes struggled to focus on the blur before her, but with effort, she made out his features. Fluffy white hair, sharp chin, red eyes―red eyes?

"Yes, the eyes, fine, just focus on me."

Ljilja complied. Her eyes locked to his. And, gradually, her panic subsided. When it became clear she wasn't about to try jumping out the nearest exit, she was released.

"Better, little fish?" he inquired.

"It hurts so much..." Ljilja answered, instinctively clutching at her head for relief.

"It'll get better once we touch down," he assured her before taking a step back to give her some space.

With labored breaths, Ljilja's fingers intertwined themselves with her aqua locks to pull at her hair. She leant herself upon the wall and groaned in agony.

"Who are you...? What's wrong with me...?" Ljilja pleaded.

"You're a sea creature. You're not built for the sky. Just sit tight, it won't be much longer. Oh, and the name's Jaden."

"Ljilja...nice to meet you," she whimpered in reply before sliding down against the surface of the wall and curling up into a ball on the floor. She flinched and cried out at another popping of her ears, then wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed her knees tight to her chest.

It would be hours before they arrived.

The setting changes from Fort Kate to Father


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Character Portrait: Ljilja
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Father - Shuttleport


Stumbling down the shuttle's extended ramp like a drunkard, Ljilja kept her balance only by the mercy of her manager, Jaden, who offered an arm for her to cling to. She accepted it gratefully, both of her slim arms slinking around his for stability.

"This wasn't the impression I meant to give for the fotors," Jaden murmured to the staggering mutant at his side.

Ljilja gave a grunt in protest. She was only just beginning to find her legs again. Jaden, sensing her unease, rolled his eyes and acquiesced.

"Okay, fine. We can work with this," he said. Not that they had much choice now—the stream of fotopods come to size up the latest competitors were already plastering their faces on holovisions across the globe.

Jaden led her through the terminal, guiding her through the disembarkment process, where her ID was scanned and the dockworkers' unenviable task of unloading and transporting Ljilja's 'support item' began. Their responsibilities to the port authority fulfilled, they were whisked away upon an autowalk to the Intake.

The Intake


Plagued no longer by intense altitude sickness, Ljilja was making gradual recovery along the journey. At last, she could stand on her own two feet, though lingering nausea spoiled the city sights.

"Here's our stop," Jaden announced shortly before stepping off the autowalk. "Watch your step."

As Ljilja ventured off of the moving walkway, she stumbled a bit, then steadied. Jaden gave her a smirk of approval, then gestured to a door which opened at a wave of his hand. "This way," he called.

Ljilja obediently proceeded through the door, but a nascent doubt grew in her mind. Surely, she wondered, the other managers would not have been so kind to her. His behavior was inconsistent with her expectation of humans. Perhaps it was that bearing witness to her suffering endeared her to him...or perhaps he was masking his true intentions.

"Hot or cold?"

"U-uh, sorry, what?" Ljilja asked. Before she knew it, she had been led to a cubicle-like stall. Hailing from Fort Kate, she was no stranger to shower stalls, but was surprised to see one so modern, and one without any internal controls.

"The water. Hot or cold?" Jaden repeated.

Ljilja perked up. Repeatedly emptying the contents of her stomach all over the shuttlecraft had severely dehydrated her, to say nothing of the smell. A bit of light she had left behind on Fort Kate returned to her eyes. "Cold, please," she answered.

Jaden nodded, then slipped away to give her privacy. Ljilja spied a bin with her ID on it; after removing her mining suit—under which she wore nothing—she deposited it in the bin and returned to the stall. On entering it, the metal door shut behind her, and jets embedded in the walls unleashed a veritable deluge, engulfing her with wide streams of icy water.

To most people, this would have been a suffocating experience. To Ljilja, she had just entered heaven. Spreading her arms wide, she beamed, gulping down mouthfuls as she twirled in the shower. She cooed with delight, loosing a gurgling giggle. She was enjoying herself much too much for Jaden to cut her time short.

Still, after nearly twenty minutes of listening to Ljilja sing, dance, and drink her fill, that deadline for orientation grew nearer than Jaden found comfortable.

"Alright, little fish, time to wrap it up. Soap's coming," Jaden announced from behind a wall.

Not long after, the water's flavor grew sour, laced with lavender soap. Ljilja spat it out, shuddering with distaste. Another few moments and the water returned to normal, rinsing her clean from the offending spray. Then the jets sputtered and stopped, and the metal door separating her from the outside world slid open.

Waiting for her was a bathrobe, surely placed there by her manager. She scurried up to it and wrapped herself in it, squirming gleefully in its fluffy fabric. The sound let Jaden know she was clothed again, and so he entered.

"I gave you as much water as I could. Probably more than I should've. You going to be a cooperative fish?" Jaden inquired, leaning back against a wall.

Ljilja nodded eagerly, with not a touch of resentment at the condescending tone. The long shower had done wonders to placate her.

"Good. Let's get you fixed up for orientation."

Anya's Place


Snip-snip! An energetic, emerald-haired beautician orbited Ljilja, chopping off errant bits of hair as she went with glimmering ruby scissors. She was a flurry around the mutant; all the while, poor Ljilja lay still, clinging to her seat, fearing that the slightest movement might cause a mistake. Jaden, meanwhile, sat off to the side, his chin perched upon his knuckles in thought.

"What fashion?!" the woman shouted. Volume control was evidently not her strongest suit.

"I'm thinking plain," Jaden answered, his voice raised just enough for her to hear.

"Girl blue as sapphire, want her plain?! She blend in! No sponsors!" she protested.

"Well, that's just it," he offered in rebuttal, "when everyone's trying to stand out, it's the subtle ones that get noticed."

Applying the finishing touches, the stylist applied product to Ljilja's hair, shaping it and giving it a gorgeous shimmer. Then she wiped down loose strands with a wet towel and urged Ljilja up to her feet.

"Fine. I do plain. She nice mute, come from worker colony. Look better plain anyway."

"You're the best, Anya."

"Wait, how did you know I was a worker?" Ljilja piped up curiously.

"You not hear him? I'm the best! Come along, darling!" the stylist answered, before urging Ljilja into a secondary room with clothing racks as far as the eye could see. The door slid shut, leaving Jaden to wait outside.

Competitor Lounge


"What if they don't like me?" Ljilja asked, shuffling anxiously in front of opaque glass doors.

"They're already going to try to kill you," Jaden assured her, "there isn't much worse you could make it."

"W-well, yeah, but...I hope..." Ljilja stammered, struggling to come to terms with the true nature of the competition. It wasn't anything like what she thought it was when she put in her ticket.

"Listen, little fish," Jaden said, reaching out to her shoulders to turn her to face him directly. "Make friends if you can, but stay smart out there. Watch your back. They will gut you if they get the chance. A care uncharacteristic shone in his crimson eyes. "Don't give 'em that chance."

Ljilja gulped and turned back to the door. She ground her little blue flats into the floor and bit her lip.

Jaden sighed. The words he had chosen were true, but perhaps not the most tactful. He gave it a second try. "Just relax. Be yourself. Your goal today is to get sponsors, not to win over competitors. Don't worry about what they think."

"I'll try," Ljilja answered. She took a deep breath through her mouth and exhaled through her nose. She put on the friendliest smile she could muster. Then, she meekly pulled open one of the doors and slipped inside.

Clad in a simple navy dress with a matching bow atop her head, Ljilja stepped forth into the commons, her wide blue eyes darting to and fro. She was without a doubt one of the smallest competitors; while some had opted for heels to boost their height, she wore simple flats that did very little to boost her diminutive size—five foot tall on a good day. Beneath her dress was an off-white shirt with frills at the edges of its short sleeves and a maroon bow tied at its collar. Compared to the exotic and formal attire on display, Ljilja must have seemed like a peasant girl, perhaps one of the workers on the ship, but not a competitor. Most certainly, she looked out of place.

Still, she padded forward, her shoes making hardly a sound. She scurried up to the tree in wonder, tilting her head back to gaze upon its beautiful green leaves, its rich wooden bark, and the little blue flowers sprouting along its branches. She stretched her arms out to the nearest as if to grab it, but it was well outside of her reach. She hummed in thought, gazing upon the petals above.

These are what flowers look like...? Incredible... she thought to herself.

It would have been trivial to ignore her. She was small, unremarkable, and distracted. But she was a friendly-looking face among killers, and the glimmer of her awestruck eyes begged for company. What's more, the mild and soothing aroma of lavender followed wherever she walked, punctuating her arrival for those with particularly sensitive noses.


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Character Portrait: Leo Behrends Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Jax
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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #919191 | Thought: #D8BFD8

Perhaps it was too early to discount Leo after all. He would not go down without a fight. Still, his motviation made no sense, leading Jax that he had reason to believe that Leo was lying to him. Alright, Leo did not have to share why he had signed up for this contest, Jax would not either. No one was privy to that information, at least, until Axel would feel the need to broadcast it to the world. Leo was older than he looked, Jax was impressed. He would not have pegged Leo for 48. 25 at the most, but 48? Jax's tail swished. "You look awfully young." Was there something in the lizard people that allowed them to retain their youthfulness? Or was it simply a family gene? Jax would have to research this further if he had the time.

"The game is merely a ruse," Jax's voice was low, tail flickering in annoyance. He recalled living on the ships, being forced to watch the Games. "It's an excuse to thin the herd," to Jax, the Games had always been a way to instill a false sense of hope. Yet, here he was, using it as an excuse to board Father in what might be a desperate attempt to rescue his sisters from living as mutant toys for the rest of their lives. Jax didn't know how much longer he had left. His body was artificial, his life span was not guaranteed. Supposedly, Leo had never met anything outside of the lizard species. Interesting, that would add to his strange sense of priorities. "I suppose a meeting like this might be considered a luxury." You had mutants from all over New Earth.

Isolation can do strange things to the mind. "Interesting, well Leo, it was a pleasure meeting you. I am going to have to excuse myself, as I would like to get something to eat before orientation starts." With only a few minutes left until it began, Jax was not sure when they would be given food next. He headed towards the food table, slightly disappointed to find that it was really only snacks. Beautifully frosted cakes, a large assortment of fresh cookies, a rainbow of puddings, and glasses of wine; all set delicately on multi-tiered trays on top of a holographic tablecloth. Everything was small, meant to be eaten in only a few bites to avoid a mess. That made sense, Jax thought, considering the rather expensive clothing they had been adorned in.

What to pick? His mind went over the options. Wine? No, it was still too early for a drink. Cookies would provide short term satisfaction, but he would have to eat four or five of them for temporary satiation. Cake was a better option, but the frosting might prove problematic should it get on his light colored suit. His gaze turned towards the pudding, in small crystal cups which reflected the light of the tablecloth. An idea came to mind, his tail swishing in delight of his sudden genius. Jax picked up a small crystal cup of chocolate pudding and two square shaped cookies, he could crumble the cookies into the pudding for a combination of satiation and satisfaction.

Now, where to sit? The lounge was an easy option, as it had plenty of space to spread out, but wandering back into that territory could mean re-encountering Leo and that would be awkward considering Jax had just excused himself. The lawn seemed to be a popular choice, but Jax was worried about potential grass stains. The gym was an immediate no, that was no place for food. The dining room? Yes, that seemed to be the best option. There were a few other mutants there, each occupying their own table with their own selection of food. Jax settled himself on a chair that was a bit too short, his tail sticking out awkwardly behind him. He was careful as he crumbled the first cookie into his pudding, minimizing crumb spillage.

"Hello there," Jax looked up, having just taken a bite of his concoction when he noticed a figure standing over the table. "Do you mind if I join you?" Slightly annoyed, Jax's eyes darted left and right, indicating that there were plenty of other seats. The figure in question had skin that reminded him of the night sky and hair the color of starlight. She was adorned in a red dress with a deep plunge and a mask with a single eye over it. "Not at all," Jax scooted his dessert slightly closer to himself.

The woman had a plate of cookies, each a various shade and shape. "I couldn't help but notice you Mr...."

"Please, call me Jax," the snow leopard offered a hand. The other mutant shook it daintily, but he could tell her grip had strength to it. "Mr. Jax, I noticed you were sitting all by your lonesome self." Jax attempted to disguise his annoyance and desire to be alone with a smile. "Well, I was rather hungry." He replied, the woman reflecting his smile with one of her own. "My name is Eclipse," she picked up one of her cookies and waved it just underneath his nose. "And I too am absolutely starving." His tail stiffened, hair standing up on edge.

Ah, so that was her intention.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Yeqon Character Portrait: Leo Behrends Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Kore Character Portrait: Scout Character Portrait: Edward Killedge Character Portrait: Ciara Character Portrait: Lamia Serose Character Portrait: Quickshot Character Portrait: Bandit Sephilan
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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx #0EBFE9 | FC: #CD3333

The foyer began to illuminate, lights flashed from all sides, holo pods illuminating as fog filled the center of the room. "Ladies and gentlemen, mutants both big and small, please make your way to the foyer and put your hands together for this year's Overseers, Kore Mars and Yeqon Cryo!" They rose from a podium in the center, Kore's smile so wide, her cheeks hurt. It wasn't exaggerated, Kore was truly eager for this moment, having been waiting for it for so long. Kore stepped off of the podium first. She and Yeqon had done three run throughs of the orientation speech, not that he would say much to begin with, but hopefully he remembered his part.

Kore looked out at the crowd, at the fifty hopefuls whose faces were a mix of bemusement, entertainment, and fear. She swished her cape over her shoulder, Kore's form illuminated by the lights, the gold in her outfit sparkling as she took her place in center-stage. "Welcome everyone!" A hover mic floated near her, capturing her voice so that the speaker hidden throughout the area could make sure that everyone would hear. "I am sure you're all very eager to get to tonight's party, but first, we have a brief orientation with some important rules!"

"We're your hosts, Kore and-" she glanced at Yeqon, hoping that he was paying attention. "Let's get right into it," Kore clapped her hands together, the holograms suddenly changing to display the rules. "We have a few rules for the mutant living corridors. Our first and most important rule, is that you must wear your tag at all times. Those tags are your key to the world card and without them, you won't be able to enter the rooms or unlock your door." Kore's smile eased a bit, the tags were akin to wrist chips, only less permanent, since injecting a mutant with a small microchip wasn't exactly efficient. Not to mention the distrust mutants already had towards the humans.

"Our second rule is, please do not attempt to leave the living space. This is an area just for you all and if you are found wandering the ship, unescorted, you will be subject to discharge from the games." This was an important rule, for the safety of the humans. Not that the door would open from the inside anyway. "Our third rule! No violence in the hallways! Sparring is allowed in the gym, but murder is only allowed in the Game!"

Did they understand at all? Were the rules registering in their pea sized brains? Kore hoped so. "Those are the three most important rules! The rest can be found in your handbooks in your rooms. As for other important information, everything we talk about tonight will be in your handbooks." Kore clapped her hands together, glancing at Yeqon again to see what he was up to.

"Now, the Games will take you through four different environments. Before each game, your manager will brief you. You have one week until the first Game begins, during which you'll each have several interviews for the audience to get to know you! You'll want to nail these interviews, since the more sponsors you have, the more mini prizes you'll earn during the Games! This can be anything from a bowl of soup, to a jacket!" The screens illuminated to show clips from past years, of sponsored items being delivered to contestants.

"Your biggest interview will take place the evening before the Game begins. As for the space around you, you are free to use it to prepare! Eat to your heart's content, train until your arms fall off, and relax! Remember, the only way to back out is between Games, so make sure you know what you're doing! Now that, that's over with, let the party begin!" Balloons and colorful streamers suddenly rained from the ceiling. Music played from the speakers and the door opened to allow potential sponsors and managers in.

"What do you think Yeqon?" Kore turned to him, her smile sparkling. "See any potential winners?"


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Cayde was about three beers in and fairly disappointed when the pit crew arrived with his new equipment.

All the technology in the world and they choose to forgo flavor. Nonetheless, he wasn’t one to refuse free things and the less he needed to unmask himself the better. His face was a well kept secret on the ship, seen only by Halo, Renee, the pit crew, and the creator of the Game of Pursuit. At first he balked at the idea of showing his true identity; however, he was at the mercy of his manager and they were adamant that they could see him in his entirety. Plus, they needed to make sure he wouldn't tamper with anyone else's equipment.

”It’s not that nobody trusts you. We just need to ensure that the game stays fair for everyone involved.”

”So you don’t trust me to play fair.”

”It’s not about me.”

Quickshot sighed, crushing his empty can before inspecting his armor. After making sure all of the adjustments had taken hold, he donned his mask and left the dressing room. There were no more scratches, dents, or scuffs; they buffed away all of his experiences over the past year. It felt simultaneously freeing and melancholic. All of that time spent wandering in the Wastelands was gone, but so were the days leading up to his separation from his family. He supposed this would be an opportunity to create new experiences, one of which would lead to winning the Game of Pursuit.

With his cape over his shoulders and the pit crew sworn to silence, he departed for the lounge where a fair number of competitors had made themselves comfortable. He wasn't keen on mingling with others, primarily because they were mostly younglings, pretty much all of whom wouldn't be older than his daughter (who he was careful to keep an eye out for).

Each of them appeared to have taken a different approach, some mimicking Prime, some taking a ballroom approach. Some opted for simplicity. It seemed that regardless of aesthetic preferences, their managers had the final say. Everyone was just a tool for their amusement.

Before he could find a place to settle however, lights flashed, fog filled the room, and a pair of humans emerged from the podium.

"Ladies and gentlemen, mutants both big and small, please make your way to the foyer and put your hands together for this year's Overseers, Kore Mars and Yeqon Cryo!"

Quickshot didn't know much about either of them, but it seemed like Kore (the shorter and perkier of the two) was leading the show. All of the information she mentioned was common sense so he had to resist the urge to roll his eyes as she continued speaking (not that anyone could tell).

Frowning at the gaudy display, he swatted away a stray balloon. So far, Halo proved to be the closest thing to an ally on the ship and he had no issue with that. He didn't expect anyone to sponsor him nor did he intend on courting anyone. The citizens of the capital must have watched countless interviews and trying too hard to stand out would be his undoing. If he had nothing to say, it would be easier to say nothing at all.

He turned to meet the gaze of a red haired man with tattoos covering his chest. The feral look in his eyes reeked of aggression, a blind demand for a fight that would never come. Each passerby was treated to the same provocative glare, but nobody seemed to take the bait.

It was honestly kind of pathetic.

The cybernetic mutant turned away from the other competitor, deciding that the better option would be finding a less crowded space so that if anybody did swing by, they would come one at a time.

Seeing a large, unoccupied tree near the balcony, he walked over and took a seat on the grass. The faint scent of lavender was comforting even if it was artificial and...seemingly from nowhere. He glanced behind him, pausing at the sight of a blue-haired girl. She couldn’t have been more than twelve years old and her outfit didn’t seem to do her any favors. There was no good reason for her to be in this competition and yet, there couldn’t be any other reason why a mutant would be on Father.

You’re here too huh, he thought to himself with a sigh.

"Good luck to you." Cayde whispered, more to himself than to her.


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By Shade of Tree


Exploding with light and sound, the once-harmonious foyer became, in an instant, a dazzling spectacle equal parts garish and impressive. Fog consumed the ground, concealing it from view, set aglow from all sides, as if the entire floor had taken to the skies. Spectators gathered obediently with artificial clouds forming at their feet, rounded up by a thunderous announcement from a bold but unseen voice. From beneath the clouds rose two glimmering figures, taking center stage, heralded by the shout of their names: "Kore Mars and Yeqon Cryo!" The demand for applause that accompanied their arrival was met with a few scattered, tepid claps; too many of the uninitiated were left shielding their eyes from the beaming pageantry to show their appreciation. The show continued nonetheless.

Despite the ludicrous pomp, there was refreshingly little ado. The aforementioned Kore Mars, a bubbly young hostess adorned in shimmering gold, quickly laid down some ground rules:

  1. Competitor tags must be worn at all times.
  2. Attempting to leave the competitor space is forbidden.
  3. Violence is strictly limited to the gym and is for training purposes only.
    1. Except in the Games, where murder is encouraged.
Competitors would have one week to prepare, during which training and interviews could be conducted. These interviews were their only chance at obtaining boons during the Games, without which they would be left to fend for themselves.

Ljilja shuddered at the prospect of being left alone in a foreign land, tasked with killing those around her. Yet this was the true nature of the competition she had just entered. She leant her weight upon the tree trunk beside her, becoming nauseous and weak-kneed for the second time that day. A masked competitor more than twice her size took a seat not far from her. With prosthetic limbs and a body more metal than skin, he towered over her. She whimpered as he spoke, a raspy sound that chilled her to the bone:

"Good luck to you."

Ljilja's voice caught in her throat as thoughts of the morbid fates that might await her flooded her mind, her words a choked-up squeal. "Y-yo-you, too."

Her legs bade her to leave, but had hardly the strength. She tried to stand up straight, utilizing the tree's support ever more earnestly. And then came the flood.

In the dozens, managers and interested parties were released, seeking out their competitors for on-the-spot interviews to determine their suitability for sponsorship. It was a feeding frenzy, the floor rapidly being overwhelmed with the excited chatter of negotiation and commerce. Deals were made, Viz exchanged, futures secured—winners and losers, the very outcome of the Games hanging in the balance.

The importance and weight of sponsorship struck Ljilja all at once, and she realized with horror that, while other competitors were awash with a veritable deluge of interest from would-be benefactors, she stood at the outskirts with

The smile she held for appearances broke at once. She stepped forth from the tree, staggering slowly at first, pace building into a sprint. She ran for the exit.

A familiar grip took hold of her just short of the doors.

"Where do you think you're going?"

Ljilja struggled against the grasp of her manager, Jaden, whose insistence on her participation was beginning to grow very thin.

"Out—I want out," she tearfully replied.

"You haven't even started yet."

"I can't do this!" she cried.

Keeping hold of her arm, Jaden escorted Ljilja past the opaque glass doors once more. Then, he took her by the shoulders and gazed down at her, sternness growing in his crimson eyes. With a modicum of privacy, he pressed the matter.

"What's this about?" he asked.

"They—they're going to kill me," she sobbed, hanging her head to avoid his gaze.

"Only if you let them," he answered, though his words were small comfort.

"Look at me!" she demanded. "N-nobody wants me! You know why?! Because I am plankton out there, waiting to be eaten!" She collapsed to the floor, sitting with her knees to her chest. "If I join, I'll die."

"That's not what Sonja thinks."

Ljilja gasped, shooting her puffy-eyed gaze upward. Then her face contorted to a bitter frown. "No lies," she grumbled.

"No lies. I did a little research while you were getting your makeover. Your little fin friend is watching for you on the holos."

Ljilja cast her gaze back down to her knees.

"And she thinks you can win."

"Glupa Sonja," she muttered to herself.

"Winning is different things to different people, you know. You don't have to make it to the end," Jaden added. "Survive a couple rounds and you'll go home a hero. Make me enough money and I can even arrange a transfer for your family."

He had done his research. Ljilja never swore, but she was sorely tempted to make an exception.

"All you have to do is survive."

"What about sponsors...?"

"The less support you have, the more profitable when you succeed anyway."

"But I'll die out there..." Ljilja sniffled.

"Not if you train and I do my research. Have I done it?"

Ljilja begrudgingly nodded.

"So what do you need to do?"


Jaden extended his hand to help lift Ljilja up to her feet. She took hold of it and stood.

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Ljilja sniffled again and, with the urging of her manager, entered the opaque glass doors one last time. Trembling like a leaf, she joined the crowd at the foyer and did her best not to draw attention—although a girl of her stature with such apparent evidence of recent weeping was not the easiest sight to ignore.


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xxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #CD5C5C | Thought: #2F4F4F

Sit, stay, play nice, don't bite people. Scout felt like a dog and less like a mutant. The wolf stood in the corner, swishing the drink in her hand around as she waited for Aries to return. Scout was growing bored, the music was too loud and it was making her ears hurt. Her tail drooped in annoyance, they had one week to prepare, but she had a feeling that it would mostly be spent being pulled out of training for interviews. Did Scout really need sponsors? No, Scout was confident she could make it through these games on her own.

Some of the competitors looked serious, while others seemed too soft to be here. Scout placed her drink down and cracked her knuckles, this would be a good time to do some spying. Gather information on other competitors and scope out the competition, since she had been too busy sulking before to do that. First, however, another cookie was in order.

Scout spotted a table full of them and made a bee line, picking up three and hiding behind a group of human women, dressed like a flock of flamingos and cooing about some mutant they had just met. Between their heels and funny hats, Scout blended in perfectly. "Oh, excuse me." One of them noticed her standing there, Scout stiffened, her tail upright. It seemed as though her hiding place was not as good as she had originally thought. "Sorry," Scout mumbled, shifting awkwardly. Conversation wasn't exactly Scout's forte.

"What an ugly thing you are," their ringleader spoke and her gaggle of women laughed. Their various feathered hats shook with amuesement. "With a face like that, I don't think you're one to talk." Scout replied, shoving an entire cookie into her mouth. The woman's eyes widened in shock and confusion. No doubt this was the first time she had ever had to question her own image. Scout smiled to herself, "Wow, now that I look at all of you, you're all really unattractive." Her grin grew into a smirk, her tail swishing back and forth. They were like chickens standing underneath a hungry wolf, cowering together.

"If you'll excuse me, I have to go be ugly somewhere else." Scout smiled as she walked away, the colorful lights making her wince. They reminded her of Enforcers and cops, the red and blue sirens that would chase her and Mercy across the desert of the Wastes.

Scout caught a glance at her reflection in one of the glass walls. The scar on her face had been highlighted with makeup, her eyes smattered with glitter and her lipstick non-existent since hse had licked it off. Scout felt awkward in a dress, as though it was not made for her. At the very least, her ori was covered by the tall boots Selena had picked out. The feathers in her hairclip were like something of a joke; Scout was no angel. "What are you doing here Scout?" She whispered to herself, sticking out like a sore thumb. What would Mercy say if he could see Scout now?

"You can do this," her hands balled into fists. If Selena hadn't cut her nails and painted them a girly shade of pink, no doubt they would be stabbing into her palms about now. Scout whirled around, determined. She stuffed another cookie into her mouth, removing the final traces of lipstick and headed back into the crowd. The first thing her eyes laid on were what looked like a kid, being pulled on by her white haired manager.

She was short, with blue hair and eyes. She was a mutant, there was no doubt about that, she reminded Scout somewhat of a frog. "So small," Scout murmured. Should the wolf approach her? Would she scare her? She was a competitor too, but it didn't seem as though her manager was interested in gathering sponsors.

"Hey," Scout tried to be casual, she was feeling less angry now that she had eaten. "Why is a kid here?"


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In the Company of Wolves


Note: This post was written collaboratively and then reformatted with approval from both parties.

Towering a full foot above Ljilja was a lupine competitor adorned in white, whose elegant attire belied her violent nature. Animalistic, black-tipped ears stood alert upon her head, their fur blending seamlessly with bushy silver hair. Her once claw-like nails were filed down to smooth tips, and her rough-soled feet were forced into heeled boots, but her confident stance and posture displayed that she knew well the disparity of strength between herself and the miniscule girl before her.

She called out to Ljilja over the din of the music. “Hey. Why is a kid here?"

The young girl froze in place, looking up to her accuser. She sniffled, her bright blue eyes made red and puffy by the exchange she had with her manager minutes prior. She lacked the willpower to bluster in reply—grandstanding was for the more vicious competitors—neither did she possess the stature to support a proper retort.

“I…um…s-same as you…my number got picked,” she stammered, averting her eyes and folding her hands near the hem of her dress.

It was a fair question. Most of the other competitors were larger, older, stronger; even those smaller than her wore viciousness like a familiar garment to ward against those who would look down on them or see them as easy prey. However, none of them seemed as peculiarly vulnerable as Ljilja. She was an anomaly among mutants, without a doubt the ostensibly weakest competitor. Was that why she had tried to leave; why her manager was not courting sponsors like the others; why she now stood alone?

Ljilja stood meekly, instinctively bunching her shoulders inward to appear even smaller under the scrutiny of her foe, who leaned forward and narrowed her eyes to examine her more closely. “I thought there was an age minimum,” she remarked.

Ljilja sniffled again, unable to muster a proper reply. Her gaze went to her little blue flats as her head and heart sunk. This is it, she thought, I'm finished...

Not receiving an answer, the mercenary continued. “What’s your name, kid?”

Gripping fistfuls of her skirt for strength, she timidly answered, “Ljilja,” following up with a polite “May I ask yours?”

The tall mercenary swished her fluffy tail to and fro in thought, standing up straight and putting her hands on her hips. After a pause that felt like an eternity, she replied, “Scout.”

“That’s a cool name.”

The music in the background changed, and the tone of the conversation with it. People rarely issued compliments to Scout, and when they did, it was usually in spite or fearful admiration. What’s more, it was an outlier’s opinion—most regarded her name as ‘silly’ or ‘stupid,’ not so much a name as it was a word.

“Nice to meet you,” Ljilja added with a nervous curtsy.

It would have been easy to end the conversation on a whim and walk away, but a strange curiosity in Scout’s chest anchored her to Ljilja, who seemed utterly defenseless. It was not, after all, out of fear or respect that Scout approached her. But what, then, was her aim?

“Where are you from?” Scout inquired.

As Ljilja’s sniffles died down, the faintest hint of a smile formed across her face. A little spark returned to her eyes as she angled her head up to gaze at her fellow competitor. “MC-4008. But…we just call it Fort Kate. It’s a mountain-island out in the ocean,” Ljilja answered.

“Never heard of it,” Scout curtly replied. Briefly, she wondered what such a place would be like, and bristled at the thought of mist-soaked cliffs and rocky shores. To say Scout was not fond of water would be putting it very lightly.

The worry and anxiety in Ljilja's eyes faded as the conversation built momentum. “What about you? Where are you from?”

“The Wastes—” Scout explained, her vocabulary, as always, getting right to the point. “A Dead City called Ertha. It's near...where those big triangles were.”

“Oh, the Pyramids! My dad told me stories about those when I was little,” Ljilja piped up eagerly.

“Yeah, those.” Scout felt foolish for not recalling the name of such a defining detail about her homeland. It wasn’t that she had forgotten, but…something about this little creature was occupying her mind. She’d seen similar looks on the faces of children she’d rescued or orphaned, recalling the wideness of their eyes from cover as she slaughtered their keepers. Scout never used to wonder what happened to those young ones when her job was complete—why is it that she could not help thinking about them now?

An unexpected line of questioning pulled Scout from her thoughts. “Are they really gone? What’s it like at Ertha? How do you get water out there?”

Scout scratched her cheek, surprised that Ljilja was still talking with her, much less showing interest. “Yeah, they’re gone,” she replied. Suddenly, Scout found herself to be the one avoiding eye contact, withered from Ljilja’s inquisitive peppering. “It’s tall; Ertha,” Scout explained, gesturing wide with her arms, “it’s built upwards, like most of the cities. It goes beneath the ground, too—that’s where our water comes from. There are pipes that carry it all throughout the city, but water is scarce and expensive.”

As Scout spoke, Ljilja gave nods and hums of confirmation to assure she was interested and paying attention. The music changed before she had an opportunity to reply. This new song was louder and far more annoying than the last, forcing Ljilja to speak up. “That’s really cool! I mean the pipes, not…water being hard to find. Um, do you maybe want to talk somewhere quieter?” she suggested.

“Yes!” Scout declared a bit too enthusiastically, her tail swishing suddenly, eager to leave the noise and retreat to a place that wouldn’t hurt her ears. It brought a warm smile to Ljilja’s face, and a reserved grin to Scout’s in return.

Ljilja reached her hand out to take Scout’s, then froze and retracted it with an apologetic bow. This wasn’t Fort Kate—she could not be certain her new friend would react well to such a forward and friendly gesture. It seemed she made the right choice, as Scout visibly recoiled in response to her approaching hand. Ljilja remorsefully balled her little palm into a fist and murmured a “Sorry” to cover her indiscretion.

“Where should we go?” Scout asked.

“Anywhere but here!” Ljilja answered before skittering off in an arbitrary direction away from the foyer. She hoped Scout would follow.


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The Wolf Catches the Fish


Ljilja was Scout's ticket away from the terrible noise and blinding lights, but her quick little footsteps were difficult for Scout to match. She had to walk slowly in long strides, the small girl before her deftly weaving through the crowd like a fish navigating an impassable school of sea creatures. For her part, Scout felt like a shark, and probably resembled one too, with her silvery ears peeking out high above the sea of mutants. Out of the corner of her eye, Scout spotted motion from a cam, nearly flush against a metal wall, rotating its mechanical eye to capture their movements. Clever, she thought.

Scout paused in front of a door, thumbing towards it. “How about in here?” Scout suggested over the continuing cacophony of music and chatter. Their destination was unclear, but it was away, and that was good enough for her.

Ljilja froze at the suggestion. “Really…?” Ljilja murmured, to which Scout tilted her head in confusion. What was wrong? “I mean, I guess I should be training, but…”

Scout gave Ljilja a puzzled look, then glanced at the door to see if she could reason out the problem. She could not read the sign that read ‘Gym,’ but it was the only place that made Ljilja's response make sense. “No! No,” Scout explained, “It's just t-to get away.” Scout began to shuffle her feet in front of the door, feeling the weight of the faux pas.

Ljilja uneasily swayed from side to side, perhaps weighing the likelihood that she would be eaten if she went into a room alone with the wolflike competitor. She drew a breath, then answered, “Well… alright,” before slowly raising her wrist to unlock the door. The aperture hummed its acknowledgement and slid open. Ljilja spared one last nervous glance in Scout’s direction before stepping inside and disappearing into the darkened threshold within.

Scout tailed her eagerly and the door slid shut behind them. Soft light panels gradually illuminated the room, revealing a broad training area and, one by one, the facilities that lay within.

Lining the wall were dummy weapons, prop swords, spears, and to the other end, a shooting range for bows and guns. In the center was a sparring ring, hallmarked by large gray mats with a white circle. Slightly elevated on a platform above them was a row of chairs surrounded by screens, and behind them was a glass box for spectators to watch the competitors. At the far end of the space was a pool, its surface yet undisturbed. “Wow,” Scout murmured under her breath.

An enormous fan above them had begun to spin, circulating the air. A shiver ran down Scout’s spine as she recalled . “This place is huge.”

Ljilja, whose manager had failed to give her a tour given how close she had arrived to orientation, was hardly certain where her room was, much less knowing what all was in the gym. But it did not take very long for her to spot the pool. Her shoulders straightened, her eyes fixated on it immediately, glittering like tiny stars on a clear night. “Look-look! Water!” she exclaimed, and like an eager dog ran to its edge, circling it eagerly. There was a fondness in her gaze as for a long-departed friend. She could hardly keep from leaping right in but for the fact that it would ruin her dress.

Her shout drew Scout’s attention, who looked down from the fan and awkwardly scratched at her forearm. “Yeah,” she answered as she turned her eyes towards the pool.

Where Scout remained planted in place, Ljilja moved like a hummingbird, her excitement taking her from one end of the gym to the next. But in the midst of her excitement, something strange began to happen. Her side suddenly felt tight, her breathing growing ragged. She grasped at her side and winced, then padded carefully back to Scout. “Sorry…” Ljilja’s breath hitched, a slight hiss. “Guh, went… too fast.”

Scout, in the meanwhile, was watching Ljilja with slight amusement. She was in no rush to explore the gym, knowing that she would probably spend most of the week in here. In any case, Scout felt right to lead Ljilja here - this was much more amusing than the party. “You move fast,” Scout said, gesturing to the mats in the sparring ring. “Need a seat?”

Ljilja heaved for breath, her voice dry and hoarse. “That or dive.” Her eyes scanned the area, looking for anything to relieve the desert that had blossomed in her throat. “Pardon me,” Ljilja muttered, sighting a fountain of reprieve. She walked slowly, her steps deliberate, until she reached it.

Sensing her presence, the fountain began to spurt water from its spigot, a blue light indicating that it was on. Ljilja guzzled water down like a camel spotting an oasis in the desert. After a moment she straightened and wiped her lip on her arm, replenished. She returned looking as though nothing had happened.

It was one thing to enjoy water, but it was another to be dependent on it. The first game was going to be in the Wastes; how would Ljilja survive?

The wolf hardly minded the situation, using the pause as an excuse to observe the wooden swords on the wall. Scout lifted one from its resting place, giving it a few swings. The weight of it felt unimpressive in her hands, slightly off-balance somehow. “Better?” she queried, replacing the sword as she watched Ljilja approach.

“Much!” Ljilja announced, her voice unfazed and chipper.

They sat together on a nearby mat. It was brand new, the smell of it like a blow to the nostrils for Scout’s sensitive nose. Scout sat with her legs spread in front of her, arms propping her up from behind. Her tail swished as Ljilja took a seat across from her.

Her bright blue eyes traced over Scout’s features - her scars, her black-tipped ears, her fluffy silver tail. Respectful awe reflected in her gaze. “Do you like being tall?” Ljilja bluntly asked, free of reservations. She sheepishly glanced over herself, adding, “I don’t like how small I am.”

Scout glanced at Ljilja with a bewildered expression before looking up at the ceiling, watching the fan spin lazily around them. “Do I…?” she trailed off, peering upwards as though the answer were written on the ceiling somewhere. “No,” she finally answered, looking down again and sizing up Ljilja. She was small and cute, her skin unblemished, as far as Scout could see at least. “Everyone tells me I’m too tall,” ‘too tall for a girl,’ ‘lanky,’ ‘awkward...’ “Being small is better. When you’re small, people want to protect you.” Maybe if Scout had been small and vulnerable, she reasoned, her parents might have stuck around.

Ljilja blinked in disbelief; she supposed Scout was right about the last part, but wondered what inspired her to respond that way. "But, know...actually hurt me. And I couldn't do anything about it," she murmured. "If I were bigger, I could fight back." It was clear that Ljilja was insecure in this area, uncertain about her own abilities.

Scout abruptly laughed, the sound harsh and grating. “Size doesn’t matter in a fight; I’ve seen people shorter than you take down dogs bigger than me.” She jerked a thumb in her own direction, a fanged grin highlighting her expression. “If you’re worried about a fight, it’s your stamina you should work on.” Scout had seen her run herself ragged with little more than a few minutes of running. “Besides, you can just get someone bigger than you to protect you.”

Ljilja’s expression morphed into a frown. The little fish did not count herself well-versed in matters like fights and allegiances, so she had little room to argue Scout’s point. “But…still,” she protested, her cheeks puffing out. “This is a competition - everyone’s out for themselves,” she answered before looking down at her lap and balling her little hands into fists on the mat. “People will target me because I’m easy prey.” She grit her teeth and trembled.

Scout leaned forward. “What do you want to win for anyway?” Scout wasn’t much for pep talks or getting people to believe in themselves - motivational speeches were Mercy’s purview.

“I want to win…” she went silent, her voice as soft and gentle as an ocean breeze. “Because I want to be with my family. I’ve worked on Fort Kate as long as I can remember… I’ve never even met my Mother. I want to.” She sighed and furrowed her brows, the pain poorly masked.

There was always a family. Mercy had told Scout that she was lucky she had no family. Family made people weak, it held them back. “What about your Dad?”

“He died, she answered - bluntness seemed to flow freely from the small creature, no room for pretense. “Was...last year.” She cleared her throat and jerked her head upright to look at Scout, eager for a change of subject. “What about you?” she asked, swiping at her eyes to check that they were dry. “Why did you sign up?”

Scout paused as she contemplated telling her; Aries had to practically pull teeth to get her to talk. Eventually, though, Scout sighed with resignation. She leaned forward, unzipping one of her boots to reveal the tell-tale black marks of Ori on her skin. “I’m gonna die,” she said at last, with no hint of malice or bitterness. “So I want to go out with a bang.”

Scout zipped her boot back up slowly to conceal the ugly marks. “Sorry,” Ljilja murmured instinctively. Sorry - sorry! - everyone was always sorry for Scout. Ori was a death sentence for any mutant.

“What if you win?” Ljilja prodded.

“If I win…” Scout trailed off, “then I’ll be able to afford the surgery to get rid of it.” As long as she did it before stage 3, Scout could be cured. Scout brought her knees up to her chest, hugging her legs against her. Ljilja too, did as such, her chin leaning on her knees.

Ljilja cast her eyes downward, the fish’s voice quieting to a whisper. “I probably shouldn’t tell you this,” she began to say, prompting Scout to lean forward, “but I’m going to give up after a few rounds, if I survive. I hope… I hope you win.”

Her smile was bright and hopeful. It made Scout’s blood boil. “You’re giving up before the game’s begun.” Her teeth ground together. Scout hated people like that, people with such weak resolve. “What about your dream to see your Mom? You’re just gonna give up on it?” Her tail was stiff, ears set forward with displeasure and suspicion.

Ljlija shook her head, “Winning isn’t winning,” she parroted in desperation. “My manager says that no one who wins this game wins the normal way.” She hugged herself, her arms tightening around her legs. “He says I just have to survive the first few games… then… then for sure I’ll be reunited with Mama.”

“So you’re just gonna cheat?” Any warmth in Scout’s voice had vanished. “Take the money and run? What if he’s lying to you?” Scout should not have gotten her hopes that this was a potential… friend. People like Ljilja, they came into her life and left just as quickly, because everyone left Scout eventually.

No one cared about her long enough to stick around.

Ljilja raised her palms defensively. “No! No, I’ll play fair…” she trailed off, searching in vain for an explanation that would satisfy Scout. “There can only be one winner, right?” Her voice grew soft and weary. “And that isn’t going to be me… so I have to leave before the end.” Ljilja glanced at her wolfish companion. “If he’s lying, then I just go back home and move on. It would be sad… but… it’s better than dying.”

The fight had left Ljilja before it had even begun. Scout’s shoulders sagged in disappointment. What sort of manager was this? “You don’t know that, anyone can win.” She grumbled, “everyone’s always going on about how dying is some terrible thing. Dying is the easiest thing in the world, it’s living that’s hard.”

Ljilja’s small hands balled into fists, the cloth of her dress wrinkling in her grasp. “Nothing worth doing is easy!” More words that did not seem to belong to her. Ljilja’s smile was tinged with guilt. “I don’t want to win… I just want to be with my family. Not win… just… survive. Is that really so terrible?”

“Sure, if surviving is all you want to do.” Her anger dulled to exasperation. Scout yawned, her ears returning to their normal position: guarded but unperturbed. “There’s so much living to do, so why just survive?” Scout’s gaze turned to the floor. “Truth be told, Ljilja, I’m not a good person. I left just surviving behind a long time ago, I’ve been fighting like hell to live the life I want.” Now, Scout would bloody her hands again to claw her way to the top.

“I won’t get in your way,” Ljilja assured her, “but… I think you have good in you… at least a little.” A warm smile returned to her face.

Scout opened her mouth to retort, but the doors suddenly slid open. “Scout!” Aries snapped, looking out of breath, his cheeks red, his expression pinched in anger. “You can’t just run away-” he paused in his beration, glancing between the unlikely pair of wolf and fish. “Tch.” Scout’s tail swished, and she rose slowly, dusting her dress off. “Gotta bounce, see you around fishy.


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Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Scout Character Portrait: Jax
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xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxLocation: Fatherxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  Speaking: #919191 | Thought: #D8BFD8

"You have a pretty face," A mutant remarked, standing beside him. Jax's manager had run off somewhere with another, no doubt to conspire behind his back. "It's too bad I'll have to mark it up on the battlefield," He had white hair and striking blue eyes, white wings sprouting from his back that made his comment seem anything but angelic. Jax grinned behind his cup, his tail flickering with curiosity. "Those are strong words coming from a man who looks as though he's never worked a day in his life." The mutant blanched, grinding his teeth, his grasp on his drink no longer steady. "What did you say to me mutant?"

"Watch your tongue, or I might have to cut it out," Jax sipped his drink. He did not take threats lightly, not when he was determined to achieve his goal. Jax was normally mild mannered, but he did not enjoy being threatened with death or mutilation. "And for the record, you are a mutant too." The snow leopard placed his glass down, feeling slightly dizzy. Was Jax drunk? Perhaps that was why his tongue had become a bit looser. What was in that cup? He had absently picked one, finding the flavor to be mild and pleasant and then had had three more. He should have been more careful with his choices.

"Excuse me sir, would you like to try a pig in a blanket?" A mutant dressed in a sparkling two piece, holding a silver tray full of bite-sized delicacies waved it just beneath his nose. "Sure," perhaps food would clear up this odd feeling inside of him. Was this meat? The smell of it made his mouth water slightly. "I'll take five," Each one was thin and small, meat wrapped in flaky dough that crumbled in his hands. He was careful, not wishing to get his suit dirty. Where was Axel? Jax whirled around, popping another pig in a blanket in his mouth.

Perhaps he should just forget the social hour and go to bed, the beginnings of a headache were coming on. How many of those cups had he drank? Jax could hardly remember. He should have been wary, he should've been on guard, but instead, he was standing in the corner eating finger foods off of a tiny glass plate. How pitiful the doctor's life had become in a matter of hours. "Oh, there you are." Axel had appeared out of nowhere by his elbow, "Enjoying yourself?" He had a smile on his face, Jax had the feeling he had secured something of value.

"I am enjoying these," he raised his plate. Somehow, he had procured more tiny foods. "How many glasses of Jungle Punch did you drink?" Axel asked, slightly amused. "I lost count," Jax grumbled. Axel laughed, "Well, I guess I found your catnip." Jax let out a low growl. Axel laughed, looking down at his holo tab for a moment. "I hope you don't mind, I've taken the liberty of ordering you a special training outfit for your debut tomorrow." He winked, "I'm sure all of our female sponsors are going to love it."

"No," Jax replied simply, wiping his mouth with a napkin. He had finished eating, his head feeling a little bit clearer. "Oh, don't be like that. You're gonna love it." Jax had the sense that he would not love it. "I'm leaving," Jax placed his plate down, walking away. "Where are you going!" Axel called, running after him. "To bed," In the Tundra, he could have gone outside into the cold air to help clear his head, here, he would have to settle for the bedroom. "Fine, but you better show up to the gym tomorrow!" Axel called after him, Jax's ears twitching to pick out his voice.

His room was far too warm. Jax loosened the bowtie around his neck and turned towards the thermostat, he needed to make it colder in here. He slung his jacket and pants over the back of a chair and stumbled into the bathroom. "Da**it," his head was much too foggy. No, he would just skip brushing his teeth tonight. Was there mouthwash? There, that would do it. Jax stumbled into bed, pulling the covers over his body as the room cooled. Much better.

With a bearable room temperature and a bed like a cloud, Jax drifted off easily.


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Character Portrait: Ljilja
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On the Mats


Waving to the wolfish girl, Ljilja watched her new friend leave. At least, she hoped Scout was a new friend - it was difficult to tell, for while their conversation seemed to have begun well, it had soured rapidly. Ljilja fidgeted with her fingers until both Scout and Aries were fully gone. For some time after, she sat in silence, eyes glued to the mat, wondering where she had gone wrong, what she might have said otherwise, what she could do to make things go better next time. Clear answers were not forthcoming.

She pushed off from the mat. Her eyes scanned the room and settled longingly upon the pool. "I can't," she told herself, "I need to train." So, instead, she tore her gaze from it and marched forward with discipline, venturing forth from the gym to the halls. If she was going to train, she would need proper attire. But where would she find it?

She passed various competitors in the halls, some calling it an early day, others finding their rooms to relax from the onslaught of interviews, many of which were still proceeding. Ljilja had yet to participate in one, but she hoped that would come soon. She could not know how busy her manager was, but she got the distinct impression that sponsors would be the key to her continued survival - the other competitors could not be relied upon to protect her, despite what Scout had implied. And yet, Jaden was nowhere to be found.

Left to her own devices, she wandered the premises, going largely unnoticed by staff and competitors alike. Maybe...maybe the stylist, Anya, was right - maybe she should have tried to be more ostentatious. Maybe then she would have drawn the attention of sponsors. Was Jaden trying to sabotage her? Was he lying to her? Did he even mean to honor his offer?

Ljilja bit her lip and kept walking. Where was she going? She had hoped to find her room, but the facilities had dozens of such quarters, one for each competitor, and with the passing of minutes and hours, she could not locate hers. She was certain she had walked by it a number of times, but the fog of worry clouding her mind kept her from noticing it. That, and...

She paused in her steps as her stomach loudly grumbled. It had been some time since she last ate. "Maybe...just a snack," she mentally concluded. At the very least, she had managed to stumble across the food hall once or twice in her meandering, and could locate it again easily.

The Mess


Focused on her training, Ljilja determined to eat light. A tall, horned, purple-skinned woman stood before Ljilja on the other side of a long counter, patiently waiting to receive an order.

"I just, um..." Ljilja piped up, scrolling through a listing of foods on a holographic display, "just want something small."

"You're going to have to be more specific than that," the towering mutant answered. She dwarfed Ljilja, but that was not a difficult feat.

"Something I can eat really quickly?" Ljilja clarified, a nervous upswing taking over her voice. She shuffled her little black flats on the ground - she still hadn't changed out of her party attire.

The woman sighed. "Wait here," she announced before disappearing into a back room. She returned moments later with a bar on a plate, placing it atop the counter, where it sat about head-height with Ljilja.

Fearing repercussions should she protest, Ljilja took it with a grateful bow of her head and a little "Thank you, miss," before fleeing to one of the tables with the plate in hand. She took a seat at the far end of the room, trying her best to avoid eye contact with the mutant in charge of food distribution.

She peered around. Her table was much too large for her, designed to accommodate a large group of people. Ljilja found herself unconsciously gravitating towards it, perhaps because it reminded her of the commons back at Fort Kate. Still, it drew attention to her small size, and the fact that she was alone. A burly, muscular man with long hair and strange fluffy ears was seated at the other end of the room; he seemed to be aware of how intimidating he was, and kept to himself. Ljilja wondered about the fairness of someone like her being pitted against someone like that in open combat, but supposed that fairness wasn't the first thing on the minds of those running the Games.

Ljilja turned her gaze to the food on her plate. A small, compressed, nutty nutrient bar awaited her - no sweetness, just protein. She took nibbles at the bland, crunchy creation, scrunching her nose up at its offensively dull flavor. She supposed it contained essential vitamins, if only she could stomach it. She managed a few more bites before leaving it on the plate, her appetite chased away.

She stood with her half-eaten food block, shuddering with distaste. Her eyes scanned for a trash bin, but could not find one.

Noticing Ljilja's confusion, the woman behind the counter spoke up. "Just leave it, we'll take care of it."

It seemed a bit rude, but Ljilja complied, placing the plate back down and stepping away from the table. She looked about with uncertainty, then started to patter out of the room. "Uh...thank you," she called out, before proceeding into the hallways with hunched shoulders.

Running in Circles


Hunger abated, Ljilja returned to the gym. Scout's words echoed in her mind - "If you're worried about a fight, it's your stamina you should work on." She took those words to heart.

Her soles clacked against the floor as she moved from the main gymnasium area to the hard-floored marathon track. She looked to and fro. She was alone.

She looked down at herself. It had been hours since the party ended, and though the clock was reaching deep into the night, she was still wearing her dress and bow. No matter. Ljilja took a position at the starting line and drew a deep breath.

At the sign of a shot that rang only in her head, she burst forward in a sprint. For someone so small, she was quick. As she rounded the first corner, panting like a dog, she grinned widely. "I can do this. I can do this! I just...can't...stop!"

Onward she bounded, pillars hurdling on her sides. At the end of the straightaway, she neared the next turn, but the edges of her vision grew darker and dimmer. Still she pushed on, grunting through the exhaustion, keeping up the pace. "Come on...come on!"

Her little chest heaved for air, growing tight as it strained to supply her body. Ljilja wrung every last bit of energy out of her small frame, but was fighting a losing battle. A meager meal and maladjusted lungs took an increasing toll with each step. She spied a water fountain up ahead and gazed needily at it. Then she wrested her eyes free to focus on the track. "No...I need to get stronger!

But willpower alone could not sustain her. As the finish line drew nearer, Ljilja's vision drained completely. She gasped deeply, but it was not air she needed. Her sprint fell to a stumble, her stumble to collapse. She came to the ground with a disturbingly hard thud, body crumpling upon the floor, where she lay motionless.


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Character Portrait: Yeqon Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Kore
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#, as written by Scra

Location: Father

Speech Color: #456d57 | Thought Color: #09444c

Yeqon ignored Kore's dramatic flare as he placed himself beside her. Blindly gazing into the crowd, he reminisced the lost moments he spent in peace while eating strawberries in the monitoring room.

Kore's shining eyes glued onto Yeqon, cueing him, "...Yeqon." He glanced at Kore to see a satisfied smile. He closed his eyes and returned his gaze toward the crowd of fifty mutants, memorizing their faces as Kore chattered away.

"What do you think, Yeqon? See any potential winners?" Refocusing his attention, Yeqon glanced down at Kore. He sighed, seeing how Kore wasn't even hiding her disappointment in Yeqon for not paying attention to her speech.

"...Apologizes." He scanned the crowd of mutants, going through the list of information he read about each contestant. He took his time, trying his best to find an appropriate answer for Kore.

"...I see around..." He listed the names in his head, "...20 potentials...19." He watched as a mutant he tagged as a potential winner stared dreamily at another female mutant. Emotions produce wavering judgment and can get you killed.

Blinking a few times, he stared into Kore's golden eyes. He didn't make any outward mistakes, but he felt Kore's slight disappointment. After stepping onto center stage and the lights illuminated on him, Yeqon blanked. He still had enough attention that if a situation broke out, he could respond appropriately, but what Kore wanted was for Yeqon to share his thoughts on her performance. A performance he paid zero attention to after saying his name.

His eyes narrowed; some would think he was glaring at Kore, "...Would a drink...make up for my mistake?" Yeqon's tone didn't change from its usual lifelessness. However, his words were sincere.

He didn't know how to fix the situation as the moment already passed. Therefore, the next step is to appease Kore by offering her some of his time. Eon always mentioned to him that ladies like attention, so maybe Kore would feel better if Yeqon gave her some of his attention. Hopefully.

Short screams echoed the steel halls of the mutant quarters. Two mutants were petrifying underneath the gaze of a tall, dark-skinned man.

"...Place them in their quarters." The two trembled a few feet away from Yeqon. Their bodies were decorated in whip marks, and small streams of blood flowed from each wound.

This whole situation started because of a petty fight. While focused on fighting, the mutants were interrupted by a weak-looking human. All they wanted to do was intimidate him. However, the ending result was horrifying. Their entire bodies stung with wounds. The guards grabbed the mutants by their necks and dragged them away.

Examining his body, Yeqon located blood splatter decorating his sleeve and shirt. If the two guards on duty with Yeqon hadn't watched the fight, they wouldn't have believed someone as weak-looking as Yeqon could subdue such beasts.

"...Y...Yes?" His throat was dry. Yeqon glanced at the two gawking guards, hoping neither realized the crack in his voice.

"N-No, Sir!" The two spoke in unison. They had witnessed a display of cruelty from Yeqon. There have been rumors about how merciless Yeqon was, but they have never confirmed them. Until now.

Yeqon sighed. He exited the room and journeyed down the hall. The guards rushed to keep up with him. Initially, Yeqon made the trip to the mutants' quarters because of a fight alert. Usually, things like this would be ignored. However, the mutants were causing too much of a disturbance.

While walking toward the Mutant gym, Yeqon listened to the whispers of the guards behind him.

"...He's so meticulous. Why must we monitor these lowly animals? Getting into a fight or two should be fine?"

"Yeah, but now we're stuck wandering around the freaks."

"This sucks. When will we be done?"

"Go home."

The two guards froze in horror, their eyes glued on Yeqon's face. His voice made them shiver, "Go home..."

The guards hesitated for a moment before jumping at Yeqon's voice, growing colder, "Now."

They scurried away. Yeqon gazed at their figures until they disappeared from his sight.

He needed to go home too, he thought of Eon asking about his day, and a small smile danced onto his lips.

Solidifying his goal, Yeqon went to check the gym before retiring for the night.

Entering the gymnasium, Yeqon heard some loud pants. He raised an eyebrow spying a blue-skinned girl. Looking more closely at her appearance, he noticed she was an aquatic-type mutant.

Deciding nothing needed to be done here, Yeqon turned around. Ready to go home, he suddenly heard a thud. Freezing, Yeqon glanced behind him to see a scene that made him curse internally. Today really wasn't his day.


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The Fall


Rapid footsteps clattered on the hard track surface, the gait of a tall and lanky man very much in a hurry. A stinging metallic smell began to taint the air around Ljilja's body. Crouching beside her on one knee, Yeqon furrowed his brows and ran his icy blue eyes over her to try to identify the source. His focus was drawn to a growing crimson stain on the side of her bright blue hair.

Should he move her? Should he call for help? Had there been a death so soon? Would this weigh against him and Kore? He frowned. Choosing to act decisively, he braced his arms and scooped the young girl up, discovering...she weighed hardly anything. Even limp, she was scarcely more difficult to carry than a small pack or a well-stuffed pillow. That, he suspected, was not a good sign. That and the blood beginning to stain his clothes.

Unmoving and unresponsive, Ljilja drew labored breaths. Yeqon would have to diagnose her injuries on his own. Drawing a sigh, he carefully cradled her in his arms and searched for wounds. Abrasions across her side, arm, and ear showed mottled patches of torn fabric and broken skin, freshly dripping. His eyes briefly glanced to the track, where a bloody smear trailed its way to where her body had lain. So there was the scent of the blood - but why was she unconscious?

His ears were drawn to the hoarseness of her breathing, his eyes to her chapped lips and distinct lack of sweat - it was as though she were trying to hang on to every last drop of water she could. Moreover, her skin was a pale blue, like someone who had held their breath for too long. Observing that her mutations were aquatic in nature, he surmised that it would take water to revive her.

Rising to his feet, Yeqon clutched Ljilja to himself, her legs dangling over the support of his arm, and began carrying her to a nearby fountain. His steps carried a certain urgency - there were cameras rolling, and if the Editors had half a mind, they would plaster this scene all over the feeds.

But, just then, a new presence greeted him from around the corner, causing him to stop in his tracks: a familiar snowy-haired manager flanked by a small, froglike mutant in a maid uniform.

"Oh, sorry," he quipped, remarking on Yeqon carrying his charge over the threshold, "I won't disturb you two." His arms folded and a smirk crept onto his face.

Yeqon froze in his tracks. He and Jaden were verbal sparring partners at the best of times - and this was one of the worst times. "Mister Kumar," he ordered, invoking authority by using his surname, "come here."

Jaden stood resolute. Each of their encounters was like playing chess, and this latest meeting was the beginning of yet another game.

It took the panicked warbling of Jaden's servant, Zorana, to bring both of them to their senses. With an urgency that neither seemed to possess, she tearfully rushed up to Ljilja, her little webbed hands roaming over her to try and see what was wrong. Yeqon held Ljilja still for the maidservant to examine her. She signed desperately towards him, repeatedly dipping her hand with crossed fingers. Realizing that Yeqon could not understand her, she repeated the motion to Jaden.

"She needs..."

Next, a broad, sweeping motion.

"...the pool? She says to put Ljilja in the pool," Jaden explained.

Yeqon ever so faintly raised his brows. Part of him wanted to praise the young maiden for her sense and the boldness to act independently. Even if it was frowned upon for mutant slaves to show such autonomy, Yeqon did not share such an attitude. Maybe he and Jaden had more in common than they thought. Still, a game was afoot. After the three walked together towards the pool, Yeqon turned to Jaden, attempting to press the body of his competitor into his arms.

Jaden kept his arms folded.

"Take her, Mister Kumar." Answering the advance of Jaden's pawn, Yeqon played knight to king. Check.

Zorana was done indulging them. "Hrrrp hrrrr!" she yelled, stamping her feet all the way over to Yeqon, whose tie she insistently tugged.

This might have been a death sentence for most mutants. Fortunately, Yeqon had a soft spot for courageous slaves - she reminded him of his own Eon. A chuckle left his lips, and he waded into the pool with Ljilja, slowly immersing her into the water.

Zorana breathed a sigh of relief, and Jaden unfolded his arms.

Within moments, Ljilja expelled the air from her lungs, taking in the water instead. She sank further beneath the surface, drifting out of Yeqon's arms, as she gradually awakened.

"Well done, Zorana," Jaden praised. Zorana immediately reported to his side, where he affectionately rubbed her head. It seemed Yeqon was not the only one with a soft spot for mutants.

Ljilja spat out the water and surfaced. She rubbed at her head, looking at the three in confusion. Zorana began to rapidly sign to her, to which she answered, and the two conversed rapidly, their hands an traceless blur to untrained eyes.

"A suggestion, Mister Kumar," Yeqon called, drawing Jaden's attention, "we ought to do something about the cameras. It will not...appeal to the public...that your maid showed such spirit."

Zorana paused in her signing to bashfully sway in place, then returned to her conversation with Ljilja.

"Well, the Editors are watching and listening. Just say 'Yeqon will come after you' loud enough and they'll get the message," Jaden suggested.

Perhaps it was exhaustion from the late and sleepless hour, but Yeqon could not help but laugh at the mental picture of the look on the face of the recipients of such a threat. "Sure," he answered, "I hope they're listening." He turned to one of the nearby cameras, his laughter vanishing, replaced with a cold and murderous gaze. "Tread very carefully," he warned to any observers, "I am a Cryo; we do not take kindly to trouble."

After delivering his message, he turned to Jaden, his voice noticeably softer. His eyes held a playful spark. This was rather fun. "Mister you believe my message was appropriately delivered?"

"Couldn't've said it better myself," Jaden answered. He noticed that Zorana and Ljilja had stopped signing to one another; he turned to his competitor.

Ljilja stood sullen in the water, bearing a remorseful frown. "I'm sor—" she began to say, just in time for Jaden to interject, "Are you okay?"

She shook her arm and rubbed at her head. "I'm...fine, I think. Just my head hurts."

"Zora, take her to the infirmary," Jaden ordered. Without hesitation, she waded into the pool in uniform, retrieving Ljilja by the hand. "Have her checked for a concussion."

Zorana guided Ljilja from the pool and began to lead her out of the room. As she passed Jaden, he frowned with disapproval. "Take it easy, little fish. We'll talk after."

She was not looking forward to that conversation.

On the Mend


Tap. Tap-tap. Tap. Rubbing at the back of her head with one hand, Gertrude, one of the late shift physicians, sleepily punched Ljilja's information into a holopad after a brief interview and a quick body scan. Her retractable hot pink nails poked clean through the transparent surface with each keystroke.

"Your body's not meant for this sorta thing, hon'," Gertrude chided. Ljilja could only bashfully nod, bunching up her shoulders and staring furtively at the floor.

"I'm confinin' you ta medbay 'til you get a good night's sleep. Doc's orders." Ljilja opened her mouth to protest, but— "Ap-bap-bap! I could write you up to sendja home right now, you know that? An' I probably should, by the looks o' ya. Acute exsiccosis. Yer a water-breather, ain'tcha?"

Ljilja nodded again. She gripped at the sheets of the small foam mattress she was guided to rest upon.

"It's a miracle you still got the workin' parts to keep yer head above water. You push 'em too hard, they just might stop," Gertrude warned. With that, she stood from her swiveling chair, pad in hand, and stepped towards the door, her heels clacking against the hard gray flooring. She paused to glance back at Ljilja, letting out a sigh.

"I'm lettin' yer manager in now. I imagine he's got his spiel to give, too. If he tells ya to throw in the towel...maybe listen, huh?"

Raising her gaze from the ground, Ljilja cocked her head over to Gertrude, blue eyes widening.

"Just a thought."

With that, she passed through the doorway, which slid open with a pleasant chirp.

Jaden slipped through the door a few moments after. He held a mug of hot, steaming brown, which filled the room with its warm yet bitter scent. He rolled his shoulders, took a sip, then leant upon the wall. Even at a distance, his comparatively enormous height intimidated Ljilja. She curled up her knees upon the bed and hugged them to herself, a position he was getting accustomed to seeing her in. Jaden yawned, then swished around some of the liquid in his half-empty cup.

"She says you're an aquatic," he began.

Ljilja held silent as the tension grew thick in the air—Jaden was not the best at small talk, especially not in situations like this. He drew a breath, then continued.

"And that you're probably going to die in the first round if I don't pull you out or get you a steady stream of water."

Grumbling, Ljilja finally spoke up. "I was just fine at Fort Kate. I can breathe air."

"Of course you can," he said with a groan, rubbing at his temples. "Look, I told you to train, not run a marathon on the first day."

"I was doing my best...usually, I run with Longjacks instead. With them, I have no problems," Ljilja explained.

"And what happens when they go dry?"

Silence returned to the room, broken up only by the idle hum of medical machinery. Ljilja did not have a satisfying answer to give.

"You need friends, little fish. And sponsors. Bad. I didn't know it was this bad, though." He swished his coffee around, then took a bubbling sip from the still-hot mug.

He...didn't suggest that she quit.

"Training can wait. You sleep, I'll put together interviews. It's going to be a long night," he mused before abruptly downing the entire mug. Then, with one hand, he began Fin-signing.

Tap-tap, swim-swim. 'Be careful, little fish.'

He was...still supporting her. Did he still believe in her?

Jaden smirked and departed from the room. Ljilja watched after him as he left the doorway, staring long after he was gone and the lights were lowered to help her sleep.

She shuffled beneath the blankets and stared at the ceiling. Why was he learning her language? Why didn't he tell her to go home? Why didn't he lecture her nearly as badly as the doctor had? And who was the girl he had with her earlier?

She closed her eyes, purging her mind of thought. She sat straight on her back and, in time, fell unconscious once more.


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Mining Claim 4008 - Sector Džhe


"Ljiljica," a man's tender voice spoke, with a gravely warmth like the embers of a summer campfire.

"Da, tata?" Ljilja answered immediately, hanging on his every word.

An enormous hand came to rest upon the young girl's head, gently brushing through her hair. Her strands caught the ocean current and drifted like little locks of blue seaweed. She winced a little―her head hurt, but she could not recall why.

"You are always try so hard," he answered, his speech broken but earnest. "Just like mama."

Ljilja stifled a giggle as he ruffled her hair some more. "Tell me again. What is mama like?"

No longer did Ljilja feel the pressure of the ocean depths, but she was seamlessly transported into a small bed in a cozy little apartment. She scarcely noticed the difference. "Your mama is special," he affirmed, planting a kiss to her forehead as he tucked her in. "Never mean or angry or wanting for herself." With a dreamy longing, he added, "She is my heart forever."

Ljilja beamed up at him with wonder, clinging to her blanket. "Will I meet her someday?"

"You will," he confidently assured her. "We all be together soon."

"How do you know?"

He dropped his weight upon a chair across from her bed, his stocky body creating a sizable thump. Ljilja loved it when he did that.

"Because I work very hard to make it so."

Ljilja pouted. That wasn't an answer, at least not one she was satisfied with. "But how do you know?"

"We never know, Ljiljica," he answered bluntly. Ljilja furrowed her brows, watching him from her bed. "But we try with our everything like we do." He grinned and chuckled heartily. "This is the difference between happy man and sad man. The happy man always try."

The boulder of a man rose from his seat, his plodding boot-steps bringing him closer to the bed one last time. He took one of Ljilja's hands and clasped it tenderly. She held his in return. "Laku noć, ribice," he murmured, wishing the 'little fish' a good night. But as he turned to leave, he was made to pause by a little hand that refused to let go.

"Tata..." she whispered, panic filling in her eyes. Something was wrong―she could feel it.

He soothingly ran his fingers through her hair one last time. "It is okay, Ljiljica. I will see you in the morning."

"Promise?" she pleaded.

"Da. Promise."

The Unwanted Present


Opening her eyes, Ljilja examined her surroundings. This was not her bed. She looked to her arm, seeing an tube connected to one of her veins, continuously administering fluid to keep her hydrated. Then, she gasped, recalling all at once that she had been chosen for the Games, that she had been injured, that she had been brought to the infirmary. None of it mattered. She shut her eyes, curling up in bed and going still, trying desperately to return to the dream world.

Molim, molim, ne, molim... she begged, giving way to tears. Moj tata...

A lump formed in her throat, and she grabbed her pillow, clutching it tight and sobbing bitterly into it. She held it with all her might, hoping and trying that she could return if only she willed it strongly enough. But as the minutes dragged on, she could not find rest again.

"Obećao si...obećao si, tata!" she shouted into the pillow, grinding her face into it. In rage, she threw the pillow against the wall. She immediately came to regret it, as she did not have another one to take solace in. Realizing this, she lay flat on her back, eyes stinging as she glared at the ceiling and the tears streamed freely.

It was some time before she was ready to face the world again.

Doctor Chancy permitted her to rest until midday, per Gertrude's recommendation. When she appeared, her words were sparse; she said only what needed to be said. She removed Ljilja's IV, coaxed her into taking some pills―Ljilja did not care to question what their purpose was―then ran a quick test before signing her release.

"You are free to go."

"Mmm?" Ljilja asked, turning towards the doctor, as though a trance had been suddenly broken. She had gotten out of bed somewhere along the way, standing barefoot on the cold, hard floor.

"A change of clothes is waiting for you in your room. Would you like someone to direct you there?"

Ljilja squinted and blinked in confusion. She was still having trouble processing everything.

"You poor dear. Here, I'll go with you; my shift is almost up, anyhow."

The cams got an eyeful. The feeds were plastered with images of the first injured competitor, and of the modern-day Nightingale who escorted her to her quarters. What was the cause? Sabotage? Details were scarce, vague, and shrouded in mystery. Surely the cameras would have caught who did it and how...unless they, too, were sabotaged. What a way to kick off the hundredth Game of Pursuit!

Pods orbited the two at a distance as they walked, keeping an eye on them at all times.

"Here―Room 43."

"Thank you," Ljilja answered in a raspy voice.

"You drink plenty of water, now."

Ljilja nodded.

"Alright, then. You know where to find us if you need anything. Bye now," the doctor said before walking off in the direction from which she came.

Ljilja swiped her bracelet along the receiver and stepped inside.

She hadn't the presence of mind to revel in the luxury of her accommodations. Once behind closed doors, she discarded her medical gown and replaced it with casual clothes―a black tank top and gray shorts. Then, she seated herself upon the bed, letting out a long, quiet sigh.

I thought these days were over. She let herself fall backwards, landing on the mattress with a soft thud. I can't change that he's gone.

She felt at her head and arm, sensing the tenderness of her skin. I don't want to die, too, she thought. But she also recalled his words. I must try, or I will not be happy.

Is happiness worth dying for?

She thought long and hard. She imagined her father, still alive somewhere, and what he would urge her to do―what he would say.

How do I know if it's worth it?

She could almost hear his reply, just like in the dream. We never know, Ljiljica.

But we try with our everything like we do.


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Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Kore
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Room 43


Brrrt-bi-beep. A chime at Ljilja's door signaled the arrival of a visitor. The young girl groaned softly; she was far from being in the mood for hospitality, but courtesy made few considerations for difficulty. With theatrical effort, she heaved her little body upright, sliding off of the bed and to her feet. But before she could reach the door, it slid open.

"Morning, sleepyhead," she was greeted. It was the voice of her manager, Jaden, no doubt come to bring un-glad tidings. And, indeed, he wasted no time in saying, "The head Overseer wants to see us."

Ljilja blinked in confusion. Had she done something wrong? "Why?" she asked.

"Well, she probably wants an explanation for last night."

Grimacing, Ljilja looked down to her feet. She had already been enough of a burden—for the man she had met yesterday, for the medical staff, and for her manager—she did not want to create even more trouble.

"Come along, little fish," Jaden commanded.

Thus the two began to walk the hallways on the path to the overseers' chamber, where they had been instructed to present themselves. Ljilja gulped anxiously; in her rush to comply, she had forgotten to put on shoes, but was far too worried about arriving late to speak up and return for them.

Was the head Overseer so concerned for Ljilja's safety that she called her in for a personal review? No, that didn't make sense. Humans didn't care about mutants to nearly such an extent, even if the mutant was in their care. Surely she was expendable in the eyes of the organizer of a competition which resulted in the inevitable death of its participants. So, then, she was in trouble. But just what sort of trouble?

She looked up to Jaden, searching his face for clues. He wore his signature smile, as though he hadn't a care in the world. Ljilja had no idea how he could be so nonchalant about the matter. This was Kore Mars they were going to be answering to!

Finally, they arrived at the door. It opened for Jaden, and he escorted Ljilja inside. They found themselves in a large, spacious meeting room, furnished with comfy recliners and luxurious sofas, centered around a great holotable that displayed whatever information or video feeds the overseers desired. And within, Kore waited, styled to a T by the finest fashions molded to suit her personal tricolor branding.

It was immediately apparent that nobody involved but Kore had any interest in being there. Sensing the tension emanating from the confrontation, Kore's servant promptly dismissed herself with an, "I'll be just outside." While Jaden kept his composure with his signature smirk, Ljilja was a wilted flower in the heat—her shoulders hunched forward, her knees bent inward, her fingers twiddled with one another.

Kore gestured to the seats, putting on a winning smile. "Please, sit," she instructed, adding, "Don't worry, neither of you are in any trouble."

Jaden didn't believe it for a second, though it was hard to read as much. He strode confidently to the nearest armchair and leant back in it, getting comfortable. On the other hand, Ljilja was immediately trusting, and the relief on her face was palpable. She plopped herself down in the middle of an enormous couch, looking not unlike a single rice grain in a large bowl.

Testing the waters, Jaden replied with snark. "Are you sure? I could make some, if you like."

But Kore did not budge. It took much more effort to provoke a response from her, and she was laser-focused on getting answers. Jaden was out of his element.

"Let's get right to business, then; shall we?"

Jaden waved a go-ahead. Ljilja shifted to the edge of the couch and sat up straight, preparing herself.

"Last night the cams in the gym shut off. Ljilja here can be seen just before the feeds go out. According to security logs, she was the only one present at the time." Her smile unchanging, she began the interrogation. "Care to explain?"

"W-well, so...I fell," Ljilja began, offering her side of the story. The bluntness forced Jaden to choke back laughter, which he covered over by clearing his throat.

Kore cocked her head to the side, part of her ornately braided hair sliding down her shoulder. "Yes, I know that, but it doesn't exactly explain why the cams went out." Without any sort of tell or fidget, Kore gave little clue as to her thought process or emotional state. It was, at best, disorienting. Surely she was an absolute menace at poker.

Ljilja struggled to come up with a proper answer. "You don't have to worry; you can be honest here. It's just us," Kore said before drawing attention to the plates laid out on the table. Ljilja hadn't even noticed them. "Are you hungry? By now you must have missed breakfast."

Ljilja looked towards them, hardly believing her eyes. Sea creatures of all shapes and sizes, delicacies from her homeland, even treats she never had the opportunity to try before! This was for her? "Really? Is it okay? I haven't eaten anything in...a while," Ljilja meekly answered.

Kore nodded with a welcoming smile. "Of course! I had these prepared since I had a feeling you hadn't eaten after being discharged from the medical bay," she assured Ljilja, who had already begun devouring food from the first nod. "Speaking of which… how are your wounds?"

Not wanting to talk with her mouth full, she gulped down a sizable chunk of mutant trout before answering. She looked herself over. "They still sting, but..." Ljilja answered plainly, her demeanor rapidly calming, "they put some kind of spray on it; it's supposed to be all better by tomorrow. You guys have some really cool medical tech!"

Ljilja's childlike wonder seemed to disarm Jaden—the sharpness in his eyes softened just enough for Kore to notice—or maybe it was because Kore was pampering his competitor.

"I'm overjoyed to hear you'll be all better by tomorrow! Sounds like they used ani-spray; that stuff can sting a lot," Kore replied, sounding even bubblier than usual. With Ljilja sufficiently plied, she delved deeper. "How did you end up falling?"

By now, Ljilja was an open book. In between bites, she answered, "Um, so...I tried to do some endurance running and pushed myself too hard. I blacked out, and everything after that is kind of blurry."

Kore leant forward, paying close attention so as not to miss a word. She was finally getting what she assembled them for. "And when you woke up, you were in the med bay?"

Ljilja shook her head. "No, I woke up in the pool. There was someone else there with me. I don't know who it was, but I think they rescued me. I didn't get their name...I wanted to say 'Thank you.'"

Kore masked her surprise well, only revealing the expected level of intrigue. "Interesting. It sounds like they tossed you in there." Kore gave the matter a few moments of thought, then clapped her hands together in resolution of something. "Well, those are all the questions I had for you. Thank you for your honesty. If you want to take back any of the food with you, you're more than welcome to."

Ljilja did not need to be told twice. She stood, and, after a deep bow, thanked Kore before beginning to scoop plates up. Jaden, seeing her efforts with her small arms were in vain, pitched in to help her carry the multi-course meal, before beginning to accompany her out of the overseers' room. "Thank you so much!" Ljilja called out. "I-it was nice to meet you!"

"It was a pleasure," Kore answered, waggling her fingers in parting. "I hope we get to meet again in the future. Oh, and Jaden, once you return Ljilja to her quarters, I'd like to speak with you for a few moments. Just to go over some files."

Jaden's displeasure was well-masked, but still faintly readable to a trained eye. "Of course."

The door slid shut behind them as they left the overseers' room and returned to Ljilja's quarters. On the journey, they said little. Ljilja was too focused on the food, and Jaden was unwilling to open up about the looming threat of having to face Kore's interrogation alone. He helped set a buffet's worth of seafood upon her bed and dismissed himself, all without losing his trademark smirk. "See you around, little fish."

If he survived the encounter to come, that was.


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Character Portrait: Yeqon Character Portrait: Ljilja
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#, as written by Scra
The Passing of an Eon?
Note: This post was written collaboratively and then reformatted with approval from both parties.

Yeqon made his way toward the overseers' room at a leisurely pace. He felt eyes silently trained on him. He knew why.

"...Is there something on me, Eon?", his monotone voice purposely reached the ears of the spectators, despite Eon being the only intended listener.

"No sir. In fact, if I may be so bold, you look quite dashing." Eon's blank expression didn't match his gracious compliment.

After receiving a call on his holo tab from Kore to meet, Yeqon noticed that Eon had become distracted. He could have guessed as to why but chose not to.

"...Is that so..." The area turned quiet. Yeqon stopped walking, his shoes making an audible clicking sound at his halt. His sharp eyes slowly surveyed the spectators, who turned to avoid his gaze.

"...Rumors travel fast..." Yeqon stood in place until the spectators could no longer bear the icy atmosphere and scurried away. He resumed his walk.

"Eon...I need a favor." Yeqon halted once more, stopping just in front of the door to the overseer's room, "Bring me...headache medicine...from the infirmary."

Eon glanced at Yeqon's blank expression and spotted his slightly furrowed eyebrows, "Yes, Master."


"I know where to go, Master. I memorized the area from the virtual map you showed me."

Yeqon nodded. He prepared Eon for today by providing him with the layout of the area. They could never be too careful.

"Alright...keep your collar visible." Yeqon didn't wait for a response before leaving Eon behind.

The mutant glanced at the extravagant collar strapped around his neck. He traced the Cryo seal etched on its leather fabric. The collar outshined the simple black suit and red tie he was wearing. He hated it but knew it was his only lifeline without Yeqon.

Eon sighed and went off to complete his task.

Will I see her?

Eon's eyes slyly traced every mutant he passed on his way to fulfill his master’s task. He was looking for someone.

Laughter echoed in the halls from the circles of socializing mutants happily clamoring away about their homes, reasons for being here, or the hottest rumors that had begun to spring up.

Eon kept a straight face, remembering the words Yeqon spoke before they came here: Ignore it. The Games, the festive atmosphere despite hell being closer than ever, ignore everything.

Accepting Yeqon's advice, Eon ignored his pitiful thoughts. No one was brought here against their will. They knew the danger, knew the risks. He simply needed to focus on his task...and the goal he set for himself.

Turning a corner to the infirmary, Eon's eyes locked onto a rather meek-looking mutant. He gasped quietly, she matched Yeqon's description. He had found her!

Eon sighed. He felt ashamed for being so happy about tracking down such a weak-looking mutant. She was pale, scrawny, and from the looks of it, recently injured. No wonder his Master didn't discuss the issue, even Eon felt bad for her after seeing her appearance.

What was he even going to do? Talk? About what? Eon silently cursed at himself as he got closer to the girl. He knew he shouldn't speak...he needed to keep to himself...

"...Excuse me." Eon paused a small distance away from the small mutant, his eyes were sharp, contrasting with his gentle smile. "May I trouble you for a moment? I am lost and am looking for the infirmary."

Eon sized her up. She was hardly suited for fierce competition in the Games. Maybe she could be a children's nanny, but she had a short and lithe build that made her similar to a child herself, along with pale bluish skin, a pair of deep, rich azure eyes, and equally blue fluffy hair. Despite her less-than-remarkable stature, she was certainly easy on the eyes.

Not exactly fit for the particular murderous activities soon to take place in just a few days, but that was hardly Eon's problem. At least, so he believed until she flashed an angelic smile and extended her little palm toward Eon. "Sure! Follow me!"

...Does she want to hold...hands?

Eon flinched slightly, not expecting her to readily agree to his request. Was she always this...trusting?

His sharp eyes quietly analyzed the unexpected mutant in front of him. Eon took this opportunity and decided to go along with the small girl. Perhaps she had some ulterior motive behind her apparent kindness.

He graciously returned her smile, "Thank you. Although..." He glanced down at her hand that was still stretched toward him, "I am not in need of a literal helping hand. A guide will be just fine." He chuckled a little, hiding his true intentions.

She squeaked, then blushed and retracted her hand. "Ah, sorry!" she quickly apologized, bowing her head. "U-um...this way," she said, her little shoes quietly tapping on the floor as she began to walk towards what Eon knew was the direction of the infirmary. She seemed to be honestly guiding strange.

Eon walked closely behind her, but her strides proved much shorter than his own. He felt a sense of pity, and so, with difficulty, he slowed his steps in an attempt to match hers. It didn't help that every few seconds the perky mutant would glance back and flash a little smile every time they made eye contact. His heart began to hurt for reasons he did not understand, and so he began avoiding her gaze.

It was a quiet journey for the first two minutes. Eon pondered how to break the silence to ask his questions...did he really have to worry so much?

"What's your name? Where are you from? Are you feeling okay?" Her curiosity bubbled forth freely and made her seem that much more vulnerable.

The quick attack of questions made Eon's eyebrow twitch. Was she a fool? He kept an amiable smile, but could not answer. He was stunned.

Yes, he acknowledged to himself, his personal judgment of the mutant had been harsh. If these were normal circumstances, her questions wouldn't have been so misplaced. However, these were not normal circumstances. This was a place where someone could easily kill her. Of course, the rules officially protected her, but Eon well knew that rules could only go so far.

He kept his focus on the bubbling ball of sunshine and curiosity in front of him. In Eon’s eyes, she seemed as if she were only a small child, innocently excited at the prospect of getting to know a new friend. Part of Eon felt endeared to this; another felt dread for the girl, whose open nature seemed impossibly out of place.

"...Hmmm...I thought it was a rule of thumb to introduce yourself first before asking, but maybe I was wrong." Eon picked at her lack of etiquette, but his voice was warm nonetheless. "My name is Eon. I am the servant of Yeqon Cryo, and I am feeling fine." He addressed her questions one by one, providing only what was necessary to directly answer them.

She covered her mouth and gasped at the realization of her own impoliteness, then let her hands fall to her sides, balling them into tiny fists. "Ack, I'm sorry! I just...I had a weird night," she offered in apology, "It's nice to meet you, Eon. My name is Ljilja." With that, she meekly turned away and continued walking, her head slightly downcast.

Eon observed the unique mutant in front of him. Her steps, though steady, were unsteadied, as if she had gotten lost in thought. Eon chuckled silently to himself, realizing that, in some small way, she reminded him of his master.

"Yeqon...oh! That's what his name was! The one who was at the opening speech! I met him yesterday, sort of."

At that moment, he realized Ljilja’s foolishness was not an act.

Eon's eyes widened. He froze in place before glancing around. He checked their surroundings, making sure no one was around to listen. He knew the cameras were watching, they were always watching, but he didn't worry about them.

He stayed in place, calling out to Ljilja, "...Ms. Ljilja..."

She turned and Eon flinched again as he stared into her shining eyes. He kept an amiable smile, though he felt uncomfortable for questioning such an innocent being.

However, his Master's affairs were a top priority. "If I heard correctly, you met my Master yesterday? If it isn't too much trouble, can you explain what you mean? Quickly." His voice grew colder, pressuring her to hurry up.

Eon didn't want someone to come and interrupt their conversation. At the very least, he needed to know what she remembered and warn her against speaking about it.

A bead of sweat formed on his neck when Ljilja paused in her steps. He could see the gears turning in her head. Though he wasn’t a mind reader, her face told him she was weighing his request.

Her speech grew rapid and to-the-point. "I passed out in the gym and woke up in the pool with him standing next to me. Then my manager sent me to the infirmary."

Eon’s breath caught in his throat at her next words: "I wanted to say thanks. Can you tell him, 'Thank you' for me? Or...can I meet him?"

He opened and closed his mouth a few times. He wanted to speak, but nothing would come out. Instead, a deep feeling of guilt overwhelmed him. In this short moment of time, Eon realized he needed to completely change his evaluation of the mutant called Ljilja.

Her words stuck inside his head - ‘thank you.’ She wanted to thank his master… No. That could not be allowed to happen. This whole mess started because she passed out and his Master went to help her.

Eon sighed as he took it all in. The more he thought about it, the more he could see similarities between Ljilja and his master. Yeqon was nowhere near as clueless as her, but they were both honest. Neither had hidden agendas or motivations behind their actions. Still...he needed to handle this issue.

Staring into Ljilja's eyes, he decided to match honesty with honesty. "Ms. Ljilja, I will deliver your 'Thank you' to my Master. However, you can not speak a word about what happened that night, no matter who asks you..."

He paused, his eyes softening along with his tone of voice, "Ms. Ljilja, due to yesterday's events, my Master is in trouble. He is handling it, but things will only get worse the more people learn about the incident...if you want to thank my master, forget about the whole situation. If that is not possible, then act like nothing happened...please." Eon slightly bowed his head to her.

Usually, he'd handle a problem with cold words, fists, and threats, but not this one. Someone so innocent responded better to gentleness. Also...Eon didn't feel right keeping her in the dark about a problem in which she was directly involved.

He watched carefully as Ljilja furrowed her brows. A small sigh escaped from her lips and Eon internally began to panic. Did he need to apply force? Was the request too much for her?

"I don't get it, but okay," she answered, motioning a zipping of her lips with her thumb and forefinger, "I don't want to get him in any trouble."

For the first time since this incident began, Eon felt his body relax. He couldn't help but chuckle at her childish gesture. "Thank you very much Ms. Ljilja. I appreciate your cooperation."

Eon truly appreciated her, not just for agreeing to his request, but for being so trusting in a situation in which she could have easily taken a defensive position. A stranger suddenly orders her to stay silent about an issue that has nothing to do with him. Anyone might have dismissed the request, however, she chose to listen and take it to heart. Eon was grateful for this.

He bowed his head again, when he lifted it, he flashed Ljilja a bright smile that lit up his golden eyes, “I will be sure to deliver your message to my Master,” he whispered quietly.

Ljilja grinned in response, nodding her head gratefully. She was true to her word and didn't mention the subject again. Instead, she started to walk along again, waving him onward as she neared the infirmary.

"So...what's it like being a servant? Do you enjoy it?" she asked.

Eon followed her lead as he pondered on the question. It wasn't difficult to answer, especially since his master didn't really require a lot of serving. Despite the occasional situations like this one, Eon's job was simple. He did enjoy it compared to his previous placement. Also...he blushed a little as his thoughts drifted to Yeqon.

He cleared his throat. "It is certainly better than other jobs I could be doing. ‘Enjoy’...might not be the best word to describe it, but since I can't think of another one, yes, I enjoy it."

Ljilja responded in a cheery tone, "I'm glad to hear that."

Eon glanced at the small mutant, asking something in return. "How about you, Ms. Ljilja? Have you adjusted to your current role as a competitor?" He didn't want to ask if she enjoyed could you enjoy a situation where death waits around every corner?

Her smile, once bright as a star, faded until it vanished altogether, like watching a fire rapidly burn out. "I wanted to get a head start training and injured myself," she spoke about the incident, but only repeating what was public knowledge. "I have no sponsors and no friends in the Games. And I'm not strong enough to survive on my own."

She stopped short of the infirmary, looking down to her feet and curling her hands into little fists once more. Her speech grew quiet and bitter. "I keep trying my best, but I keep failing. If something doesn't change soon, I'm going to die out there."

Eon froze. He didn't note her as the type to have any worries. Listening to her words, she clearly wasn't as clueless as he previously thought either. She at least understood the gravity of her current situation.

He wanted to say something...but did he have the right? He lived in a different world. Even her struggles were not something he could properly relate to.

But seeing her so disheartened gnawed at his conscience. "Ms. need to change, but how will one day of exercising make up for what you lack?" Eon glanced over her appearance. "You are clearly weaker than most mutants. Also, you are far too trusting in my opinion to be a part of these Games." His words were harsh, but everything he said was the truth.

"However..." he waited for her to look at him, "All I have heard from you is about the things you don't have or can't do. Though I am not in a situation nearly as strenuous as your own, I can say this, sometimes starting with the stuff you can do is much more important than trying to fix the stuff you can't."

He glanced at the small injuries over her body, "Sponsors are attracted to certain aspects of a mutant, three A's, remember them well. Appearance. Attitude. Ability. Appearance. Use what you have, Ms. Ljilja. From my observation you just need to eat more and rest, then you will be fine. Attitude. A sponsor doesn't want a mutant who is uncertain in themselves, however, a positive mutant who never gives up? Everyone loves an underdog story." Eon patted the top of her head, "Ability...right now getting stronger is essential but you don't have time. So start with strengthening your strengths. Instead of trying to bulk up and ruining your health, train your mind instead. Surviving is about mental strength too."

"I'll keep trying," she answered in response to Eon's words, "Thank you...very much," her breath caught in her throat and her eyes began to water.

Eon flinched as he caught the start of her tears. He wasn't good with small creatures crying, but he felt she needed it, so he didn't stop her.

He awkwardly continued to pat her head, keeping his voice as gentle as he could. "You're welcome, Ms. Ljilja. I'll be rooting for you, so keep trying."

He stopped patting her. His eyes softened as she fought back her sobs and cleared her throat. Eon's heart ached silently.

She swiped her bracelet across the door to the infirmary, he gazed inside, knowing it was time for them to part ways.

"S-see you...I mean, thank you...I mean...I don't know what I mean..." she said, letting out a little tearful giggle.

Eon chuckled at the fumbling mutant, "I hope to see you again, Ms. Ljilja. Thank you for all your help." Eon bowed his head before stepping into the infirmary, giving a short wave goodbye.

While waiting for the nurse to retrieve the pills, Eon felt quite embarrassed at his previous emotions toward Ljilja. He judged such an innocent girl so harshly. But as he thought about the events that had unfolded, he couldn't stop a little smile from creeping onto his face as the image of his new potential friend lingered in his mind.


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Character Portrait: Ljilja Character Portrait: Scout
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The Fish Catching the Wolf


Following Eon's eventual departure from the infirmary, Ljilja slipped by undetected from a corner in which she was hiding to avoid the awkwardness of a reunion so soon. With a swipe of her wristband, the doors opened, and she ventured inside.

Without the distraction of company, her stomach pain had returned in spades. She quickly scurried up to the front desk, gently tapping on the glass barrier between her and the receptionist inside.

"Could I get something for a tummy ache?" she meekly inquired.

"There's a wait. Swipe in and have a seat," she was directed in a monotone voice by an overworked secretary.

"Okay," Ljilja squeaked before passing her hand over a reader, signing in and adding her name to the waitlist. She backed away from the desk and fumbled into the center of the room, glancing around for a free seat. What she found instead made her audibly gasp.

A mangled mess of blood-matted fur sat doubled-over in one of the chairs, pouring crimson on the floor from fresh injuries. Despite the swelling and bruising, Ljilja recognized that face well.

Scout's tail hung pitifully over the edge of her seat, where she sat alone. Even if there had been other mutants waiting, this would probably still have been so; the others had learned to avoid her.

But not Ljilja. One step followed another as she began to approach. She measured her words carefully, fearing that Scout would reject any sympathy offered. She drew a breath and asked, "Hey...can I sit here?"

Ears drooped in discomfort, Scout raised her head just enough to make out Ljilja's form. "Sure," she groaned in assent, supposing that she wouldn't have been able to stop Ljilja either way.

Ljilja took the seat beside her and examined her. She gulped as her eyes traced the injuries. She didn't dare ask what caused them, nor how Scout felt. Instinctively, she reached forward to try and offer a soothing touch, but memories of Scout's prior aversion to contact made her think twice. She retracted her hand.

With a growing malaise and sense of helplessness, Ljilja began to slowly writhe in her seat. More than the stomachache, she longed to help. It physically pained her to be unable to do so. So she averted her gaze at last, folding her hands in her lap and staring at the floor.

"I'm sorry, whatever happened," she murmured.

With a fang-toothed grin, Scout answered, "You should see the other guy."

Ljilja forced a pained smile.

Scout gave Ljilja a once-over, recognizing the sight of recently-applied sprayflesh. "What happened to you? If you're gonna pick fights, at least do it with someone your own size."

Unconvincingly, Ljilja answered, "I-I fell," and quickly changed the subject. "Are you okay?"

Scout cocked her jaw with suspicion. "Yeah, this is nothing," she answered dismissively. Certainly she had been involved in worse scraps.

Ljilja made an awkward attempt at small talk, but something clearly seemed to be bothering her.

"...hey, did someone hurt you or something? I can mess them up for you if you want."

Ljilja firmly shook her head. "No! I just...I'm not supposed to talk about it. I just need to heal and look for interviews."

Scout narrowed her eyes, quickly coming to her own conclusions. She hadn't heard the rumors of what happened yet, but she was drawing close to the common consensus.

"Thank you, though," Ljilja added with another smile, this one warm and true.

Scout pondered pressing the matter, but on further consideration, decided it was best not to. "Alright, if you insist."

They fell silent for a time, the quaint but steady ticking of a wall clock reminding them of the passing seconds.

Ljilja gave bridging the gap another attempt. She set her hand upon the armrest, turning it palmside-up to offer her hand.

Scout squinted at it, furrowing her brows. Not recognizing the significance of the gesture, she shifted away, at which Ljilja frowned.


" you have a favorite drink? Or food?" she asked. Small talk it was.

Scout chuckled softly, swiping at her blood-crusted nose. Though it had stopped bleeding by now, it had run down her face and dribbled down her chin to stain her clothes and her seat. "That's a new one. I dunno, I've never really thought about it. I've always just eaten whatever I could. What about you?"

Such a simple question revealed the enormous disparity of their upbringings. Scout's time in the Wastes had made her a hardy survivor; Ljilja's time at Fort Kate had left her soft and social. Where Scout had drawn a blank, Ljilja's response was immediate, bubbly, and excited.

"So there are these special seeds they crush into a powder, and then they mix it with sugar in hot milk; I don't know where it comes from or what it's called in English, but it is so good..." Finally, she asked, "Would you try some if I got it for you?"

Scout tilted her head curiously. She had never been asked to share in a meal or drink that she could recall, not least for leisure. Some part of her felt uncomfortable with the idea, but there was just a little part of her that grew excited at the prospect. Ljilja was one of the few contestants that didn't seem intimidated or otherwise put off by her appearance or demeanor. Slowly, her ears began to perk up. "Yeah, sure."

Practically leaping for joy, Ljilja got up from her seat, grinning from ear to ear. The pain she had walked in with had all but disappeared.

Just then, the receptionist chimed in, "Scout, the doctor will see you now."

"I'll go get some! Uh...where should we meet?" Ljilja asked. She offered her hand to Scout to help her up, but was rejected once more.

"Dining hall," she answered with a groan as she rose from her seat of her own strength.

Ljilja trusted the medical staff to do their job, so she got right to planning. Jogging in place, she drew closer to the door. "Okay, dining hall. I'll be there; come see me when you're done!" At that, she burst out from the infirmary, eager to see to the arrangements.

Coy Fish


Seated in a quiet corner of the room at a table for two was a little blue mutant. There was a steaming mug of brown liquid along with a pair of sand-colored discs on the table in front of each chair. When Scout finally peeked in to the dining hall, she was greeted with excited waving from that corner. She drew nearer, sniffing the air and detecting a very strange smell.

"What is all this?" Scout inquired, familiar neither with the smell nor the sight of such delicacies. She took a seat across from Ljilja.

"They say it is called 'hot chocolate." She gestured invitingly to the mug in front of Scout and to the little treats beside it. "And those are cookies." Though they looked hard and unpalatable, Ljilja assured her, "They get soft and chewy when you dip them."

Scout leant forward, propping an elbow on the table. As Ljilja took her first few sips of the drink and began swaying cheerfully, Scout figured that she should follow suit. "'Hot chocolate,' huh?" She took the mug in both hands, raising it to her lips and taking a swig. A delightful warmth soon filled her, and with it came a lingering bittersweet aftertaste. Pleasantly surprised, Scout went in for another sip. "It's good," she remarked.

With a smile, Ljilja demonstrated dipping a cookie into her mug for just long enough for it to soak up the flavor of the drink, then nibbling at its softened surface.

Scout's attempt was less well-timed, resulting in the cocoa-soaked bit of the cookie breaking off and melting into mush into the drink. As she frowned, Ljilja giggled and nudged over her other cookie to replace what had been lost. Eventually, with a little guidance, Scout was dunking like a pro.

The taste, buttery and rich, inflicted a nostalgia for a pleasant time that perhaps never happened.

Ljilja swished her mug around, close to halfway finished with her beverage. She eyed Scout, trying not to let her gaze linger too long on the bandages the doctor had wrapped her in.

"It is a drink for comfort," Ljilja said. A glimmer of earnest hope shone in her eyes as she asked, "Is it working?"

Scout pursed her lips in thought. "Comfort..." Scout wracked her brain, searching her feelings and her memories. Had she ever really felt comfortable? She glanced at the little mutant across the table, then nodded. "Yes," she affirmed—it was working.

In response Ljilja trilled, a tender and uncontainable sound. Though a foreign form of expression, Scout recognized it instantly as pleasure, for Ljilja was beaming like a lighthouse. At last, Ljilja permitted herself to focus on her drink and indulge in her cookie, after which she sweetly sighed and swayed with utter peace. "Thank you," she said.

Scout glanced curiously at the mutant across the table from her. Why was she thanking her? After all, it was Ljilja who had gone to all of this trouble. "Mm," she acknowledged, "I hope I can have this again before the Games start." For how dangerous it was to become attached to other competitors, there was a part of Scout that was being tempted to make a little blue exception.

Ljilja's attention piqued at the prospect of another encounter, and she verbally leapt to pave the way. "You know where my room is? We can have more anytime," she assured her, speaking bluntly, certain that Scout would understand nothing less: "You won't bother me."

Though Scout was plenty skilled at masking her emotions on the surface, her tail was her tell. It began to happily swish swish to and fro. "Thanks," she answered. But her joyous tail came to a halt and her ears folded back against her head as her nostrils were invaded by the harsh scent of human cologne.

White hair slick with gel and flared at the back, Jaden approached the table, his maid Zorana in tow. He took a dramatic, flourishing bow on arrival, evidently practicing his manners. "Sorry to interrupt, but I've just made arrangements for Ljilja's first interview. If you would be so kind...we must begin preparations."

Ljilja frowned in protest as if to confirm it was truly necessary for the meal to be cut short. Zorana assured her in finfolk sign, This could save your life.

With a sigh, Ljilja stood and bowed her head to Scout. "I'm sorry...I have to go. Do this again soon?"

Scout's focus was torn between instinctively grimacing at Ljilja's manager and giving a pleasant reply to Ljilja. Somewhere in between, she answered, "Yeah, sure. Later."

At that, Zorana took Ljilja by the hand and began dragging her off. Jaden twiddled his fingers in an elegant wave before following after. Ljilja attempted to wave to Scout as she was being tugged away, but before long she was pulled out of sight, leaving Scout alone at the table.


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Baiting the Hook


"Odd choice of friend, but you could do worse, I suppose," murmured Jaden upon the room's door shutting behind he, Ljilja, and Zorana.

"She has been very kind to me," Ljilja replied, quick to clear Scout of any reproach.

She could kill you in an instant. You know that, right? Zorana signed while wearing a concerned grimace.

Jaden knew enough finfolk sign to recognize the phrase 'kill you,' and let out a sigh. "Enough. I didn't mean it as criticism," he assured Ljilja. "Let's focus on the interview I got you."

Ljilja stood up straight, nodding in affirmation. "Who is it with?"

"Hyper-Drive," Jaden proclaimed with a showy flaring of his hands, briefly forgetting that the significance was likely shooting right over Ljilja's small head. Rather than spoil the dramatics, he allowed Zorana to explain.

A very important energy drink corporation.

Energy...drink? You drink energy? Ljilja apprehensively signed back.

Zorana gurgled mirthfully. No, a drink that gives you energy.

Ljilja furrowed her brows and looked toward Jaden, her self-confidence immediately wilting before the prospect. "Why do they want me?" she asked.

Jaden stepped forward and reassuringly ruffled her hair. "They always back the most extreme and heroic aquatic they can get hold of. Aquatics need water, and it looks good on the holos to have their logo on a strong, thirsty competitor."

"They think I am extreme and heroic?" Ljilja inquired, gazing up at her manager who effortlessly towered over her.

"They think you've got the potential with those Longjacks. So do I," Jaden answered. "But we've gotta keep them a secret from the fotors to keep your odds low, or else our arrangement won't pay off."

Ljilja puffed out her cheeks. She was just about done with all of this secret-keeping and skullduggery.

"Oh, don't give me that. It's just for another week, and then you can go see your mom."

Her eyes lost focus as her thoughts turned to her mother, her only surviving family. Then, just as quickly, they returned filled with determination. "What do I do?"

"A quick chat, then a demonstration. You're going to be in the holosim, so don't worry about how you look."

"When do we start?" she chimed in, ready for action.

"Follow me," came his answer. He gestured for her and Zorana to follow, then led the way out of the room.

The Meeting


Skipping eagerly behind Jaden, Ljilja and Zorana signed in a frenzy to one another like old-time friends, chattering on about the interview to come. Even as their destination rapidly approached, Jaden was not inclined to interrupt. He led them to a private room created just for competitors and interviewers, a showcase for them to demonstrate their skills without either party needing to meet in person.

On descending the staircase, a massive circular door shut and locked behind them and the glass ceiling tiles fogged up. Zorana squeaked at the sudden movement, this time shrinking towards Ljilja instead of Jaden. In a brief span, trust had already begun to form between them.

A trust that would soon be tested.

Jaden, beckoning for Zorana, stooped low to let her make final adjustments to his appearance before stepping in front of a console and beginning to tap away at it. His credentials verified, he entered the secure information for the meeting.

Emerging as holographic forms from the center of the console, a board of directors sat at a circular table orbited around Jaden, who stood groomed to perfection in regal posture.

"I am deeply grateful for all of you taking time out of your busy schedules...and for the opportunity this presents," he began, placing his hand on his chest and bowing graciously. Zorana, standing aside, felt her heart flutter at the sight.

One of the figures in the hologram leant back, resting his feet upon the table. He was dressed much more casually than the rest, giving off a distinct aura of relaxed contentment, something that his anxious and hungry peers did not share in the slightest. "Nice words, Kumar, but they aren't what we're here for," the man said as he idly flopped one of his open-toed sandals against the sole of his foot.

"Straight to business! Very well, then," Jaden answered, switching pace to keep up, "Ljilja, if you please?"

He gestured towards a circular pod with one seat. Immediately, Zorana scurried to Ljilja's side, guiding her to sit and signing her through the procedure to activate it.

Once Ljilja took her seat and began the activation sequence, it retracted upwards and the shell closed over her, leaving her in pitch black darkness. LOOK HERE flashed somewhere in the void, to which Ljilja complied. Then, her senses were assaulted by a dizzying array of flickering lights as the systems calibrated to her body and began to immerse her in the simulation. She squirmed uncomfortably in her seat until, at last, the machine robbed her frame of movement and she was transported into a realm of light.

On Display


Empty and stretching out to infinity before Ljilja was an endless metal tunnel covered in neon blue lights. She floated weightlessly in midair for a short while, watching her Longjacks slowly materialize around her. Then, she drifted down to the floor, supporting herself using two of the four metal arms comprising her hulking contraption. She felt immediately more confident; they restored a sense of mobility and control that had been absent since she left Fort Kate.

Where am I? she wondered, looking over herself and the white-blue metal exoskeleton extending from her back. She noticed the Hyper-Drive logo printed on it, branding that she could no doubt expect to see on her equipment if she made a good impression in the interview.

"Release fighter one."

Wait, what? Ljilja thought to herself. Then she watched a mysterious humanoid shadow materialize in the distance, examine its surroundings, and begin barreling full-speed down the tunnel towards her. Upon reaching her, it dove at her body, flinging itself at her in a wild tackle.

She lifted a metal arm to defend herself, and the combatant thumped against it, collapsing to the ground.

Ljilja furrowed her brows, shouting back at the voice that had ostensibly created this enemy. "This was supposed to be an interview!" she protested.

"This is the interview," the voice answered. "Fighter two."

Another dark figure was conjured in the distance, this one carrying a sword. As it, too, began to charge towards her, the fallen enemy rose to its feet and snarled in defiance. Featureless and void, it nonetheless possessed clear malice, beginning to scramble its way back up towards her. Instinctively she swatted it away, sending it rolling along the floor.

The second fighter was making its approach. Bearing a sharpened blade, Ljilja could not afford to ignore it for long. She dismissed it, too, with a swipe of a metal arm, causing it to drop the sword to the ground with a clatter.

Ljilja shuddered, her eyes wide as saucers. She pleaded with the voice. "This is...I don't want to do this!"

"Fighters three and four."

Two more figures appeared, one massive and muscular, the other slim and carrying a long-barrel rifle of some sort. It took aim almost immediately, giving Ljilja only a split second to shield herself behind an arm before sending an ear-splitting shot downrange. The round collided with a Longjack arm, ricocheting off and into the first fighter, who perished instantly and began phasing out of existence.

"Stop this!" she demanded to no avail.

Fighter three, the brute, a towering menace, opened its arms wide to try and grapple with her. She locked arms with it, then hurled the fighter over her head, tossing it behind her. Then, she brought herself behind cover of her Longjacks just in time for another rifle shot to impact the metal, creating another metallic clang.

Not satisfied, the voice cried out for more.

"Five through seven."

Ljilja watched helplessly as three additional fighters appeared, each with unexplained hatred and a new fighting style, one-by-one taking note of her and beginning to attack. "Please...don't make me do this," she begged. But even as she spoke, she knew it would not stop until she had given the show that was demanded of her.

The squad marched down the tunnel, one sprinting, one shambling. She had no time to think; with every passing second they drew closer and the fighters she had incapacitated were recovering their footing and weaponry. To survive, she would have to start removing some of them from the equation herself. But she couldn't do that...even if they weren't real, she couldn't...could she?

Thoughts melted away into adrenaline as she felt the first blow land. An enormous hammer struck one of her metal arms, shoving her prone onto the floor. She coughed and wheezed for air, all the wind knocked out of her by the impact. She groaned and rose, not to her feet, but to all four of her extra limbs, taking the stance of a gorilla. Her small body dangled eerily from the center as if she were a marionette, her body recovering while each of the arms stood combat-ready. She pounded the ground with one of her metallic fists and turned to focus on the shadowy fighters, who now approached more cautiously, unsure what to expect.

Another shot rang out, this one catching her in the shoulder. She squealed in pain, fighting back tears. Her heart raced, her pupils dilated, and her body prepared for war.

With chilling speed, she began bounding down the tunnel on all fours, rapidly chasing down the gunman, which rose to its feet and bolted in the opposite direction, trying to get away. But it was no use—she was so much faster. She rose two fists into the air, and with a great pounding blow, crushed the figure into black dust which quickly faded away.

Panting hard and driven by fear, she turned to the others and charged ahead.



Dazed and confused, Ljilja shakily crawled up from the seat, trembling like a leaf. Jaden stood by her, putting an arm around her to keep her steady. She turned her gaze towards Zorana.

As though the eye contact alone were an insult, the frog-like mutant indignantly signed fierce backwards-pointing horns on her head, then fled the room, rushing up the stairs to get away from Ljilja.

Ljilja's head sank low as she gave way to sobs.

"What did she call you?" Jaden asked.

"Bukavac," she meekly answered. "Six-limb demon."


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With food, water, and medical care, the Vacuum ought to have been a mutant’s paradise and yet, it had way of appearing both vast and claustrophobic with its narrow hallways, metallic walls, and ever present sense that no matter how unsightly, their confinement was still better than the world below.

Though even “better” was a relative term.

In the wake of a living nightmare, Ljilja sought sleep. But her bed brought her no respite, and even a visit to the pool left her anxious and homesick. She craved a taste of the sea—after all, she might never return to it. And so, when she discovered that there was a large aquarium built for the competitors' enjoyment, she decided to indulge in it. But she was not content to observe behind glass.

In the late evening, Ljilja, in a one-piece swimsuit, snuck behind railings and signs and slipped almost soundlessly into the waters of the aquarium.

Surrounded by familiar sights, she found peace in the company of sea creatures that bore no fear of her. The predators recognized she would be too much of a fight and treated her instead with playful curiosity. Even the littler fish, sensing no aggressive movements, gradually flocked to her as a protection.

Her chest rose and fell as she breathed in the sea, at last feeling home enough to sleep.

But to the casual and uninitiated observer, she became just a small, faintly blue-skinned girl floating disconcertingly still beneath the water.

From the opposite side of the hallway, the door slid open as Cayde tapped his keycard against the sensor. The mutant had taken to late night strolls to ease his mind so the sight of a floating figure was more than enough to turn his walk into a sprint.

"Hey, kid! Kid!" He banged against the glass, sending tremors through the waters before climbing over the railing.

The fish scattered as Cayde extended his metal arm, grabbing onto her shoulder.

When she didn't respond to his calls, the situation only seemed more dire. It took his direct intervention in order to stir her from slumber; the hand at her shoulder caused her eyes to slowly open, and she peered half-lidded up toward its owner. She was still alive!

"What the fuck were you doing in there?" Cayde not-so-much asked as went into Dad Mode ™️

He continued dragging her towards the edge of the aquarium, grateful that she was breathing. Upon closer inspection, he noticed the fins on her ears, the way the blue tint on her skin looked natural rather than sickly, and the blue hair. These were all things that pointed to aquatic mutations, but that wouldn't stop him from lecturing her, at least not until his parental instincts finally switched off.

She seemed to weigh almost nothing even after being immersed in water for who-knew-how-long. How was it that this was one of his fellow competitors, someone who he would be facing on the field of battle in less than a week?

She made a sound like clearing her throat as she forced the water from her lungs, turning to reject it back into the aquarium. The motion was fluent enough to tell that it was one she had done many times before. If he had any doubts before, he knew now; she was an aquatic.

She sat up and took a deep breath of air, coughing a little as her lungs adjusted to the sudden dryness. Blue hair, blue eyes, pale skin, small as a mouse...Cayde had seen her before—at the opening ceremony. His voice had terrified her enough then to send her running, though not intentionally. When she now had enough clarity of mind to recognize her situation, she shifted backwards away from him, her eyes going wide. From her point of view, she had just been dragged from bed, and was now being interrogated by a fearsome mutant. She could not muster a proper response, simply stammering, "I...I-I..." as she shrunk back.

"You..." The mechanical mutant pulled his arm back, letting her out of his grasp. He let out a long sigh, realizing the amount of terror in her voice. Cayde massaged his temple for a good minute, muttering about the lack of regulations within the facility. He bit his tongue beneath his mask, swallowing all the scolding he'd meant to give his children years ago (and all the times that they were inadvertently in the right).

Instead he rested his arms on the corner of the aquarium and stared at the tiny girl floating in the water. Did she not have something like that in her own room? Or was it different when there weren't other creatures around?

"The important part is that you are alright." he said finally, "whatever reasons you have for being out here, you shouldn't be falling asleep in the open. It's too dangerous here."

When he released her, she slowly moved away until she was far enough outside of his reach to feel more comfortable. Floating there, she drifted to and fro with the rhythm of the water as though she and it were a single creature, inhaling and exhaling. For her lack of desire to leave, it seemed like it was where she belonged, and yet one got the impression that competitors' rooms were more or less standardized. As far as they knew, this was the only place she could feel like she was at home.

She looked around, then at her would-be rescuer, and then she frowned. "I-I don't...really have anywhere else to go," she offered in reply. "I can't sleep..."

As fearful as she had been of Cayde at first, she seemed helpless and lost, and he was the only one around for her to turn to. Where was her manager? Why wasn't he handling this?

"I guess we're both in the same boat, Kid." The older man softened at her words. As a former nomad, Quickshot had no issue acclimating to different environments, but that didn't stop the insomnia or lack of enthusiasm for his new living space. "Everything here is too sterile, lifeless."

He moved his gaze to the fish that settled near the bottom of the aquarium by the young mutant's feet.

"Do you think they like being stuck in a tank, forbidden from ever seeing the ocean?"" he mused, "or do you think they're happy to have clean food and water?"

She followed his gaze, looking at the fish, observing their behavior, their temperament. After a pause, she looked back up to him and answered. "It's home. Maybe compared to the ocean it's small, but it's all they've ever known." Though not exactly a fish whisperer, it seemed as though she spoke with knowledge and not mere supposition.

Being called 'kid' might have offended any of the other small mutants, but she seemed to take it in stride. "What's your home like, Mister...?"

Cayde paused. There was the ship, the Dead Cities, the Wastelands, and now the Vacuum. None of them were particularly great places. Resources were scarce and any sense of optimism a person had was quickly stamped out. As self-congratulatory as it sounded, his family's business was one of the only ones to provide care for the community without the threat of extortion. Most other places were beholden to the human in charge.

"Dark, grimy, diseased,"" he pressed his lips together, "can't say there was anything good about where I came from."

"...except the people."

Whether it was his family, his fellow workers, or the locals in the community, everyone had a mutual understanding of how the world worked and tried to help each other as much as possible. It was proof that mutants were far more kind and civilized than humans could ever hope to be.

"Are the waters any cleaner?"

For all the harshness in the world, Ljilja seemed relatively untouched by it. She shrugged. "It tastes like metal and hurts humans, but it smells like home to me."

With the distraction of company, her guard slowly lowered. She swam closer. "What's your name?" Suddenly her eyes seemed wide, not out of fear, but curiosity.

He stared briefly at his reflection in the water before meeting her gaze. She couldn't have been older than Sherry and if she was, she didn't have nearly as much sense. Normal people (mutant or human) would be wary of his disposition and the girl didn't appear to be the type to be putting up a facade. Was she naive then or lonely?

"Quickshot." He held out a hand to shake but made to move to close the distance.

When he reached out his hand, she lit up and eagerly swam up to shake it. "Ljilja," she added. While she didn't give the immediate impression of stupidity, naive was written all over her, and loneliness could not be discounted, especially considering how quickly her guard dropped at the slightest show of amicability. Where did her fear go?

"Sorry I worried you," she murmured, concerned more about having disturbed him rather than her sleep being interrupted.

"Nah, it's my fault for jumping to conclusions.." Cayde replied, shaking his head, "we don't get many of your type in the Dead Cities."

More gravely, he'd let his protectiveness get the better of him. He knew signing up that the majority of the contestants would be younger than him, but his instincts were becoming his weakness. First for Ten and now for this Ljilja girl. He needed to stop projecting his daughter onto every teenager that he came across lest one be the death of him.

"I should head back," he announced abruptly, "you should talk to your manager about getting something installed in your room. It's better than having someone else pull you out of here in the morning."

As he made efforts to leave, disappointment flashed over her face. She nodded guiltily, like a child being corrected, and pulled herself out of the water, climbing up onto the adjacent catwalk to dry off. "My room's too small for that unless we flooded it. But I don't think they would let me do that..."

From the main walkway, a snowy-haired human wearing a t-shirt and baggy pajama pants stepped into view. He slowly crossed his arms, watching Ljilja from below. Beside him was a small frog-like mutant who hid behind him for shelter. Was she afraid of Quickshot? But it was Ljilja who her eyes were stealing glances at.

"It's okay...I have to go, too," Ljilja said. "See you later, Quickshot," she added, dismissing herself with a wave and scurrying down the catwalk to be escorted away.

See you too, Ljilja.

Pulling out a small device, he made note of the aquarium's dimensions before heading back to his quarters. Perhaps there was one way to breathe life into the Vacuum.

Note: this post is an altered version of a Discord collaboration between myself and Connected.