“Thanks Angel.” Lethen said through his ear-bud. “I’d hoped you’d understand my message. If you hadn’t, that would’ve looked a lot sillier.”
“When you mentioned poison and teammates in need,” Angel said, “I figured that was for us. You’re lucky I was still in sight of there. You didn’t give me much warning.”
“I appreciate it. If you can just keep him off me for a few minutes I should be fine. Renala, how was Marnie when you left her?”
“She was being taken care of,” Renala said. “A medic came in and got her. He said she was out of the game.”
“Good. What are you doing now?”
“Getting close to the other side of the block. I imagine I’ll start taking fire soon. I’m not sure where to look for the flag. Angus picked this place well. So many places to look.” Renala looked around at the cluster of small buildings almost stacked on top of each other. The tiny alleyways between them were filled with blind corners. It was like being in a hedge maze where the walls were made of small workshops.
“Keep moving,” Lethen said, “but be careful. Angus is a tough opponent and we already know he’s good enough to get through your defense. If he starts shooting, just try to figure out where he is and hold position. We’ll be there as soon as I finish up with Prolier. It will take all three of us to take him down.”
“Keep looking up,” Angel added. “If he’s trying to snipe at you, he’ll have taken a high position with a good view.”
“Okay,” Renala said. “I’ll try.” She moved forward into the labyrinth.
She followed a short alley that ended with a sharp turn to the right. The buildings she was between weren’t tall, but the lane was narrow, shutting off much of the waning daylight. She wasn’t claustrophobic, but with a path barely two shoulder-widths across, she knew she was vulnerable. If Angus spotted her, it would be near impossible to find shelter from his shots.
A noise from behind spun her around. She didn’t see anything, but having come several steps down the alley, her view was limited. It was many seconds before she continued. She was berating herself for being paranoid when she reached the corner and poked her head around. Nothing in sight, but it was only about twenty feet before a blank wall with turns right and left. Looking up she could see second floor windows but nothing that would make a particularly good sniping spot.
She was almost at the split when she heard the same noise again. It sounded like a small stone falling onto the pavement. This time is was coming from ahead and to the right. She stopped, back flat against the building, reminding herself to breathe. With her nerves a tad steadier, she poked her head around to take a look.
Nothing. In fact, even more nothing than she’d expected. She thought she’d see another twenty feet of alley with a turn at the end. What she saw was ten feet of alley with a dead end. She looked around a little more carefully and found that there were several pebbles strewn around. Taking a closer look at the buildings, she saw that many were in various stages of decay. Tiny pieces of these buildings were probably falling off all the time. She had to stop being so jumpy if she was going to be of any use.
Taking another deep breath, she followed the left path. It had another right turn at the end, and it was getting darker the further she got in. The lane ahead was in the shadow of one of the only taller buildings in this little area. She moved forward, calming her inner critic. She could do this.
When she was almost to the next bend, her halberd shot out, deflecting an arrow of energy that dissipated when it hit the wall. From the angle, she could tell that it had come from above. Looking up, she saw movement in the tall building. Angus was in the window, holding a drawn bow. His aim was firmly set on her.
“I’ve found Angus,” she said, her halberd blocking another shot. “He’s in the building above the alleys over here, taking shots at me.”
She ducked back around the corner, putting Angus out of sight. She had to keep him busy while the other two took care of Prolier. To think that he’d actually use poison during a training exercise was horrible, especially against his own teammates. She hadn’t exactly been raised by a grizzard-friendly family, but Lethen had given her no reason to dislike him directly. He was actually quite a bit nicer than many of the pure humans she’d met.
She waved the end of her staff around the corner and was pleased to feel the thunk of an arrow hitting it. She had to keep him still by making him believe she was pinned down. If he thought she was taking a different route, he would likely move and she’d lose him.
She poked her head around with her halberd in front and nearly jumped out of her skin when another arrow pinged off her daemon a scant two inches in front of her face. She had expected it, but it was still startling. She jumped back into cover, but not before noting that he was still in the same window.
“How’s it going over there?” She asked. “I’m sure it’s not gonna take too long before he realizes I’m just stalling.”
“I’m on my feet again,” Lethen said, “but I still can’t see well. Whatever he dosed me with is playing havoc with my balance. How long do you think you can hold him?”
“A few minutes at most. I’m sure Prolier has told him about being stuck against the both of you. If I don’t come out of hiding soon, he’s probably gonna come support his boy. Prolier may be terrible at teamwork, but Angus isn’t.”
“I agree,” Angel said. “He won’t just leave a teammate to get slaughtered. He’ll find a place that he can watch you and Prolier from.”
She waved her Halberd again and nothing happened. Looking around the corner again told her what she’d feared. Angus was no longer in his window. “He’s already on the move. I’ve lost him. Watch yourselves guys. He’s probably coming to you.”
“Heard,” Angel and Lethen said in unison.
Renala rounded the corner at a run with her halberd held before her. Her gaze was alternating between the tall building and the path before her. It snaked to the left again. She repeated her quick glances followed by sprints around a few more corners. At one point she had to double back after finding another dead end. She was trying to get close to the tall building and maybe catch Angus as he came out, but she seemed to just be circling around it.
Eventually she came to another dead end. She tried thinking back to figure out where she could make a different turn and was drawing a blank. It seemed like there was only one way in and out of this mess of alleyways. Luckily, she was very good at keeping mental maps. She would start looking for Angus again once she got back out.
“I’ve explored all I can in here,” she said. “He’s long gone. I’m gonna work my way back out and see if I can find him and hold him up. Sorry guys.”
“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Angel said. “He’s had more training that all of us put together. It’s not really shocking that he’d be able to evade us with ease.”
“Try to make your way back to us,” Lethen said. “If he’s coming this way we’ll probably need to help. We can look for the flag after we take care of them. Even Angus can’t watch all three of us at the same time.”
“Okay.” Renala turned around and headed back to the last bend she’d come around and started her trek back out. She’d gotten around three more bends before she heard the same noise from before. She knew it was just detritus from the run down buildings, but something about it still bothered her. Surely pieces wouldn’t just fall off by themselves. Shouldn’t it take something to knock them down. A tap on the wall. A tiny tremor. Something.
She rounded the next corner into the lane where Angus had been shooting at her previously and looked up at the window. Still no sign of their sensei. By now he would have Angel or Lethen in his sights and with Lethen being poisoned, Angus and Prolier would have no problem taking her teammates out. Then it would be her. She needed to hurry.
As she turned down the next path she stopped. This wasn’t right. There should’ve been a path to the right about halfway down, with a dead end ahead. Instead she saw the way ahead clear and no right turn. Had she gotten lost? She couldn’t imagine how, she’d always been so good at this before. Very few people could keep track of things better than her. While possible that she’d gotten turned around somewhere, it was very unlikely.
She looked back around the way she’d just come and it looked exactly as she remembered it from the way in and the way back out. She knew exactly where she was and the path that was no longer there was her way out. The new path hadn’t existed just a few minutes before. She was about to move forward when she heard the recurring noise behind her. Such a small sound, but it pierced the silence of the maze she was in, echoing down the corridors.
She was about to run back into the maze when she stopped again. It was clearly the same alley she’d been taken fire in, but now it was a turn to the right, rather than left at the end. All her mapping had been for naught. This place was changing and the only warning she would get was the sound of falling rocks. Not that it was much of a warning. She kept hearing it after the change had already occurred.
Examining the wall that had suddenly blocked off the left hand path didn’t reveal much. She could see where the walls could be slid into the surrounding buildings to open or close certain paths, but it did nothing to tell her how it was controlled, nor did it make it possible to move them from inside the trap she’d walked into.
She was considering her options when her halberd moved of it’s own accord again. She ducked into the newly opened path to the right and no more shots came. She hadn’t seen where he was shooting from this time, but it was the same alley she was in before, so it’s possible he hadn’t moved at all.
“I’ve got good news and bad news guys,” she said. “Angus is still over here, but he’s got me trapped.”
“Trapped?” Angel asked.
“In a maze with moving walls. I don’t even know if there’s a way out at this point.”
Her halberd deflected another shot, and this one did not come from above. She looked up and saw that Angus was at the far end of the alley, bow drawn and loosing another shot. She barely got back around the corner when she saw that it had now become a dead end. She was trapped between a solid wall and Angus, who would be around the corner in seconds. Her time was up.
As he stepped into view, she knew she was in trouble. In order for her defense to work, her daemon had to have room to move. As it stood, she could barely maneuver herself, much less a weapon eight feet long. Angus smiled at her, knowing that she finally realized how bad her situation was.
“Guys,” she said, “I’m gonna need some help over here.”
Angus nodded. “Yes you are.”