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It was all seeming very familiar now.

Paris Ardennes. A name that popped up relentlessly in Jason's life. Someone who made everything, every aspect of his life, from the friends to the parties to the girls, seem so effortless. He'd give Jason a taste of what it was like before thrusting him back into his own world, despite the fact they should have been one and the same. Jason's family could have bought Paris's family ten times over. Jason could run him into the ground. But in spite of all that, Jason would try to get Paris acknowledge him at school, and Paris wouldn't even remember his name.

And the other aspect of what was going on was something he'd been exposed to ever since he'd been going to preschool. He'd be in a room, or a park, or even a set of tar pits on an island of dead kids, and everyone knew each other, but Jason didn't know anybody. Unless Amanda or Kyran were there, in which case he had people to talk to. But without them, everyone already knew each other. They were friends. They had things in common. Not with Jason though, no, never with the weird quiet rich kid who nobody ever lent a chance. He just had to stand there, pretending everything was fine and he was enjoying every moment of being alone in a crowded room. Because that's what he had to do, that's what he learned to do from countless experience, and that's what was going to happen.

Or at least, until Jason had something to say about it.

He thought of turning on his heels. But a thought ran through his head. He'd wondered what it would be like to have his own gun. A brief nanosecond of a fantasy brought to mind all the first-person shooters he played, but the nanosecond after that reminded him of the teenagers of the previous version of this thing, the ones caught unawares by the firing of their guns and how much it threw them backwards. The real seconds that followed saw him look to the ground as Soren and Paris exchanged their words, exchanged their friendships. Exchanged things Jason never had, and never would have with either of them, and things that Jason was not going to put up with on the sidelines anymore.

It was time to leave. But not with his relatively empty hands.

The blade of his estoc swung around as the hilt rotated in his hand. The tip, instead of facing the dirt behind him, faced Soren Rosendahl.

"Well, I dunno what you plan to do, but you can start by handing over that gun before I turn you into a fucking shish kebab."

If the handle of his sword was anything less than smooth, it would have torn open the skin of his hand.
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