Your mouth tastes of tarmac. You hate it; you’re used to dealing in the most exciting and vibrant colours of the taste spectrum and right now all your senses are clogged up with tension, as thought the steel knot replacing your gruelpouch has jammed all your body functions to a standstill. Except for the sweating. You are sweating quite a lot, and it is in no way because of your double layers of sweet seafoam-on-firetruck leather.
The staircase isn’t to blame for the sweat either, although this unceasing corkscrew of steps is a worthy scapegoat. You must have cleared ten or twenty flights by now, and that is a truly preposterous amount of stairs! But no, you are sweating because of your personal forecast for what’s to come.
(You have anticipated this for far longer than you think is really fair.)
In mere minutes you will face off against her for the final time, and then you will flip the coin that both of you know is merely a formality. And then...you aren’t sure. You know what has to be done. You aren’t sure you can do what has to be done.
As you ascend the final staircase, your head fills with the sound of imaginary cannonfire and her sweet chalkboard giggling, and you do the worst possible thing a woman of justice can afford to do.
You take a second to remember your glory days with her.
You don't even have the gall to remember her at her worst.
They were an infamous team, afforded renown both inside their online FLARPing circles and -- perhaps more importantly -- outside of them as well. Perhaps word of their exciting exploits could have travelled further, if it weren’t for how most witnesses had a nasty tendency to end up as catatonic trophies in Vriska’s hive. No matter.
Team Scourge were on top of their game, that was the important thing. Twin visions in azure and turqoise splendour! The troll that wandered off the path of justice would have nary a second before the swish (one cane, more superfluous now than it would be later) and the skttttttt (eight individual chips of fluorite clattering to the ground). And if there was any doubt what a sorry predicament they’d landed themselves in, there’d be cackling. Sometimes they would close in on swarms of their prey, two tiny figures pretending to be heroes they couldn’t yet find the flaws in, and they would gut them from the insides.
It was the evening of one arranged playdate that they met on one of the game’s pre-rendered plains. It had been a while since they’d played; Vriska had caught herself up in a supposed fairytale hatemance with some nautical asshole, Terezi had...Well, Terezi had been playing other games. Less reputable games. Games that she had sworn Nepeta to secrecy about! Games that she under no account played while wearing a fanciful hooded dragon garment.
The two of them would set their quests up against those of Team Charge. Standard fare, but nothing that necessitated meeting in the early hours of the dusk like they were doing now.
‘It has been such a long time, dearest Redglare!’
And of course, Vriska -- sorry, Marquise Spinneret Mindfang -- got proceedings going in-character. Not that being in-character accounted for much. As far as Terezi understood, Marquise Spinneret Mindfang was exactly the same as Vriska Serket in an over-large coat and with an added dose of piratude.
‘Marquise,’ she inclined her head nonetheless. Her lips were twitching upwards at the corners in spite of herself -- she would pass it off as a wry smirk if Vriska had the gall to comment on it. ‘Yes, it has. How is the Orphaner?’
It was idle small talk to fill up the pre-campaign silence, but no sooner had the name been uttered than Vriska’s face twisted up in displeasure. She looked, Terezi thought, quite like how Karkat looked most of the times she chatted with him -- pissed off that life continued to insult her by enduring in people she didn’t enjoy.
‘Him,’ she shrugged. ‘Over-dramatic, clingy, dependent. In otherwords, the most booooooooring dead weight. I cut him loose before I died of embarrassment. Do you know what desperation smells like, Redglare? Fish! Shoals and shoals and shoals of it. It is kind of abhorrent.’
A very different tune to the week before. It had been impossible to get a hold of her on Trollian, only for her to respond back just as the sun went up with ‘Oh, too 8ad! I was out plundering and I suppose I forgot aaaaaaaall a8out you!’
Maybe some of this showed on Terezi’s face, because suddenly Vriska was sat next to her. They really underestimated the technology of extreme roleplaying games in this age, it had to be said; how could a cloud of pre-programmed bugs so accurately capture the little lines of emotion that crinkled Vriska’s nose, the play of moonlight over her hair? Terezi prided herself on the sharpness of her senses, and yet here she was reading a bunch of uncomfortable emotions into what was, ostensibly, a bunch of pixellated fluttersects.
‘Did you miss me?’ she demands. ‘We haven’t campaigned in forever! I deliberately haven’t been replying to you, and yet here you are, hours before Toreadork starts trying to wiggle his big fat head out of his recuperacoon, just because I asked you to! Pretty needy, Neophyte.’
‘You’re my friend.’
More like sister.
‘Were you afraid of losing me as an adversary-in-arms? You were.’ Vriska doesn’t sound convinced at all, but the gleeful tone in her voice obscures that. ‘Are you coming over all pitch for me, Redglare? I can’t say I blame you. It’s all down in your fated history, I am like 80% sure of it.’
‘You are being much more over-dramatic than I can even imagine of some purple-blooded sadsack like the Orphaner.' Her mouth-corners pointed determinedly down again. This was not the glorious reunion she'd envisaged when Vriska had contacted her the day before. But how could she have expected anything less from the Marquise? Mistress of evasion and messy backstabbery! 'But for what it's worth, yes, I missed you.'
The flapstractions worked double-time to convey Vriska's expression. It was the sort of expression that ends up shocked onto a face entirely by accident, and is difficult to replicate on your own in front of a reflectory pane. If there was ever a way to reduce Vriska Serket to speechlessness, honest affection was one of the forerunners.
They sat in silence for a moment, feeling awkward in outfits that felt too childish and too old and too foreboding.
'Well, good! Because there's no one out there like you, Neophyte. No one with your rates of overkill, or even your silly choices in garish clothing.' Vriska reached over to brush her fingertips over the bridge of the other girl's nose, dislodging the cosplay glasses and laughing in delight when Terezi shuffled away from her. 'And also, I brought you something.'
She buried her hand deep into one of the many pockets in her pirate coat. When it emerged again, her fingers were clutching at a crumpled up piece of paper, and scrawled across it was...
'Seeing how you can't draw for shit.' Vriska waved her hand as though she was imparting one of the world's greatest favours. 'I figured you needed a deadly and imposing portrait of yourself to help you get back in the game! You aren't pussyfooting around with little kidgames anymore, Neophyte. These are the big leagues! And I intend to trounce those Team Charge nobodies with flair and aplomb!'
'Then what are we waiting for,' you murmur into the air. It tastes as fraught as you feel, all coiled up and waiting for the spark. You can see all those possibilities for how this will play out dancing in front of your mind's eye, and for once you wish you could just shut them all off, could pretend this wasn't a game where everyone's lives hung in the balance, could just go up to the girl in the marmalde pixie outfit and hug it all out.
Too bad that was never an option! Too bad you aren't even going to end this as Terezi and Vriska. Nope, you feel like you're living on some long unfulfilled legacy from a character you wish you'd never roleplayed.
You smell her turning to face you.
You exchange words.
You flip the coin.
'I brought you something,' she said once, and after it all went wrong you burned that something until it was so much ash.
You bring the cane through her chest in one clean thrust, and don't even let yourself flinch.