Marnie was easily outmaneuvering Dellman, and he knew it. For every swing of his that got close, she got two solid hits in, but he was tough. He had a number of cuts on various parts of his body and he wasn’t even slowing down. She needed to disable him quickly so she could help the others with their fights. They had a very limited amount of time in this trial, and she would need some to find the others.
She stole a glance up at the clocks above and saw that ten minutes had already elapsed. Only fifty minutes left to completely defeat an entire team. While an average fight between daemon knights didn’t last anything near that amount of time, if their foes won any of the fights, they would just need to hide and they would be almost impossible to find in this lush jungle. By Marnie’s estimation her squad would need at least two of their members to end their fights quickly and support the others.
She tried to think of a way to speed up her fight and saw nothing helpful. Somehow she needed to either wear him down or injure him badly enough that he couldn’t continue the fight. So far she’d gone for slashes, but perhaps it was time for a stab. If she could impale him, even if just through his leg, the fight would be over.
She danced around him and went for a thrust when she saw an opening.
Dellman hopped back out of the way. “Do you really think I’m going to let you stab me? I know my job is just to hold you up until we can win with time.”
“So you’re not quite as stupid as you look then,” Marnie said. “Do you really think you can stop me from taking you out of the fight? Even you must realize that you have no hope of winning this fight. Even with this game being rigged, we will beat you. At least let me make your end quick.”
“You and I both know that you can never defeat all of us in one hour. You probably couldn’t beat us in ten hours. I will admit that you are more skilled than I expected, but that’s not saying much. I expected you to have cut yourself by now. The fact that you even know which end of the sword to hold means you’re doing better than expected.”
Marnie bared her teeth and charged in. Never had she been more offended in her life. Her’s was a family with a long and honorable history of producing some of the best daemon knights that had ever lived. Who was this upstart to assume anything negative about her skills?
She led with another lunge, but Dellman ducked. As she realized her mistake she felt his blade scrape her shin. He had tried to trick her with the simplest of ruses and she had obliged him. Making your foe angry enough to make a mistake was the oldest trick in the book and she’d proven herself to be the rank amateur he accused her of being.
She hopped back and knew that she needed to calm down and look at the situation, rather than flying in with no plan. She knew she was more skilled in swordplay than him, and she believed that she was more intelligent. There had to be a way to take him out of the game quickly, something she hadn’t thought of yet. Stabbing still seemed like it would be the most efficient, but with him expecting it, he would be able to hop and dodge all day long.
Maybe she could use the fact that he knew what she intended to do. If he knew she needed to go for the stab, she might be able to do something else and catch him off guard. She went for the lunge again, causing him to hop back.
“Didn’t you see what happened the last time you tried that? I’m not gonna let you stab me.”
“I don’t have much of a choice. It’s the only way to end this fight quickly. I guess I’m just gonna have to create my own opening. Think you can stop me?”
“I know I can.”
She began a series of attacks that put Dellman fully on the defensive. All he could do was parry and dodge as best he could. She didn’t manage to score any hits, but she wasn’t really trying for that. She had a plan and knew that there was nothing he could do about it. She smiled as she watched him almost stepping on himself to get out of her way. When she had him where she wanted him, she went for the thrust again.
He hopped back again, but this time she didn’t follow. “Is that the best you’ve got? I guess you’re all bark and no bite, just like your little lapdog. You guys have no chance.”
“It was enough,” Marnie said still smiling.
Dellman’s face tightened. “What do you mean it was enough? I’m still more than capable of continuing this fight.”
“You may feel capable, but you’re not.” She pointed her sword down at his feet. In the end, her plan hadn’t involved stabbing him, but herding him.
He looked down and saw that with his last hop, he’d left the limits of the jungle arena and was now officially disqualified from continuing. “You bitch! You couldn’t beat me in a straight fight so you had to cheat?”
“Cheat? I’m not the one with the constantly running clock. What I did is entirely within the rules of the game. Feel free to sit there and watch the clock while you wonder if the rest of your squad will be able to last. I must be on my way. Thanks for the momentary distraction. It’s been kinda fun.” With that, she turned and walked away to the sounds of cursing.
“Angus, how’s it looking?” She asked.
“From here it looks like you just made an absolute arse of one of their guys. Well done. As far as the other fights are concerned, they’re a lot less positive. We’re being hard pressed out there, but I think we can still do it. None of ours are down yet as far as I know, but the others could use a hand.”
“What do you mean, as far as you know? Can’t you see everything going on?”
“I can see all but Lethen’s fight. Somehow he’s ended up in one of the few areas without video coverage. It happens. Not even Hikari has enough money to cover every square inch of the campus in cameras. The only part that bothers me is that he hasn’t reported in since the start of the game.”
“Crap. Lethen, are you there?”
Marnie frowned. “He can handle himself. Where’s the nearest fight?”
“It’s about six and two threes on Prolier or Renala.”
“Six and two threes?”
“A variation of the old saying ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other.’ They’re about the same distance away. I’d say Renala needs your help more though. She’s facing Ankur Deep and his pet tiger.”
“I heard you mention that earlier, how’s she doing?”
“Better than just about anyone could expect of a first year facing someone with access to their daemon’s natural form, but she may not be able to win.”
Marnie started heading back into the jungle at a trot. “Guide me.”
“I can’t get too specific without breaking the rules of the trial. All I can say is head roughly south and use your ears. Very rarely are battles quiet.”
She made an adjustment to her course and ran. “Please be okay Lethen, for all of our sakes.”
Lethen’s body was in more agony than he’d ever experienced before. He felt that at any moment he might actually catch fire or explode. The scent of burning in his nostrils was about the only sensation his body was registering besides the pain. He could vaguely see, but all he could hear was static. As he tried to hold onto his consciousness, he almost smiled when he thought back to what Angus had told him just before the trial had started.
“There’s a tiny button on your ear-bud,” Angus had said. “When you press it, the mute will be activated. You will still hear the rest of the team but they won’t be able to hear you. I want you to use this once you corner Dmitri. You’ve seen the dangers of removing comms entirely from Prolier, but the others can’t know what’s going on. I’d like to think that they are all trustworthy, but we can’t be a hundred percent sure that Turiel hasn’t gotten to one of them. Just remember that if you need to communicate, you’ll need to hit the button again.”
Now he wished that he hadn’t hit the button already. He knew he couldn’t be seen on camera now he couldn’t be heard either. He couldn’t request backup or even tell Angus that he was about to die. He didn’t want to go out in this godforsaken jungle without even an auditory witness to his demise. After everything he’d been through it all seemed so unfair. He was just starting to think that fate had finally taken his side, but alas no.
He was about to collapse when the memory of Angus brought with it another more useful one. While his association with the Jericks hadn’t exactly given him status, it had allowed him certain luxuries that he wouldn’t have otherwise had. One of these little perks had been access to schooling. The teachers hadn’t paid him any mind, besides punishing him for anything they could think of, but he’d paid attention, and one of his best classes had been science. It was one of the classes about electricity that sprung to mind now. He had an idea of something to try, but it was going to hurt.
Lethen reached out the arm that didn’t have chains wrapped around it and grabbed hold of his opponent. He could feel the voltage increase and screamed like a little girl. He didn’t want to but he couldn’t hold it back any longer. He tried to focus on his opponent and could see that his plan was working. The Russian seemed to be feeling the pain too.
He held on for as long as he could, and when he let go the current disappeared. He still had the chain wrapped around his arm, but it was no longer live. He managed to unwrap the flail from himself before he fell to the ground. Both he and Dmitri were lying there with a mixture of steam and smoke coming from their bodies. Apparently the cooking of a human body also made the sweat evaporate. Now that he wasn’t being electrocuted, he was remembering other things from his science class.
“What did you do to me?” Dmitri croaked from his prone position. “Is this the gift that you gained from draining Silva? I’ve never heard of him being able to use the powers of others against them.”
So he does know Silva, Lethen thought, that’s the first mystery out of the way. Maybe he will have some useful information.
Lethen’s voice was even hoarser than Dmitri’s. “I guess the fact that you don’t know means that the schools in Russia are inferior to the ones we have here. Did they not teach you about electricity in class?”
“Why are you asking me about school. What do all those books have to do with being a daemon knight?”
“Those books can teach you useful stuff, and knowledge is power. With the right information, you can turn the tide of battle. If you’d paid attention in science you might’ve known what happens when you connect a battery to itself.”
“And what’s that?”
Lethen smiled despite the pain. “Short circuit, asshole.”