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"Whatever floats your boat, crazy person," Audra snarked, causing even Fille to giggle. "Still, you do know what you're doing is reckless, right? This isn't a place for Thetas to be."

She gave them both a pointed look at that. "I've told her several times already," Fille said, uncomfortable. "Hasn't seemed to have done much good, considering where we're at."

"That's the truth!" Audra exclaimed in an almost mocking manner. "I had hoped all of the Thetas would've known better than to come gallavanting around these parts given what Rogueport is, but if there's two Thetas hanging out here--"

"Three," Fille cut in. "Maybe four."

"Four Thetas? Christ," Audra muttered. She threw her head back and downed her entire glass of wine. "Guess that bounty needs to be reworked."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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Sera shook her head. "Being outside of a hub city at this point for a Theta would be termed "Reckless" by most people. But we're all still out here." Sera replied evenly, "If you have the power to change the bounty, why haven't you done it yet?" She quirked a curious eyebrow to Audra, if the snark from moments ago had bugged her, it didn't show.

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"Didn't have need to," Audra said with a shrug. She gestured with her empty wineglass at Sera. "Far as we knew there weren't suicidal Thetas coming here in droves."

"... so you think you can help her?" Fille asked, nodding her head at the bard. "She wants to sing for the leaders of Rogueport, and we both kinda figure that the mayor's a puppet..."

The thief's response was to hang her head back over the seat, staring up at the ceiling. "So you're talking about singing for the Mistress of Thieves, not just the mayor," she stated.


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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Sera finally gave in, sipping more of the wine. Enjoying the taste for what it was worth. Swishing it around in her mouth for a moment before swallowing. "Mistress of Thieves." She said, testing the word on her tongue slowly. "Do you know her, by chance?" she questioned with a curious smile.

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"Much as anyone does," Audra answered. She leaned her head to the side, her tone becoming light. "Well, if that's all you're after, I guess I could try and arrange something for tonight."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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She set her wine glass back down on the table. "I'd be very grateful. And owe you a favor." Sera said, her voice soft. A pang of regret filled her voice a moment later. "But if you need to collect a favor from a girl who's mostly talented in singing. . . you might want to do it quick. My time in the game is short."

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Audra shrugged and gestured with her glass at Fille. "Eh, it's a favor to her, so she owes me, really," she remarked. Fille shrugged back in acquiesce. "You girls should keep close by for today. Just try and stay out of trouble, and don't talk to strangers."

"You're not gonna give us an escort?" Fille asked, curious.

Audra shook her head. "Wouldn't work, it'd make the two of you stand out, so it's up to you to keep out of trouble, got it?"


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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Terrel groaned loudly. Her face was hot, her clothes were hot, her neck itched, and her head throbbed as if something lived there now. Opening her eyes, she found she was nearly blinded by a sun just beginning to descend. Thoughts about date, time, and location were beyond her at the moment, trampled under an assortment of other thoughts that didn't make any sense.

The sun was already dipping?

Then she remembered why her head hurt, and she groaned all the louder for it. At least she would probably be alone, now.

---

"You'll let us worry about the city, if we get there," Khordus assured them, the ground beginning to level out now, though the place had turned cold in their descent. Above their heads and to their sides, the edges of the tunnel were smooth and ended in sharp angles on each other, and it became much straighter as it went, though it was still a long ways forward.

"Our contract is fulfilled with the Lions when we reach the end of this tunnel," the man explained simply. "They've told us that, yes, if we're going where we think we're going, then they deserve much more money for the job. I suppose they're probably right. It's been slow work so far though, I'm afraid."

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"You were out longer than I thought," Rua's voice pierced Terrel's thoughts and her headache. The familiar chirping of Relayia followed it.

Rua was sitting on an overturned stone, his dragonet resting comfortably on his shoulder. He was clad once more in the outfit Terrel had met him in, and he had a healing potion hanging loosely from his hand. He held it out to her. "You lost a fair chunk of HP from that hit, so you might want to drink up."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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The bard nodded politely, "I think Fille can manage. Hopefully I will too." she said with a half-smile. She stood, "Does that mean we're free to go?"

____

Bekka eyed Khordus, trying to get a read on the man. "You would not believe how many times I've heard a client say to let them worry about the end of the line." She remarked finally. Voice carefully level. "Don't screw us over on this, Khordus."

Duff cackled, patting the pistol at his side. "eh, Ons sal okay wees. Bekka, soos Budapest. No worries, eyeah?" His eyes twinkled as he looked to Khordus. Feeling the same worry Bekka did about the job. But as usual, masking it with a manic smile and crazy eyes. Looks were important, and looking weak generally lead to cut throats. He would wake up in a bed with a headache. Bekka and--yes, the indeterminately aged Bec would be gone. And that wouldn't do, oh no. He rather liked the little man.

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"So long as you don't leave town, yeah," Audra confirmed. "Not that you'll have much chance of that, being players and all. "It'll be a bit before that bounty gets changed."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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Her eyes narrowed in a mixture of curiosity and wariness. "How can they tell we're players?" She asked, trying her best not to sound accusing. That the Warlord had vaguely heard of her was surprising, but Audra hadn't seemed to recognize her, nor anyone else in the city. Theoretically, she should just have been one of the very few bards in the game. As long as she didn't do anything too random or "player-like", she thought the AI couldn't tell she was a different.

Of course, she had every intention of going from city to city, and the game would most likely take notice, in some way, if she made it far enough. But with only six towns under her belt . . .they shouldn't be recognizing her yet.

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Audra looked at Sera like she was an idiot. "You and Fille stand out too much," Audra said. "You don't look local at all, even if Fille's wearing the local fashions."

Fille frowned and glanced down at her attire, knowing she was right. She was too pale for the region.

"Besides, players talk differently. We have our own jargon and stuff, calling this world a game and other people NPCs," Audra explained. "Between that and most foreigner NPCs never risking coming here, it's pretty easy to identify who's a player in this town."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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Sera pondered the answer for a bit. Part of her wanted to question why Audra wasn't dead, if her jargon and "stuff" marked her as a player. But presumably because she was a higher-ranking official in the city. "Not like I'll live long anyways." She finally said with a smile. "Fille though, you'll make sure she gets out safely?"

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"When she wants to leave, yeah," Audra nodded. "You're still waiting on Droge, right?"

Fille nodded in her reply. "I am. He's also assisting someone else, I suspect, so it might be a while."

Audra shook his head. "Still can't believe he had the guts to show up here," she muttered. "Well, it's Droge, so he won't take too long, I bet."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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Sera kept silent as the two women exchanged the name. Droge. From their tones, the two women didn't seem on good terms with him. But tones could ever be misleading. "He has the information you're looking for, on the bow?"

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"Not yet, but I've coerced him into finding something about it," Fille remarked.

"Bow?" Audra asked, arching an eyebrow as she kicked her feet up onto the table, crossed at the ankles.

"I'm trying to get my hands on a Phantom Phoenix," Fille explained. "I'm not sure where any of them are hiding at, but I'm pretty sure there's more than one copy of the weapon."

"And here I thought you'd be after an Arcanum Relic," the thief remarked.

Fille frowned. "You're the second person to bring that up now. What's going on about those things?" she asked.

"You're a Theta, you tell me."

Fille blinked. "What's my being a Theta have to do with it?"

"You haven't heard?" Audra asked, confused. "Word has it some hotshot in Minervum gathered a bunch of Thetas and sent them off to hunt down the Arcanum Relics. No idea why."

Fille blinked again, her mind racing back. Minervum? Isn't that where that PM I got said I should head for? she thought.


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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"They say the Relics are the key to the Theta's getting out of the game." Sera supplied helpfully. She'd received the same pm. But hadn't been able to reach the conference. A fellow Theta had sent her the essentials of their conclusion. She belatedly realized her tone carried less enthusiasm than it should have. Sera's situation was painfully unique, and the mere possibility that the rest of the Theta's could get back to their bodies was outstanding news.

She pushed away the frown that had formed for a few seconds, replacing it with a warm smile. "Might just get to go home yet, Fille."

Edited by Ajax on September 5, 2014 at 6:47:25

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The woman groaned obnoxiously loud, turning her throbbing head away from the voice of Rua. "There can't possibly be a good reason why you're still here," she said sourly, getting a sick feeling in her stomach. Which was worse, that she'd run out on him, or that he'd not told her he was doing business with the devil herself? Business about her own self, no less. Yep. That was definitely worse, in her mind.

---

Khordus put on a look of feigned offense at the comment, "Screw you over? Do I look like that type? Unless, of course, you're into that, in which case..." He trailed off, chuckling under his breath. But he had already made his mind up to move on, and he turned to the short one of the group. Bec, was his name?

"You don't look too handy with a sword, my little friend. A mage, then? Or perhaps a rogue?"

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"Probably," Rua agreed.

He had thought on it, and had decided that Maia was unfortunately right. Terrel had tried to bail on him: there was nothing he could think to justify it, though he still felt like it wasn't done out of malice.

Still, he made a promise to Terrel's sister, and even with EP's words weighing a bit more heavily than they had the night before, Rua didn't think he could do this alone.

"C'mon, hurry and drink up," he ordered, still holding out the potion to her. "We've got a bit to talk about."

===Rogueport Warehouse===


"... a way out?" Fille remarked, sounding dubious. "Yeah, right. How are seven in-game myths supposed to help get us out?"

"Sounds pretty farfetched to me," Audra agreed. "Do you know how it's supposed to work?"


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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Terrel scowled at him, eyeing the drink uninvitingly. Why was he still here, really? He'd screwed her over, and she wouldn't be quick to forget that. But her head still throbbed, and she recognized a red potion when she saw one. Well, if he wants to give me free stuff, then I'll right well rob him blind, she rationalized dourly, taking the potion from his hand and downing it.

"I don't have anything to talk with you about," she said finally and bitterly, putting the potion down unceremoniously and leaning back again. "I'm dead meat now--thanks for that. I don't think either of us want you here when the wolves show up."

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Here Sera blanched a bit. "I . . .didn't actually pay that much attention." She confessed, a touch of awkwardness in her voice. "I can ask my friend, again. See what he knows." Belatedly she wondered if he was even alive, any more. He was that curious mix of sociopath and just a touch of megalomaniac, with a helping of controlfreak . . .but he had been the one Theta who hadn't laughed at her or told her she was crazy. Being who he was, though. He put himself in harm's way quite a lot.

"Yeah." She swallowed, smiling back at them. "Sorry, it didn't seem important at the time."

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"We're both pretty screwed at the moment, yeah," came Rua's reply. "You could've warned me that you had a bounty hunter after you. Or something was warped as the Eden Ring on you."

He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, annoyed. "Honestly, I should've known better. That stunt of yours at the library showed me you're pretty reckless," he said. Tearing out of the building just because Relayia had a book in her claws? That should've had warning bells going off in his head. "Too late to back out now, though."

Rua leaned back on his seat, sighing. "I mentioned earlier that another player was bugging me when we split ways earlier. I didn't get a chance to tell you what that was about, 'cause of that," he explained, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at the hill between them and Rogueport. There was still plenty of smoke trailing up into the sky. "I figured after that explosion, we'd be better off leaving and I could explain on the way."

That had certainly worked out well. "She'd been after you for a while, and made you out to be some dangerous super-thief or something, so much I thought she had to be after the wrong person," he remarked. "But now... now I think she wasn't exaggerating all that much."

===Rogueport Warehouse===


"Well, that meeting was supposed to be yesterday, so it's not like there's been much time to investigate it," Fille told her. She turned to Audra. "Think you can check the forums tonight to see what's up?"

"Yeah, I can do that," Audra told her. "I have to go lurk around to see what's the real deal with this Liam nutcase. Might make me a little late getting back, though."

"It's fine," Fille said. "So long as you don't leave us stranded here in the middle of this dump."

Audra laughed. "I don't think you need to worry. You already put Jorge in his place last night, so I think you two will be fine."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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"Oh, you never know the sort of trouble we can get into in Rogueport." Sera shrugged. "Enjoy your time on the outside, I suppose."

She paused a moment, foot halfway forwards towards the door. "Is there a good place to meet you, when you get back on?" She questioned of Audra.

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Audra laughed again at Sera's remark on Rogueport. Oh, she had a pretty good idea. "Yeah, just come back here when you're done getting in trouble," Audra told her. "I'll let the guards know to let you in when you two get back."

Fille got up to follow Sera out. God knows she couldn't let her roam about Rogueport on her own, especially after those explosions. "Send me a PM when you're back and we'll head over," she told her friend.

"You got it."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.

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Sera pushed onwards towards the door and out of the room. Slowly making her way back out of the warehouse. "So. This Jorge fellow, he knows where your bow is? Or---wait, Droge?" She called back to Fille as she once again stepped into the bright daylight and breathed in the relative safety of the open market.

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"Droge didn't know, so I'm having him find it for me," Fille told her. "He's good at finding info out, once you can convince him."


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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A thought struck Sera at the mention of what Droge did. Her mind absently reminding her that Jorge was the name of the man Fille had tossed into the water. Droge the other name. Of Fille's informant.

But . . Informant. "If he doesn't pan out. I can ask my friend. He's another player. Also good at finding things out." She smiled awkwardly. "Owe you that much, at the very least."

Edited by Ajax on September 8, 2014 at 7:09:54

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The woman looked away stubbornly, not ready to listen to Rua's arguments. So he was going to try and play the 'what you did was just as deceptive' card? Fat chance she would have told him half the blue-white goons were chasing after her. Even fatter chance she'd have told him why. It was one thing not to dig up your past with someone. It was another thing not to mention that Satan was in the next house down.

"Yeah," Terrel retorted hotly, "you got me, the super-thief. Just messin' everything up, as usual. Everything you said is true and all of it sounds like a great list of reasons why you should leave me alone right now."

---

Tsuminar -- Stamarian Tower, 142nd Floor


Elevator doors, somehow blending with the bamboo floors, dark stones, and sweeping architecture, opened to reveal a young woman, not hardly twenty. She was short and narrow, but she held herself so straight it almost seemed she was tall and broad anyway. Platinum blonde curls descended just past her shoulders, framing a stern face with a jaw line fine enough to take her face from beautiful to handsome. Cold blue eyes dominated her fair skinned face, but the corners of them were perhaps the slightest hint of red.

Image was everything, she reminded herself. Be strong with them; they would respect you.

On her right shoulder was the Stamarian crest, a blue and white badge etching a silhouette of the Thunder Bird Aurinar fancied so much. The ribbons descending from her left shoulder, though, indicated her rank, placing her among only a handful of people directly beneath the emperor himself. She wore them proudly.

As the woman stepped from the elevator, she immediately made eye contact with the secretary, a sharp looking man who flinched slightly at her gaze. She had been told she looked hard. She felt hard, right now.

"He'll see you now, Ms. Gladish," he said politely, gesturing to the doors that led to the single office on this floor.

Tsuminarians were ridiculously lavish, at times, with their impossibly high architecture and superior technology. Much of this game was living in the stone-age, practically, but Tsuminar enjoyed the privileges of a technology that by and large could not leave the city. Oh, they made weapons and armor, but no one could reproduce the metropolis without its core component. Naturally, the Stamarians had taken to it quickly. It figured they would dedicate an entire floor of a tower to one man's office, as if it were some penthouse or mansion.

She walked up to the door briskly, though, and grabbed both door handles firmly. With one last deep breath, she opened both doors at once, walking into the man's office boldly.

He was standing, facing the other window in some clichéd thoughtful pose, and she couldn't help but disdain him. His body was perfect--of course it was, here in this game--but he still seemed to have the sense of a heavier man. The way he fumbled with his pen, cracked his neck stiffly, or rubbed at his nose where his glasses should be, all spoke of a lifetime in a body that looked very little like the one here.

"Pius," she announced herself by naming him. After the recent events, she would supersede him soon. If it were not for the events themselves, she would have been incredibly happy about the matter, but as it stood, the only thing she took pleasure in was knowing he would be beneath her soon.

"Ah, Elle'n, I appreciate your time here today. Please, please, come sit," he instructed, waving at a straight-backed, uncomfortable looking chair on the other side of her desk.

She resisted a twinge of annoyance. Still he insisted on using her first name, even now. Nodding at him coldly, she walked to the seat and took it, ignoring the back and sitting just as straight on the edge of the chair. Wordlessly, she straightened out the folds in her skirt and tugged her white gloves on a little firmer.

"What did you need, Pius? I've already begun the preparations to tie up my father's work, and I've been working on a plan of my own, for these next few months in his stead."

"Ahhh, Elle'n," there was the name again--no respect, "your father's death was more tragic than I can describe. He was a great friend to me and even the emperor, you'll know. Don't you think it would be appropriate to take some time? Gather yourself and perhaps stay somewhere safe?"

"My father's death," she responded, taking a breath to avoid stuttering even a single letter, "was the result of Project Theta. He was a great man, and he left me a legacy to attend to here. Even if I'm a slave to this game as well, I'll uphold that nonetheless. His death means--"

"--It means we have much reason to mourn, Elle'n. You don't need to hold yourself so tightly around me, girl, I'm sure the pain is immeasurable. I can't begin to imagine--"

"--How much work there is to be done?" she completed his sentence in return, biting off the last word harshly. "If I'm to take his place, then I can't--I won't--cry myself to sleep each night."

Pius looked uncomfortable, suddenly, and Elle'n narrowed her eyes as soon as she caught it. What was it? That look in his eyes, even the game couldn't mask what he was feeling. It was a modicum of sympathy, but it was mixed with something familiar too. Something she saw every morning in the mirror...

Disdain.

RisingDragon
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Rua sighed. This wasn't going anywhere. He could tell she was gonna dig her heels in about this--god knows he's seen enough of this crap from his sisters.

"Why do you even think we're out here, Terrel?" he asked, exasperated.

===Rogueport===


"It's fine," Fille told her, waving her off as she stepped out from the warehouse, ignoring the looks of the nearby guards. "Droge hasn't failed me yet and I doubt he'll fail me now. He knows better than that."

She prickled her nose. The smoke rising up from the shanty town was pretty strong even from here. What the hell did they use? Military-grade munitions?

Edited by RisingDragon on September 8, 2014 at 0:09:16


"Why do you care that I care that you care enough to care that I care for caring?" "Conversation isn't your strong point, is it?"
"I worship the supreme comrade Cossack!"
"OugharagarraaahhHHH: When 'Ow' just won't cut it."
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CAPCOM: We put the "No" in Innovation.