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[F04 - PP] Waiting for the Light to Come

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LEVEL - 54
HP - 1110
EN - 108
DMG - 19
MIT - 79
ACC - 3
EVA - 4
BLEED - 36




           COOLDOWN: 2 TURNS

           COOLDOWN: 3 TURNS
           COOLDOWN: 3 TURNS


 +25 MIT

           COOLDOWN: 3 TURNS
      +1 ACC


     ➥ FALLEN 2
     ➥ PHASE
     ➥ BLEED 1

      +54 MIT
      +1 EVA

      +2 EVA
      +2 ACC

     ➥ +9 DMG


Had his fever dream had any true merit to it? It felt so real. As if Cardinal itself had been replaying the entire scenario for him. But he couldn't actually put any stock into that, could he? It didn't matter. He was here, anyways. Might as well go check it out.

Each inhale of the crisp air tickled his lungs, converted into steam that billowed forth as his boots crunched through the wintry terrain below. He would be there soon. It was strange that, of all places, the fourth floor had become a reservoir for so many memories and emotions. It was here that he and Kirbs had embarked on their first journey together with nobody else around. They'd slain the Avalanche together, and he'd been absolutely enraptured by her raw power. Despite her relatively small stature, he'd felt tiny in comparison to her. 

That was so long ago.

It was also here that he had taken Lessa after their first outing together. Here where he had saved Oscar and Cordelia from the mutated amalgamation of snow and ice that comprised Absolute Zero. Here where he had met the mysterious snow-haired boy who led him to the monster guarding the Essence of Steel. Here that he had faced off against the Night's King, alone, in the hopes that he could glean some deeper meaning from all of this. And, apparently, it had been here that she had died.


This was it. This was the spot. So why was the tip of Dawn's Demise tracing a line through the light powder with each step forward he took? Why had his trembling beneath the permeating frosty wind subsided? Why had his eyes become as callous and cold as the frozen bark clinging to the surrounding pines? 


It was him. The very man that had eluded Bahr ever since his revelation at the Monument of Life. Bahr's body was moving toward him of its own accord, and it took everything in his power to reel the muscle fibers back and come to a stop a few paces from the young man. The stare was relentless, Bahr's dual-toned eyes glued to his. The words that rolled forth were carefully enunciated, but still dripped from his tongue like  toxic sludge that could corrode through the snow and frozen earth below.

Four words.

"Why are you here?"



Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 108/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE


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Player Stats:



Level: 62
Health: 1240 | Energy: 124
DMG: 15 | ACC: 3 | EVA: 3 | BH: 62
Combat skills:
►<<Battle Healing>> [50/50]: Rank 5 - Grandmaster
Weapon skills:
►<<2H Assault Spear>> [50/50]: Rank 5 - Grandmaster
►<<1H Straight Sword>> [50/50]: Rank 5 - Grandmaster
Armor skills:
Extra skills:
►<<Familiar Mastery: Fighter>> [18/18]: Rank 3 - Grandmaster
►<<Martial Arts>> [0/50]: N/A
►<<Survival>> ~ Active
Utility Skills:
►<<Hiding>> [50/50]: Rank 5 - Grandmaster
►<<Extended Mod Limit>> [2/10]: Rank 1 - Novice 
►[Active] <<2H Assault Spear: Ferocity>>: +1 Base DMG
►[Active] <<2H Assault Spear: Finesse>> ~ Rank 3 
►[Active] <<Sneak Attack: Trickster>>
►[Active] <<Hiding: Vanish>> 
►[Active] <<Hiding: Untraceable>> 
►[Active] <<Hiding: Blindside>>
»[Equipped] [Demonic] Jack’s Hellfire: Burn, Blight, Bleed, Cursed 
»[Equipped] [Perfect] Dragon’s Skin: +3 EVA
»[Equipped] [Perfect] Warrior’s Focus: +3 ACC

Battle Ready: 
» [3x] Teleportation Crystal 
» [2x] Greater Curative Potion: +120 HP 
» [x1] Le Gibet - Incarceration 
» [x1] Moonlight Sonata - Perpetuate
» [Demonic 2HAS] Cold Fervor: +2 Freeze, Phase, Cursed

House Stats:


Housing Buffs: 
“Well Rested”:  -1 energy cost for the first three expenditures of each combat
“Squeaky Clean”: The first time you would suffer DoT damage in a thread, reduce damage taken from DoT each turn by 25% (rounded down)
“Filling”: Increase the effectiveness of a single food item consumed in a thread by +1 T1 slot. This can exceed normal Cook enhancement caps. Ex: A perfect T2 MIT food gives 35 MIT instead of 30
“Relaxed”: Increases HP regen by (5 * Tier HP) and decreases full energy regen to 2 Out of Combat Posts.
“Item Stash”: +1 Battle Ready Inventory Slot 


Since it had happened, Pinball had prepared himself for this moment.

And not just this moment in particular - there were others, still, he would have to seek out. Others, still, that would try for his head. It almost seemed like a cruel joke. Crueler, still, that he was actually following through the dying wish of a woman who'd been killed by his hand. It might have just been her delirious and desperate attempt to have him killed. Each person she'd named were powerful in their own rights, and each name held their own personal grudge against Pinball - and if they didn't, him presenting himself would give them one. 

Cold wind whipped at his hair and his face, like icy tendrils, frost cutting through skin and bone. He'd exhale, but his silvery breath would quickly lose itself in the storm. 

He'd killed people here. Been betrayed here. Cried frozen tears; stood vigil atop a mountain here, emotionless and still. Like he'd been covered in ice himself. He'd laughed here. Smiled and goofed around. Pinball had walked here. And walked, and walked, and walked, and walked. 

The Fourth Floor was a bittersweet prison. Even moreso, Pinball thought, than the rest of Aincrad. 

Bahr would be the first. And Bahr was the most dangerous person on his list. Again, his mind would consider the possibility that she was dooming him to death from beyond the grave. That he was stupid to be waiting here. That he knew how this was going to end, and that he shouldn't have came because of it. But he wanted to get better. He wanted to make things right - or, at the very least, as right as things could be. 

Three words echoed in his mind. 

"I forgive you." 

Four words graced his ears, threatening to melt them off.

"Why are you here?"

Each word carefully enunciated through a clenched jaw. Pinball knew without looking at him that this man would be the one to kill him, if anyone. But he couldn't die.

Not yet. 

Pinball carefully drew his sword, the reflective blade glinting in the sunlight. The weapon charred his hand, blackened it, glued them to the handle, like his arm was apart of the weapon itself. The deep crimson and fiery orange hues of the straight sword harshly clashed with the serene blanket of white all around him. Pinball's voice, in comparison, was a timid thing. It wasn't shaky, but it was small; thick with grief, he dropped each word to the ground like he was scared it would hurt him. 

"She wanted me to meet you." 

A crystal left his free hand, playing a slow, solemn piece - but they wouldn't hear the end of it. He tossed it to the side, where it'd be buried and consequently muffled in the snow. The effect would take hold, however, and that's all that mattered. His form would begin to blur, twist and contract upon itself. A mirage. It was the first time he'd use Disguise, and it'd hopefully be the last time he had to use it against another player.

But he doubted it. He knew what his future had in store. 



Action Taken: ITEM USED - [Le Gibet ~ Incarceration] // FREE ACTION: Disguise - +1 EVA 
Bahr: ID#

Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 108/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | {INCARCERATION}
Pinball: HP: 1240/1240 | EN: 124/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 | SAFEGUARD | {Disguise: 0/3}

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"She wanted me to meet you." 

Yes. Bahr remembered something about that. 

"Can you do a favor for me? You know who my friends are, right? If you don't, I just need you to tell Kityuisa, Bahr, Alec, Dustin and Sey. Tell them that I love them, and I'm sorry for not saying it sooner."

"You shouldn't have come here."

Here, of all places. Where he'd killed her. Did he plan on doing the same to Bahr?


As the crystal drummed on, muffled by the blanket of snow it had become buried under, Pinball's shape began to contort. Twist, bend, overlap, splinter off. The glitchy fractals that comprised his small frame bubbled and rotated and whirled, but Bahr knew what was happening. An illusion. A distraction to buy time. Bahr had used the very same technique countless times before. He'd have found it amusing, were he capable of any other emotion in that moment. He doesn't want to die. Too bad.

It happened in an instant.

In a blink, Bahr had closed the distance, his form flickering instantly through the tepid air and colliding violently with Pinball's. Crimson energy exploded forth and dispelled the mirage as smoky black tendrils snaked their way from Dawn's Demise into the ivory shimmer that surrounded Pinball's body. They spread, then clutched, and the shield shattered beneath their indomitable weight. A compressional wave of high amplitude pulsated from the origin of the strike, pushing the snow that occupied the space around them away before atmospheric pressure sucked it all back into a whirling vortex. An incalculable volume of microscopic icy shards blasted against their bodies, but Bahr's eyes never left Pinball's.

"Stop playing around. Let's begin."


Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 108-9=99/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION

Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-9 EN ("RESTED" HOUSE BUFF REDUCES ENERGY COST BY 1)
ID: 134912 | BD: 8+5-7=6, Hit | 

Pinball: HP: 1240/1240 | EN: 124/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 7 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62


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The blow hit him like a thunderclap. 

A maelstrom of ice and shadow stirred in its wake, a sight that felt all too familiar to Pinball. He'd disguised himself, hoping it'd help him evade the enemy swordsman for just a while, but to no avail. Disappointing. Bahr had closed the distance before he'd even had the chance to take a breath. And now his armor was cracking under the weight of his swing, that thin ivory layer that separated him from death threatening to give already

As Pinball leapt backwards to try and get some breathing room, his Safeguard shattered with the sound of breaking glass. 

His boots would touch the ground more than a few feet away. He'd fall into a crouch for a moment, a small sigh escaping his barely parted lips. And Bahr would still be there, unmoving, his expression as cold and hard as rock. His gaze unwavering. Pinball frowned deeply, his eyebrows knit. But for as hard as he tried, he couldn't bring himself to look him in the eyes. 

You want to kill me, don't you?

Pinball stood. The dust settled. 

Every swing of that sword has killing intent. I can tell. 

Like a snake, Zomekko slithered down his arm. A stream of pitch black fog would envelop his weapon like a flame, dark and menacing. He felt his stomach twist. Pinball had no mirror, but he could tell that he didn't look like himself. When had he gotten so tired? His once happy, vivid blue eyes pale and unforgiving. Cardinal had a way with exaggerating a player's emotions. He must look like a zombie. His face had been the last thing more than one person had seen. 

He revealed another crystal. "Bahr..." Activated it. Dropped it into the snow, like the one before it. 

She wouldn't want me to fight you, he wanted to say, but the words caught in his throat. Wasn't that rich? A murderer preaching peace. But he had to say something. Anything. His mouth was held agape, his mind a blank. 

The killer set his jaw. Lowered his chin, glowering. And he took a stance, raising his sword, the tip of the blade pointed at him in declaration of his resolve. 

"I'm right here." 


Action Taken: ITEM USED - [Moonlight Sonata ~ Perpetuate] 
Bahr: ID#

Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 99/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | {INCARCERATION} | {PERPETUATE}
Pinball: HP: 1240/1240 | EN: 124/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 | {Disguise: 1/3}

Edited by Pinball
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"I'm right-

Another blink, and Bahr occupied the same space as Pinball. 


Not anymore.

Obsidian and crimson intermixed in an iridescent glow, cloaking Dawn's Demise as it lurched forward from behind Bahr and vaporized the fragments of crystalline precipitation caught in its path. When it connected with Pinball's mass, the sinister aura plunged forth, then through, the blowback sending the youth hurtling back and into the nearest pine. The boy's spine connected with the immovable wooden edifice with such force that it prompted an <<IMMORTAL OBJECT>> notice to populate nearby, hovering like a taunt handed down by Cardinal itself. By the time the youth had the presence of mind to look up, he'd see the tip of Bahr's weapon pointed directly at his neck.

"Use it," he commanded flatly, dual-toned eyes illuminated as his blade began buzzing with energy once more. "Use your pet. Disappear. It's what you've been building up to, right?" Bahr could see the debuffs hanging in his HUD. Incarceration and Perpetuate. Pinball was plotting something big. "Do it."

Much like the rage that roiled turbulently within him, so too did his expression manifest in contorted and twisted ways. The scarlet underglow exaggerated Bahr's unforgiving temperament, casting malevolent shadows across his visage that belied the luminescence his mismatched orbs had captured and held onto. Clenched teeth, set jaw, scowl hanging his lips in a permanent frown. The hairs of his brows pricked in varying directions under the pressure put into furrowing them. But his eyes remained opened, piercing, as though Bahr intended to slaughter Pinball like an animal using only his gaze.

"Do. It."


Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 99+1-9=91/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE

Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-9 EN ("RESTED" HOUSE BUFF REDUCES ENERGY COST BY 1)
ID: 134916 | BD: 7+5-6=6, Hit | 

Pinball: HP: 1240-442=798/1240 | EN: 124/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62


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When had he been pinned to a tree? It all happened too fast. Slimy black whips of Fallen shadow and the unyielding edge of Bahr’s weapon - it was like he was being punished for trying to speak. Was this Bahr’s judgement…? No. He’d already been judged. This was just punishment. This was absolution. 

The force of the devastating strike carried him off his feet. The tree shook violently under the weight of the impact, clumps of displaced snow falling to the ground around them like mushy sludge. If his weapon hadn’t been cursed and bound to him, Pinball had no doubt that he would have dropped it. A bright purple icon blazed to life between the two players, heralding an object’s immortal status. A status that, after one glance at his health bar, Pinball knew applied to the tree and not to him. 

At least I’m still here, he thought warily. But his heart was in his throat now, and he could hear its rapid beats in his ears. How long would that last? That tentative reassurance? Bahr was strong. Almost too strong. 

And it was disgusting. 

“Do it,” came the harsh command. Pinball felt the cold tip of Bahr’s withdrawn blade at his neck. “Use your pet. Disappear. It’s what you’ve been building up to, right? Do it.” 

But what if he couldn’t? The thought brushed uncomfortably against his mind, like the body of a smug cat that knew it was Death Incarnate. No buts. He couldn’t falter now. 

The weapon so lovingly pressed against him began to glow, coming to life and audibly humming with an untapped pool of crimson energy. A clear threat. If he didn’t move, Bahr would cut through him like he was nothing. Like he wasn't even there. 

“Do. It.” 

The luminescence of the unused Sword Art lit his features, casting deep shadows across the man’s face and making him seem that much more bestial. Violent. A silent, cold fury. Wrath personified. In that moment, Bahr almost seemed larger than life. 

Pinball wondered, then, what he looked like in Bahr’s eyes. Thin and tired. Worn out. Deadpan. Did he think he was a monster? Or no better than a rat, wallowing in filth and festering with disease? Something to be rooted out and exterminated. Maybe both, he reasoned. 

“Zomekko,” he’d finally murmur. On command, the curling shadow enveloping his weapon in that sickly black aura came to life, becoming mobile; eating away at his form and carrying him away like a breath of wind, leaving nothing behind.  


Action Taken: [VANISH] [-6 EN] 
Stealth: ID#134917 LD: 17+7= 24 Stealth Rating 

Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 91/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE

Pinball: HP: 860/1240 | EN: 118/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 {Disguise: 2/3} {Vanish: 0/3} 

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The boy's visage was one of destitution and depravity. The deadpanned dejection of a deceitful degenerate. Demoralized. Downtrodden. Detached.


The darkened depressions under his eyes debased the the drivel dripping from his distorted maw. Was it a scowl, or a crooked grin he wore? Did it matter? It would disappear when he was dead. Along with the rest of him.

“Zomekko,” he finally declared, dim wisps of dismal darkness disintegrating the dauntless dog and carrying him away on the breeze like the drifting delinquent he was. 

"Dick," Bahr muttered, knowing the deplorable deviant had not yet departed. His blade flashed white, and in an instant, the pent up crimson energy was dispelled. This, of course, was the Sword Art cancelling into a Parry activation. But it wasn't like he was going to say that out loud. It was time to hunt.

"I went back there, you know," he said aloud amidst the noise of the packed snow crumpling beneath his feet. "To where we first met." 

Found one. One of the crystals Pinball had deployed before. It was still playing, the iridescent glow of the light the prism produced leaking through the blanket of white that muffled its sound. "This is cute, by the way," he stated abruptly, pointing at the luminescent patch of snow as his head craned toward a random direction. "One of Arabelle's? I could pick out one of her selections anywhere." Crushed beneath his heel, splintered into countless angular shards as the noise petered out into oblivion. 

"Do you even remember?" he continued, soft tufts of condensated air pluming from his lips as he spoke. "I do. It felt like electricity when our eyes met for the first time. I could feel that our fates would be intertwined, but you didn't seem to care. You didn't give me a second thought. To you, I was nothing more than an ant scuttling out from beyond the safety of its mound for the first time. A nobody."

Bingo. The second one, further buried than the first. It was barely audible, but the muted array of colors it cast was unmistakable. Obliterated, the same as the first. Now silence pervaded the expanse.

"They're barely human."

"I gave you the benefit of the doubt, back then, you know," he stated sharply, voice slicing through the quiet that had settled into the grove like a blowtorch through caramelized molasses. "I figured you could have had an orange cursor for any number of reasons. Perhaps a murder guild had cornered you with green player bait and forced you to commit the unthinkable. Maybe you'd chosen to steal one too many times. Hell, you could have been part of a fight club. But I didn't assume that you were a murderer, because you and I saw eye-to-eye on what the Frontlines were."

A flicker of red, and a tree was gone. Shrieks of splintering wood accompanied by the harsh swish of leaves as they cascaded downward, all coalescing into a deafening crash. Then, silence once more.

"Huh. Guess that one wasn't 'immortal.'"

"Turns out I was wrong, though. You're a monster after all. Creating other monsters in the wake of destruction that follows you wherever you go. 'Barely human,' as you once described the very Frontliners you're warring against. But I've already drawn this comparison before, haven't I?"

He'd circled the grove a couple of times by now. Either Pinball was enjoying story time, or his feet had grown cold.

"It's a little strange, when I think about it," he pressed on, his voice more nonchalant now than it was before. "I gave you the benefit of the doubt. You saved me from the dragon. Then, when we fought for the first time, you let me go. Yet, here we are. Back then, I still didn't fully understand the depths of your wickedness. Even after you ran your spear through a level eleven noob who'd failed to so much as scratch you throughout the entire exchange. It wasn't until I saw her name crossed out on that wall, and you as the reason, that I absolutely knew you had to be put down."

He stopped in the center of the grove, casting his eyes around and sighing. "You didn't take me seriously then, either. I may have graduated from an ant to a wasp, but I was still an insect to you." He lifted Dawn's Demise. Sank its tip into the hardened earth. Leaned against it. "I sent you flying, and when I picked you up, you looked like you were doing everything you could not to laugh in my face. Everything I'd built, everything I'd learned, it meant nothing to you. You knew you could squash me in an instant. And now..."

"Now you're hiding."
 Frosty wind blew through the clearing, whistling between the trees and giving them a voice. "I'm tired of waiting. Come on out."


Bahr: HP: 1110/1110 | EN: 91+1-5=87/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE

Bahr used Parry: Justified Riposte-5 EN

Pinball: HP: 860/1240 | EN: 124/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62


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Pinball watched. And he listened. And he walked with Bahr, hanging in the corners of his vision, out of sight, each and every word from the man’s mouth finding its mark and piercing his flesh like a knife, leaving him feeling just as cold. 

He wanted nothing more than to argue. To reveal himself and grovel, apologizing. To justify what he’d done as necessary. But he couldn’t, he didn’t, and it hadn’t been. Every pointed accusation made was grounded in an undeniable truth. 

Frozen. Every step was harder to take. Every sentence harder to follow. It hurt to listen to. He didn’t want to listen to it. Pinball withdrew within himself, building up a wall - a fortress of ice around him. How long he wanted to stay there, to remain apathetic. It was easier to give in to a mindless rage. To pin the blame on someone else. It was anyone’s fault but his. 

All of those people, senselessly slaughtered. It had gotten easier every time. Like snuffing out a flame. Every kill was less gut-wrenching than the last, until he’d been able to do it without hesitation. It’d felt so empowering. Like he was getting back at God and taking his life back. Like he was taking control for the first time in years. But he’d used the frontliners’ corruption as a way to cope with the horrible reality of what he’d done and what he’d continued to do. Pinball believed it, still, that the frontliners were corrupt; and he’d gone about it all wrong. He’d tried to twist it in his favor. And in the process, he left his own worldview distorted, alien, and ironically corrupt. 

These were all things he realized now. Things he’d turned a blind eye to for the longest time. Like someone raising the curtain in some sick, twisted play, Pinball had been shoved into the light, so as to see the blood on his hands and the atrocities he’d committed more clearly. 

And now here he was. Face to hidden face with the broken product of his actions. 

Bahr was tired of waiting. Pinball was too. It was time to come out. 

A flash of light. There was no blur, no hint of movement until it happened. A moment, and Pinball was there, behind Bahr, crouched and leaning forward with his arm and his sword crossed at the sides of his face. Bahr wouldn’t have even noticed the hit - there was barely any hint of energy crackling in the air. 

But all it had taken was a nick - the smallest of cuts under his chin. A sickness took root, and his veins would become black and visible. Squirming, bulging, like so many thin, dark worms beneath his skin. Bahr would feel it pulsing, a dull, full-body heartbeat. It was then that the sheer pressure of the displaced air would erupt around him, an eruption of snow and ice. 

It was then that he whirled around, his face and voice uncharacteristically enraged. 

“Bahr,” he spat, “in about thirty seconds you’ll be dead or real close to it.”

Pinball moved forward, stomping his way towards the man with his sword at his side. 

“So why don’t you take a moment to listen-” 

And that was when Bahr’s stun would take hold, and Pinball would feel his limbs fail him. 


Action Taken: Sword Art - [Shadow Explosion] [-8 EN/+1 EN] {Well Rested} // SNEAK ATTACK - TRICKSTER + Blindside 
Bahr: ID#135166 LD: 6+7= 13 {Stealth Maintained} ~ 17*9= 153-79= 74-25%= 55 DMG + DoT APPLIED 

Bahr: HP: 791/1110 | EN: 91+1-5=87/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE [264 DoT: 1/4]

Pinball: HP: 922/1240 | EN: 111/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62

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A vortex of white exploded into existence around him, and Bahr knew that it had happened. It had come and gone so quickly that he hadn't even had time to react. Luckily, he didn't have to. The system carried him through the motion, guiding Dawn's Demise behind his back and intercepting the strike before it landed. Pinball's weapon flicked to the side, a bright gleam catching across its edge and blending it with the whirlwind of snow and ice. The metallic hiss of its blade grinding along Bahr's was lost amidst the cacophony erupting around them.

“Bahr, in about thirty seconds you’ll be dead or real close to it.”

We'll see, Bahr thought as his eyes trailed a faintest glimmer of light as it crawled along his blade, through Pinballs, and into the murderer's arm.

“So why don’t you take a moment to listen-” Stopped dead in his tracks.

Bahr hadn't even noticed that the smaller of the two swords managed to inflict the shallowest of cuts into his bicep. He turned, lurched forward, stomped his boot into the snow behind one of Pinball's legs. Shoulder checked the youth's jaw, pushed his stiff frame over. Skewered his weapon through the boy's chest and nailed him to the ground. Pushed his muscle fibers to the brink as he sank it in deeper, as far as he could against the resistance offered by snapping bones and frozen earth.

The act had felt so triumphant. Cathartic. There wasn't anything like it. There was no rival or adversary, monster or creature, demon or angel that could make him feel this way. Pinball was the only one. The only person that could blur the already thin line between love and hatred. And he hated Pinball, that much was certain. He loathed his very existence. But in that moment, Bahr loved the fact that he drew breath. It allowed him the gratification of stealing it away. The satisfaction of driving his sword through his sternum to puncture his trachea and make those breaths cease. Then behold as the health bar whittled away pixel after painstaking pixel. Verdant begone, now all that remained was amber.

"Listen to you? Were you listening when-"


That's when he heard it. The incessant breedle of the status indicator, alarms screeching at him in an effort to alert him to the myriad concoction of afflictions that now hovered alongside his name, pulsating rhythmically and coloring his HUD a rainbow of varying hues. The thick thumping of his heartbeat that seemed to pervade every molecule of his being. Felt it, creeping along his stained-black veins, surging through his body as a reminder that hell existed. Burning, putrid necrosis worming through his circulatory system to pour from the fresh wound like a viscous avalanche. 

That is, if blood existed in Aincrad.


"I see," Bahr mused through labored breaths, working the blade. "Guess it was silly to imagine that you would fight fair. It's not about honor to you, it's about the kill." Pinball's prone body oscillated between clear and fuzzy. A cursory glance at his health bar revealed that it was dropping, fast. But there was still time to finish this before it ran its course. Bahr supported his weight by leaning against Dawn's Demise, doing everything in his power to hide the faintest signs of weakness. Though, surely, the grimace he wore belied these efforts. 

"Do you really understand the situation you're in? Do you think stats and weapon enhancements are going to save you? Do you think they'll make you better than you are? Stronger? More powerful?"

"Dick," Bahr repeated, the edges of his lips curling upward into a pained, crooked smirk. "Look who's using weapon enhancements and cheap strats to get a leg up, now."


Bahr: HP: 1110-1-264+24+33=902/1110 | EN: 87+1-10=78/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE

Parry cooldown: 1/2
Justified Riposte cooldown: 1/3
Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-10 EN
ID: 135170 | BD: 9, Crit for 23x13=299 DMG | 

Pinball: HP: 922-299-36=587/1240 | EN: 111/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 | STUNNED


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Impaled. A sword ran so forcefully through his chest he’d been nailed to the ground. Not that he could do much to resist it. The snow gave way around him as the weapon sank into the frozen, cracked earth beneath his form. It was almost too fitting, wasn’t it? To be on the receiving end of this weapon, on this floor, by this person. 

Despite himself, Pinball let out what might have been a strangled chuckle. 

“People change,” he croaked, but there was no denying that there was fear in his voice. In his eyes. He’d prepared so thoroughly because he knew Bahr would be trouble. Because he used to be like him. Pinball’s mind was racing, adrenaline coursing through him and making him shake. Pinball wondered, for a brief, sick moment, whether doctors and nurses were standing by his body now, waiting to pull the plugs on the equipment they’d wired him up with. They’d surely seen it before; the moments before a person’s death. Were they there, waiting for the Nervegear to fry his brain? Did they care if it did? 

They’d be making a mistake, if so, Pinball thought. He couldn’t stop reminiscing about his time spent on Aincrad. Quickly, like running your fingers through the pages of a book. The good times. The mistakes that outnumbered them. But he thought of snow and he thought of blood and he thought of a face - of many faces, one after the other. Most were dead, some weren’t, and others still were people he could barely stand to look at.

He couldn’t die. He couldn’t. There was no ifs or buts. It wasn’t his time. Not yet. There were things that needed to be done, still. Things he had to see through. 

But he couldn’t move. The Paralysis blinked like a walk light next to his steadily draining HP, counting down the seconds it would take for him to break free. Would it be enough time? 

“She wanted me to meet you,” Pinball repeated, “and she wanted me to tell you that she loved you. You and others.”

Hot tears welled up in his eyes, but it only made him angry. His face twisted violently. “I don’t know why she forgave me,” he snarled. She shouldn’t have. He’d been a bastard until the very end. “I didn’t want her forgiveness. I was a monster. I still am. There’s no justifying it. And I’m not trying to.” 

The paralysis would fade, and he’d grasp the weapon with both hands. Push it up. Away. He knew that thrill that came with the pursuit of a kill. The satisfaction and empowering sensation of ending a life. He’d seen it pass over him, in that brief moment. Before his effects had activated. 

Pinball knew now, that his strength wouldn’t be enough. Bahr could probably end him before Pinball could finish it. 

The teenager had tried to get through this nonviolently, but deep down, he knew that it was always going to end like this. Bahr was the one person on the list he’d known would try to kill him, no matter which way he’d twisted it. So he’d approached honestly. And he still would. Pinball had wanted it all to stop. Violence breeds violence as death breeds death. He’d promised himself he’d avoid it at all costs. And he’d tried. He really had. 

Through tears and a savage rage, Pinball would free himself. Scurried away like the rat he was, scrambling to his feet. He spat venom as he stood, not unlike the anger Bahr had confronted him with when they’d met here. 

“But that look on your face? You looked just like me. I wish you could’ve seen it.” 

Pinball didn’t bother raising his weapon. There was no point. He could take one more hit. Bahr would close the distance for him. One of them wasn’t going to be walking away from this. And this time? He didn’t speak. He wouldn’t have been given the chance to.

Besides, “a picture paints a thousand words.” Pinball had always thought blood would look pretty in the snow. 


Action Taken: NONE 

Bahr: HP: 638/1110 | EN: 78/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE [264 DoT: 2/4]

Pinball: HP649/1240 | EN: 111/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 | STUNNED

Edited by Pinball
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Fear in the face of his creation.
Lies in the eyes of God.

Pinball would see Bahr standing there. Hunched over, gripping the hilt of Dawn's Demise in an effort to stabilize himself. Watch him stand up straight, and pull the blade from the ground.

"Shut up."

And then, the Crimson Marauder would be gone. The youth's vision would violently and abruptly pitch to the side, shoved into the mixture packed snow and shattered bulbous shards of ice that lined the grove. Scraped along and through the frosty concoction by the momentum of the assault, held against it by the iron grip of a single hand. And then, it would all erupt. A geyser of obsidian-stained white would reach into the air above the treeline, cast asunder by the intense crack of another Galaxy Destroyer slammed down with all the might that Bahr could muster.

Another hit scored against his target. Another step further into the void to fuel his own volition.

The thick sheet of ivory would crash back down to the ground in a scattering flourish, the black energy having now dissipated into oblivion, leaving only white to flood to expanse. A thick haze formulated around them, particles of moisture that had been too light to settle right away. Bahr blindly thrust his hand forward into the fog, fumbling against Pinball's frame until it found what it was searching for. It grasped the thin material that comprised the neckline of Pinball's clothing, pulling him up from the ground until he was eye level with Bahr. The act was slow and wobbly, not as powerful and confident as it would have been had Bahr not had Pinball's debilitating affliction coursing through his veins.

They'd been here before. At the close of their first battle. But unlike last time, there wasn't an excited rage that rode across Bahr's expression. Deadened eyes belied the hot tears that streamed from them, cascading down his face and pooling along his stiff jaw. There were too many emotions to summarize in a single expression. Rage, excitement, sorrow, longing, reminiscence, pity. No, pity wasn't the right word. Disappointment. Pinball could have been anything. So why had he chosen to be this?

"You don't get to say things like that. You're not 'sorry.' You don't get to liken me to you just because I'm going to kill you," he seethed. "I saw it. When you killed Kirbs. Not directly, but I saw it. You didn't say a single word to her until she was practically already dead. Just marched in after she was isolated and started your slaughter. No justification, as you put it. It's one of the few thing's you're right about."

"So no. Any likeness you draw between us is a mirage of your own manufacturing. You were killing people who didn't deserve it because you perceived them to be a potential threat to the twisted worldview you've concocted. When they were alone, outmatched, and unable to adequately defend themselves. You are a real and imminent threat to everyone in Aincrad, so you're going to be put down. Our situations aren't even comparable." 
Dawn's Demise started to hum once more, filling the fogginess with red. This was it. "You ignored me when I asked the first time, so I'll ask again."

"Does this feel like stats and equipment to you?"


Bahr: HP: 902-264+33=671/1110 | EN: 87+1-10=78/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE

Parry cooldown: 2/2
Justified Riposte cooldown: 2/3
Pinball stun cooldown: 1/3
Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-10 EN
ID: 135338 | BD: 8-6+5=7, Hit | 

Pinball: HP: 649-442-36=171/1240 | EN: 112/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 


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  • 2 weeks later...

Not even comparable? 

In between increasingly anxious breaths, Pinball turned the sentiment over in his head. The reality, he reasoned, was that it just wasn't true at all. 

Pinball had always believed that Sugutsuya had done something to her; that he'd manipulated her in some way. She never would have taken that jump otherwise. Right? The truth was that he hadn't and would never get the chance to find out. The way the sketchy info-broker had talked and the things he had talked about had pushed him over the edge. Sugutsuya's death had been the result of an untimely emotional break; all of his stress, anger, sadness, and his drive to hurt had been brought out of him as he drove the spear through the man's throat. 

Likewise, it had been Pinball that drove Bahr off the side of that cliff. How much had he taken from him? Pinball was a cyclone, an overwhelming force of destructive behaviour that let himself into the world and destroyed everything that people had worked so hard to build. And after all was said and done, he vanished, refusing to rake responsibility and lazily pinning the blame on... something. 

As Sugutsuya had been to Pinball, Pinball was to Bahr. Their paths were the same. It was just the forests surrounding them that looked a little different. 

So, Bahr did look like him. He saw himself in him and then he saw so much more. What he could have been. Respected, trusted, surrounded by friends that loved him. Pinball wanted that so badly, now. But all his life he'd done nothing but push people away and lash out at those who got too close. And why? Because he was hurting? Because he thought he didn't deserve it? Pinball had had so many chances to do better if he had just taken that scary leap and let people in. But he'd taken the low road, and there was a toll booth coming. 

It felt like no matter what he did, he ended up back in this position. This time, he wouldn't be struggling to get away. As Bahr's weapon glowed a fierce crimson once more, and Pinball looked death in the eyes, his resolve was absolute. 

Even if his health hit 0, Pinball wouldn't die. He had too much to lose for it to just end like that. And no matter how comforting the thought of the afterlife was, Pinball didn't want any of it. Hell was a cold place. 

"I haven't felt anything in months," he replied.

Why? Everything felt blurry. Like he couldn't quite focus. 

"It gets easier every time," he laughed, his voice thick with emotion. "I hate it." 


Action Taken: NONE 

Bahr: HP: 407/1110 | EN: 78/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE [264 DoT: 3/4]

Pinball: HP171/1240 | EN: 111/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 | STUNNED

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"I haven't felt anything in months."

Then a laugh. Total dismissal.

"It gets easier every time. I hate it." 

Do it.

He rose his shining sword above his head, its scarlet glow staining his verdant iris the same as its mismatched counterpart. 

Kill him.

It roared with the hum of a pent up Sword Art, crimson energy whirling through the air above him and sucking into Dawn's Demise. The fog, too, was pulled into the eye of the proverbial storm, slowly dissipating the ivory miasma that had settled around them. Bahr's eyes bore into Pinballs, rage and fury and anguish and desperation all wrapped into their wide-eyed gaze. 

Do not deny the possibility of weakness.

The affliction surged through his veins. His entire body was beginning to shake, half from the necrosis seeping into his every pore, half from the adrenaline pouring from his medulla. The anticipation was getting to him, but he couldn't back down. So why was he having so much trouble following through? 

Do it.

All he needed to do was bring the sword down.

Do it.

He could carve the boy in twain. He could eradicate this pestilence from Aincrad forever. It would make him a hero. Never again would another life be lost to the youth's twisted machinations.

Just do it.

Why? Why couldn't he? He dropped Pinball to the ground, and gripped the hilt of Dawn's Demise with his other hand. With every bit of his might, he tried to force the blade downward. As though held back by some invisible force, the sword did not drop. He strained against himself, knees buckling, arms quivering, exasperated grunts passing through clenched teeth. All the while, the red-soaked weapon buzzed and hummed with the hungry ferocity of a buzzard circling its prey.

How many minutes had passed? Enough for Bahr to consider what it was that had motivated Pinball to kill in the first place. Had he started out where Bahr was? Putting an end to a real and true threat, only to ride the high of that sort of control and bastardize its meaning into indiscriminate slaughter. Is that what Bahr would become? Could he become that? Would it become easier to kill after this first time? 

He could become the next Pinball. His was an evil that didn't leave the world once it was slain. It was simply passed on to the next in line.

"Damnit!" Bahr shouted as the tears of frustration he could no longer hold back carved rivers down his cheeks. His eyes pitched upward and to the treeline as the haze fully subsided, hoping that if he didn't look, he would be capable of fulfilling the deed. But that's when he saw her.

And that was the final nail in the coffin.

Bahr turned and, in a red gleam, brought Dawn's Demise down into the earth. Another explosion of white cascaded high above the treeline as the Sword Art was exhausted, leaving behind only the silhouette of the one who couldn't do it. Who couldn't bring himself to save Aincrad. Amidst the cacophony of countless crystalline shards whispering against once another as they fell, one could hear the distraught cry of a man torn to shreds by his own inner demons. 

The sword fell. Then Bahr fell to his knees beside it, back still turned to the object of his unyielding rage. Pitifully, he sank a fist weakly into the snow. He'd been too weak. She had seen it. Pinball had seen it. And it was likely Bahr would soon be crushed into dust beneath his sword as a result. A martyr to his own selfishness, unable to taint his soul in the same way Pinball's had been. Unwilling to carry the burden of always having that choice from that moment forward. Another crossed out name on the Monument, just as those before him, and every one that would come after.

Bahr had failed.


Bahr: HP: 671-264+33=440/1110 | EN: 78+1-10=69/108 | DMG: 22 | MIT: 79 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | FLN: 12 | BLD: 36 | HB: 24 | BH: 33 | PHASE | INCARCERATION | PERPETUATE

Justified Riposte cooldown: 3/3
Pinball stun cooldown: 2/3
Bahr used [x13] Galaxy Destroyer-10 EN
ID: 135762 | BD: 10, Attack canceled

Pinball: HP: 233/1240 | EN: 112/124 | DMG: 17 | ACC: 5 | EVA: 6 | BRN: 36 | BLIT: 36 | BLD: 36 | TV: 24 | BH: 62 


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"So what is Bahr up to today?"

"Hm?" Lessa glanced up from the article she was reading and into Alexander's smiling face. Of course, as the NPC was unable to see her HUD, he likely thought she was staring intently at the table's scuffed surface. Oh well, she mused, he hasn't judged me for my odd behavior so far. As his question registered, Lessa dismissed the screen, then settled back in her chair. "That's a good question," she replied. "He's-" The blonde's gaze flicked to the clock on the wall, and like a snap freeze, her expression grew icy. "- standing me up, apparently."

Alexander's smile fell away as well, but it was concern that took up residence there. "I have a difficult time believing Bahr would do that to you."

"Yeah, well, he's a full hour late." With the dull grind of wood on wood, the woman shoved back from the table. Climbing to her feet, she forced a quick smile for the tavern-keeper's benefit. "I'll just go track him down, give him a hard time, then we'll be back. Keep the cookies warm, alright?" 

Lessa wasn't proud of the fact that annoyance was her first reaction. Had her day started off better, and her mood been improved, perhaps she might have defaulted to worry. But rather than eliciting distress, the fact that this was his first offense merely ticked her off. Convenient, she thought, that he becomes my boyfriend, and suddenly he doesn't need to show up on time anymore. Or at all.

Alright, if it was a fight he wanted, she could accommodate.

There was nothing pleasant in the tinkle of bells as she again summoned her HUD. The flames of frustration had nearly been fanned to full fury, but the heat subsided as Lessa found Bahr’s location. Not only was he on the fourth floor, the blinking indicator placed him just outside of Snowfrost. Finally, the first tendrils of anxiety twined around her heart. She had been expecting to find him sleeping at home, or distracted in his shop. What would compel the crimson swordsman to spend the afternoon in the frozen woods? Had he lost track of time while grinding? No, Bahr preferred the upper floors for that kind of thing.

Cheerfully decorated storefronts gave way to a sprawling, snow-covered field as Lessa left the safe zone. The sensible thing would be to equip her sword and armor, but her thoughts grew as frenzied as her footsteps when she moved into a jog. With each crunch of snow underfoot, and each thud of her heart in her ears, Lessa became more certain that something was wrong. Realization crashed, a powerful wave against an immovable rock, when she saw the two figures - the one who moved in shadow, and the other, who she would recognize anywhere. The red of his coat shone like spilled blood over the pristine snow.

The air seemed to sizzle with the energy of expelled sword arts and unleashed rage, and she knew she had interrupted a duel. Duels aren't that unusual, a distant voice rationalized. They were often used to settle disputes, and historically, they rarely resulted in loss of life. But this wasn't Weehawken, nor was it a history lesson, and death was absolutely present - she saw it etched in every line of Bahr's face. Dawn's Demise bathed it's master in a hellish scarlet light, and though she opened her mouth to protest, it was his voice that echoed among the trees.


She closed her eyes.

As the man who had saved her soul bore down on the man who had saved her life, Lessa allowed cowardice to consume her. She couldn't save Pin, she couldn't stop Bahr. Hell, the woman couldn't even watch as the events unfolded. But she still heard the sound of the sword sheathing itself in the frozen earth And though she could not know it, Lessa perfectly mirrored Bahr as she fell to her knees in the snow.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just moments ago, his eyes had been locked onto the sword raised so viciously above him. The next, he was greeted by an unobstructed gray sky dotted with white. Pinball blinked, trying to clear his head. And then he brought his hand to his neck. His health was steadily rising, and he was still here.


Or incompetence? 

Pinball rose to his feet, dragging his sword with him. Though half-shed tears still ran down his face, he looked down now at Bahr with a renewed intensity. He hadn't killed him. He hadn't been able to. Did he know what that meant? The consequences of something like that? The player killer bowed his head, his icy blue eyes sketching lines over the prostrated warrior. He could taste the despair. And he knew it well. 

But even then, he felt a pang of jealousy. Of anger. And then his emotions mellowed out, a deep blue pool in his heart that had once been frozen over. 


Words couldn't express what he felt. And honestly, Pinball wasn't even sure if he understood what he was feeling. Did he want to die? To fight and survive? Could he really say he'd given it his all in that fight? Was it even over? Did he have to end it? Pinball gripped the handle of his sword tight. One more strike would be all it took, surely. His health was practically nothing at this point. Ending him now would mean he never had to worry about it again. 

The disgusting thought made his stomach curl. Pinball grimaced. 

He didn't deserve it. So Pinball sheathed his sword. Turned his back on him. 

"She wanted me to tell you that she loved you," he repeated. Nothing else. No acknowledgement as to the fight they'd been in just moments ago. No hatred or emotion in his voice. Just a strained apology in the guise of a flippant dismissal.  

Pinball adjusted the color of his cloak, his face held low. 

"Goodbye, Bahr." 

As he made his exit, his figure blurred and scattered, disappearing in the shadows of the snowy waste. 

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"Goodbye, Bahr."

He's getting away.

Bahr remained glued to the ground, immobilized by the concoction of hormones rushing through him. He felt as though he was being drawn and quartered by his thoughts, emotions, goals, and duty. He wanted to kill Pinball. He wanted to. In that moment, there wasn't anything that he desired more. And he'd convinced himself that it was for all the right reasons. To rid Aincrad of a menace, to do what little he could to right the wrongs of this scourge.

But that wasn't entirely true. It was more vengeance than anything that guided him through the motions. His desire to avenge his fallen friend, though he knew it wouldn't bring her back. He still felt a duty to do so. But he feared what that would make him. He feared becoming the same as the man he aimed to abolish, who may have started out right where Bahr was right now. The first kill was the hardest. But every after that, less so.

Bahr would be different.

By the time he'd finally managed to sit up straight and pry his eyes from the ground, Pinball had vanished. He should have apprehended him. Pinball belonged with the likes of Dominic and the other criminals they'd locked away in the prison on the twenty-fourth floor. Instead, their paths diverged once more. One way or another, he'd spared Bahr again. Or had Bahr spared him? The lines were blurred at this point, just as was Bahr's vision.

But he could still see her, waiting in the treeline, hesitation preventing her from joining him in the clearing. Was it fear that Pinball still lurked, ready to strike the moment they were vulnerable? Or was it fear of Bahr? The only thing that was certain was that Bahr had never needed her more than he did in that moment. So, shakily, he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of Dawn's Demise and used it to push himself into a standing position. With each step forward her, his entire body screamed in protest. The blight had run its course. The bleeding had stopped. The throb of the burn had subsided. All of it had left behind a man who barely clung to life, sways turning his steps to shambling as he approached her. He could make out basic features, such as her golden locks and the violet cloak she wore. But he couldn't make out her face. Was she happy he was alive? Mortified by what she'd just witnessed? Scared? Confused? He couldn't tell. Her visage was a blurred mosaic of rough shapes and hues.

He wrapped his arms around her. Once again, she was tasked with supporting his weight.

But he didn't derive the comfort in it that he sought. She flinched at his touch, and remained stiff as a board. The affection wasn't reciprocated as he'd hoped, and that stung even more than Pinball's concoction had. He needed her. He really needed her. But she didn't want him. Or, at least, that how it felt.

So he let go, and staggered back. "Sorry," he choked. "I'll go."

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Like something out of a nightmare, he trudged toward her. The tall man was battered, crimson gashes glaring from nearly every part of him. Red wounds on a redder coat, screaming against the white backdrop, growing larger as he closed the distance between them. And like a woman facing down an approaching storm, Lessa braced herself.

But why? It was Bahr who met her gaze, held it, electricity arching between them. Her Bahr. She knew him. And yet every muscle tensed as his arms came around her. He felt it, she knew he did - she could practically pinpoint the moment he registered her hesitation. When he stumbled backward, hurt in every line and curve of his face, she said nothing. It was perhaps the worst betrayal imaginable.

He hadn't actually killed anyone. Though that thought should have remained at the forefront of Lessa's mind, she could not shake the visual of Bahr poised over Pinball; it was burned into her mind like a picture left on a plasma TV. When the moment had come, he had been unable to take the life of another. Doesn't that count for something?

She needed an explanation. She needed reassurance, and logic, and answers. He only needed her.

Like his coat and his wounds, Bahr's health bar burned scarlet. Only a single sliver remained, his hit points surely lower than she had ever seen them. The sight came like a slap to the face. She didn't need to understand, she didn't need to forgive. Not yet, anyway, because that desperation in his eyes? The fear, the pain, the loss? That she had seen before.

"Wait." Lessa reached out, grabbed the arm of Bahr's jacket, gently guided him back to her. "You need to wait here, recover some hit points." She positioned herself in front of him, the hem of her black cloak swirling around both their feet. Her hand pressed to his cheek, fingers numb with cold stroking the line of his jaw. "Stay still for a minute. Just breathe. You can do it. Just try."

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"Stay still for a minute. Just breathe. You can do it. Just try."

Had he not heard similar words escape her lips before? 

Here we go. Just breathe. You can do it. Just try.

Exactly the same as when they'd first met. It was the second thing she'd ever said to him, the first being that he should lie on his back. He'd been unbelievably pathetic in that moment, a shaky pile of tears and unrelenting anxiety. He thought she'd seen him at his worst that day. Turns out he was wrong.

Even now, the sensation of breathing was the same as before. Strained, difficult. Like he had to force each breath in against his lungs' formidable desire to shove its contents out. If the lack of oxygen wasn't enough, the lack of health could be. Scarlet pulsed at the edges of his peripheries, and he could only barely make out the features of her face now. Slowly, but surely, his health was beginning to crawl back up. And the more Lessa's visage came into focus, the more Bahr couldn't bear to see it.

So he looked away.

"I had to," he stated quietly. "I couldn't. But I had to. I had to, because..."

Why, again, exactly? Because he'd killed Kirbs? Killed others? Ran off Kit? All of these were true, but even Bahr was beginning to realize that they didn't fully justify his rage. This was something that ran extremely deep. Deeper than the surface level reasoning, and further back than he'd ever crossed paths with Pinball. Why had this youth taken the spotlight, and drowned out the rest of Bahr's plans and goals? 

It probably had something to do with that damned Monument.

"He would have destroyed everything that I love. Everything you love. Anything anybody here loves. I know for a fact that he would, because he's done it to me before."

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Was he delusional? Was the nonsense that spilled from him a side effect of the low health, or some status effect? The words he spoke made no sense at all, nor did the fiery rage that could easily melt the drifts of snow. Even in his weakened state, she could practically feel the negativity rolling off him in putrid waves. "Pinball?" she finally asked. "But he-" saved me. Something stopped her before she could complete the sentence. It was unlikely that Bahr knew that, or else he wouldn't have attempt to kill the youth. Right?

So instead, Lessa merely shook her head. Now wasn't the time to drop such bombs, as it would be akin to kicking a man when he was down. The man who stood before her, trembling like autumn's last leaf in a winter wind, was definitely down. She shifted tactics. "Bahr," she said, voice both quiet and firm. The tone she adopted was similar to one she'd used often in the classroom. "It's fine. It's fine now." Her gaze swept the small clearing, but only a trail of footprints proved Pinball had ever been there. Was he gone, or had he simply shifted back into the shadows? Lessa couldn't worry about that now. 

So her eyes flicked to his health bar, which filled at an alarmingly slow rate. The hit points seemed to trickle back, but at least they were returning. Good. "It's cold out here," she commented absently. His eyes were everywhere but on her face, which might have upset her were the situation different. But her gaze remained locked on him, searching for a reaction of any kind when she added, "We should go to the Rabbit. Warm up, grab something to eat."

The lump formed in her throat without her noticing, and it wasn't until she was forced to swallow around it that she realized. This isn't going to be easy. Though they were leaving the battlefield of crushed snow behind them, their fight was just beginning. "And then we'll talk."

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"Pinball? But he-"

She knew him. One way or another, they'd crossed paths. These were the circles of hell that just kept on giving.

"Bahr. It's fine. It's fine now."

Nothing is fine.

"It's cold out here."

No [censored].

"We should go to the Rabbit. Warm up, grab something to eat."

Yeah. Okay. We'll just pretend this is all normal.

"And then we'll talk."

At least she was willing to. Bahr silently nodded, then started walking back to Snowfrost. There was no use allowing more words to spill now. They could do that once they'd had time to settle in. Though, Bahr knew it was a monumental task ahead of him. How could he possible capture the walking catastrophe that was Pinball with words alone? There was no possible way to illustrate the essence of his evil through talking. So what alternative did he have?

He'd need to show her.

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