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is it fate or just bad luck

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“I’m sorry! I got super sick and stayed home today,” Goggles says, after twelve unanswered calls from one angry Rider. He grits his teeth, and tells the other inkling to get better before ending the phone call. The news proves to be annoying since he and Goggles both agreed upon meeting today in Octo Valley to continue their retrieval of the zapfish. But understanding how sick Goggles sounded from just from voice alone, it would be useless, maybe even more dead weight to carry, if he did decide to come today.

He tries to pocket his phone into his pants, and is met with more cloth. No openings. Right. He had switched his outfit to the one Cuttlefish issued, though he doesn’t understand why they have to wear this gear in particular. Any after mentioned benefits from the gear appear to be absent, so clearly this must be a useless cosmetic thing like the roller he uses too. Missions would definitely be more efficient if it was his own in his hands— not that his skills with rollers are limited to that weight class only. He does practice all of the weapons for a reason.

Rider hands his phone to the captain, picks up the borrowed roller, and heads off to the site of his mission.

They were planning on infiltrating an area the octarians have a hold on— an old oil rig— and pushing them out of the territory. While the actual travel distance by normal means from here to there would put a nasty dent into his weekend, the kettles shortened the trip immensely and removes the issue of Goggles getting lost on the way.

Although for this, he is alone. His responsibility is less and greater at the same time. No need to babysit Goggles, but extra effort must be used to stay alive and to focus on the objective. He kicks his foot on the metal grating before melting into the directional system, becoming one with the ink.

By the time he reforms on the spawn pad, the sky is shades darker than what it was when he last saw it. He estimates roughly five hours passed in the duration it took him to get here, and the current time would be around early evening.

Telltale light from the zapfish shines brightly against the bleak environment, giving Rider a good reference of where they are. Advice from the headphones around his neck pushes him to get a move on before the sky falls into a deeper color.

Octarians pose less of actual threats with his skills behind the roller, and serve more as minor distractions. Larger enemies are trickier. Still, nothing he can’t take care of. The octolings make for a challenge. Majority more nimble and skilled than a large chunk of ranked players he’s met. Having Goggles around in those instances makes progress easier— a distraction or another fighting force. For now, he relies on the cover of ledges and corners to take down the guards of each capsule.

Not long after, his hands juggle around six zapfish and the walls he hangs onto. Most of the fish stay by his side, but with octarians crawling behind his tail, he doesn’t take any chances with leaving them to follow on their own. They luckily don’t seem bothered by his touch, happy to be held by something living rather than a battery cell.

The ramp he is on opens up to the middle elevated platform. He sees the silhouettes of two octolings as he ducks behind a crate. The two perch, hunched over, on metal containers stacked on the final platform. He doesn’t go there, not yet at least. Instead he explores the other half of the rig. Unfortunately, he doesn’t make it far enough outwards in time before a suction bomb lands in the pathway.

He ducks out of the way too slow, and the momentum of the blast flings him back into the middle area. The zapfish start to fret so he keeps a tighter grip on them, other limb scanning the ground for his lost roller.

Footsteps ascend the opposing ramp and a masked face greets him, scowling. He bounds backwards to put a good couple of meters between him and the other person. The clack of boots on metal lets him know someone has jumped in from behind. Options of escape shrink. Thankfully, his hand finds his roller nearby and it readies itself to protect its user.

The figure voices a sound of disapproval, shaking their head too. They clear their throat and speak. “I was hoping I could have the chance to meet both of the agents. Instead I find only one of them.”

“Half an Agent 3— Agent 1.5,” the other octoling chirps. Another voice joins in. “One half of a whole idiot!”

Rider glowers at the comment, casting a cautious look at the owner of the first voice. They seem annoyed by the chattering of the two behind him, choosing to busy their attention with their kelp tie. The elite proceeds to step forward, eating the space between them. Their long leather coat flaps with each movement. While he can’t see their eyes, he feels as if they’re studying him.

With the obvious differences in tone, the elite is more put together compared to the other ones he’s fought. This one wears a beret, black and decorated with a pin of an emblem seen frequently around overtaken sites. The classic metal goggles are the same. Rider assumes this one must be of higher military status, already denoted by the kelp and dark ink color.

They give a quick nod to the octolings behind him, reading their own weapon in the process. Rider holds off from rushing forward, expecting the ones behind him making their move when he does. “Hardly fair of you to have three against one,” he growls under his breath.

“We expected two of you.” The elite laughs. “So this works for us.” As if on signal, the two octolings charge. He rolls out of the way of their strikes, since their movements come predictably. One of them fails to stop within time and runs into the bomb he leaves behind. The remaining one avoids the casualty and lands one shot on him.

Foreign ink stings his skin, a feeling nothing strange to him. With one swift movement, he sweeps the octoling off balance, forcing them onto the ground. His roller follows a downward swing and crushes them. It still surprises him how basic their tactics are or how he’s just that good. Though his elation doesn’t last long when the elite springs into action. Within the time it takes him to shake off the magenta ink, Rider eat metal for the first time in a while.

His body goes down, and the fish scatter to far corners of the structure. Some of them peek from their hiding places, watching their dance. They throw around shots and flicks, mostly ones that connect with him and not the other way around. Panic rising, Rider runs more than he fights.

The elite finally twists around him and strikes the back of his head with their gun. His head violently aches in protest. Rider keels, falling into his ink to recover. He throws a bomb as a diversion and retreats off into the path he made during the gaps in their fight.

Any doubt in his throat about his opponent dissipates as a sour taste replaces words in his mouth. His back presses against the cool wall for relief. Lips parted, he swallows more air to even his breathing. Light filters into the corner of his vision and his eyes widen. One of the fish try to wiggle over to his position. He feels uncomfortable when he jumps into an ink rail, leaving the glow. In theory, since the light is small, it’s not noticeable behind the wall. Yet with his current opposition, anything could give him away. It’s better for him to take precaution.

Rider clambers through the walled pathway, back first, sights trained on the only opening on the off chance the elite follows. Listening for a sign, he presses his face to the side of the wall, and it sounds like he is alone for now. He calls Agent 1 and 2 for help, previously ignoring their frantic shouting during the fight. A suggestion to make use of the elevation to set up an ambush passes through the speakers, as well as a gripe about not listening to their advice earlier. He rolls his eyes and thanks them.

Still, even away from the other’s presence, he is not safe. Shaking off the desire to sleep, Rider paws his way to the outlook. There, he spots the elite on the lower path, unaware and searching. He crouches behind the remaining bit of wall. Formulating, Agent 1 tells him to lure them over to the bottom platform with a bomb and drop from above at the given opportunity. He decides on something else to save his ink.

It works, for the most part. He unceremoniously shoves a crate off the side and the noise catches the attention of the elite. Surprise flickers over their face when Rider descends with roller in hand, ready to swing. The elite stumbles back from the hit, goggles skittering across the floor.

They rub their face clear of vertigo during the period it takes him to pull back onto even footing. The frustrated gaze of pinched eyebrows and squinted eyes burns a hole into his. Rider scrambles out of the way of the first shot, ending with him running into the second one. His own headgear flies off, just as a foot comes down to crunch it into unusable scrap.

With communication gone, frustration blesses him with a final dose of adrenaline. Rider swings his roller again with the last of his energy.

Wincing, they catch the weapon and tumble. He suffers too underneath the weight of the opponent. His limbs feel like lead, body slowing each time he raises his arms to block. As much as he prides himself on his stamina and strength, he isn’t a trained military professional like this one. A fistful of his shirt drags his feet from the ground, and the elite throws him. Landing ends with open waters below the spot he’s hanging off of. He blinks wearily. The raised edge of the platform digs into his back. Water churns expectantly for another victim.

Rider shuts his eyes and exhales, ready to join the sea. No last words, no snippy remarks, completely defenseless and not the way he imagined he’d die. The pressure of a boot pushing down on his chest forcibly draws out a breath. He stares up at their face.

The elite pauses, running their eyes over his form. Anger from earlier gone with curiosity, confusion taking its place. Pressure from their step lightens, though still heavy enough to keep him from moving much. He doesn’t think he could either way under a shadow like that.

“Why did you stop fighting?” they ask, genuinely baffled at his lack of effort.

He casts a tired look, voice worn and quiet.

“Haven’t you won?”

The elite tilts their head, wind blowing their tie astray. Rider might as well tilt his head too.

They stay like this for a while, foot still on him. His breathing falls in line to a normal pace and he keeps waiting for another movement. He’s past the point of moodiness, just expectation and no thoughts.

Eventually the elite steps back after what felt like ages, still watching him until their agitated shouting cuts through the tranquility. He can’t understand it— doesn’t try to either. They circle around the platform in hurried stomps, take one more glance at him, and super jumps away.

Rider lays there watching until the dot travels out of his sight.

-

By the time he wakes up, the sun is gone, leaving a darkened sky behind. He’s confused as to why his body is still in one piece and how nobody’s here to change that. His roller is where he left it, headphones still destroyed.

The zapfish are later collected—no one stops him either— and returned to the captain as he is to his home. He thinks about the relief the other two agents felt when they saw him limping back to base with the roller as a crutch. They tell him they thought he died, but Agent 2, feigning indifference, insisted she believed he’d be fine.

He thinks about the elite right as he falls asleep.