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May 29, 2022 5:13 AM
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The Hero struggles and writhes, finally breaking free of the stranglehold grip the Empress's robotic minions have on him. He ducks to the side, rolling to avoid their reach, snatching up his sword and advancing on the Empress.

"I'll give you one more chance!" he shouts. "Please, I don't want to do this."

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"And yet," the Empress says, bored and sarcastic, gesturing to the sopping wet hero and the flooded floor. "Isaac, if you really didn't want to do 'this', all you had to do was stay home. Don't insult both of us by pretending I'm forcing you into anything."

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Isaac falters, some of the tension bleeding out of his stance. "There's a difference between doing what's easy and doing what's right," he says softly. The Empress opens her mouth to retort and he cuts her off with, "I loved you once."

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The Empress's expression softens. She walks closer to Isaac, stopping just out of his reach. "I know," she says, subdued. "I haven't changed, Isaac. I just... put some things in motion. I - tried harder, that's all. I know you want some singular thing you can point to and say, 'Look, this is where it all went wrong-'"

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He makes an abortive gesture, shaking his head. When the Empress looks at him, he says, "You're not the villain from a hack sci-fi novel, you can't-"

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"I kind of am."

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"-you can't just monologue and expect me to change my mind!"

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"It's fun."

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"You've killed people!" he snaps, frustrated.

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Her face flickers for an instant and she mutters something under her breath, maybe a number from what Isaac can hear. Then she arches an eyebrow and says, "So have you."

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Isaac grinds his teeth. Has she turned herself into a robot? Will anything provoke a reaction?

He knows it's the wrong tactic, knows it as soon as the words leave his mouth, but he can't leave it at that. "Bad people. And in self-defense. You've killed innocents-!"

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"At least one," she agrees coolly. She sounds oddly absent, as though she's thinking of something else. She pauses and shakes her head, seeming to come back to the present. "But we could go on like that for hours, and I don't know about you, but I'd rather not. I have a proposal for you instead. Call it a gesture of goodwill."

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He glances to either side surreptitiously. The mechanical gargoyles rumble softly, almost as though they're breathing. They're quiet, staying off to the side, but he has no doubt they'll leap on him in an instant if he moves to attack the Empress. He swallows and nods at his adversary. "I'm listening." He doesn't have much choice.

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"Rule with me."

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For the second time that day, Isaac is totally speechless. He just gapes at the Empress, opening and closing his mouth a few times before working out what to say. "I - in what bizarre world do you think the answer to that is going to be yes?"

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The Empress makes a noncommittal noise and folds her arms. She bows her head to stare at the ground, and sounds pained when she speaks.

"There was a small part of me that hoped it was this one, I guess. But - please, just listen. For two minutes, forget whatever power fantasy you think you're playing out and make an informed decision. Please. If nothing else, realize that this is your chance to change the way things are run. That's why.... That's all I wanted to do. I wanted to make things better for everyone. I still want that. Just... just trust me, this one little bit, and let me trust you too. Tell me what you think is wrong here. I need that."

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Throughout her speech, Isaac has been slowly dropping his guard, and now he stands with his head bent, sword tip scratching at the stone floor. He looks like he's genuinely considering it, but doesn't say anything.

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She takes a step forwards, as though her presence is an argument in its own right.

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That's what he was waiting for. In one quick movement, he brings his sword up through her torso - or rather, he brings his sword hilt up in front of his chest, useless without any metal attached to it. "What-?"

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The Empress doesn't give him time to react. She draws the small-caliber pistol she'd hidden in the crook of her arm and shoots him twice, once in the head and once in the chest.

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He goes down.

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She empties the rest of the clip into him, alternating between chest and head. When the gun's spent, she hands it to one of her gargoyles, than beckons to the other one. "Crush his head, please." It does. "Thank you."

The other robot returns with liquid firestarter, which it douses Isaac's body in liberally before setting it alight.

"Make sure to get that," Eve says, pointing at the soupy mix of metal shavings that used to be a sword. The robot obligingly kicks it into the fire.

She backs up, grabs a stool from next to the wall, and drops onto it heavily, scrubbing a hand over her face and then through her hair. "Hell," she says emphatically. The robots don't do anything. Tanks aren't smart enough to respond to anything that isn't a direct command.

After a moment, she gathers herself up and addresses them again. "Tell everyone in the Castle the lockdown drill is over. Stay with Jordan unless she says otherwise." Both Tanks turn gracefully and leave.

Eve stares at the burning body. She doesn't leave the room until the last ember has gone out.

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