Lethen managed to get to the surface of the sand, and it felt solid once again. Mikael was still buried up to his chest with his right arm and weapon below the surface.
“What the crap is this?” Mikael asked. “I’m stuck. What did you do to me?” There was a note of panic in his voice.
Lethen looked at his daemon. There was a hint of smug satisfaction coming off it. Maybe this wasn’t Lena’s doing. He could move when it happened to him. Maybe this was his daemon’s gift to him. If so, it would dangerous to use it before he knew how to control it. He might end up buried just like Mikael.
“I’ll take care of him.” Gianni approached him much more cautiously. He swung his blade in easy sweeps, opening and closing his blade as he went. It was clearly a motion he’d practiced repeatedly. He seemed ready for Lethen. Mikael might be out of the fight for now, but if Gianni could win here, he could dig his friend out and the game would be theirs. Renala couldn’t stand against all three, and Lethen could hear over comms that things weren’t going all that great in the other areas.
From what he could hear, Prolier and Marnie were both poisoned. Most likely Prolier was already down, and Marnie would be soon. The only piece of good news from the whole situation was that it didn’t sound like Gail would be doing terribly much chasing.
Lethen circled with his opponent. Unfortunately he didn’t realize until it was too late that Gianni was herding him toward the mostly sunken Mikael. Before he could react, Mikael’s free hand shot out and clamped down on his ankle. All it took was one swift kick in the face to make him release and go limp, but by then Gianni had made his play.
Stepping forward, Gianni lashed out with the blade closed, catching Lethen in the cheek at high speed. Still off balance from kicking Mikael, Lethen fell. Gianni flicked the blade open and opened a deep gash in Lethen’s left calf. He howled in pain, but just barely managed to avoid a slice that would’ve ended the fight.
Lethen rolled and got to his feet. With only a single opponent, he no longer had to focus on staying back to back with Renala. He would make good use of this freedom of movement. He closed in on Gianni. Their weapons clashed as Lethen moved through a quick combination. He failed to land even a single hit, but his objective wasn’t to connect.
“Angel, do you have their sniper yet?” Lethen asked.
“I haven’t been able to defeat him yet,” Angel replied, “but I do have him occupied.”
“Good.” Lethen saw his opponent’s back to the tent flap. He decided it was a good time to use his weapon like the shovel it was. He feigned a low sweeping attack at Gianni’s ankle. At the last moment he changed the angle, digging the edge of the shovel into the sand. He flicked his wrist, sending a spray of fine sand into Gianni’s face. As his foe recoiled, Lethen caught him in the gut with a side kick, forcing him out the door backward.
“Just hang in there Renala,” Lethen said. “I’ll be back soon to help you.” He heard muffled sobs as he bolted from the tent in pursuit of Gianni.
Angel scanned the dunes. He knew where his quarry was a moment ago and what direction he’d been heading. Unfortunately, he was out of position and didn’t know exactly where Prolier had gotten to before going down. Angel had heard from Marnie that Prolier had been poisoned, so he was likely unconscious on the ground somewhere. Angel didn’t think Ventrus would do anything to Prolier, but he had to be sure. He needed to get back to where he’d last seen his teammate, but that was exactly where Ventrus had headed.
He walked back across the dunes, constantly watching for any sign of the other shooter. Ventrus had already managed to get behind him once, and he didn’t want that happening again.
He was cresting the dune where he last saw Prolier when he was once again struck in the back. He spun around and hopped backward over the sandy apex. He watched as Ventrus disappeared into cover. Angel looked down and found Prolier hogtied on the sand, still under the effects of the poison. Not even rough binding had been able to rouse him.
“Guys,” he said. “I may not be able to assist any time soon. Prolier’s tied up and unconscious.” He peeked over the crest. “This guy is good. He keeps getting behind me and I don’t know how. Every time I move to chase him, he appears where I just was.”
“Angel,” Angus said. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but getting behind you isn’t that hard. You are an excellent shot and that blast you bounced off Renala’s shield had some kick to it. Get to the highest point you can still see Prolier from and wait. Wait and charge. Eventually he’ll poke his head out and you can get him.”
Angel looked around and found that he was already sitting on the highest dune in the immediate area. This was about as good as it was going to get. He crawled up to the tip and dug into the sand. He made himself an indentation he could almost sit in. He lifted his rifle and focused his energy. It had been difficult to concentrate during the test match and he only had to aim. This time he had to search for his prey first.
Movement to the left caught his eye. He spun the barrel around and fired. He hadn’t been able to charge for long and all he hit was sand, kicking up a small cloud. Angel cursed. He was jumping at shadows. It was hard to concentrate on both the search and a power shot at the same time. If he was going to do any damage, he’d have to give up the search. Without the search and he would have no idea where to fire. He couldn’t do both, but neglecting either would be idiocy.
Angel glanced down and realized he hadn’t bothered to untie Prolier. He felt bad for the guy. His family wasn’t one of the big six in the area, at least not in terms of the caliber of daemon knights they produced. In terms of wealth, they were much higher up the ladder. The entire clan would be praying for a heroic daemon knight to cement the Prolier family’s legacy in the area. Being related to someone like that had it’s perks.
As it stood, he was turning out to be a rather mediocre specimen. He’d been defeated in both games. At least Marnie was holding her own. Or was the last time he’d heard from her. “Marnie, how are you holding up?”
No response. He was tired of not getting a response. He didn’t know where his target was, and now he didn’t know if there was a girl with a poisoned hand on a stick coming his way.
He tucked himself into his tiny dent in the sand and focused on pushing more power into his gun. Whoever showed up first was taking an overcharged blast to the face.
Marnie felt more tired than she could remember ever feeling before. She had fallen to her hands and knees and was fighting the sensation that invisible hands were trying to drag her to the ground and blissful sleep.
“Two,” Gail said. “One. Zero.” She snapped her fingers.
Marnie raised her head just enough to glare at Gail, then it flopped forward again.
“I’m impressed. You are actually resisting the effects of the poison. How?”
This time Marnie couldn’t even lift her head to throw Gail an evil look.
Gail crawled closer with awkward one legged kicks. “Already an extra fifteen seconds. This is unheard of. This poison is very specific in how long it takes to kick in. You must’ve done something to help you resist. Did you actually take the antidote? Did you know what I would do?”
Marnie was able to lift her head again for a few seconds. The heaviness of her head was lifting a little and breathing was getting a bit easier.
“How did you know?” Gail was shouting now. Her voice but one octave shy of a screech. “There’s no way a C squad would know to prepare for Somniol. It was hard for me to even get a sample.”
Marnie was laughing. She couldn’t help it. This girl was winning, basically had her beat and was ranting about how unfair it was that her poison hadn’t quite put her too sleep. It had made her powerless, but apparently that wasn’t good enough. Gail should have been ending the fight.
“Why are you laughing?” This time the pitch had achieved screech levels. This was a girl who clearly hadn’t expected the poor saps of squad 1C to even put up a fight. She slid close enough to strike out with her weapon, catching Marnie on the shoulder with it’s blunt side.
Marnie just laughed harder. She wasn’t sure why she found her inevitable defeat hilarious. She knew her opponent wasn’t going anywhere, and that made her feel better, but it still shouldn’t be that funny.
Gail winced as she accidentally put too much pressure on her punctured thigh. She stopped trying to get to Marnie and sat down. “My calculations were precise. How can you still be awake?” Gail was no longer shouting. She had accepted that this fight was over. Neither of them were capable of fighting anymore.
Marnie’s laughter tapered off. She was able to move her head more freely now, but speech was still beyond her abilities. She tried to tell Gail that her calculations weren’t off. She wanted to see her face fall when she discovered the truth of the situation.
“Are you half grizzard too?” Gail was now absently drawing in the sand with the fingertips of her daemon. “Is that how you’re able to stave off the sleep? Everyone knows you’re his only friend. Is it a family secret that you have a grizzard ancestor or something?”
“Not. Only. Friend.”
“What?” Gail’s eyelids flapped wide when she saw Marnie was able to speak.
“Not. His. Only. Friend. Any. More.”
“Remarkable. You’re on the verge of losing consciousness and you’re using the last of your energy to defend your teammate. You guys are a lot more loyal than the people I’m stuck with. They see me as weak, so they threw me out to be the sacrificial decoy. They didn’t even hesitate in choosing either.”
“Calculations. Not. Wrong.”
“How can you say they weren’t wrong. You’ve been awake for over a minute and a half after you should’ve been out.”
Movement was getting progressively easier for Marnie. “Used my blade. Wiped it along the claw. Stole some of your poison.”
Gail pulled her weapon close to inspect it. There should have been a purple sheen to the claw tips. It was still there in the spaces between the fingers, but it was absent on the inside and outside edges.
Marnie could see her mind working as she recalled the point in the fight it had happened. Rerunning the events to prevent future occurrences. Trying to find a way counter it. Marnie watched as Gail’s mouth dropped open. She had just realized the full extent of Marnie’s ploy. Her eyes dropped down to her shoulder first, then to her thigh.
“You got me with my own poison. That’s dirty.”
Marnie managed to hold herself up long enough to smile at her foe. She couldn’t remember a time when she’d ever seen someone look more offended. “Ten. Nine. Eight…”