darthfar: (Default)

I just logged onto Steam today to find that my friend Linda had bought me Amnesia: Dark Descent. ^____^ Just two weeks ago, I got her Left4Dead 2 (because she enjoyed the Zombieland movie so much), so she could watch and laugh her head off every time TankMagnet ran away screaming from a Tank/Hunter. Apparently she tried it then (alone) and got scared to bits. On my part, the Amnesia demo had *me* jumping several feet in the air every time a shadow moved. We're obviously going to be competing for the "Who Gets Scared The Most In A Horror Game" crown. LOL.

[goes to grab duvet and a couple of very bright flashlights. Because I really am that big a wuss.]

In the meantime, have you met Montgomery? He's my new 1861 Enfield musketoon (replica) from Denix:

Closeup of the percussion cap mechanism.

darthfar: (Default)
Perhaps the strangest book I've read this year:

Review here )


Want to know more about quorum sensing, or what happens after death? Check out these articles:

Small Talk in the Microbial World
The Processes of Death and Decomposition

[Yes, I wrote those as a student.]
darthfar: (Default)
Having to run from the Tank alone *once* is not cool. Having to do it *twice* in ten minutes suggests you did something very horrible in your past life, and your karma's now biting you in the arse.

Holy Flamin' Tanks! )


My sterling ability to make plans and then completely veer off course amazes me. [shakes head dolefully]

Given that I don't even *like* plants, why in space did I even feel compelled to put so many in this picture?
darthfar: (Default)
So. My hypothalamus has gone on Christmas vacation, my throat feels as if I've been eating economy packs of razor blades, and the mucus-production plant in my nose, having realised that it is already the end of the year, with nothing to show for it, has, in a fit of frenzy, gone into production overdrive. I'm pretty sure that a battle between nucleic acid invaders in protein capsid armour, and my body's police force and SWAT team, is raging somewhere. In the meantime, said defending army is far too busy to engage in less important maintenance activity, with the result that I also managed to come down with a very interesting case of food allergies last night, and had to be medicated with long-acting antihistamines - and so have been in Major Wooze Mode from last night right through to this morning's meeting (and I'm still woozy). The only good news is that, come hell or highwater, I am still perfectly capable of aiming and firing a sniper rifle with impeccable accuracy. So I may be shambling through the city with bloodshot eyes and a gushing nose, but those dang zombies in Louisiana are still Eating Lead. Aheheh.
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In a startling turn of events, the achievements acquired by a large proportion of Left4Dead 2 gamers mysteriously vanished following the latest Steam client update. Rumour has it that this was the work of the ninth, unreleased Special Infected, the Swallower. This disaster is in conjunction with the equally unexplained spread of the unnamed infection in L4D, which turned normal people into mindlessly violent zombies, from the game into real life, as members of the Steam boards turned into frothing-at-the-mouth, incoherently babbling, mindlessly ranting zombies. It is unknown if Steam will be able to rectify this problem, or if CEDA personnel will be sent out to round up all rabid gamers before they start kicking and biting healthy people.


Seriously, Steam, what the hell?

I'm a little annoyed at the loss of something like 17-odd achievements, but it's more of an inconvenience than anything else - I can get those back with a couple more playthroughs. I can't help but feel sorry for those who'd gone and gotten the Expert achievements, though, only to lose it. That must hurt.


I will say this:

I cannot believe I completely forgot that Eoin Colfer was writing the sixth installment of the late Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy in five parts". I read the news sometime last year, got all excited over it - after the bleakness of Mostly Harmless, ARTHUR DENT IS ALIVE! - and then... somehow managed to forget about it entirely. Until I hit the bookstore today (how obscene, when I still have a mountain of unread books), and it screamed at me: And Another Thing: Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: Part Six of Three. Oi.

[geeks out]
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All the good stuff arrived yesterday. I don't even know where to begin.


[Anyone reading my journal must be thoroughly sick of this by now. Yes, I mean you, Tory. It must be agonising to read about me blazing my way through it while your PC was stuck re-downloading it yesterday. Hahahahahah.]

L4D2 finally released! About an hour late, but gosh, who really cares? other than a bunch of highly impatient, trigger-happy people with damaged Broca's regions and hyperactive salivary glands, who started ranting about how the release was FIFTEEN MINUTES LATE. (Oh the horror! we might have time for more than one cup of coffee after all!).

L4D2 geekout )


Yesterday also saw the arrival of my tin edition of the Ray Bradbury Theatre DVD set from Amazon.com - more Geekjoy!

I'll be honest: While I'd heard of the Ray Bradbury Theatre before, in spite of being a die-hard Bradbury fan, I never even thought of looking around to see if the series had been released in DVD format until I accidentally stumbled upon A Sound of Thunder on Youtube. This is significant: Thunder is just about my most favourite Bradbury story ever (barring The Martian Chronicles), because of its eerie treatment of the Chaos theory.

Spoiler goes here )

So yes, it was that one episode that sold the series for me. Because I reckoned, if they could get A Sound of Thunder right, even with cheap 1980s visual effects and synthesizer music, they couldn't really get very much else wrong.

For anybody who's even tempted to check out the 2005 film, maybe this frothing-at-the-mouth review I wrote when I returned from the screening of the movie will serve as a deterrent (posted here only because I removed the electronic version from my site long ago):

A Sound of Thunderous Disaster )


Also, my "to-be-abused" paperback copy of The Brick arrived alongside my Bradbury set. I've already installed a few tags at some important sections I'll be referring to (and perhaps drawing, in some cases). This may look like a hideous thing to do to a book, but believe me, I wouldn't have even contemplated it if I hadn't a hardcover Charles Wilbour translation in perfect condition already in my possession:

Yes the tags are 2.5cm long, and divided into seven columns (because the book is 17.5cm long). Because I'm anal-retentive like that. Force, does it show?
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Left4Dead 2 unlocks... TOMORROW! Bring out the chips and the coffee, the mice and the headsets, and MAYHEM.


If there's anything I'm not, it's a physical contact person. I detest snuggles and cuddles and hugs. Annoying little tumours that behave like snuggly puppies around major blood vessels, even more so. Stop it. Seriously.

Fun Doctor Moment #1

Doctor: ... Here's your aorta. And right here, this black lump...
Patient: WTF it's right off the major North-South highway???

Fun Doctor Moment #2:

Doctor: Have you ever had surgery? Have you ever been under anaesthesia?
Patient: No. ... No.
Doctor: ... Are you allergic to anaesthesia?
Patient: Oh sure, and I gas myself sometimes, just for kicks. Personally I prefer nitrous oxide, but god! it gives me such a hangover afterwards.


Our orchestra may or may not be playing at this local music festival (details are unconfirmed), but in the meantime we're just preparing for it anyway. Last week's practice consisted of playing what sounded like two very mournful dirges masquerading as love songs; I was sleepy enough that I *think* I partially dozed through one section, and wound up skipping one entire staff and why does this sound disharmonic with the rest of the oh my god... LOL! It must have been more boring than I thought; I may foul up notes on occasion, but I have never skipped entire staves before.

The good thing about being a brass player is that you get breaks while the violinists practically break their fingers. The bad thing about being a brass player is that sometimes the breaks are so long you don't know what to do in the meantime. Or just fall asleep...
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Just when I'd gotten used to my partner not shooting me on L4D anymore, we played (on Expert, because we're hardcore veterans) with a sort-of-newbie friend last night - and within two minutes, I was lying bleeding on the floor from a point-blank shotgun wound. ROFL. It's like this comic all over again, only with different people:


The Red Bookstore is closing down yet again, and so is having this massive clearance sale. Went yesterday, walked away with about USD 37 worth of books:

- Two huge Taschen art books: one on Toulouse-Lautrec, and another on Magritte (retailed at USD 28 each; I got them for USD 6 each. If there ever was a bargain, that would be it)
- James Jones' WWII: A Chronicle of Soldiering (I have so many WWII books it's not funny; I promised myself I wouldn't get any more, but this book comes with pages upon pages of coloured plates of some of the most awesome WWII illustrations ever)
- Martin' Gilbert's Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction (more WWII books? seriously)
- Eric Mjöberg's Forest Life and Adventures in the Malay Archipelago (first published in 1928) - another book rich in photos and illos
- Two books on local folklore, intended for a close friend's Christmas present
- Wanda Luttrell's The Legacy of Drennan's Crossing (the hell? I don't usually read female authors, but this one comes under the heading of WWI-era fiction, and there are exceptions to my rule)

And three children's books, because I collect some of the really old ones with beautiful painted/black-ink illustrations:
- Clement C. Moore's The Night Before Christmas
- Beatrix Potter's The Tailor of Gloucester
- Sam Savitt's The Dingle Ridge Fox and Other Stories (I need to study his dry-brush technique - god, I love his inkwork)

[I was coveting John and Mary Gribbins' Ice Age: How a Change of Climate Made Us Human for my collection, but 20 bucks for a small, 100-page book is just a little steep even for me, and besides, I've just gotten John's In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, which I'm reading years after tackling Schrödinger's Kittens and the Search for Reality - how stupid is that?]

It's ridiculous how many books I sometimes manage to acquire in under two hours (I bought a staggering 18 books in two trips in September), but then again, I really don't spend money on much else, except for the occasional new game. I may have to get a new shelf, though: the last time I checked, my forensics books had spilled into the natural biology section, Feynman and Sagan are tangled together in a confused heap, and my science fiction/fantasy shelves are a royal mess, because I've so many of those that the books are piled three deep. [facepalm] But where the hell will I put it? I've bookshelves in three rooms as it is.

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I've just finished playing two rounds of the brand-new Left4Dead 2 demo (out a week early for pre-order customers), and can I just say this: Heckler & Koch G3SG/1 EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

[has major nerdgasm]

Sorry. It's just that this new game is awesome on so many levels, it's hard to keep one's enthusiasm in check. Particularly since we were kept fidgeting in our seats as the demo release got delayed for a day.


After all those night campaigns in L4D1, isn't it great to finally soak up the sunlight?

First impressions matter a great deal, and this one certainly does it for me. God, this game is pretty. The demo, which lets you play two chapters of The Parish, is set in New Orleans. Think, beautiful golden sunlight, parks, swinging potted plants, Southern architecture, patio furniture - and an awesome soundtrack (and a jukebox that plays five different songs, including the infamous Still Alive from Portal, and a hilarious zombie-oriented song called Re Your Brains, just in case you want a change!). A game that's set in broad daylight can't possibly be scary? Oh yes, when there's a walking timebomb-on-legs loose in town. By which I mean the damn Wandering Witch. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.


The four-survivor formula still holds: there's Rochelle, the diminutive news reporter; Ellis, the mechanic (the TF2 Scout's redneck cousin, no doubt), Coach, the high school football coach with a weakness for candy,1 and Nick, the well-dressed gambler/conman who's probably less than happy to have fallen in with this menagerie.

As for the infected... Holy Moses, there's now twice as many of them. In addition to the original Hunter/Smoker/Boomer/Tank Special Infected from L4D, there's now also the Smoker's vicious girlfriend, the Spitter - a vile pig-tailed female Special who spews highly damaging green bile (capable of downing any Survivor stupid enough to stand around in it in seconds, the Spitter is the AI director's new weapon against Survivor Camping) -, the Jockey ( a hideous, Hunchback of Notre Dam little son of a bitch with oversized hands), which mounts and rides you into the nearest hazard (be it off the edge or into a Tank) until you shake it off or somebody shoots it off you, and the Tank's little brother: the Charger, a dungarees-wearing hunk-a-muscle with one oversized arm, who can easily run you over before you realise it, or grab hold of you and repeatedly pound you into the dirt until somebody else kills it.2 (The one blessing is that they don't have much health - on Normal). No sign of the Mudmen yet, but since they're native to The Swamp, that's hardly surprising. Oh, and I don't know what's creepier: a Witch that wanders around, crying, or the female Boomer-in-a-bikini. Brr.

You do NOT want to shoot the Spitter lady up close.

Oh, and there are now also Normal Infected zombies (once riot police officers) in bulletproof armour. Shoot 'em in the back!

1 In an early scene in the introductory trailer, the Coach is snacking on a bar of chocolate as he reads the advisory notice; later, as they're struggling to run 30 stories up to the evacuation centre, Nick (himself breathing hard) tells the heavily panting Coach, "Maybe the helicopter... maybe it's made of chocolate!" ROFL.
2I can already imagine TankMagnet screaming.


[second nerdgasm commences]

I cannot believe how many new weapons and equipment they've endowed this game with. You still can carry only the one primary weapon and secondary, a tossable explosive/incendiary, a pack on your back and a medical power-up, but oh, the array. The pistol and Mossberg pump-action shotgun are still there (and there's a Magnum!), but in addition to the Uzi, there's now also a sound-suppressed Mac-11 submachine gun (that goes phut-phut-phut, amusingly), and new second-tier weapons include an AK-47 (a staple in action games, yes?), a FN SCAR and ohgodtheHeckler & KochG3SG/1sharpshooterrifleEEEEEEEEEEE.3

My new baby. Eat this, zombies!

Sorry again.

Melee weapons and tossables are another treasure trove. Objects that you can use to dispatch of zombies (which range from "hilarious" to "very messy") now include nightsticks, baseball bats, katanas, machetes, electric guitars (I'm not kidding about this one) and - my favourite - frying pans. (Which you can find at every other corner). The trailer shows a chainsaw and axe in action, but I haven't found any; whether it's because this is only a demo, or they've just never spawned, I don't know. Of course, the only downside to melee weapons is, it's either them or your (unlimited ammo) pistols, but when you have a skillet that is not only deadly but goes whoooOOOoonnnnnng, who cares?

Major pwnage with a machete!

Say hello to my frying pan.

Ooh, that's gotta hurt.

[There's a nice touch of realism to using the frying pan: because you have to draw the weapon back before you can slam it into an oncoming zombie, there's a fraction of a second when you're vulnerable to attack, meaning that, if you let the zombie come too close before unleashing the Skillet of Doom, you're liable to take damage before wasting the zombie. A little disadvantageous to the player, but hey, it's little details like these that really do it for me.]

There are still pipe bombs and molotovs, but on my second playthrough, I came across the most peculiar object: Boomer bile in a tube. Seriously, amid all the chaos, who on earth managed to trap a live Boomer *and* bottle up bile for future use? Oh hell, I won't ask questions, since they proved to be excellent for luring out zombies for me to snipe at leisure. Medpacks and pills are to be found all over the map, along with the new adrenaline pens (which temporarily restore some health and/or speed you up) and - I foresee this will come in very handy when we graduate to Expert - what looked strangely like a Bioshock journal that turned out to be a defibrillator pack to revive dead teammates. Nice.

3 With 30 rounds per magazine instead of the hunting rifle's 15, and a Zeiss telescopic sight. I am in deep smit. Mine! mine! all mine.


There are two things I've been hearing about for months: the new AI director, and "running the gauntlet". When you put the two together, it's a marriage made in hell.

On my first playthrough, things coast pretty smoothly (although I find myself wading through two vile patches of Spitter acid) - until the gauntlet event in Chapter 2, where, in opening the trailer door, we set off an alarm that has to be deactivated - and the button for it is on a platform All The Way Over There, through a maze of wire fencing. Somehow, I never quite soaked it in, from all the articles, that HOLY SHIT WE'RE GOING TO BE RUNNING LIKE HELL THROUGH AN OCEAN OF ZOMBIES. ("Shoot or run?" asks Louis in the first game. Well, Louis, it's both in this one). Complicating this theoretically simple exercise were (1) simple technical ineptitude (somehow I managed to not spot the ladder leading up to the platform, and spent forever running around in circles), and (2) the evil AI director at work, which chose That Particular Moment to place a Wandering Witch right in our path. Seriously, there was just no way to run past her, with all the zombies surging in the opposite direction. In the end, I decided, in the good name of altruism, to shoot her - and wound up on my back for my effort. Good thing I wasn't playing on Expert...

Do not, I repeat, do NOT piss the Witch off!

Oh, and the first time around, we got No Tanks, which was pretty remarkable. Lest I get my hopes up, though, the AI director rewarded me with Two Tanks4 on my second playthrough.

[I've heard of the AI director's ability to manipulate the weather, lighting, and even events (splitting up teams by sending FA-18 jets to destroy sections of a bridge is only one nightmare story I've come across); it'll be interesting to see these in action. Well, theoretically.]

The hordes are more numerous in this second game than the first, although in broad sunlight, there's no problem picking them off. The Smoker's getting sneaky: instead of catching you off-guard from the rooftops, he now gets you through bushes as well. And the female Boomers... oh god, the imagery alone is unsettling.

I wish I could say that the gaming experience was a wholly pleasant one, but the truth is that the endless game freezes made me want to put a fist through my monitor - particularly when a Special Infected is bearing down upon me. (And I have a pretty sweet gaming computer with 2GB RAM - I need to buy another 2GB to replace the old block - and a NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT card). I'll chalk it up to the fact that it's only a demo, and that they'll lick the bugs before game comes out.

4 One whose crushing embrace I ran straight into, in the Chapter 1 kitchen.


The demo gives you a delicious taste of what is to come. What with the 20 new weapons, double the number of Special Infected, and 50 new Achievements (w00t!), the full L4D2 game is something I'm looking forward to with relish.


While poking around the L4D2 folders, I came across the subfolder "Expressions", which contained, in addition to the survivor_(producer/gambler/coach/mechanic) folders, the following: 


Does this mean that the original four Survivors from the first game are unlockable characters???
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Today's the fifth day of my mother's vacation in China1, and the fifth day my father and I have been taking care of our own meals2. My mother takes such good care in feeding us that it's never occurred to her that two people, who in their college days lived on bread, biscuits3 and bananas (perhaps more so me than my father, since I have far higher priorities than eating), can and will happily live off leftovers in the fridge for a good week. Except for yesterday, anyway, when we got tired of microwaving and went out, and Actually Ate Vegetables.

1 I agree that it is a highly fascinating place, but seriously, surely going to the same country three times in the same year must count as overenthusiasm?
2 Never fear, the master chefs of the microwave are here.
3 Crackers.


I am of the personal belief that education shouldn't stop at school syllabus, and that questions concerning anything pertaining to knowledge should always be welcome. Unfortunately, my weakness for making cross-subject examples and discussing practically anything and everything at the drop of a hat means that my biology class has a tendency to go desperately off-topic on occasions. Today's session managed not only to cover the exam syllabus, but strayed into topics that ranged from the evolution of hinged jaws and bendy necks in early tetrapods, and Ediacaran and Cambrian biota, to diffraction gratings and CD surfaces, and [facepalm] curveballs, Joe Jackson and the Black Sox Scandal. Perfectly entertaining and informational to my students, I'm sure, but I can't help but guiltily wonder sometimes how the parents feel about paying personal tutors to discuss Bjørn Lomborg and issue science fiction book/movie lists.


The Left4Dead 2 demo unlocks at 4 tomorrow morning for people who've pre-ordered the game4. YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. I get dibs on Nick and the frying pan.

Bring on the zombies!

[On the other hand, the female Boomer-in-a-bikini in one of the gameplay videos was decidedly unnerving. That's got to be scarier than the original Boomer, the Tank, and the two Witches combined.]

4 And because we banded together to get the four-pack (a full USD16.24 cheaper than retail!), we're each getting an exclusive in-game baseball bat. Awesomeness.
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Am nursing a splitting headache and a cough that only manifests at mealtimes. When I first came down with it, I thought I'd caught the bug that had been circulating in the family. But it's been a couple of weeks, everyone else has recovered, and I'm still hacking up a lung every time I eat. Gak.


Remind me again why I play Left4Dead exclusively with friends? Oh yeah. Because of the unchecked idiot infestation in cyberspace.

I was playing a round with a friend on Easy last night (it being said friend's initiation into L4D-for-PC), and I thought I set the game to "Friends Only". Apparently not. Some random person whose handle consisted of more weird symbols than letters joined. "Okay, sure," I thought, "I guess we could use another player".... until the fucker suddenly started shooting us. This wasn't a simple case of Friendly Fire; this was a serious case of, "I'm in here to wreck your game so DIEEEEEEEE!!!!" Thankfully for us, you can't kill a fellow Survivor on Easy however hard you try, so neither of us took damage, but - god! He(?she?) left before I could find the kick button. I wish I had the pleasure of expelling them.

It's almost tragic how all courtesy and good behaviour automatically melt into thin air the moment you give people the mask of anonymity.

At times like these, the NationStates legislation necessitating licences for minors to use computers becomes much less funny and suddenly far more appealing.


I've decided that I like Godfather II after all.

It wasn't an easy transition. In the first place, I'm more of a "shoot first, don't really bother with questions later" kind of gamer, rather than a strategist; the thought of a strategy-steeped GFII was what caused my reluctance to purchase the game in the first place. It didn't help that the graphics (when I started playing it) were ugly. Granted, they would've been acceptable three years ago, but compared with the most recent games (I need to devote a whole journal entry to Ghostbusters...), you could see it was sorely lacking. The fact that they killed off Aldo Trapani (the player's character in GFI), whom I'd grown accustomed to, in the opening sequence of the game did nothing to endear me to it. But once I got to the meat of the game - slamming people against the wall, smashing up stuff, taking wall cover and shooting enemies in the head - in other words, stuff I was actually good at - things started getting fun. A lot of the original game elements are still there - multiple weapons, execution styles, bribes, explodable safes, extortion weak points, contract killing - coupled with favours, special bonuses (like armoured cars and brass knuckles) and new "privileges" of being a Don: a crew that goes everywhere with you, whose members possess different skills; financial statements, territory management, crew management (do everything from dressing and promoting them to improving their skills, to even marking them for death!).

In Godfather I, any business you took over automatically became the Corleone's indefinitely. Not so in this game, as I learnt the hard way, from skimping on the money and posting too few guards at my first acquisition. Before the day was over, Carmine Rosato's men had declared war upon my new bakery and wrestled it back. The second fight broke out at La Maison Rouge, where I had at least posted five men; I wound up detouring to the place myself to turn the tide of the battle. Lesson learnt. Guards are good.

In retrospect, it does make sense having the game start with the player being Don, rather than some other schmuck working his way up the food chain, because there's a continuity that flows from the first game into the second. I still don't know what the hell the Don himself is doing running around the streets of New York, soliciting contract hits and extorting store owners, but hell, I don't care. It's fun. Maybe it's a little on the repetitive side, and I would've preferred a simple 2D map that was easily accessible while driving (is it too much to ask for the Mafia I-type map overlay?) rather than the snazzy zoom-in 3D one in this game - pretty, but oh so annoying when you're driving from point A to B, and suddenly forget the way - but I've no major complaints at this point.

Oh, and I'm still the worst driver on this side of New York. You'd think that, having played Mafia I two million times, I'd have at least learnt to navigate a computer car. But no, I still leave trails of fallen street lamps and dustbins and prostrate pedestrians in my wake. At least no cars have actually blown up yet.


I was regaling my students yesterday with tales of predatory fungi that snared hapless nematodes and sucked them dry. (We were still doing Dynamic Ecosystems). It brought back fond memories of that SF-horror story I wrote back when I was in school, about a mutated strain of Arthrobotrys that predated on humans, complete with utterly cliché laboratory scenes and DNA technology. (The story was titled, appropriately - if somewhat unimaginatively - "Fungi Imperfecti"). Good times. I'd post a link to it, but really - who'd want to read it?

My cousin and I once discussed how, in a certain light, pathology of disease was beautiful. Unfortunately, it's not an opinion I've managed to convinced anyone outside the realm of science and medicine to share.


I recently finished my epic (for me) comic rendering of the chapter Orestes Fasting, Pylades Drunk from Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Since I'm not about to post the whole damn thing to dA, and I need a place to archive it, I might as well bung it here for the entertainment of anybody who might stumble upon it:

I don't really know why I chose to tackle that chapter (or, indeed, go beyond a single-scene rendering, as I'm apt to do). If pressed, I might grudgingly admit that it sort of saddens me how Grantaire can only reach out to Enjolras by means of the Ultimate Sacrifice, and how their reconciliation is only possible in the shadow of annihilation. Eh, it's something I just had to get out of my system.

I feel slightly guilty about making my (female) art beta cry over this, though. That's one person who isn't going to be reading Les Mis anytime soon.

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