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Two's Too Many

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Trace stepped through the tunnel connecting the two environments, the earthy brown tones of the stones and dirt being washed away by vibrant green and aqua vegetation. He had to squint his eyes for a moment to get his bearings. Was it getting warmer in here? He mused, brushing away a bead of sweat that had formed on his brow. His lab coat didn’t seem to help, but he’d rather keep it on just in case of a situation. Every damn corner he rounded, it felt like a situation. He shook his head before continuing on, brushing the thoughts from his mind. Things would be fine, he had nothing to worry about with the tools in his hands and at his disposal. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t gun down, right?

 

The scientist in him grumped in the back of his mind. He wanted to study everything around him, but it was a little impossible when even the plant life wanted to gut you. His eyes flicked nervously to the ground, scanning for any vines or hiding bugs. Nothing so far, thankfully. He slowed his pace from jogging to a calm walk.

 

“Nothing wrong about smelling the roses, right?” He muttered under his breath.

 

Trace, there are no roses in Ukin-Na.

 

He wanted to groan. No private thoughts, right.

 

“Yeah, I know.” He sighed out loud, hoping it would reach Elsenova. She seemed to have selective hearing when he needed her the most. “It’s a little tiring running around shooting things, can’t I just take a break for a little while?”

 

There is no time. You must hurry…Not safe.

 

Of course, of course. He still made a point to refuse to run. Were all the Rusalki this pushy? Ophelia didn’t seem to mind much one way or the other. Oracca…didn’t speak. Katrahaska, though, would it have been different if she had aided him instead of Elsenova? Elsenova wouldn’t have had it though, what with the betrayal and destruction of most Sudrans and all.

 

A wall rushed up to smack him in the face and he fell back onto his rear. He rubbed his nose irritably before standing and pushing his shoulder into it, phasing through. It did strike him odd that a singular wall was the only thing to technically attack him, though. Where were the living creatures or the man-eating plants? He approached another tube and hopped up, pulling himself into it and crawling through. He froze in his tracks as he watched himself disappear through another tube.

 

“Elsenova! Did you see that?!” He called out, staring after the imposter.

 

She hummed for a second. No, sorry, what did you see?

 

Of course she didn’t see that. Of all the times she could have been ignoring him…

 

“Th-there was…Me! I was standing there and then I just, ran away through that passage!” He sputtered, alarm ringing bells in his mind pushing him to borderline sprint.

 

Yes, I saw you come through that passage—

 

“No, not me me! Other me! Just—just watch for him!” He retorted in frustration. He wasn’t crazy, he knew what he saw! Maybe she just didn’t care enough to keep a look out at all times. Trace was sure she was busy doing…things. As far as what kind of things she did, he had no idea. She was stuck in a wall sitting around spying on him who knows how, maybe she had a hobby of counting the bricks on the floor or something?

 

He practically dove through the other tunnel, scrambling for his footing on the slippery ground before taking off on a run again. His heart pounded in his chest, he didn’t want to lose sight of this guy whoever he was. Something stung his eyes and he blinked hard, losing stability and crashing to the ground. He rubbed angrily at his eyes, what the hell got him when he wasn’t looking?! More liquid dribbled from his forehead. Jeez, was he really sweating that much? His entire forehead was slick.

 

“Yeah, it’s definitely hotter in here…and it’s not just my imagination.” He mumbled, taking a moment to breathe before standing and trotting off again. Not even loss of vision was gonna come between him and this…guy, whoever he was. His coat seemed to weigh on his arms and he glanced at it for a quick second, frowning at the dark pools all over it. Considering he was never one to sweat much, something didn’t settle with him about all this. No matter, worry later, run now. He hopped up on a higher ledge and flailed his legs to get footing, pushing himself up all the way. The not-Trace stood not too far away from him. Did this guy not have a face? The distance made it hard to tell.

 

“Hey! You, STOP!” He bellowed at the top of his lungs, adrenaline zipping through his veins. They vanished through the exit. “God damnit, does everyone on this planet have a hearing impairment?” Trace grumbled to himself, pushing himself forward.

 

Yeah, it was definitely hotter than before. Every breath was hard to draw in, it felt way too choked with condensation to be comfortable. He could feel bullets of sweat rolling off his back. He wasn’t sure whether he would melt or overheat first, and he didn’t really want to find out. Hopefully there was a Sudran equivalent of an air conditioner up ahead.

 

Elsenova’s voice broke into his thoughts. Trace, there is nothing.

 

“He was RIGHT THERE!” He snapped.

 

Trace, you need to find Oph—

 

Trace tuned her out like the annoying static she was by this point. Whatever. If she wasn’t going to listen to him, then he didn’t need to listen to her for the moment. Maybe this was all a test, and she was behind all of it to see if he’d crack and spill some secrets he didn’t have? He wouldn’t put it past her. He had no choice but to obey her, but he sure as hell didn’t have to trust her.

 

He skidded to a halt, vertigo washing over him. He rested his hand against the mossy wall to his side to steady himself. His stomach did flips. He tried to control his breathing, to calm down just a bit. He wanted to hurl. This wasn’t good. A little inkling drifted around in his brain, maybe he was sick. Sometimes you overheat and lose your lunch when you’re sick, right? He was sick. He wanted—no, needed to rest it off. As the world around him swayed, he set one foot in front of him, then the other, rinse and repeat. There, it wasn’t so bad, was it? He tried to ignore the panic rising in the back of his mind. What if he was dying? He could be dying. Oh god, he didn’t want to die. Not now. He needed to confront the other Trace and Athetos—

 

Was it always so hard to breathe? He squinted his eyes and scanned the area. The heat must be getting to his head, flickers of crimson seemed to bathe the area and disappear moments after. God, if he could just take this damn coat off, but what if he found Elsenova and—wait no, not her, jeez. Other Trace. Where was he again? He shook his head slowly, trying to make sense of the fragments of thoughts scattering around in his brain. Things were starting to make even less sense, he couldn’t keep a train of thought on the tracks even if he wanted to. He’d stopped caring at least twenty steps ago. His shoes were dragging on the ground, did the grass-moss-stuff always look so pointy?

 

“Elsenova…I don’t feel well…” He rasped, stopping to swipe his soaked coat sleeve over his forehead. By this point, he wouldn’t be surprised if he were in an actual oven. Was his skin actually reddening or was that just the weird light filter? What light filter? Was there a wiggle filter? He swayed where he stood, trying to will his feet to move again. They might as well have been lead blocks.

The pathogen is affecting you. Need hurry, Ophelia can fix. Do not panic.

 

“Thanks Athetos…” He swallowed hard, readjusting his slipping grip on the Axiom Disruptor he still miraculously hadn’t dropped yet. He blinked slowly at the realization. “I-I mean, Elsenova…” His face burned, talking had no point anymore if he was just going to screw up words. Thinking was too much work. Please, please let this be over soon…

 

He snapped around when whispers met his ears, eyes flicking around in alarm for the source. Nobody was there. The corner of his mouth twitched, and he held his weapon closer to his body. Trace dared to take a few steps backward before turning and resuming his impaired march. After a few unnerving moments, the voices disappeared. He breathed a sigh of relief. As if he didn’t need to confirm he was going crazy as Elsenova thought he was! He was just sick, was all. Not like she would understand, she was just a massive war mach—

 

The faces peeking out from the walls stared him down with accusation in their dead, blank eyes. A chill rushed through his body, overheating momentarily forgotten. Were there faces there before? Why were they staring at him? He took a step. The eyes moved with him. How in the hell were they following him when they had no pupils, no iris? It shouldn’t have been possible.

 

youhavenobusinessherewhydoyoukeepreturning—

 

What?

 

youdon’tbelongbuthereyouareit’syourburdentobear—

 

That doesn’t make any sense—

 

followingorderslikeapuppetbreakfreebreakfreeshe’slyingtoyoutheyallare—

 

Trace gritted his teeth and tried to run as best he could. The whispers congregated into an unintelligible aggressive static, all tripping over each other as underlying wails of despair fought to be heard above the rest. He could feel goosebumps from all the red flags screaming out in every instinct he had. He wanted to run far, far away from these voices, these faces, was he crazy like Elsenova said he was? Was Elsenova real or was she just a figment in his head like these were? Were they truly in his head at all?

 

It’s about time.” A voice outside of his head boomed above him. He didn’t want to raise his head, the migraine he’d developed was crushing his skull. He forced himself to look up.

 

“S-sorry…you’re Ophelia, right?”

 

There’s no such thing as Ophelia.

 

“Then how’d you know what Ophelia was…?”

 

You know the answer to that.

 

Oh. Crazy, right.

 

“Yeah.” He moved on. The head did not reply. The world tilted this way and that, there was no way in hell he was walking straight. A sentry burst from the shadows and Trace wasted no time firing away with the Disruptor. It darted around the beams shot at it, slipping up and running right into the shots. The sentry crumbled to pieces, flakes of metal and ash around him. He hoped he didn’t have to deal with anything else, now that the adrenaline was wearing off, the heat was returning and oh god he was going to melt wasn’t he…

 

A pale hand shot out from the ground and grabbed at his leg. A cry was ripped from his throat and he barely managed to stumble out of the way. His eyes felt like they were peeled open, blinking was no longer an option if things like this were going to just randomly erupt out of nowhere. He couldn’t take it anymore. He wanted it to end. Was the end near? Why was he even going this way anyway? He stepped well around the hand clawing at the air and resumed his path. Another head emerged from the wall and hissed at him. Trace picked up the pace. Maybe they were following him and he could outrun them, yeah. He pumped his legs as hard as he could, whites and muted violets and grimy blacks rushing past him. He missed the earthy greens he’d left behind—how long ago? Could he go back? Too far. Something inside him kept urging him to run on, like he had a purpose, a mission. If he could remember what the hell it was, that would be great. More hands burst from the ground, clawing in his direction with a greedy hunger. The heads began leaning out of the walls, gaping and closing their mouths as if words would not come to them.

 

He tried not to look at them as he started the climb upward. The ledges were a little easier to hang onto, he didn’t even want to think of looking down. The world above and around him swirled harder, he couldn’t tell which surfaces were straight and which were warped. The voices came back in full force, but he had no choice but to try shaking them off and continuing on. Harsh whispers crept out of the walls, phantoms phasing in and out of his vision drifted aimlessly this way and that. Where were they going? Where did they come from? The platforms kept coming, he wished they would stop. He felt like he was watching himself from the outside, scrambling around like a rat in a maze. He looked like a mess. He barely recognized himself, the color drained from his face and mindless terror plastered all over his features. His eyes would twitch with alarm almost every other second. Trace was pretty sure he was close to at least passing out from the constant stress of being watched, the voices, the exhaustion, the heat—

 

He let out an angry shriek as the imposter once again slipped out of his sight the moment he spotted him. “Last time, last time you get away!” Trace snapped, hurling himself through the tunnel.

 

A determined look was on his face as he appeared, the shadow he cast loomed over him and then some. He couldn’t stop the garbled snarl from leaving his gaping mouth, his appendages swishing about freely in the air he was suspended in. The walls slammed shut.

 

“C-crap, I’m trapped!” His voice from somewhere in the room cried. He looked up at himself, and aimed the Disruptor at him. “Oh no, ohh nonononono—

 

Every beam that struck his massive body scorched his flesh. He wanted to scream, he wanted to plead for him to stop, but no words came. He tried drifting away, but the shots kept coming. On the surface, he kept moving around and evading every round fired at him. He wasn’t going to last long at this rate. How could this have happened? Why would he do this? A charred crimson was quickly overtaking his sight, it was hard to see through the stars erupting in his eyes from the pain drenched in whatever was burning into his eyes. Death would have been a sweet mercy to whatever torment this was supposed to be.

 

The last shot pierced through his skull, a bloodcurdling howl erupting from his throat before his body rippled and burst into shards of glimmering dust and flashing red orbs. On the ground, Trace grasped at his heart slamming at his ribcage. The voices evolved into merciless screeches, and his body trembled lightly before crumpling to the ground.

 

At last, silence.