Angel peered through his scope as he and Prolier crested another dune. He did this every time they got a new view. He scanned the landscape before him, trying to find their shooter. He didn’t know how skilled this guy was and he didn’t know when they were going to come across him, but Angel was sure he would be somewhere very close. They were almost to the southern oasis and between the two oases is where he would’ve positioned himself.
Finding nothing out of the ordinary, he started forward, Prolier staying behind the dune. He didn’t want to get ambushed, but he’d rather be spotted first. If Ventrus didn’t know Prolier was with him, it would make taking him down much easier. Once he reached the next dune or found the guy, he would tell Prolier how to proceed.
Angel felt the first energy bolt strike him in the shoulder. He dove behind a small dune attached to the larger one he was on. It didn’t provide much cover, but it was better than being out in the open. He heard two more shots hit the sand in front of him before he even considered raising his head. “Prolier, go back and to the left. I’m going to swing right and try to keep his attention on me. I’m not sure where he is yet, but I see a place I can find out from.”
Angel was talking about a space where he could actually squat down and look out over the top. It would expose him some, but he had to get a bead on Ventrus. The first shot hadn’t hurt too much, so hopefully Angel would be able to take a couple more of them if that’s what it took to find his enemy.
It was short dash to his intended hiding spot, and he managed to get there without taking another hit. In fact, he didn’t even notice shots hitting around him. Once there, he waited a few seconds before popping his head up for a moment. Still no shots were coming. Had he gotten out of Ventrus’s line of sight, or had the sniper lost interest in him? Either was bad.
He risked a longer look this time and saw nothing. “I’ve lost him. Hang back Prolier. I’ll find him and try to keep him out of your path.” Angel stared at the dunes before him. If he couldn’t see his foe, he would just have to figure him out. There were a few places that would make sense for Ventrus to station himself, but Angel couldn’t be sure which he’d chosen. The highest of the three would be the best vantage point, but also the most obvious. From what he’d read of Ventrus in the file, he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to do anything obvious.
Angel made up his mind to try the closest of the possible positions. He would be in the open for a few seconds while he ran, but getting shot at was actually preferable at this point. At least it meant he was doing his job of distracting.
He bolted for the space between dunes, diving into the void. Again, he stayed low for a few seconds. Still no shooting. He lifted his head to look toward his other potential targets and saw no sign of his target. He worked his way between the small pieces of cover, each time finding nothing. Somehow Ventrus vanished. Even when he poked his head over the top of the next rise, nothing happened. He couldn’t even see footprints. Where had that guy been?
It was as he was staring out ahead that he felt a shot catch him in the center of his back. He took another hit to the side before he managed to drop into a tenable position. Somehow Ventrus had gotten behind him. He didn’t know how, but it actually made his job a bit easier. Now he was between Angel and Prolier, primed for a two pronged attack.
“Prolier,” Angel said. “He’s between us. If you come up the dune where I did, you should be on top of him.” Angel waited for a response, but none was forthcoming. “Prolier, do you read me?”
On the other side of the dune, Prolier was lying on the sand, out cold.
“Should be right about now.”
Marnie stared at Gail. “What do you mean?”
Gail smiled. “You think you stopped me from hurting your little claw boy earlier?”
“Prolier? I did stop you.”
“All it takes it the tiniest pricking of the skin. He probably didn’t even feel it at the time, sharp as these points are.” She played with the clawed end of the weapon. “He’s not the only who knows how to use poisons.”
“You’re a bitch.”
“I’m not a bitch, I’m the bitch.”
Marnie’s hard eyes reflected her anger, but deeper inside she was thankful. Thus far she’d avoided the points of the bizarre weapon. She hadn’t escaped completely unscathed, but it was just bruising from the blunt side of the thing. She had to make sure she didn’t lose that luck now.
Gail stepped forward with a swing designed to make Marnie parry high. Marnie responded with a series of swift thrusts that forced Gail back a few steps. Neither could gain a clear advantage until Gail caught Marnie’s sword again.
This time, while pushing against Gail, Marnie twisted her blade, forcing the blade into a different position in the metal hand. She stepped into the attack and kicked Gail in the leg, sliding her blade from the other daemon’s grasp as though removing it from a sheath. She turned and brought her sword in an arc at her foe.
Again the zhua shot out, reaching over to snatch the rapier out of the air. Not to be fooled again, Marnie stopped short, running her blade down the outside of the claw and avoiding the clutch. Sadly she didn’t mange to avoid the sharp points on the ends of the fingers.
“Five minutes from now, you will be out of the game.” Gail took a step back and eyed her handiwork. Marnie had four small holes on her sleeve where the zhua had punctured her shirt. “If you yield to me now, I will give you the antidote.”
“Never. I will not be the first of our year to yield to a fellow student. If I’ve got five minutes left, I’ll just have to defeat you before that.”
“Four minutes forty five seconds.”
Marnie flew into a flurry of attacks, none of which were coming anywhere close to connecting.
“Four minutes left.” Gail said. “It looks like you might already be slowing down. Don’t worry, the poison won’t kill you, it’ll just make you pass out. It’s not as quick as the stuff your boy uses, but it’s much less common. Most people won’t have an antidote handy.” Gail waved her weapon at Marnie. “Not that you C squad scrubs would think of bringing antidotes anyway.”
It wasn’t until about a minute later that Marnie got a good hit in. She managed to get inside the zhua’s range and swung a right hook. She slammed the pommel of her blade into Gail’s jaw. While pulling her arm back, she ran the blade across the top of Gail’s shoulder, cutting through the skin and partially into the muscle.
Gail screamed in pain, kicking Marnie back to put some distance between them. She winced as she rotated her arm, especially when trying to lift it. Her eyes smouldered as she glared at Marnie. “You will pay for that. In three minutes you will go down and I think I’ll leave a few scars on you before I go help my team finish off the half-breed and the midget. That is if there’s anything left of them when I get there. No one can stand against Lena for long.”
“Because of her silly fear power?” Marnie asked. “Like something that dumb would make a difference against Lethen and Renala.”
“How do you know of her gift?”
Marnie tapped her ear. “Just because you can’t hear your team doesn’t mean I’m deaf. I know exactly what’s going on over there and I think you’re gonna be disappointed. It’s not going as well for your people as you may think.”
“Two and a half minutes. You’ve already wasted half your time jacking your jaw instead of fighting. Do you really think you can finish me before you go down?”
“I know I can.” Marnie stepped forward with a series of low attacks. These were easily repelled, but when she finished with a high thrust, she drew a thin line of blood across Gail’s cheek. “Your inability to raise your arm will be your downfall. I can aim high all day and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
“You’re right. I can’t easily raise my arm right now, but that’s why knowing your weapon is so important.” Gail altered her stance, she got lower and held her zhua vertically in front of her with the hand in front of her face. “Come over here and try that again.”
“Fine.” Marnie performed a few light swings at Gail’s head, batting almost playfully at the clawed weapon. When she got in a little closer she smacked the daemon aside and slapped Gail hard across her face with the flat of the blade. “Still think you can keep up with that injured shoulder?”
Gail spat on the ground. The blob of spittle had a definite red tint to it. “I don’t think it matters whether I can or not. You have a minute and a half before it becomes irrelevant. Even if you do manage to best me before you go to sleep, you still can’t help the others. Even if you left now, you’d pass out long before you could be useful as anything more than a light snack for one of the carrion feeders in the area.”
Marnie conceded the point with a nod. “True, but my job was only to beat you. The others are more than capable of defeating their targets. A minute and a half is plenty of time. You’re a rather forgettable girl at the moment. If you can’t defend your face, I will make sure that by the time I pass out, you will be remembered by everyone you meet. Remembered as that hideous first year girl.”
Gail growled and flew forward. Her weapon was a rage fueled blur before her, but Marnie was ready for her. She blocked and parried with ease, keeping her weapon up, looking for an opportunity to take advantage of her foe’s injury. Marnie made a few gentle swipes at Gail’s face before lunging low and sinking the first few inches of her blade into her opponent’s thigh.
Another scream erupted from Gail’s lungs. When Marnie twisted her blade, both the pitch and volume increased. Gail dropped to one knee as the blade slid free.
“I was just gonna scar you before,” Gail said, “now I’m gonna kill you.” Blood flowed freely from her leg as she gritted her teeth against the pain. “As soon as you hit the sand I’m going to rip out your throat with this.” She held up the glimmering points of her weapon. “It will look like a training accident. I’m sorry headmaster, I’m just a first year. I didn’t mean to kill her.”
“You can barely move.” Marnie said. “I don’t think you’ll be doing anything more than just sitting there until you lose consciousness from blood loss.”
Gail grinned. “I guess we’ll find out what happens soon enough. In fact I’d say we’ll know in ten seconds. Nine. Eight. Seven…”
Marnie felt her knees buckle beneath her just before they hit the sand.