Lethen and Renala heard the jangling of the cans just as Marnie told them they were in trouble. Renala had set up the noisemakers it several places so they would know which direction the trouble was coming from and three of them were going off at the same time. The vigorous shaking made it obvious that they were being intentionally triggered. The attackers wanted Lethen and Renala to know they were there.
“Lethen,” Renala said. “We’re about to take a beating aren’t we?”
“It’s looking likely. We need to keep them busy. The three on one we created in the east should be over quickly and hopefully they can come support us.”
“So how do we last?”
“We’re gonna have to figure something out. If we can’t cover our flanks, we’ll be done quickly. I just hope that their sniper isn’t too accurate or powerful. If we have to deal with a tough ranged opponent while we fight the others, it will make things much more difficult.”
Renala nodded. “Sounds like our best bet.”
“Come out and we’ll make this quick,” came a female voice from outside the tent. “If you hide in there, it’ll just drag it out.”
Lethen and Renala just looked at each other. There was no way they were going out there into the open where a shooter might be able to get a clear shot. Plus, they wanted it to take as long as possible.
The first to enter was Lena Tortuga. With her family’s reputation of producing powerful daemon knights and her curved khopesh sword, she was an imposing young lady. Her beauty, combined with her menacing grin sent a shiver along both Lethen’s and Renala’s spines. She was terrifying in her own way.
Gianni and Mikael followed in behind her. It was obvious who was top dog in this crew, but that wasn’t surprising to anyone. Purely based on genetics and training, Lena was probably the most gifted of all the first years. It wasn’t unusual for a member of the Tortuga family to be the first of their year to gain access to their daemon’s alternate forms or gift.
“Ah, so we have the defense girl and the half-breed,” Lena said. “This should be over quickly.” She walked closer and gave them two a quick once over. “That shovel is pathetic and I expected so much more from the Dunglass clan. Your father is a hero and look at you, cowering behind your polearm.” She moved in closer to Renala and glared at her.
Renala shrank back. Lethen thought she might actually be shaking.
“Don’t listen to her Renala,” he said. “You’re worth five of her. I don’t think she’d be able to land a single blow on you in a fair fight.”
Lena turned her attention to him. “Is that a challenge half-breed? Do you really believe that either of you could stand up to any of us? Even with your three on one advantage at the eastern oasis, I still expect that in the next twenty minutes or so, Gail will come strolling back.”
“Don’t underestimate us.” Lethen said, but even as the words left his mouth, he could feel his knees going weak. This sensation bothered him. He’d been jumped by groups and beaten to within inches of his life, and not once had he felt fear like this. He glanced over at Renala and could see that she was feeling the same thing.
“Underestimate you? Is that even possible? I have a feeling that you will both fall well short of what I consider even an interesting fight.” Lena performed a few experimental swings at Renala, each of which was easily blocked. Lena’s smile faltered. She swung a few more times. This time clearly putting more effort into them, but again they were all parried with ease.
“It’s gonna take more than that to get through her defense,” Lethen said. “Do you really expect to win here? You can’t hit her and I don’t go down easy either.”
“Big words,” Lena said. “Gi, Mike, take care of this upstart. Show him what we do to half-breed punks in Hikari.”
Lethen watched as the other two circled around in a pincer motion. He had confidence in his ability to face a single opponent, but with them trying to outflank him, it might not end so well for him. He had to keep them on the same side. He spun in behind Renala, putting their backs against each other. “Watch my back and I’ll watch yours.”
“Works for me.” Renala said as she swatted more of Lena’s attacks away.
Mikael and Gianni glanced at each other as they came in from the sides. It still wasn’t ideal, but at least they wouldn’t be striking at Lethen’s back.
Don’t screw me now daemon, Lethen thought. I’m not sure I can do this alone. Surprisingly, he felt the resistance slacken. The daemon probably wouldn’t help much unless it had a reason to, but hopefully it wouldn’t actively hinder him.
The first strike came from Gianni, who still held his blade folded up. Lethen slid easily out of the arc but stepped directly into a strike from the nunchaku to his left. Pain flared in his hand. He hadn’t managed to avoid the blow, but had at least stopped it from connecting with his head.
Lethen lashed out with his shovel and caught nothing but air. A slice across his right thigh told him that he’d left himself open again. He had fought multiple opponents in the past, but not ones with daemon weapons and they were the fights he usually lost. He was a scrapper, but when you have twice as many limbs attacking you than you have to defend with, things get a little hairy.
Lethen saw them both moving in to attack together. He tried to judge a safe way to dodge to avoid both. He realized too late that the blows weren’t aimed for him. He heard the clang of weapon on weapon just behind his back and a small squeak of pain. Someone had hit Renala.
“So much for watching her back,” Mikael sniggered. “You can’t protect yourself or her. How do you expect to win?”
Lethen clenched his teeth. He couldn’t let them be right. He had to keep them from hurting Renala. Her defense could probably withstand a sustained assault from Lena, but not if her daemon had to cover her back from others. He didn’t like the odds, but he would have to find a way to keep them off her.
The duo launched another series of attacks on him, but this time he was watching for the target change. He had increased the distance between Renala and himself, making it much harder for them to catch her. When Gianni opened his blade and it flew out toward Renala, Lethen kicked out against the flat of the blade.
Gianni was thrown off balance for a moment as his weapon swung out wide. He was trying to bring it back around when he felt Lethen’s fist crush his nose.
“I’m your opponent,” Lethen said. “You’re gonna need to take me down to get to her again.” He turned to face Mikael, who had landed a blow on his back while his attention was on Gianni. It hurt, but he’d been beaten much worse before. It was that realization that told him what he had to do.
Lethen turned and launched himself at Gianni, who was stunned and holding his hand to his bloodied face. He rained punched down on the poor guy, but backed off just as quickly. He took a few nunchaku blows for his efforts, but Gianni was hurt. He might not be totally out of the fight, but he would be slowed down a bit.
Lethen turned back just in time to deflect a swing aimed at Renala. “I told you, I’m your opponent. Leave her alone.”
Mikael backed off a step. He was no longer smiling. He knew that this was actually going to be a challenge. “You still with me Gi?”
“I fink he boke my moze,” Gianni mumbled through his hand.
“It’ll heal,” Mikael said. “Get your head back in the game. We have to finish this quickly before reinforcements can show up.”
Gianni pulled his hand away from his face and blew a noseful of blood onto the sand below. “You’re gonna regret that half-breed.”
“I will regret it if I lose to punks like you. Breaking your nose is something I’m pretty pleased with.”
Gianni and Mikael resumed their coordinated attack. Lethen made a mental note to do some training with and against multiple foes. He wouldn’t always be against only one. In fact, he knew from prior experience that most people preferred to gang up against a tough enemy. They had planned just that for this game, but had practiced working together not at all. These two had clearly spent many hours learning how their dissimilar styles could be used together. If he and Renala had done some training like that, they might be doing better right now.
He dodged and parried most of the strikes, but a few got through. He prioritized the blade attacks and got clear of those, but the number of nunchaku blows were starting to add up. Each one wasn’t too bad, but he knew that by the next day he would have bruises all over his torso and arms. Even worse news was that they were slowly pushing him back toward Renala. Gianni was already in striking distance and Mikael would be shortly if he couldn’t hold his ground.
Lethen tried a few wild strikes in the the hope that his foes would have to take a step back to dodge. It almost worked. Mikael hopped back but Gianni opened his blade and caught the shovel’s head in the V between the blade and the handle. He pressed the ends together clamping the daemon in place.
It didn’t take Mikael long to see the golden opportunity before him. He stepped forward and performed a rapid combination of attacks that Lethen had no way of blocking.
Lethen dropped to one knee under the assault. He was still trying to pull his shovel free when Mikael’s foot flew into his shoulder, throwing him to the ground beside Renala. He went down hard, but at least the force was enough to dislodge his shovel from it’s hinged prison.
Looking up at Renala, he saw that her eyes were welling with tears. Usually when in purely defensive mode, she looked calm and collected. At the moment she was basically hiding behind her halberd. She held her hands up as if to surrender, while the daemon spun and blocked of it’s own volition. She looked terrified.
Lethen watched as Mikael and Gianni attacked Renala. He knew he couldn’t stop it.
To her credit, Renala managed to defend against all three for a second, but it didn’t last. Before Lethen could even regain his feet, Renala took a couple strong body blows. Her breath blasted from her lungs as she dropped to her knees.
Lethen rolled to his feet behind her, catching a pair of blows meant for his partner. They weren’t enough to knock him back down, but he couldn’t take too much more punishment. He knew that if he caught a few of the attacks with the shovel, it would hurt the daemon enough to help him fight back, but he wanted the decrease his daemon’s hatred, not feed it.
Lethen managed to stand while dodging a few more attacks, but he was starting to doubt his ability to win this. He would only resort to harming his daemon in the most dire of circumstances, and a game between classes didn’t qualify as such to him. He didn’t want to let the team down, but this wasn’t a life or death situation.
He ducked a swipe from Mikael’s nunchaku. Unfortunately he didn’t see Gianni’s boot coming at where his stomach was a moment before. That space was now occupied by his head.
Lethen was knocked once again to the ground, only this time he didn’t hit hard. Instead he vanished into the sand.
Two-on-one had suddenly become three-on-one.