Though Prolier had originally been worried about Claire’s vicious fighting style, he was beginning to see what Angus had meant about being able to predict her moves. She was swinging like a mad person, but as he dodged, he could feel himself falling into a rhythm. She was still dangerous, but he could tell that she was going through the motions of one continuous combination. All he had to do was get used to the pattern and he would be able to start fighting back. Just like her single mindedness concerning direction, she clearly had a hard time switching things up once she got going. That was something he could use.
He settled into his motions, move to the side, step back, duck and so on. He started to breathe a little easier once he was getting out of the way by more than a few centimeters. Once he’d established a comfortable margin, he brought his claw raking across her arm as it whipped past in a horizontal strike.
Her eyes widened for a moments and her movement slowed. It was as if she was awakening from a trance, but it only lasted for a second, then she went straight back into her predictable series of attacks.
Prolier smiled. “Angus,” he whispered, “you were right. This is almost more like dancing than fighting. Once you learn the steps, it’s the simplest thing in the world.”
“Don’t get cocky. Do you really think she only knows the one dance? Once she realizes that you’ve figured that one out, she’s likely to switch to another. She’s the first English student we’ve ever had in Hikari. She wouldn’t have gotten here if she wasn’t something more than a one trick pony.”
As if to illustrate his point, Prolier found himself dodging the wrong way into an unexpected upward swing where it had previously been the strike that had allowed him to get a lick in on her arm. He managed to evade it for the most part but got a nice gash up his forearm to remind him to stop getting ahead of himself. The fight wasn’t over until it was over, so he’d best stop thinking he’d already won.
So she could change it up when the situation required it. This had just gone from an easy win, to much more of a challenge.
Renala wasn’t sure which foe to face. The tiger seemed like the more immediate threat, but she didn’t want to turn her back on Ankur. Even without a daemon weapon, he could still do some damage with his fists. A student wasn’t even considered for Hikari if they couldn’t hold their own before receiving their daemon. She had no doubt that he was an expert in whatever martial arts his parents had taught him, especially with him being the son of not just one, but two daemon knights.
It was only a moment before her decision was made for her; the tiger leapt. She and her halberd reacted at the same time, with a cross chop that could’ve severed a man’s arm at the wrist. Sadly for her, she wasn’t aiming at a man. She was trying to hit a daemon that may have been around hundreds or even thousands of years. Daemons didn’t have normal life spans like people or regular animals. Daemons did get older and show age to some degree, but would never die of ‘natural causes.’ They could be killed, but it wasn’t easy. The beast swatted her attack aside.
She panicked, closed her eyes, and thought she was about to die, but the pain didn’t come. When she looked up, her shield was firmly attached to her arm, with the tiger firmly attached to it. It had both of it’s front paws and it’s mouth wrapped around the edges of the shield. Although she was happy that she hadn’t been chomped, she was barely able to support the tiger’s weight. It took a forceful shift of her stance and twisting the shield to dislodge the creature.
“An alternate form,” Ankur said behind her. “How interesting. With your innocent beauty and your slight frame, you are an easy enemy to underestimate. I apologize for that. It will not happen again.”
Renala frowned. “You can’t distract me with flattery. I know better than to fall for something like that.”
“It was not flattery. It was honesty. You are a very appealing young lady. It is a shame that relationships between daemonic weapon users is considered taboo in this country. You and I could’ve made quite the team.”
She didn’t know what to say. She knew that virtually any and all tactics were permissible when it came to a mission, but he seemed so genuine. If he was trying to affect her with his words, he was very good at it. “Why are you saying this?”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“Even if what you say is true, why would you just come out and say it?”
“I don’t understand. When you are attracted to someone, are you not meant to tell them? Why would you hide that? How else would the other person know of your interest?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that people usually get to know each other before they start revealing their feelings. You met me five minutes ago and you’re already telling me that we’d make a good team, and I assume you don’t just mean as daemon knights.”
“You would be right to assume that. If we had children, they would be strong and successful knights themselves.”
“Children?” Renala’s mind was spinning. “Within five minutes you already think we should have children together?”
“It’s only logical. There will always be evil in this world. There will need to be another generation of daemon knights after us, and another after them. In my country, we don’t hesitate when it comes to matters of the heart. We feel no need to hide our intentions from one another. Why are people here so guarded? What good can come of such subterfuge?”
As strange as she found the idea, it did have a certain simple charm to it. Just come out and tell people what you think of them, damn the consequences. What’s the worst that can happen, they say no? There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. As hard as she’d tried to not be flattered by his words, she couldn’t help herself. His frank attitude had gained him her respect, if not her affections. When she thought of being honest about feelings toward someone, Ankur was not the person that sprang to mind.
“I am sorry for taking advantage of the situation, but this is still a mission and you are my enemy. I meant what I said, even if it had the unintended effect of distracting you temporarily. Please don’t think less of me.”
Renala wasn’t sure what he’d meant until she looked around and found that she had no idea where Ankur’s daemon was.
Angel had no idea it was possible to have so many projectiles in the air at the same time. The few that hit him barely hurt, more like being jabbed with a finger, but with that many, he could see how the tactic had merit. While it wasn’t the way Angel worked, if the American was able to hit a target enough times, he might be able to take someone down.
The small bolts might not have enough individual force to harm Angel, they were doing quite a number to the foliage around him. Leaves were being shredded and the area was being cleared much more quickly than he was comfortable with. If he broke cover and ran, he would draw Butch’s attention and take a lot more ‘fingers’ to the body, but if he stayed where he was, he would be revealed soon enough anyway.
He decided that the best course of action would be to stay low and try to get behind something solid enough that Butch’s little shots wouldn’t get through. If his foe actually found him, he doubted that he’d have any chance. Angel was best at a distance and preferably with a distraction to give him time. Butch excelled at close combat. Angel’s only chance was to stay hidden long enough to put him down.
Angel crawled on his stomach toward a nearby tree. This was done to a soundtrack of yeehaws and hoots of joy. His enemy clearly enjoyed firing his twin revolvers immensely. Over the other noises, he could hear Butch jumping around while he fired. If the situation wasn’t so dire, he’d have probably laughed. It seemed that the American really did exemplify everything one could think of when one imagined an old west cowboy.
As Angel managed to tuck himself in behind a tree that was barely wide enough to conceal him, the shooting stopped.
“Where are you, boy?” Butch called through the jungle. “I know you’re out there somewhere. I’ve got all day. Way I hear it, the clocks that decide who wins are all jacked up, meaning that if you stay hidden for too long, we’ll win anywho. You’re gonna have to show yourself some time. Come out, come out, wherever you are.”
Angel frowned. Angus had told them something about technical problems, but hadn’t elaborated on what those issues were. If the clocks weren’t functioning properly, it truly was a race. He needed an answer and quickly.
Scanning the area, he found his answer. There was another tree with a wider bole not too far away. It also had a few low branches that would serve as both a perch and a stabilizer for his weapon. If he could get up a little ways and balance his gun between the branches, it would serve just as well as a tripod. He would be able to be even more accurate than he could be just standing and firing. From there, he should be able to end this with just one more shot.
He worked his way over slowly, making sure that he was being as quiet as possible. Every step had to be taken carefully to ensure he didn’t step on anything that would break. He had to shift his weight evenly to make no noise, but he also had to move quickly enough that he could be in position before Butch could get close enough to see him. Add to that the amount of bushes around him that he dared not disturb and it was a stressful trek.
Angel did make it to the tree and began his climb. If he had thought his jaunt along the jungle floor had been sketchy, this was even more so. At least down there, there had been some spaces between the bushes. In the tree, the branches were tightly packed and even a small wobble could give him away. When he reached the height he wanted and found a good spot to shoot from, he saw Butch step into view. He was still a good fifty feet away, but he was searching intently.
Angel focused on collecting energy and sighted down his scope. He would have one chance and he would have to make it count. His best bet was Butch’s temple, the same place he’d picked against Ventrus. He could aim for the throat, but that was risky. If he put too much force behind the shot he could kill the American.
Once he had charged up, he pulled the trigger, hitting exactly where he’d intended. He watched Butch fall to the ground and not move. He waited for a few minutes before getting down to investigate. He could tell that Butch was still breathing, but he wanted to make sure he was down for the rest of the game.
He approached the fallen foe and tapped him with his shoe. Nothing. Angel exhaled and began to walk away when he heard a noise behind him. He turned to see Butch smiling, standing with both guns drawn.
“I was playing opossum.” Butch said before opening fire directly into Angel’s chest.