[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] The day before their last is spent wherever and whenever else they can think to go. For a while now, they’ve only returned to the present to sleep or recover, a few hours snatched here and there before they retreat back into the past. Dragging a single day into several leaves them exhausted and worn thin, but it’s better than sitting around waiting. They become virtually unreachable in their present time, dropping all obligations that aren’t strictly necessary.
They never were the best at texting people back, but they haven’t even checked their messages in weeks. Better not to try to maintain those connections when… well, they’ll be gone soon enough. Many days and nights are spent composing explanations they could offer, excuses or lies or the truth, rare thing that it is. Somehow, they find enough words to put in line to write letters to their friends. It doesn’t feel like enough, but they send them out regardless, dropping the letters into the correct mailboxes before they can think better of it. There is no return address, just names scrawled on the front of lime green envelopes.
Their time is running out, no matter how much Lark tries to stall. Despite their powers, they are anchored to the present, and they can’t avoid returning to it. They can do nothing to stop the sand from falling through their fingers.
Even the tense anticipation of summer was easier than this, but now the sun is hidden behind heavy clouds, and a layer of snow blankets the ground. The air has a bite to it, burning their lungs when they take too deep a breath. They breathe anyways, letting the chill cool their head as they wrangle their thoughts in order.
What if they just… don’t show up? They know how this plays out. What if, instead of stepping into this dreadful office building, they leave? They can just go to a park or a beach or anywhere, really. Anywhere but here.
Time really is the cruelest mistress. Perhaps, in another version of today, they turn around and walk away, and everything works out just fine. But they can already feel the significance pressing in around them, refusing to let them give up that easily. They can’t hop between timelines, only double back on their own or roll the dice venturing into the past.
Lark closes their eyes for a moment, takes another burning breath, and shoulders the door open, pushing forward into the empty building. Everyone in this office is on break for the holidays. The lock on the door has been busted for three days, but no one has gone through it in that time, and so it went unnoticed.
The building is quiet, and the door seems terribly loud in comparison as it swings shut behind them. The air is slightly musty, but it’s warmer than standing in the growing snowstorm outside. Snowflakes are melting in their hair as they look around the stairwell they’ve found themself in. They go up the stairs to the second floor, but hesitate once more just before the door.
What if they… don’t? Take whatever consequences Time will throw at them, in favor of seeing another day. But the choice is made for them as a chime rings out in their mind, and a hand grabs at the fabric of their sweatshirt.
“Come on, don’t do this,” their twelve-year-old self pleads, their voice loud in the echoing stairwell. “You know what happens, why are you even here?”
“Because I have to be,” they reply, but their attention is split. They can already hear rustling from beyond the door, and she must know that they're here. They can’t give her too much time to prepare, even if their stealth is already blown. They twist open the door, and their younger self disappears with another chime and a frustrated huff.
Their shuriken are cool between their fingers, and they waste little time in throwing out the first as soon as she enters their field of vision. Enough waiting.
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]She could feel a migraine coming on.
Fate let out a sigh as she cracked open her third Monster of the day. It’d been at least a week since she’d last slept, too busy working on her newest projects. She surveyed her studio, various half-finished paintings scattered around the room.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]This is what I get for trying too many things at once.
She chastised herself mentally, the carbonation hitting her throat adding a touch more alertness to her expression.
Her power came from her cards, she knew that. She also knew that the power in her cards was a combination of her own and the latent powers in the materials used in their construction: in this case, the bones of metas. But she’d had a realization; that she could use other materials to try and amplify the powers of the cards even further. That had led Fate down a rabbit hole where she’d also been trying to create new types of cards with new abilities, just in case any of her old friends got any ideas.
And now she had five projects in the works and couldn’t sleep until all of them were finished, otherwise this would all be for nothing. She ran back through her notes, her sloppy handwriting and smeared ink making the process more difficult.
Her newest card required gilding, and Fate had rolled around the idea of trying to find certain people with the ability to create gold and have them use it on some of her other materials, just trying to figure out what would happen. She’d already found a guy, or rather her contact had. She hated working with people, but when you have a reputation for disappearing and being in places people don’t want, that doesn’t make them want to work with you.
Geoffrey had found the guy, some hero called Transmuter, that he said could get the job done. But the bastard hadn’t set up the meeting before he went offline. He said something about a family vacation for the holidays, but he was probably full of shit. Either way, Fate didn’t feel like waiting for him. Lucky for her, the poor guy seemed to have some sort of crush on her, probably into the goth types and thought she would be really freaky. That grossness aside, he’d managed to feed her so much personal information. Including the juicy tidbit that he worked IT for some company, so he got paid while he did his illegal business. Now if only he had told her what the company was. Oh wait…..
A quick wake-up shower later, Fate materialized in an office building, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the darkness. Rows of desks spread out before her, without even cubicle walls to divide them. Geoffrey worked in a real shithole. She walked up to the first computer she saw and shook the mouse. The screen had a login for an account named Mary Wallace. That wasn’t him. So she kept going down the rows, checking each computer until she at last found the computer of one Geoffrey Roberts. She took a guess at the password, rolling her eyes at his one-track mind when it actually worked. She crouched in his chair, not caring about whatever was on her shoes, and began going through his computer. Fate wasn’t looking for her information, not yet. She had unfettered access, she was gonna dig up some dirt if she could.
A voice piped up behind a door labeled ‘Exit’. Fate paused briefly in her searching. She couldn’t make out what it was saying, but it scratched something in her brain. There was a familiarity to it. Curious, Fate turned back to her snooping, but gently set her hand on the desk with a thud, the cool metal of her revolver appearing beneath her hand. She left it there, just in case.
She didn’t have to wait long to find out who the voice belonged to. As she returned her attention to the computer, the door burst open. Something stabbed into her back and Fate let out a hiss of pain as she whipped around, revolver in her hand, her attention on whatever it was that just embedded itself in her. Slender fingers ran along her back, finding the cool metal of a shuriken, along with the warm wetness of her own blood.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Of fucking course. The one time I don’t have the Emperor ready. Well, what the fuck do you want, you-”
Fate’s words died in her throat as she saw the figure standing in the doorway. There was no forgetting that gray hair, nor those eyes. Fate’s anger died, replaced instead by a lazy smirk.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Long time, no see Lark. I’m a little offended, I thought you would keep in touch. After all, you did leave such an impression the last time I saw you.”
Fate gestured slightly to her arm, scars seeming to burn in remembrance of the silver-haired child that had wildly flailed at her with a shuriken, wielding it more like a knife than anything else, cutting deep gouges into her arm before vanishing in an emerald flash.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]"To what do I owe the pleasure?"
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] Lark has never been quick to anger. Alright, no, that’s a lie, and it’s even worse than their usual ones. They don’t usually let themself be quick to anger, but here and now, there’s really not much that they’ve got left to lose. Haven’t they earned a little wrath?
It’s better than the creeping fear that wraps around their ribcage and constricts their throat, better by a long measure. More productive. And aren’t they just so concerned with productivity, lately?
A flicker-blink, and they’re a few steps closer, standing steadier. Still in the path of her gun, but that isn’t much of a threat to them, not as long as they’re quick enough. Their eyes flicker to her scars, but their expression doesn’t change. No sympathy, no guilt, no remorse. In fact, their eyes are almost devoid of any life at all, the blank stare of a person pushed so very close to their breaking point. Or, perhaps, a particularly crummy actor going through the motions of a long-written script.
They ignore her question, because it doesn’t really matter what they’re here for. They’re here because they have to be, and because it’s where they are and where they were and where they always would be at this particular time. But those are personal thoughts, rambling thoughts. They have no place here. “Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it?”
Their right arm raises quickly, as a flash of green light heralds the arrival of another twelve-year old Lark. The both of them are repositioned a few steps to the side a moment later, and the younger one huffs in frustration when they find the path to their target blocked. The elder Lark doesn’t seem phased, pushing the child lightly behind them and speaking over any of their protests. “You seem to remember me, but I’d love to forget you.”
A shake of their head, without taking their eyes off of her, and the space behind them is suddenly empty as that same light flashes again. There are many things they’d be fine with forgetting. The sting of scrapes and heartbreak, or maybe just the unshakable knowledge of how this day shakes out.
“Let’s just get this over with, huh?” They’ve been patient for so long, and that tick-tock-tick-tocking timer is running real low on sand. Without further stalling, they flick their hand, fanning out an array of shuriken between their fingers. Their grin is empty as they toss them out with deadly aim.
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]A shimmer, like a moment of bad reception on an old TV, and they’re closer. Their expression is practically the opposite of hers, their dull, blank stare contrasting her snarl. They’re still in the way of her gun, but with a flash of green light they shift to the side, another figure next to them. This one is much more familiar, the same little menace who’d carved her up last time. Oh she was going to enjoy this. Fate’s aim drifted over to Lark, a pout forming on her face as they spoke.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“So rude, Lark. You should consider yourself lucky. Most people meet me once and forget. You’re lucky enough to meet me twice. Well, maybe. Let’s see how this fucks with things.”
The pout shifted to a smirk as Fate’s finger squeezed on the trigger. An effervescent sour and sweet smell filled the air, black smoke and crimson light rolling out of the revolver as a glowing red projectile launched itself at Lark. Just before it hit, however, the projectile split into four, and wrapped around them, looking to strike at the younger figure behind them. The shots splashed against the floor as the emerald light flashed and the younger Lark had disappeared.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Well shit. Guess that’s child murder out of the picture. Can’t we just do that? It’d be so much easier.”
Fate laughed as the chamber spun, another bullet ready.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“I’ve got some special ones. I can make it quick.”
She knew they wouldn’t take it. Good. She wanted things to be interesting. Lark lashed out, shuriken filling their fingers. Their expression finally shifts into a grin, as hollow as hers is malicious. Fate squeezed the trigger three more times, not bothering to aim as she dropped to the floor, the wide array of shurikens still managing to graze her in several places. Crimson darts swirl through the air, eleven in total, streaking towards Lark regardless of Fate’s aim.
Her deck was nearby, as always, she could quickly use it, get the Emperor up for some protection against the shurikens. Then she’d only need to deal with a time traveler. But that was the boring way out. This was much more exciting.
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] Lark remains motionless as the first shot is fired, their expression tense. Their gaze stays fixed on her, but there’s movement across the room as a sixteen-year-old Lark, just a few moments too late to corral their younger self, watches the shot split around them. That Lark also disappears before they can become the target of Fate’s attacks, chasing their wayward tween self through the timeline.
Fate’s words find their intended target as pure hatred flashes in the current Lark’s eyes, the defensive anger for their younger self always close at hand. Especially now, when they know what they’re going to have to do.
But they can make it hurt, before then.
“When have I ever taken the easy route?” They ask, the question wholly rhetorical. It doesn’t seem to be directed at Fate, exactly, just posed deadpan to the universe at large, a bit of a growl underscoring their words.
The gunsmoke smells off, sickly sweet and acrid instead of, well, smoky. The bullets don’t act like normal ones, splitting and trailing light like shooting stars. It’s all so familiar, but at the same time alien, and they have to force their perspective back, watching from a step behind as they vault over a desk, crouch down, and disappear from her sight.
Three of the bullets hit the desk, the others arching over and around. Lark waits until the last moment to stop time and scoot out of the way, pulling their leg back just as time resumes and the remaining shots collide with the tiled floor.
It could just be the nerves, but they could swear time is more rigid here, less willing to let them bend it to their whims. They don’t think it was like this for their other visits to this awful time, but it’s always a little different being the current Lark in a given time.
Well, even at a bit of a disadvantage, they’ve still got a few tricks up their sleeve. They never really fight alone, not when it counts. They try to breathe past the anger, letting it smolder without overwhelming them, and between one second and the next they hop up onto the desk that had served as their shield, kicking off it in the next moment and launching themself at her. If they can get their hands on it, they’ll try to snatch the gun from her hands, or just knock it away.
In the same instant, light flashes behind Fate as another Lark, the same Lark only a few seconds displaced, kicks towards her back. Fighting on multiple fronts is their specialty, even if they don’t have cause to practice it much.
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]There it was. That anger, that hatred that flashed through their eyes. That was what she wanted. Fate flashed a smile at Lark as they had a little outburst. “Oh, seems like I struck a nerve there, Larky.” She giggled as the shots went off, spiraling through the air. Lark vaulted up and over a desk, the shots splashing against the wood in a sickly-sweet flash. A couple swerved to avoid, smashing against the floor, seemingly just avoided by the time traveler.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Getting a little slow, are we Lark?”
Fate’s sing-song voice echoed through the empty office, arrogance fully on display. She began slowly approaching, gun hanging by her side, her posture relaxed, calm.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“I’m not gonna let you run away that easily, come on. Hiding won’t do you any-”
Cutting her off, Lark hopped onto the desk and launched themselves at Fate, who just smiled in return as she gave them a perfect view down the barrel. Before she could pull the trigger, though, something slammed into her back, throwing her off balance. Immediately, the silver-haired bundle that was Lark collided with her, sending her to the ground. Her gun flew from her hand, skittering off into the shadows, and Fate found herself pinned under Lark, staring up at a face twisted in anger.
Glancing back, she saw what had hit her in the back. Another Lark. Of course. Fate laughed, her calm, grinning eyes staring back into the hellfire of Lark’s.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Oh dear, you must be terrified, you’re not fighting fair.”
Fate’s hand raised slowly, pressing against Lark’s cheek. Her touch was surprisingly warm and tender, and Fate’s sarcastic grin shifted to a sad smile.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“It’s okay to be scared, Lark. Let me show you.”
The warmth against their cheek was replaced by a cool hardness as a card slipped into Fate’s hand before vanishing in a puff of smoke. Fate’s smile was replaced with her usual smirk as another card appeared in her other hand that she pressed into the floor.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Now get off of me.”
The shadows lengthened, and Lark would suddenly get the feeling that something, somewhere was watching them. An unease would creep into them that they couldn’t shake. Simultaneously, the card that melted into the floor would get to work. With a chorus of cracks and groans, tendrils of wood and metal erupted from the floor and desks, all snaking towards the Larks, looking to wrap around them and drag them away.
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] It’s a shock to actually collide with her, though they suppose maybe it shouldn’t be. Do they remember this? It’s all so jumbled, memories both old and new all close at hand for the time traveler who does not have the luxury of forgetting a single moment.
She touches their face, and Lark leans as far away from it as they can. It’s a cruel mockery of kindness, and they want nothing to do with the flashes of memory that it evokes. They let the hate clear their mind of sun-kissed skin and braided hair and orchards before the sense-memory can toss up more than a faded impression. God, they hate having to touch her, however briefly it’ll be. She’s too warm, or maybe they’re just chilled all the way through from standing out in the cold for too long. Either way, it burns.
“Drop the act.” The snarl that mars their face is barely an afterthought as their thoughts whirl. Kill her now, some instinct insists, and part of them is tempted to try it, just to see what happens. They won’t have to deal with the fallout, surely. Their fingers dig into her shoulders and they’re well aware of how bony their knees are as they keep one shin pressed like a bar across her thighs, their knees pressing hard into the unforgiving floor. They’re all lean muscle and not much else, but they’re taller and this is far from the first fight they’ve gotten into.
They wait too long. The card activates against their face, and fear washes across them unbidden. Their heart races and they shove away from her as the claustrophobic closeness quickly flips from grimly bearable to nauseating. The fact that they’re listening to her, even unintentionally, is just another twist in their stomach. But, hey, fear’s an old friend by now, ain’t it?
Lark likes to think they know themself pretty well. Even with everything pressing in at every angle all around them, they can register with what little rationality remains to them that they’re beginning to well and truly flip the fuck out.
Usually, this would be swiftly and easily resolved by spending a few days kicking around in the past, but oh hey, look who decided to get this over with all in one go. It was a stupid decision, but they won’t go back on it.
Back on their feet, they vanish before the branching spears of wood and metal can reach them, reversing a few seconds into the past to kick her in the back and set this whole chain off again. It’s astonishingly satisfying. Fight or flight, right? Well, they aren’t running away. Not this time.
Their heart is still racing, but underneath it they can feel the familiar jolt of catching up with the timeline, that fishhook-tug of something setting into motion after a moment of stillness. They’re just in time to discover that the spears weren’t solely aimed at their past self, as they arrow right for this Lark even as the other blinks away.
Adrenaline is a hell of a drug. They lose track of what takes place in the seconds between and what happens in real time as they dodge around the vines twining their way, flickering around the wood and metal in double time.
A starburst of pain flashes behind their eyes as they hold time too long - ridiculous, they haven’t made that mistake in months, what is wrong with the time in this place - and they make a misstep. Something sharp and cold slices across their ankle, beginning to curl around before familiar hands pull them roughly to the side. They don’t waste time thinking, just roll the clock back again and follow through regardless of the new pain of a thin braid of wood trying to twine around their waist, one that a sixteen year old Lark steps in to cut with the sharp edge of a shuriken before wheeling a young Lark out and away from the melee.
They only realize where the younger Lark was sent, exactly, when another shot rings out. Their head snaps towards Fate - stupid, don’t take your eyes off the assailant, Lark - but it wasn’t her who fired. It was the twelve-year-old Lark, standing in the darkened corner of the room. Their eyes are round and wide, surprised that it worked, but they don’t stick around for longer than to fire that one shot before a sixteen-year-old Lark drags them back and they both disappear, weapon and all.
And - they should’ve remembered that, they really should have. Everything is a little fuzzy under the haze of fear and paranoia, though, so they suppose they can blame it on that.
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]She’d never get tired of the beauty of her cards. The fear washing over Lark, their unabashed loathing of her, those eyes that never left her, always watching, always looking, always seeing her.
It was all Fate had ever wanted.
Lark pushed off her, the panic of a cornered animal flooding them, just as a hurricane of jagged metal and twisted wood began raining down on them. Grabbing, twisting, stabbing, the very room itself hungry to pin them to the floor and rip them to shreds.
And in the eye of the storm, calmly brushing herself off, was Fate.
To their credit, Lark was a spectacle to behold, slipping in and out of time like an odd slideshow, a brief moment in one spot before reappearing in another. Flashes of green announced the temporary arrival of other Larks, helping one before vanishing back to their own time. Fate idly wondered why they didn’t all gang up on her before the card in her palm called her attention. She’d double-drawn, and another card had been left after she’d caused the deluge of grasping hands.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“6 of Swords?”
Fate asked seemingly no one.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Fine, I’ll change it up. What did you have in mind?”
She summoned the deck to her hands and drew two cards. Three was always the magic number. She glanced at them, a quizzical look on her face before it clicked.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Sometimes I swear I gave you a sense of humor.”
She chuckled. One card vanished, to be saved for later. Fate took the other and rubbed it between her hands, the thin sheet of bone warming and melting into blackness that coated her hands. She brought them to her face, almost as if she was crying, before dragging them down, across her face, her mouth, and down her neck, smearing them with the dark liquid. Before her fingers could leave her neck, a shot rang out.
Her first thought was that they had also brought a gun. But then the smell hit her: sickly sweet, acidic. It wasn’t Lark’s gun. It was hers. That’s when the bullets hit her. Four gleaming red projectiles danced through the air, soaring towards her like some vicious poetic mockery. They all hit within seconds of each other, all blasting against her back and out through her chest before fizzling out. Fate cried out in pain, but she didn’t fall. A low, pained chuckle emerged from her as she slowly turned to look at Lark, the metal and wooden vines collapsing to the ground, inanimate once more. She locked eyes with them, a grin splitting her face. She managed to choke out two words.
And shattered into a pile of black, crumbled stone.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]Fuck, that hurt.
Fate stepped out of the shadows against a wall, the second card held in her hands. She snapped it in half, squeezing the pieces tight until they began to glow red hot before throwing them down. Her hands were now covered in a dripping red liquid that left small black marks on the floor wherever it landed. She whispered, but knew it would be like a yell to Lark.
Fate’s hand lashed out and sent a gout of flame rushing towards Lark. She stepped back into the shadows, reappearing to their left stepping out of the dark shapes on the floor before hurtling another at where she figured they’d be. Another step and she reappeared once more in front of them, her eyes gleaming and her smile barely contained.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“You’re not the only one who doesn’t like standing still, Lark.”
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] The panic fades all at once, and Lark has a moment to breathe as the vines also halt their pursuit. Of course, all of this is incredibly suspicious. For the moment, they’re the only Lark in the room, and their breathing sounds very loud in the still air. They don’t dare to take their eyes off of Fate, but in that moment they tug at their sense of time, trying to determine the source of that nameless wrongness that sits heavily in the air.
Their internal metronome gives a resounding shrug, ticking to a new second just as Fate crumbles to the floor in an all too literal sense. It startles them - they can’t account for what they haven’t seen, after all.
Another second, and a quiet snap from behind them. They whirl, instinctively reaching to pause time and get their bearings. Time obliges, though not for as long as they’d like.
“Behind-” Silence, and they backpedal quickly, the backs of their legs bumping against one of the desks. Time snaps back into motion in time for her to finish, “-you.”
An actual, honest-to-god fireball shoots towards them. They don’t waste time being surprised or confused, just throw themself into a roll to the side.
The human brain wasn’t intended to hold as many memories as Lark has. Some things are meant to be forgotten, and a normal life is full of those moments. Tying shoes, eating dinner, falling asleep on the couch, watching an unmemorable movie, putting hair up in a ponytail, talking about the weather. But Lark cannot forget, and so they live with all the detritus of as full a life as they could fit into 19 years.
Ordinarily, it’s easy to push these memories aside, to starve them of attention and move on without being overwhelmed. But the fire singes their hair and they’re hit with the memory of steam from a hair straightener, a necessary evil for a trip to the 2000s. They remember sitting on the cool bathroom counter and they remember standing beside it, two perspectives from months or minutes apart.
The memory releases them as someone yanks them up from the ground and spins them out of the way of the next blast, an elegant ballroom turn that has no place on the battlefield. The trailing end of their skirt is caught mid-spin, and they stomp on the hem to put out the embers as they’re guided back a step.
Their future self is smiling, despite everything, lips pressed together and eyes distant. Their gaze sharpens quickly enough, and Lark finds themself leaning backwards at a precarious angle as they’re dipped under the trajectory of the last fireball, though it passes close enough for them to feel the heat on their face.
They follow the loop after a breath that carries the scent of melting plastic and burning wood, and they remember the vaulted ceilings and elegant gowns of a ballroom fulfilling its intended purpose. The hands they catch are both their own and someone else’s entirely, and their past self’s surprise is overlaid onto barely-familiar features, hidden behind a feathered mask.
That was a good day. They’ve had plenty of good days, and they keep all of those rainy-day stars close to their heart where nothing can tarnish them, not blood or grit or dirt. They can’t believe that almost slipped their mind entirely.
Well, no use crying over a perfectly inevitable death. They watch their past self slip away and they brush a hand over the singed ends of their hair with a smile that sharpens into something fierce as they turn it on Fate. “Copycat.”
Unfortunately, she seems to be suffering from a small but critical misinterpretation of their powers. The room is smoldering and beginning to burn around them, which they might care more about if they were sticking around long enough for it to matter.
“You’re wrong.” They smile, and their hand dips into their pocket liquid-quick, scattering caltrops over the floor around them in a quick clatter of metal on tile. “I love standing still.”
A blatant lie, though perhaps it wouldn’t be if they’d spent their life in any other way. Still, they might be awful at lying to themself, but they’re pretty good at tricking everyone else. They had to be.
"It's way better than sitting." Just another second of drawing her attention. Their gaze doesn't waver. A flicker of movement from behind her, as a young Lark blinks into existence for only a moment before being dragged back into the past again. Then they reappear, a bucket of water held in their hands that they chuck directly at Fate’s back.
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]Mirthful laughter exploded from Fate along with the flames, searing, swirling, looking to devour anything in their path, Lark included. The silver-haired time travel was fluid, rolling to the side before an echo of themselves pulls them up, spins them away, guiding their movements in a way that only someone who has lived those moments can. It’s oddly beautiful, and the flames faltered for a moment as Fate appreciated the movements. The Larks reduced to one, and the dagger of a smile slashed across the current Lark’s face as they turned back to her.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.”
She responded to their accusations with a bow and a smirk, watching with interest as the floor became decorated with glinting bits of metal, a twinkling sound filling the moments between them as the caltrops clattered to the floor. This moment of interest was shattered, however, by a cold splash of water enveloping her.
Fate let out a shriek of shock as she was soaked by the younger Lark dousing her. She snapped around, her hands letting forth white-hot flames where the offender should have been, although they were almost certainly long gone. Her breathing was ragged as she ran a hand through her hair getting it out of her face as she looked for the burned child that wasn’t there. Chuckling lowly she wheeled back around to Lark, off-kilter, swaying lightly.
Fate snarled, glancing down into her hand to see what card appeared.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]7 of cups. Beautiful.
She needed to get close. Well, they did call her a copycat after all. So this is their fault. Fate screamed, her head thrown back and arms raised to the sky. Red, white, orange, and yellow spiraled to the ceiling, filling the office with a burning smell and, more importantly, sending shadows dancing everywhere.
Including behind Lark.
Fate’s head snapped forward and she took a step, vanishing into darkness. In the next moment she reappeared in the space behind Lark, leaping up and wrapping her legs around their waist, her arms around their chest, her body against theirs. She whispered in their ear.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Now I don’t think you’ve been very fair to me, Lark dear.”
Her tone was soft, her breath warm against Lark’s ear.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“You’ve attacked me twice in my life and I have no idea what I did to deserve such wonderful attention.”
She chuckled at that word, the card palming into her right hand.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“So we’re gonna take a look inside the beautiful mind of yours, and figure out exactly what’s going on here since you refuse to tell me. Don’t worry, I won’t cause any trouble while I’m in there.”
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Well, not much.”
Fate laughed softly as her teeth dragged across Lark’s earlobe, her hand coming up to their face and pressing her card against their mouth.
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] Lark laughs as the water meets its target, because the expression Fate makes is priceless. They never could resist a solid prank, even in the most dire of times. They can finally watch properly as the younger Lark is tackled by an older version, and they both disappear with the twelve-year old still choking on victorious laughter. “Ha! I knew I-”
The flames engulf the green afterimage of the two time travelers, and a wall partition meets its untimely demise. Lark bites back their amusement but can’t school the stab of vindication that turns their grin into a sickle. Tricksy little minx, indeed. They’d almost be flattered if they weren’t distracted by the seconds ticking down on their internal timer. Minutes left, now.
It’s a mistake to look away from their enemy, but the bright flames force them to shield their eyes, disoriented for a critical moment in the blank unknown between visits from their past selves.
A weight collides with their back, and they nearly buckle. Their smile drops like a bad habit as they’re caught, held. They start to struggle immediately, trying to pry her loose. It was a mistake leaving their arms free, they’ll-
“The hell-” They start, cringing away from her teeth, still pulling at her arm, wondering if they have time to pull a fruit ninja on her face before their time is up. One of their internal timers hits zero, and a ding rings through their mind as a fresh-faced young Lark appears with a genuinely pleased smile lighting up their face. The current Lark’s face goes pale. Then, abruptly, the room around them vanishes.
Lark stumbles over nothing as the weight on their back is suddenly gone, and they land in a puddle. The tail end of the ding still rings through their mind, or, actually, through the air around them, reverberating through a darkened sky. A crisp tick-tock-tick-tock plays in the background like a metronome, marking each second that passes.
But their more immediate concern - the puddle. They expect to be soaked, but when they lift their hand the liquid beads up and rolls off their skin like mercury. Maybe it is mercury - it certainly has the same silver sheen. Their reflection shudders beneath them as they get to their feet, finally able to cast their eyes out over the landscape before them.
Everything shimmers in reflective silver, a shallow pool of mercury covering the ground all around them. Jagged spires like mirror shards jut out of the ground at intervals, with multicolored stalactites that shift and jangle against each other in a localized breeze. The pool seems to cut out after the shards, dropping off into nothing. Above, green light shines like the aurora borealis lights, casting shifting illumination over the scene as it twines around and out of sight. The sky is dark beyond the light, without even a star or planet to interrupt the inky black.
It all feels familiar, though they can’t say they’ve ever seen this mirrored hell dimension before. They would remember if they had, they think. It’s pretty unmistakable.
The ground spins underneath them and a great rumble rocks them off their feet once more. They land hard, but the ground is surprisingly spongy underneath them, like the kind of padding they have in playgrounds or shoe stores. And now they see the one person they know shouldn’t be in here.
Fate. She’s near one of the shards, only upon closer inspection this one isn’t reflecting the landscape anymore. A scene plays out in full color beyond what should be a solid surface. And they know that scene, almost before they lay eyes on it. A stormy gray sky through a window framed by windchimes. A cubby-shelf overflowing with books and toys and clothes. An unmade bed shoved in the corner, with a layer of papers strewn across it almost thick enough to block out the pawprint design of the sheets.
And, in the middle of that room, two Larks stand facing one another. One is young and bright-eyed, the other older, all sharp edges and exhaustion. They’re arguing, though there’s no sound to accompany their mouths moving.
Lark stands up, again, and stomps towards Fate. “What is this? What did you do?”
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]The card dissolved, black ink that seeped into both Lark’s and Fate’s skin. This wasn’t the first time she’d used this card, and Fate knew exactly what to expect. She closed her eyes, waiting for the slimy feeling of ink on her skin to slide over her eyeballs. She took in a single breath, let it out, and opened her eyes. She let out a low whistle at the sight spread out around her. A silvery pool lay at her feet, her own reflection grinning back up at her. Twelve evenly-spaced shards encircled the pool, their jagged edges dotted with little rainbow wind chimes of stalactites. The sky swirled with emerald light, and the entire space was accompanied by a rhythmic ticking in the background.
Fate began wandering, testing the ground beneath her feet. It seemed solid enough, if a bit spongy. A can materialized, the familiar energy drink never far from her grasp. She cracked it open and drank greedily. She never understood if these Monsters were real or if they were just her imagination. In the end, it didn’t matter. It was more of a routine than anything else. The shards reflected the landscape, and at first there was nothing interesting.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]There’s usually some way the memories show themselves. Why else have a fucking representation of the mind anyways?
Fate kicked the mercurial water, sending silver beads into the air before watching them splatter back into the pond.
As Fate approached one of the shards, it shimmered, the image of a young girl holding a Monster can being replaced with a new scene, one of significantly more interest to the girl in question. A room, disorganized in a very special way, an unmade bed, papers strewn about, and two figures, strikingly different. One a firebrand, ready to burn the world down for what they want. The other, the embers. Burnt out and tired, but still going if only to keep what little is left of that fire alive. Lark and Lark, one younger and one older. There was no sound, but she didn’t need it. The postures and movements were more than enough to show that this was an argument.
And as if on cue, they appeared. Of course they had questions. Maybe she’d even answer them. Fate turned to look at Lark, taking a long sip before responding.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Holy shit your mind is fucked up.”
Fate chuckled before tossing the can over her shoulder, where it vanished before it could even think about touching the ground.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Like, this whole place,”
she gestured to the landscape around them.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“This is supposed to be a reflection of you. Of who you are as a person, Lark.”
Fate began pacing, dragging her fingers along the surface of the closest shard. Rivers of silver began creeping up them, and she looked at it for a moment before removing her hand and shaking it off, the droplets falling and rejoining the mercurial puddle.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“I’ve been in here.”
She tapped her temple.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“And don’t worry, you are absolutely right. It’s a batshit place full of smoke, mirrors, Monster, tarot cards, and not a whole lot makes sense.”
Fate extended her arms in a light bow.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Just like me! And that’s the point. My mind is me, your mind is you, et cetera et cetera.”
She waved her hand around before positioning herself in the center of the shard with the arguing Larks.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“But you? You’re just sad.”
Her hands were clasped in front of her, and there was an almost sympathetic tone in her voice.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“You’re a clock, Lark. That’s all you are. These shards? Numbers on a clock face. Those chimes? I’ve heard it when another you appears. The green sky? You jump around in flashes of green.”
Fate’s voice dripped with pity, even as her eyes shined.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“You have no identity, Lark. Your entire existence is tied up with your power, an infinite series of clocks jammed into one person, all ticking towards some unknown end.”
Fate flashed a smile, the mask of pity slipping and shattering on the ground below.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Let’s find out more about that, shall we?”
Her hand shot out behind her, pressing against the surface. The silvery substance began creeping up her hand, and Fate pushed her way into the memory beyond.
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] Lark is beginning to regret asking for an explanation. They aren’t sure which is worse - not knowing, or listening to her words ring true. This feels like a place that should be hazy and indistinct, but everything is rendered in crystal-sharp clarity and that’s… not right. Except that it’s nothing less than they’d expect, somehow. They don’t want to think too hard about the implications of this being a representation of what’s in their head.
They guess they took the “reflection” part a little too seriously. They can’t look anywhere without catching sight of themself in some jagged mirror or droplet of mercury. “Yeah, well, I’d bet yours is worse.”
They make the mistake of looking down, and there’s a dizzying moment where their reflection doesn’t line up quite right, like a recording with a half second delay. Quickly, they look back at Fate and keep their gaze trained there, because she’s not supposed to be here and somehow that translates to her being the only solid thing in this place. Fucked up, indeed.
But - and they cling to the thought - she is a filthy goddamn liar, and even at their weakest they’d never take her words without a wheelbarrow of salt. They look up at the sky when she mentions it, and understanding settles over them, sweet with the undercurrent of relief. That isn’t them. The silver, sure, that all feels familiar, even the darkness beyond, but they’d recognize the timestream anywhere.
Lark surprises themself with a delighted laugh, drinking in the sight of their personal highway to all of time. Better yet, even when they look away, the impression doesn’t fade from their mind as it usually does.
“How about we don’t do anything, and you get the hell out of my head?” Their voice drips with acid, and their smile dims as they see the scene playing out behind her once more. They don’t need her pity or her amateur-hour psychoanalysis - they need to stop her before she gets whatever she wants from all this.
She reaches for the memory and they move to stop her. But when they try to reach for their sense of time, they find it completely out of their reach. It’s like missing a step on a stairway - they’re too slow to reach her without the buffer of a pause to move within. Ice settles in their veins, but they spare another glance for the river shining high above and then follow after her the slow way.
When they reach the shard, the ground under their feet tilts at an angle, and they almost slide away from it again. For a terrifying moment, they are convinced with absolute certainty that they know exactly what it would feel like to drown in here. Then their hand lands solidly on the smooth surface of the mirror and they tumble in after Fate.
They land gracelessly on the memory of a rug shaped like a flower. That’s, what, the third fall in as many minutes? Has it been minutes? Seconds? Without the ticking it’s even harder to keep track of the time in here. Maybe they should just give up. It’s pointless anyways.
Resignation hangs over this memory like a shroud, pressing down, down, down. Lark doesn’t want to open their eyes, much less get up off the floor, but the voices find their ears regardless of their wishes.
“You don’t really want to see it, trust me.” They might’ve been more convincing if they didn’t sound so resigned, so tired, so unconvinced by their own logic.
“Well, I say I do! What could be so special all the way up there, anyways?” This voice almost hurts to hear, and they wish they could cover their ears. They’ll know soon.
“I- I can’t- you just, hey, listen to me.” They sound desperate, now, solemn and serious and desperate.
“Fine. You get six seconds.”Not enough time, why can’t they just avoid this moment forever? So impatient, they wanted to see everything.
“I’ll be here. When you get back. Just try to remember that, okay?” They’re smiling, trying to be reassuring, but their voice is weak.
“Time’s up! Going now!” A chime punctuates their statement, and the elder Lark doesn’t even have time to sigh before a louder, angrier crash heralds the reappearance of the youngest. If the first flash was a flashlight clicking on, this is a lighthouse, flooding the room in harsh illumination.
The voice is the same, except for in all the ways that it’s not, as the young Lark sobs and screams, “NO! Why- I- that can’t be-”
They are incoherent in their grief, freshly bleeding from a cut through their eyebrow, freshly aware of their own mortality, freshly traumatized. Their crying is muffled slightly as the older Lark draws them close.
Lark never wants to remember this again. They don’t want to remember the footsteps clattering towards their door, or the concerned calls from their parents, or any of it. Their eyes snap open and they push themself up with great effort, eyes locking onto Fate. “Not. Here.”
The scene shudders and halts just as the door starts to swing open. They don’t know what they’re doing, but they pour their intention into the air around them and it responds to the call. The mirror refuses to go dark like they want it to, so they reach for a different memory to fill it with.
Something meaningless, hopefully. Something doomed before it even began- oh, no. The bedroom fades at last as a familiar skate park resolves around them. At least the resignation releases them, even if it’s replaced by fragile, soon-to-be-dashed hope.
[attr="style","text-shadow:-5px 2px 5px red"]The silver shard gave way under her fingers, pulling Fate into the memory. She stumbled a bit, but took the opportunity to survey the area around her. It was a bedroom, a child’s bedroom, no longer two-dimensional or watched through a screen. She was right, it was an argument. Moments later, Lark joined her, tumbling into the memory on a rug. Fate paid them no mind. This was getting good. An older Lark was clearly trying to keep a younger one from seeing something, but younger Lark was having none of that.
A flash of green and the child was gone. An explosion of emerald and they had returned, a fresh head wound, sobbing, screaming. Fate was eager to see more, hear the expectations, the inevitable confrontation with the parents she heard asking worrying questions about their child. But before all that could happen, her Lark decided they’d had enough, locking eyes with her and grinding the scene to a halt. The world around them both changed, the scenery smearing and dripping like wet paint, blurring until it came into focus: an old, graffiti-covered skatepark. Another memory, apparently, but one that she didn’t recognize.
They landed at the lip of a large bowl, the world stabilizing around them. Fate caught a glimpse of Lark’s face and couldn’t help but laugh, the sound echoing around the empty space as she dropped to her knees and fell into the bowl, sliding until she reached the bottom where she lay, spread-eagle, still laughing.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Aw, what’s wrong Lark? Didn’t like that memory?”
Fate finally stopped laughing, grinning up at the time traveler.
[attr="style","color:red;text-shadow:-1px 1px 4px black;display:inline;"]“Not a fan of ‘Baby’s First Brush With Their Own Mortality’? It wasn’t even that bad, I’ve seen worse. Hell I’ve done worse.”
[attr="Style","background-color:#313131;padding:15px;"] Lark doesn’t want to be in here anymore. They wonder if it’s even possible to get a headache within their own head, or if they’ve just invented a new skill. Either way, they can’t keep the exhausted grimace off their face.
The memory of concrete under their knees is warm from the morning sun. A slight breeze rustles their hair. It’s a lovely day, despite the circumstances, and it only makes the cold pit in their stomach grow. They glance at Fate with an annoyed frown as she voices her delight in their painful memories. They’d almost forgotten how terrible she was, but then again, no they hadn’t.
While she slides down, they stay where they are, only shifting a little bit to mirror the pose of the remembered Lark beside them. They’re tempted to lean on their shoulder, but the fear that they would only fall right through keeps them upright.
The memory plays out with a comforting distance, enough so that they can almost tune out the conversation happening between the Lark sitting beside them on the ledge and the Kore standing at the base of the structure. Their voice overlaps with the other Lark’s; there’s less time between them.
“See, I want to make sure I’ve exhausted all my options-”
“I’m sure you have. Have you seen enough now, or will I have to kick you out on my own?” The threat is only a hair from empty; they have no idea how to get out of here themself, much less how to banish their unwanted guest.
“-too late to second-guess.”
They don’t want to keep talking, but they also don’t want her listening too closely to the other conversation.
“-help me challenge Fate?”
“What’s your deal, anyways?” Lark waves a hand to indicate her… well, everything. They’re far past the point of niceties. Try as they might to keep their voice level, years of frustration makes their tone sharp. “Why? Literally why do any of this?”
paperwork: It says "meatball" on my end?
Sept 13, 2022 6:37:36 GMT
paperwork: Willow, of course I know how website blocks work. The website puts up its arms into a blocking position, which stops you from getting close to it. To break through the block, you have to exhaust its stamina bar, ideally by punching it. It's easy.
Sept 13, 2022 6:38:43 GMT