The Gradual Massacre (GBS2G4) [Round 6: Tidal Cove]

The Gradual Massacre (GBS2G4) [Round 6: Tidal Cove]
RE: The Gradual Massacre (GBS2G4) [Round 6: Tidal Cove]
Holly didn't feel comfortable holding a conversation while Countess was up to her ankles in somehow-still-not-dead guy, but what with Miss Metalmouth being up and chirpy he did seem the most important thing to discuss. His hands struggled for purchase amongst the gravel, wheezing half-breaths annealing into a gurgle as he tried to haul himself up.

Holly tried not to flinch as a metalloid leg ssshligcked its way out of a ribcage and was driven through his skull. Countess stared down, struggling out the rest of her feet once the light left his eyes.

"What," Holly said the word carefully, to see if she threw up or something. "The fuck." The sack of meat was still twitching intermittently, jolting back to life every couple seconds before the spike through his brain shut it down again. Countess' speakers hissed shore-noises, before she seemed to notice what they were doing.

"He attagkkkkked me first." Holly wondered for about half a second whether Countess was lying, before realising she had other things to give shits about. The mist was scattering, or, under the cover of trees and corners of eyes, slithering back whence it came.

"What happened to you?" Holly demanded. "When the fog rolled in?"

Countess just growled to herself, avoiding eye contact. "I-" sprang, went something in her neck, and her head snapped around as if it had gotten stuck. The caved-in interior of her skull was losing its shape, gears just giving up and congealing into a plasticine mash. "I fell."

Holly, despite a rising sense of dread, had to snort at that. "Fall where, exactly?"

"I." The amalgam went through a bunch of isolated twitches, a piece-by-piece recalibration into a slightly more relaxed posture. It was the same kind of unsettling ripple of hundreds of insects moving under a freshly-flipped rock, more fluid and obscene than the Countess' usual posturing. Her pre-recorded laugh had the hiss of seawater in it. "I fell."

"You can't just fall," protested Holly. "You must have ended up in the water, or you found another boat, or- or-"

Countess placed a hand on her shoulder, her one tethered foot making her stretch a little further than natural. "Sssshzzut up. You're here to hgghgelp me." She motioned with a shake of her foot, dislodging the body and giving Holly the opportunity to back off, plucking the hand off her shoulder. They both watched as his head wound closed up, breathing resuming with a panicked gasp.

"vvWe could dr-rg-rg-rown him," Countess offered, staring at Holly again through her unshattered eye.

"That's Arnold," Holly said, aghast. Countess took another look at him.

"Hhhhhh tried-d-d-d to kill me."

Holly ignored her, kneeling close as she could stomach to the man. His injuries were already knitting themselves closed, reddish afterimages against grayed, begrimed skin. Gravel and silver studded the abrasions on his hands; it dawned on Holly that he must've punched and clawed at Countess barefisted.

She raised a hand slowly, seeking a better read of his emotions. Arnold saw it, flinched, crept to his knees, then lunged. He tackled the elf, hands clamped about her throat, every rasp of his breath a wave shattering against a cliff. Holly could've taken him, probably, his arms trembled and his ribs stuck out in harsh relief through the gashes and slashes in his rags. Arguably more offended then inconvenienced (give her a minute or two and she might've changed her oxygen-starved mind about that), she grabbed at Arnold's forefront emotion, looking for pain or sadness or something sharp enough to snap him out of it.

Desperation, transmuted, sent him flying with a shock wave crack and an appreciable pressure blast. Holly found her feet first, ears ringing, throat stinging with angry snatches of still-electric air. "Hold it," she snarled at the Countess, who'd already scuttled half the distance between her and the knight.

Arnold, stripped of the one reasonable emotion to his tortured own that wasn't soul-crushing despair, managed a sob. Holly almost didn't catch it with him face down at the gravelled feet of the lighthouse, until a second and a third and a subsequent trail of sad, wet noise melded into the sad, wet ambiance the cove was already doing so fucking well. The sky was still drearily menacing, but the fog had receded enough to texture it with the sagging underbellies of clouds.

Holly struggled a bit between disgust, affront, and some mental arithmetic to the tune of who in this salt-drenched purgatory would be worth wasting her time on. Zero satisfying solutions and a solid minute's being stared at by a probably-malfunctioning Countess later, she made a beeline for Arnold and offered him a hand. He didn't respond, even when impatience trumped revulsion and she tried lifting up by the arm.

"Come on," cajoled Holly, seriously not feeling it. "Walk down to the beach with me. We'll... get you on a boat, away from her-" Countess spat out a cog and grinned- "and we'll find a way out of this dump.”

“Yrrrou think-k-k-kk you can drag allllong just an-gk-yone you please?”

“Could you either shut up or fix your voicebox?” groaned Holly, hauling Arnold on his feet and dragging him a couple paces. “We need to search this stupid round before I actually contemplate living forever in that shitty houseboat. If the fog doesn’t bother you because you can’t breathe or whatever, keep searching. And for gods sakes, if you actually do find something useful, send me that Message guy instead of trying to kill it. Got it?”

“... Kzzzzzktrystal.”
RE: The Gradual Massacre (GBS2G4) [Round 6: Tidal Cove]
Over the rocks

(salt-scoured, enbarnacled)

Down to the beach

Keep the gulls (the gears) at bay

Tick, tick<file not found:

Tick CRASH graunch screech

“Countess, you’ve got better shit to do than follow me around!”

Countess extricated herself with a squeal, limbs dully shining where the barnacles had cut in. Holly dumped Arnold, without protest, on the sand. The sea-hag was out on her porch again, unstrapping some kind of basket (a coracle, though Holly wouldn’t have recognised it) from the side of her shack. Holly took a break from being done with everyone’s shit long enough for Delphine to let it fall into the water, and shoving it beachward.

“Thanks,” called Holly over the clatter of an paddle being tossed in, only a little sarcastic. Delphine shrugged.

“You were going to drag that wretched thing over anyway.”

Holly didn’t bother to ask whether that was supposed to be some kind of oraculous insight. She hiked up her skirts, waded out to grab the boat, and with a fair bit of splashing and cursing about in the shallows eventually got Arnold into the damn thing. Arnold seemed hellbent on being fifty shades of useless, but he at least managed to grip the oar when Holly shoved it into his hands.

“Can you get yourself out to that boat?”

Arnold stared blankly at Holly, stared blankly in the direction of the tower, then back at Holly. Countess waved; Arnold flinched and nodded.

“Oh thank god.” Then: “...Are you going to behave yourself?”

Nod. “Good.” She pushed the coracle out, beyond the scum-ring surf that lapped at the cove. To whoever was listening and competent enough to pass the message on, she yelled:

“Tell Algernon I’m off to search the woods!”

No response, save for the eventual clatter of the paddle. Ugh. Holly turned to Countess, and jerked a thumb woods-ward.

“He dzzzzzzzzzzzn’t belong there.” It almost came out like a sigh.

“Well, he’s not staying in that ruin, and I’m certainly not leaving him anywhere you can go,” snapped Holly. “Shit. Should’ve asked that witch how long until the fog-”

“Five hours, tk-tk-tkwenty-seven minggggggtes.”

Holly stopped. “How would you know?”

Her shrug set her shoulderblades (and Holly’s teeth) on squealing edge. “It’s like clock-k-k-k-k-wk.” Chirp-laugh-clack-sprang. “twenty-six minutes.”

“Fine. Perfect. Fan-fucking-tastic. Do me a favour and let me spend at least an hour of that in peace, would you?”

Holly trekked into the woods with many a glance back toward the cove and the boat and fucking Countess, but the amalgam was making her laboured way off the beach, heading for the hills.

Nothing ahead of Holly now, but the woods.

Gnarled and sickly pines - trunks black, boughs bare. A spongy mush of needles underfoot. Buried branches, snapping under her weight when she deigned a futile glance up and away from the forest floor; a sunless sky draped across the dead canopy that wouldn’t care whether she lingered in those woods for five hours or fifty.

The sun was <runtime error>. The birds were <file not found>. Flowers <you’re fucking joking, right?>

What a goddamn <expression unavailable> day. The silence was worse than the beach, somehow.

Holly might’ve preferred groves to shores, but this waterlogged mockery with its malingering fog like a bad memory left her wondering why she’d bothered enjoying anything. Grabbing a stick, she gouged a mark in the sooty flank of a tree, like hell she’d get this far and become fog-food or whatever the fuck while wandering in lost circles.

Holly pressed on, ignoring the rare lick of fog slithering out of sight. Wasn’t like it’d still be there if she turned to look again.
RE: The Gradual Massacre (GBS2G4) [Round 6: Tidal Cove]
Bleak, black woods, less clinging as encrusted to the foot of these hills. The wordless whisper-hiss of the sea somewhere out on Holly's left, ominously comforting as a dragon's snores. The forest carved off-away into harsh cliffs along that edge, offering a great view of the blue(void where applicable) yonder if you were fool enough to test your footing. Holly wasn't.


Across, on occasion, when the mountain proved too steep for her ill-shod feet. They'd clack-shkreek unpleasantly on gravel (or dead wood embedded with the same) and she'd dig her other seven legs in wherever the ground might yield, compose herself, and set off again. She couldn't have told you why climbing to the top of this peak was important, just like she couldn't have told you why climbing-

Epi©tome Productions (nee Publishing)! Rising from Bacchaus like a neo-katana through the chest, the tower anchors a space elevator, up up up to the grim and ugly fist that was the Epi©tome Spacedocks. Paige and her Glits and her Graces weren't heading to the top of Epi©tome Tower to read, because the last of Epi©tome's physical stock was sixty feet under in the tower basement (a long storey, indeed). No, they had no business with the strato-buses, no housecalls at Cargo - not even a white tie function to crash at the observation deck. Nobody remembered who suggested it, but the mood gripped them and here they were, a squabble of finest Giltterati gliding up the expresscalator to the Top Of The Town® like a right regular troupe of cruise-shippers.

Someone must've said something, Paige didn't think, because introspection and shit could wait until she was alone and she-

-had plenty of time.

A good three hours, even, and no rush like some to return to the boat. Countess couldn't have explained it, but she'd never had to explain herself to anyone. Why start now, just when she belonged here for the first here in her worlds-spanning career?

Not that she realised it, could articulate the feeling. This was belonging she'd left on Bacchaus, something beyond a memoirful of names and places and sensations. It was a mockery of one’s relief at journey’s end, the very concept of end, of conclusion to concepts with perpetuity hard-baked in. Days and tides and death and birth and conservation of energy.

Poetic words, flowing like sand between her gears. Give me ugly-beautiful chunks of chorus, anthemic iconic and screamed in the small hours, Countess didn’t think. Too busy wondering how much the elf trusted her.

Countess waited on that hill, watching over the cove in abominable stillness. It was only the first tree hitting the water in the depths of the fog that prompted her turn her head, the contortion exposing sooted pine-bark.

A coal-vein, struck deep in gray stone.

Holly heard the splash as well, but she’d turned back a good hour ago. Her search had proven fruitless and mostly featureless, beyond a clearing she’d found forty minutes’ walk, maybe, no clock because whyever would you need a clock when you have to be back by a very certain time from the cove. Retracing her path was faster going than venturing out, and the damp forest floor eventually yielded to dead grass and familiar gravel.

A distant splash. She was at the clearing again. Rough little stones underfoot - possibly a path at one point, but a lack of maintenance had scattered them about. A single piece stabbed dully through the sole of Holly’s shoe. This place felt wrong, though Holly couldn’t have told you why. It was just as dull and splash and gray and lifeless as most everything else in this place, the only motion at the edges of the dismal scene the off-white coiling of

the fog.

Holly closed her eyes, counting crosses in tree trunks. Splash. What had - at an emotional and literal distance - been the steady churn of disturbed water was scattered, syncopated noise when you were in the thick of it. Bodies (individuals) hitting the (sea) floor, too here for these individual tragedies to dissolve into a faceless crowd.

Deep breaths.

She might still make it. She’d have to sprint and pray she wouldn’t twist an ankle on a concealed root, or maybe cut through that boggy depression she’d circumnavigated on the way into the forest. Hope the fog was still thin, hadn’t advanced quicker up the creek which she’d crossed, to avoid the bog in the first place-

Algernon. “Four people.” He’d know what happened. As if she’d let it happen.

As if she had any choice in the matter.

Splash. “Two people.” Or, the worm would. Algernon would infer, at least, thought Holly, and couldn’t make up her mind whether that was a good thing.

Splash. Two people. Delphine and - well, it’d be Arnold this time, wouldn’t it? What was he even doing out here? Was he still tied up in all this bullshit, and if he wasn’t and Holly and Countess vanished into the mist-

-what comes next?

Splash. The sound was angled wrong, like she’d dropped a rock down a well and wandered off bored before it finally hit the water. The elf could see the treetops in loath motion, shedding pines as the ground beneath them fell away.

Holly walked over to the one picnic table in the clearing, and slumped upon a seat.

Fuck this, Holly thought.

You know what? Actually, fuck Countess as well. Fuck her total lack of situational awareness and the likely fact Holly’s death-by-lazy-misdirection wouldn’t even be satisfying, let alone amusing to her because Countess was a broken piece of shit even before she’d fallen out the other end of malevolent fog.

Holly manifested frustration as a handful of tangled-up rope, let it writhe amongst her fingers a moment, then hurled it into the trees. If it hit the ground (it didn’t), she couldn’t hear it over collapsing land and the splash of trees falling into water.

She tried pulling “buoyant” out of herself, and found only a sad few bubbles that felt like a tepid “inspired”. Fuck. Now Holly was surrounded, the forest around the clearing only a few trees thick before everything was fog.

The picnic table sunk like a heavy someone had sat down at it

didn’t stop sinking

and Holly tried putting a foot down and nothing not gravel or forest floor or anything pressed back


with one hand Holly grasped a sodden strut

and the other didn’t transmute her determination into chains to help her hang onto this thing - because fuck it and everything else her determination would serve her best where it was - instead raised in belligerent gesture to whoever the fuck might still be watching

and Holly fell yelling defiance


and Countess roused herself

in the lighthouse basement, tearing herself from a screaming Arnold’s side so she could say (not to him):


“You’vvvvvvvvvv finally jk-gk-gk-oined us.”
RE: The Gradual Massacre (GBS2G4) [Round 6: Tidal Cove]
Holly opened her mouth to curse, but ended up screaming instead when she saw her arm embedded in the table part of the picnic table. Or what she identified as the picnic table, seeing as it was something she was sitting on (in, she belatedly realized), but there were, edges that had no place being on a picnic table. Not to mention, there was a Holly that had no place being sort of in a picnic table.

It didn’t hurt, her brain supplied, but her mouth still had some scream left and continued on for a while, until she managed to think to transmute the table into a feeling of solidarity that filled her chest and promptly popped when she realized she didn’t have anybody to feel a sense of solidarity with.

Her arm looked fine. There didn’t seem to be any chunks of her missing. All in all, not too bad. For falling an impossible distance and melding with a table.

The air was remarkably clear. was time to go back to the boat.



There was a static in the Countess’ voice that continued even when she stopped talking. Then an unnecessary clearing of the throat that sounded much more like someone tapping a microphone. “kch-kch Su-pp-o-o-o-se y-gkh-you un-der-sssssssss-shhhhhk-tand – “ She broke off. This was perhaps, she realized, not a state to use words with too many syllables. As in, more than one. But the point was moot now, given her uncooperative conversation partner.

“Hhho-lly, wh-ere khhhh-are y-ou gkch-oing,” Countess kchhh’ed out. “Hooo-ll-y, list-n. Fzzzt-lly, st-op, do y-o-u hhhhhkch-ear me? Hhhhh-oll-y.”

But, half an island away, Holly walked on. The Countess wasn’t exactly concerned about that anymore, however, as her last static-y shout had roused Arnold into a state of flight or fight, and he had elected to fight. A broken, regenerating man was not necessarily something to worry about. If she had been altogether there, anyways.

She wasn’t, at the moment. Not by a long shot.


The man who had stumbled into the boat was unrecognizably the mysterious other occupant of the island. To Algernon, he was somewhat of a blur, partly because of the strands of purple drifting past his eyes. He tried to wipe it off, but his silk-sweating palms did not help matters at all. “Hello,” he said to be polite, but it sounded something more like “Hmrf,” and he went back to pulling silk off his arms. There was a growing pile next to his feet. Maybe he could start a business after all this was over. Ha. Ha.

The man was still standing, hovering, really. He was making sounds not unlike the sounds Algernon had made, and so Algernon glanced up patiently.

“Ah, aaag,” said the man. After a pause, “Aaaaal, a-non. Gggggg...”

For the sake of time, Algernon interrupted, “You know me?” There was a pause and a nod from the man. Algernon was reasonably sure that was a nod. The man was doing a lack of aggressive behavior, so the answer seemed to be a given, but Algernon asked anyways: “Are we friends?”

A longer pause. Another nod.

“Cool,” Algernon said. This didn’t seem suitably enough to say. He thought a little. “I’m sweating silk,” he added.

The man didn’t respond with a nod this time, and didn’t sit down even when Algernon scooted over and patted the seat beside him. So he went back to pulling silk off of his body, accompanied only by the sounds of the bustling witch.

When it started, the fog, the island, the everything, all three turned their eyes outside and watched. There went one. And then two. Even with just the fog, they all continued to stare until bits and pieces of the island started coming back. Here comes one. And then two. And then...three…?

Before Algernon could even attempt to ponder this, however, a voice interrupted him in his head, where he was reasonably sure the voice shouldn’t have been. Well, not just the voice, but concepts, feelings, definitely too foreign to belong to him, there was anticipation, excitement, longing, and…uh…

Not for you, a more recognizable voice in his head said, and then started engaging the less recognizable one in a mental conversation that Algernon was sure he was meant to ignore but honestly couldn’t because it was going on in his mind and he squirmed uncomfortably and squeezed his eyes shut, but it was alright, because a few minutes after, he had no idea why he had felt so uncomfortable at all.

Maybe he was tired. Maybe, he could just sleep. Just a little.