Marnie was sprinting across the dunes faster than she’d ever run before. The energy still coursing through her was making everything easy. She was hyper focused and not getting tired. She could even smell the sand itself. She knew she had to hurry, and that even at this speed, she might arrive too late. She wanted to reassure Lethen, but she knew better than to distract him while he was facing such a force.
Marnie was thinking back to what Gail had told her about a draining, and it was so much more than Marnie had ever expected. It wasn’t long before she saw Angel jogging up a tall dune. “Angel, how much further have you got until you reach Lethen?”
Angel slowed but didn’t turn around. Clearly he hadn’t realized that Marnie was just a bit behind him. “I expect to be able to get a decent view of the southern oasis as soon as I get to the top of the dune I’m on. Less than ten seconds I’d say.”
Had she heard him right? That dune looked upon the oasis? Had she really come so far in that short an amount of time? The trip should’ve taken about ten minutes and she’d gotten this close in three or so. She wanted to verify, but if he was right, she had no time to ask questions, she had to stop him. “Stay put. I’ll go around the side and draw fire while you get into position. How long to charge one of your big shots?”
This time Angel did turn around and the shock at seeing her so soon was evident in his features. “How the hell -”
“No time to talk. How long?”
“Twenty to thirty seconds will be a nice and strong one.”
She didn’t want to wait that long. She didn’t know how long Lethen or this heightened state would last, but she didn’t see any other options. “Well get into position and start gathering energy. As soon as you’re ready, I’m going forward. I have a plan.”
Amidst the uncontrollable laughter, Lethen was able to get to his feet unmolested. It wasn’t pleasant to be laughed at, but he would take every moment he could get. He still knew that taking a swim through the sand was his only real chance, and every extra second might give him another shot at making it work.
C’mon daemon, he thought. I’ve accessed this gift before, why won’t you let me do it again?
“Angus,” he said, “is there a trick to using the gifts I’ve unlocked?”
“Yes and no,” Angus said. “Each power is like a new muscle. You have to get used to using it, and the more you do, the more control you’ll have over it.”
“So I’m screwed?”
“Not necessarily. The trick is to figure out how to flex it. You know how different exercises make different muscles ache? Well if you can figure out how you triggered it before, you can do it again. Think back to when it happened and do the same thing again.”
“What kind of advice is that? I was fighting, same as I am now.”
“Are you fighting right now? It looks like you’re standing around talking while three idiots laugh at you.”
“Point taken,” Lethen said.
“Ready.” Angel said in a voice strained from trying to contain the energy in his rifle.
“Rise and fire when I tell you to,” Marnie said. “Make the shot count.” She took off running around the side of the dune Angel was perched on. She was ducking and weaving across the landscape toward the oasis. She could see the tops of the tents, but she knew that a dozen feet up and to the right, Angel would be able to see most of it from where he was.
At first nothing happened. She made it about a third of the way to the last row of dunes before the oasis when she felt a smack to her left arm. It wasn’t anything too painful, and that became even more minor once it had filtered through high she still had from draining Gail.
She looked up and saw where Ventrus was lining up his next shot from. He had a great bead on her, but that didn’t matter. “Eleven o’clock,” she said.
Angel rose from his perch and got a bead on Ventrus almost immediately. He took a few more seconds to make sure his aim was true and pulled the trigger.
A cry of pain from behind Mikael made him turn around and Lethen took the opportunity to attack. He got a solid hit on Mikael’s knee and he heard a crack. A second cry filled the air, this one much closer as Mikael dropped to the ground.
Lethen may not have taken him out of the fight entirely, but he had at least opened the path before him. He took off running again. This time in the right direction.
As he ran, he saw Ventrus lying on the ground ahead of him. It appeared that reinforcements had already arrived.
“It’s just dislocated,” Lena said. “This is gonna hurt, but you’ll be able to walk on it in a few minutes. It’ll be tender, but you’ll be fine you big baby.”
Another pop and an even louder shout covered the sound of footsteps running behind him. Apparently Gianni was still in pursuit while Lena had stayed back to tend to Mikael. Things seemed to be looking up, and got even better when Marnie appeared from behind a pile of sand ahead of him.
Lethen smiled and slid to a stop beside her, turning around to face off against Gianni. “You got here quick. How did you take down Ventrus?”
Marnie looked down at the fallen sniper. He had a decent sized red mark over his temple. “I drew his fire while Angel lined up his shot. A fully charged shot to the side of the head was all it took.”
“So we’re back to even numbers. I can live with that.”
Gianni had hung back when he’d seen Marnie and now Lena was catching up to him. She had popped Mikael’s knee back into place quickly and left him there to work through it himself. Hopefully it would take him some time to return to the fight. Until Angel managed to catch up, it was best if there were only two foes.
Lethen watched as Lena and Gianni slowly approached. She had caught up to her teammate and now they advanced together, staying close to each other. “I don’t think I can take her with her fear power,” Lethen admitted. “Can you distract her long enough for me to take care of Gianni?”
“I’ll try,” Marnie said. She would try, but she had never experienced artificial fear and wasn’t sure how she’d handle it.
Lethen and Marnie split up, using the opposite tactics of their foes. If they were together in front of Lena when the fighting started, she might be able to put the whammy on both of them. They didn’t have a specific plan in place, but they both knew a few things that they didn’t want to happen and that ranked pretty high up there.
Working their way around their foes, Marnie could already feel the first hints of doubt entering her mind. She found the sensation disconcerting, but not debilitating. She knew it must be part of the effect of having drained Gail’s daemon. Yet another added benefit of taking her up on that offer. Marnie tried a few swipes to test Lena’s defense and found it adequate. Marnie might be able to get past it with her heightened abilities, but she could feel the effects beginning to wane.
“You seem a little more resistant to the fear than that weak halberd girl was,” Lena said, sneering at Marnie. “Perhaps I’ll actually have an interesting fight this time.
“Don’t you dare call Renala weak. She is stronger than you will ever be. The next time you two meet, I’m sure she’ll be the victor. I don’t know what her gift will be, but when it awakens, she will tear through you like the scrub you are.”
“I’m seeing a lot of bark and no bite. So this is why a Jerick was put into the C squad. It’s very sad. Before the teams were decided, I was looking forward to working with you. A Tortuga and a Jerick in the same year? That hasn’t happened in a very long time, and when it did, they were unstoppable together. I can only imagine it’s been your affiliation with the half-breed that has weakened you so.”
Marnie was about to tell her where she could stick her family name when another cry came from Mikael’s direction.
“Stay down,” Angel said. He had finally made it into a position where he could help. He had put a shot directly into Mikael’s injured knee, knocking him back down to the ground. Marnie was fairly certain Angel would be able to keep him there.
Lethen wasn’t having an easy time with Gianni. Clearly Gianni had learned from their previous scuffles, and was now keeping Lethen at a distance with his long blade. Lethen tried to get inside it and had so far only succeeded in getting a nice little cut across his left bicep. Gianni was much more skilled than he was when it came to using his weapon. Lethen needed some kind of edge.
He stopped trying so hard to hit Gianni and concentrated on watching him. It was at times like these that he wished Renala was still with him. She’d be able to spot even a hint of a weakness within seconds with that computer-like analytical mind of hers. It would take him much longer to notice anything of use, if he ever did.
“Lethen,” Angus said. “Use everything you’ve learned. I know you’re good enough to beat this guy. His only advantage is reach, something that you know how to get around. I’ve taught you how to defeat an enemy like this.”
Lethen thought back to the things Angus had taught him, but nothing seemed appropriate for this. He was facing a more skilled opponent with a longer weapon. The only thing that Lethen could imagine Angus was talking about was forcing his foe off balance, but from what he could tell, Gianni’s footwork was better than his, and much less predictable. How was he supposed to take advantage of a pattern that he couldn’t see?
Lethen was trying an overhead swing when he spotted a movement that looked familiar. The move was parried and Lethen jumped back out of range of the return strike. He did a few more little swipes before trying the same overhead strike from before and saw the same response as before. So Gianni did have something that could be used against him. Even if Lethen couldn’t discern a pattern, perhaps he could create one.
“Lethen,” Angel said. “Do that one more time.”
After a few feints, Lethen did exactly that and watched as Gianni went to step in the same way he had before. A flash of energy hit his moving foot and knocked it off it’s intended path enough for it to catch against the back of his other leg. He went down hard.
Lethen rushed forward, swinging his shovel down in an arc toward Gianni’s head. The grounded man held up his weapon to block, but at the last moment, Lethen stopped his swing and stepped on the folding knife, springing over Gianni. He landed on Lena’s back, but he didn’t knock her over. Instead they both vanished into the earth.
Lethen resurfaced a moment later, but he no longer had a passenger. Lena was nowhere to be seen.