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delayedMirth
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Level Up!

Ashley triumphantly high-fived her cousin, who was sitting on the couch next to her. "Woo! Just a couple more until I finally hit the level cap!" Brandon, absently fiddling with an acoustic guitar, smiled.

"Ash, you know that you can already one-shot the final boss with your staff chick, right? It's just a little bit stupid to waste all this time trying to reach an arbitrary power level, doncha think?" Ashley playfully punched him in the shoulder, shaking her head.

"It'd be rude to the developers to not experience everything the game they worked oh-so-hard on!" She was clutching the rectangular controller to her American Entertainment System, sitting in front of a small TV. Aside from that, the room had no other discernible features, the sofa she and Brandon were sitting on floating in a black void.

"Well, I'd love to stay and watch you accomplish this monumental achievement, but I've got shit to do. See ya later." Brandon stood up, placing the guitar on the couch. He began to walk away, dropping through the "floor" and quickly falling out of sight after a few steps. Ashley took no notice, focusing on her game. This was the last of the "classic" Last Legend games that she hadn't played, after all! She needed to devote her full attention to this!

...

At long last! Level 99's, all round! Ash picked up Brandon's guitar, playing a short little victory tune. As she picked up the controller again, the screen flickered, turning off. A message appeared on the screen:

A wild Soldier comes close! Action?

The sound of static pierced her ears, and everything faded to black. When she came to, Ashley was bound, blindfolded, and gagged, apparently tied to a chair. She could hear a harsh, male voice call out, "For the crime of treason against our glorious nation of America, Ashley Sydor is to be executed by firing squad." W-what? No, no! There had to be some sort of mistake! Ashley had always tried to be a model citizen! She tried to cry for help, but her voice was muffled, with no sound escaping. The man continued, "You may fire when ready, gentlemen."

Oh god oh god this couldn't be happening "Ready!" someone stop them please help "Aim!" she was going to die she was going to-

...

F015: Ashley Sydor - Start

Ashley let out a quiet shriek, collapsing. After a couple seconds of violent trembling, she came to the realization that no, she wasn't quite dead yet. She slowly opened her eyes. Her back was sore, and she was lying on the ground. She pushed herself up, kneeling. The hell was this?

A wooden boat shack was a couple of feet away, (had she been leaning against the wall? That'd explain the soreness, at least), though none of the boats looked particularly usable. A rather large lake, as well. She could barely see the other side. Turning around, Ashley noticed a green bag lying on the ground, with a black eagle. Again, the hell was up with all this? The bag certainly wasn't one of hers...

At this point, Ash became aware of something on her neck. She didn't normally wear necklaces, so what...? She cautiously probed the thing with her right hand, gasping a bit as she touched cold metal. A collar? The fuck would she be wearing a collar? She stepped over to the side of the lake in order to get a better look at herself.

...Yup, that definitely was a collar. She studied her reflection, puzzling over why, exactly, it was around her neck. In a flash, the events leading up to her awakening exploded back into her mind. Stunned, she took a step backwards, then collapsed back to the ground. She was in the Program. She was in the Program. SHE WAS IN THE FUCKING PROGRAM.

She just sat for a while, hugging her knees, her mind blank. The Program was always something that happened to other people, wasn't it? Ashley'd always been half-convinced that all of those kids on TV weren't really dying horrible deaths, right? There was no way that the government would... would really...

But, here she was. No special effects team following her around. No director telling her what to do. Just her, and the simple instructions to kill, or be killed herself. She laughed a bit, thinking of the sheer impossibility of it all. Out of all the schools, out of all the classes, out of all the students, she'd been selected. People she was talking and joking with last week would now be...

They were all good people, weren't they? She knew them! Well, most of them. Would any of them really be capable of killing? Taking the life of another, for no reason other than to save your own? She... she couldn't even accept that as a possibility.

Marley... oh god, Marley. She needed to see him, before... before he... before he what? Died? Did something terrible? No, Marley definitely wouldn't! She knew him, she loved him, she believed in him! She'd reunite with him, and together, they'd kick the collective asses of everyone else!

Metaphorically, of course. If they could just find some safe, out-of-the-way location, they could just try and stay out of trouble, try to outlast everyone else. But, what would happen when they were the only two left? Nothing worth thinking about. It'd all work out in the end. It had to.

Ashley rose to her feet. Sitting around and moping wouldn't fix anything, after all. If she wanted to do good, she had to stay positive, keep smiling. Find her friends, find her boyfriend, work out something, anything! It didn't matter what, as long as they didn't hurt anyone else! That's all that mattered!

With a new resolve, Ash returned to the bag, rifling through it. Rations, first-aid, (she barely knew the first thing about medicine, but it didn't hurt to have it around) a rather nice jacket (she put it on. She hadn't realized before, but it was pretty chilly, even with her sweatshirt) a map and compass (they'd have to be checked over sometime soon) and... a snuggie?

Ashley held it out in front of her. This was her weapon? She hadn't planned on actually using whatever she got, but... She groaned. Well, at least she'd be warm at night. Better than most "joke" weapons, after all. Placing the various items back in the bag, she slung it over her shoulder. Well, at least she was somewhat ready, now. Had to get a move on if she wanted to find anyone.

Stopping back at the lakeside, Ash squinted, trying to make out any details about the other side. She'd glanced this way before, but she hadn't really performed a through examination, because of the whole "OH GOD I AM GOING TO DIE" thing. But now, she could just make out a shape... it wasn't moving, but... was that a person? She couldn't make out any other details, but yeah, it was definitely a fellow student!

Ash made her way around the lake, and after a couple minutes was close enough to see the student in more detail. It was a girl, she could tell that now, curled up on the ground. Ashley couldn't see her face, but she definitely seemed familiar. Ash started jogging towards the figure, calling out, "Hey there! You okay?" No, the girl was very definitely was not okay, and the cheerfulness in her voice sounded quite forced, but it was the thought that counts, right? ...Right?
we have built cities and dug graveyards on oh so many worlds
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