Marnie could feel her strength slowly returning even as she could see Gail’s waning. Her countdown had ended without her foe passing out just as Gail’s had. Apparently Gail’s calculations had indeed been very accurate and the amount of poison she’d been able to swipe from the zhua’s claws had been insufficient to cause unconsciousness, just as what remained had only weakened her.
“I think you’ve got this one,” Gail said as they waited for the effects to wear off. “The poison will leave you before it leaves me, plus I can barely use one arm and I have a hole in my leg. Even before the Somniol hit me I couldn’t finish you.”
Marnie looked at her foe. If it weren’t for being on opposite sides of this battle, she could see Gail being a friend. She was beaten and accepted it gracefully. She hadn’t actually yielded, but she wasn’t going to do anything vindictive.
Marnie reached into her pocket and pulled Gail’s ear-bud from it. She tossed it to the girl who didn’t even attempt to catch it. Gail just looked down at it with contempt in here eyes.
“I have no need of that. Chances are that Lena and the others have already written me off. In fact, they probably hope you killed me. I’m done here and I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of hearing what I’m about to do.”
Marnie fixed Gail with a stare. “Don’t you dare do what I think you’re about to do. You are the best of the A squad whether they know it or not, and I will not have you become the first of us to yield during a test. If you do that, you’re just proving to them that you’re exactly what they suspect: weak.”
Gail started to laugh, but it quickly turned into a grimace of coughing pain. “What is it with you? Being the first to drain another first year is a great honor. One that almost guarantees success in your time here. Why would you deny yourself that? You’ve earned it. Using my own poison against me was a masterful move. Take your prize.”
Marnie shook her head. “No. You deserve better than this.”
Gail smiled. “Can I ask you something?”
“How did you end up in 1C anyway? You are a Jerick. Your family is just behind the Tortuga family in terms of renown. You should’ve been an immediate candidate for 1A.”
Marnie sat down of the sand and sighed. She had wondered when someone would finally realize that her appointment to the lowest team was unusual. She considered lying to Gail, telling her something about low test scores or something similar, but she felt she owed this girl the truth. She did not owe it to anyone else though, not even those in her team. Before she answered, she plucked the ear-bud from her own ear. “I chose it.”
“You chose to be in the C squad? Why in the hell would you do that?”
“I knew that’s where Lethen would be.”
Gail nodded. She’d suspected that answer. “You love him, don’t you?”
Marnie nodded. “Like a brother. I had no idea who else he would be stuck with, and knew he would need at least one friendly face if he was to survive here. As it turns out I shouldn’t have been worried. He’s already exceeded everyone’s expectations of him. Hell, he’s managed something that only Master Carter had before. I never should’ve doubted him.”
Gail saw something in Marnie’s face. “He’s in trouble now isn’t he?”
Marnie nodded again. “He’s facing off against the other four members of your team alone right now. I don’t think even he can defeat those odds.”
“Then you have no choice.”
Marnie tilted her head to the side. “What do you mean?”
“Unlike your sensei, ours doesn’t always follow the rules exactly. We aren’t supposed to learn the details of draining until we actually perform it, but -”
“Are you still talking about yielding? Didn’t I say that I wouldn’t let you?”
Gail held up her hands. “Hear me out. I don’t wish to be the first to yield, but it’s the only way you can help Lethen. Paige told us that draining an enemy has more than just the obvious effect of gaining a new form and power. It’s also restores the strength of the one doing the draining. When the power from my daemon flows into you, it will be like a combination of a good meal and eight hours sleep. It’s the only way you have a hope of getting to him and helping him.”
“Why would you do this for me? Right now I’m your enemy.”
“Well, it’s a combination of two things really. The first is that I wish I could have the loyalty and friendship you’ve found in your team. The second is that when we started this game, Lena swore that she would be the first to force a fellow student to yield, but she doesn’t deserve that honor. She’s right about me being the weak link in our squad. Honestly, you would probably have my position in A if you hadn’t specifically requested otherwise.”
“But you’re going against your team. For someone who values loyalty, aren’t you being kinda hypocritical?”
“Not at all. I know that by doing this, I will be giving you a greater chance at victory, but I will also be giving my team what they need a whole lot more than a win today.”
“A big dose of humility.”
Marnie knew that she had to decide quickly. Lethen was facing odds that even a rage fueled assault, like the one he unleashed against Silva, couldn’t defeat. He needed help and despite her misgivings about accepting Gail’s surrender, she understood. She had seen Lethen go through his life with nothing more than big doses of humility, and the strength it had given him was beyond anything she herself could muster. Perhaps Gail was right.
“I accept,” Marnie said finally.
“And to make it official: I yield to you Marnie Jerick. I submit and allow you to drain my daemon.” Gail held out her zhua.
Marnie nodded and set Duskbane atop the unusual clawed weapon. She had yet to replace her ear-bud and prayed that the team wasn’t trying to contact her. At first she hadn’t wanted them to hear that she’d chosen her place in C squad, but now she didn’t want them to know that Gail was yielding to her. The teachers and medics would be watching everything, but it just seemed somehow like a very personal, private matter. An agreement between her and Gail. Not something that should be viewed from the outside. Perhaps they were all watching Lethen’s fight, after all that’s where all the action was. Maybe no one would even know about Gail yielding, and she certainly wasn’t going to go around bragging about it.
She felt the energy flow into her and immediately knew that Gail had been right about it’s restorative effects. The weakness from the poison vanished, as did any pain from the fight itself. She already felt stronger than she ever had before and the sensation was still growing. Lethen had told her some of what it felt like, but his description fell well short of the mark. It felt like electricity was waking up every cell in her body. When it was finished, she felt ten feet tall and able to run miles in an instant.
“You had better go,” Gail said, laying down on the sand. Her leg was still seeping blood at an alarming rate. “I know your boy is strong, but facing over half my team alone won’t be easy.”
Marnie nodded as she replaced her ear-bud. “I’m done over here. I will be headed that way as soon as possible.” She knelt down beside her fallen foe.
“What are you doing? You have no time to waste.”
Marnie reached down and tore a strip from her shirt. “After all you’ve done for me. Allow me to help you.” She wrapped the cloth around the gaping would in Gail’s thigh and tied it tight, drawing a pained gasp. “I know it hurts, but if I don’t stop the bleeding, you might not last until the medics get here. Try not to move too much. After all you’ve done for me, it’s the least I can do.”
Gail said nothing and gave a slight nod.
As Marnie rose to her feet and took off to the southern oasis, she allowed herself a smile. She had made something of a friend today, and from previous experience she knew just how important that could be in the future.
Lethen watched as the trio before him fanned out to surround him, and knew that he couldn’t allow that to happen. How exactly he was supposed to stop it, he wasn’t sure, but if they came at him from three sides it would be over before it began.
Angus’s voice came from Lethen’s ear-bud. “Lethen, you guys have to win this. If you can find a way to defeat them, we will be able to learn more about what we discussed the other day.”
Lethen heard the words, but had no idea what Angus was talking about. His mind was filled with daemon weapons and keeping himself intact. Not that it really mattered what he meant. Lethen wasn’t about to give up. He was going to find a way to win this just because he didn’t want to lose. He was tired of losing and being looked down on. This was where he would prove his worth. He just wasn’t sure how yet.
As Lena got closer to him, he could feel the fear start to creep through him, and he knew that he couldn’t win this. An observer might assume that this feeling of despair came from Lena’s gift, but in actuality, it was cold logic. One on one against Lena, he hadn’t been able to resist her demoralizing ability, three on one he had no hope. He wasn’t even concerning himself with Ventrus for the moment, he had enough to worry about directly in front of him. He had to do something before she got her terror inducing hooks too far into him. He could sense that his window for action was rapidly closing.
“I’m almost to you Lethen,” Angel said. “I think Marnie is coming up behind me quick too. Just hold out as long as you can.”
Mikael and Gianni were now to his sides. He had no other options, he had to escape and it had to be now, before they could get in behind him. The clear path was rapidly shrinking. He hated to run from a fight, but he had to be realistic. He took a deep breath and bolted away from Lena.
They didn’t immediately follow, but it didn’t take long. He could feel the effects of Lena’s gift fading now that he wasn’t facing her directly, but it was still tickling his spine with it’s icy fingers. The main problem was that now he was running not only away from the trio of foes, but also from his reinforcements.
He turned, hoping to loop back around and noticed that only two had pursued him. Gianni and Lena were just a few steps behind him, but Mikael was nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t a good sign, but there was nothing he could do about it. When he looped around the nearest tent, the nunchaku wielder stepped out from behind it, directly in front of him.
Lethen knew he only had one desperate chance now, and that was the sand beneath him. He took three more steps before diving, hoping to disappear beneath the surface and into relative safety. Unfortunately for him, his control of his gift was still well below par.
He slid to a stop right in front of Mikael and had succeeded in doing nothing more than gaining himself a mouthful of crunchy dirt.