Marnie had changed direction when she’d heard what was happening in the trial. Renala seemed to be holding her own, but Prolier was clearly outmatched. She needed to get over there before he found himself chopped into pieces small enough to suck through a straw. He was clearly hurt and probably only had seconds before Claire did her grisly work.
She knew she wasn’t too far away as she’d heard Prolier’s scream from where she was, and not just through comms. She didn’t think she could get there before Claire took a few chunks out of him, but might make it before she killed him. If she could get the crazed girl’s attention, maybe she could draw her away long enough for medics to get to him and start patching him up. It was shame that she couldn’t have made Dellman yield; the burst of energy she’d gotten from Gail in the previous trial would’ve been damned useful right then. She ran as fast as she could toward where the sound had come from, praying that she’d make it in time.
A roar of anger that certainly didn’t belong to Prolier stopped her in her tracks, but only for a moment. Something told her that bellow meant that she was already too late, but she had to see for herself. She moved forward and heard another roar. She was close now.
Prolier’s leg was in agony. It felt like he’d snapped both his tibia and fibula and could even feel a sharp stabbing pain in his calf that he imagined was his bones poking through his flesh into the open air. There was no way he could avoid being torn apart now.
His thoughts raced through his many mistakes of this trial. If he hadn’t been so cocky, he probably wouldn’t have suffered the wounds that he carried on his body. If he’d listened to Angus, maybe he could’ve gotten farther from her. If he hadn’t panicked and looked back, he might not have tripped and broken his leg. And the big one, of course: if he hadn’t pissed her off, she probably wouldn’t have gone berserker on him in the first place. It was just a shame that it was going to cost him his life to find out these little lessons.
He watched her approach and saw a subtle change in her features. He was sure she hadn’t snapped out of her berserker state that quickly, but there was definitely something other than just blankness in her expression. If he didn’t know better, he would almost say he saw a note of confusion. She looked around and howled her anger to the sky.
When Prolier fell, he’d landed in a thick bush and he could only assume that one of the drawbacks of the berserker was that it made vision less clear. You killed what you could see, but if you couldn’t see it, the brain couldn’t properly process the disappearance. It was like a tiny child that hadn’t yet learned of object permanence. When you hid the toy behind your back, they forgot that it existed in the first place. The shrub must be covering enough of him that she didn’t see him within it. He was far from fully covered, but perhaps it was enough. He silently thanked whatever deity had blessed him with such good fortune.
As he stared up at his approaching foe, she wailed again. She wasn’t terribly happy with losing her target and was letting the universe know with a noise that wasn’t entirely human. He tried not to shiver at the horrible howl. In fact, he tried not to move at all, not even to breathe. Pure dumb luck had saved him and he didn’t intend to look that particular gift horse in the mouth.
He cowered under the bush and tried to hold his breath, wondering whether his lungs or her rage would give out first.
“Well I’ll be,” Master Brascko said quietly, “Today is just full of surprises. I had almost forgotten about the power within Prolier’s claw. I had seen his father do the same thing once or twice while he used that claw, and I’d been tempted to fight him for it. The chameleonic gift is a great one for spycraft and hunting.”
Angus breathed a little easier, but knew his student well enough to know that if he became aware of his new gift, he would likely do something stupid. “Prolier, don’t move a muscle. She can’t see you right now, but even the tiniest movement or sound will give you away. Hopefully she will snap back out of it in a few minutes, and until then you are to stay put. Don’t even so much as scratch your balls or you’re a dead man. And, for the love of God, don’t respond to this message.”
Angus looked up at the monitors and assessed the situation. Very few berserkers could hold onto their rage for long after their targets were gone, though that usually meant everyone within sight was dead. With Claire being a young student though, all bets were off. Just like Lethen’s inability to control his gift at first, her insanity could vanish in the middle of combat, or it could last for half an hour after everything had calmed down. He’d love to send a medic in to pull Prolier out, but that would be a suicide mission. Very few berserkers started off with the ability to tell friend from foe, and some never learned how to make the distinction. They would just have to wait and see what happened.
As he watched the screens he noticed Marnie creeping closer to the tense situation between Prolier and Claire. He was about to tell her to stay back, but knew that she’d heard what he’d said and knew that she was smart enough to stay out of it until Claire was back to normal. As expected, she got just close enough to keep an eye on things and held her position.
“Oh dear,” Master Brascko said from his place before the monitor with Prolier on it. “I guess his luck ran out.”
Angus snapped his attention to the screen in time to see Prolier’s chameleon power start to fade. Claire was currently facing away from him, but if she turned around, he’d be done. “Marnie, make some noise, but stay away from her. Prolier is in no position to defend himself. You’ll need to lead her away from him, but be careful. You can’t hurt her any more than he could right now. Don’t get yourself killed.”
Marnie swallowed as she steeled herself for the task ahead. She didn’t relish the idea of purposely making herself the target of the hatchet wielding monster she could see before her, but with Prolier down and injured, she had no choice. Prolier was faster than her and he hadn’t been able to put much distance between them, but at least she could run at that moment. Prolier was a sitting duck if he was found, and Marnie had no doubt he soon would be.
“Hey,” she shouted. She was planning to say something offensive, but it wasn’t necessary. Just that one word was enough for Claire to immediately focus on her and start cutting a swathe through the jungle to get to her.
Marnie took off running. She had the vague outline of a plan, but there were a few potential problems with it. First, she wasn’t entirely sure where she was leading the girl. She wanted to get her in contact with one of her teammates, and the closest she knew of was Ankur Deep. She was hoping that Claire had lost control enough to not see friend or foe, simply person. Unfortunately, she only knew the vague direction of the fight between him and Renala.
Second, if she did manage to find them, she would be putting Renala in danger. If Claire could see Ankur as a friend, she might attack Renala. Even worse, they could potentially end up facing a daemon knight, a berserker and a giant tiger at the same time. The last trial had shown her the dangers of being outnumbered, especially when two of the foes were essentially indestructible killing machines. She knew Ankur could change his spear into it’s natural form, but did he have enough control to stop it before it tore out one of their throats?
The last little problem was the one that kept flashing through her mind as she ran as fast as she could through the jungle. Would she even be able to find them before Claire caught up to her? She was staying a good distance ahead of the English girl, but she had just finished a fight, then ran to help Prolier. She was already starting to feel the fatigue set in, something that her pursuer would not have to deal with.
No matter what problems she had with her current plan, it was the only one she had. She had to take the risks if they were to have any hope of stopping this monster before she killed someone, but if she was going to chop someone up, she’d rather it was someone who wasn’t her or Renala.
Just then a thought hit her. While she hadn’t actually heard what Ankur was saying, she’d heard enough from Renala’s responses to him that he was smitten with 1C’s little halberdier. Perhaps if he knew the situation, he might even help them. If he really had fallen for her, he certainly wouldn’t want to see her hacked up into tiny pieces.
“Renala,” Marnie said between ragged breaths as she ran, “I’m heading in what I hope is your direction. I’m being chased by Claire, the girl Prolier was fighting and she’s not happy. I know that if she catches me, I’m dead. Do you think you could get your new boyfriend to help you set a trap so that none of us have to die today?”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Renala said, “and why would he help us stop one of his own?”
“Well, I’m kinda hoping that he’d rather not watch you get hacked up, but besides that, I doubt she will stop with just us. In the state she’s in now, she’d probably chop him up too.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
It didn’t take long for Renala to explain the situation to Ankur, who looked troubled by the news.
“I knew she was unstable,” Ankur said, “but I didn’t know she was a berserker. This could be a problem. Your friend was right about them having trouble distinguishing friend from foe. I don’t think we will be able to restrain her, but perhaps we can distract her.”
“The only problem is that anyone who tries to act as a distraction will then be the one in danger. No one is safe as long as she has anyone in front of her to target. We need to take away all people from around her. Separate her from us until she breaks from her rage and then she can be dealt with.” Renala looked up into the trees and thought about how things had gotten so out of hand. “Prolier, if you survive this, I’m gonna kill you myself.”
“How was I to know that she’d go all psycho killer on me?” Prolier responded in a strained voice, still clearly in a great deal of pain. “Don’t blame me for this one.”
“How many times does your mouth have to get you in trouble before you decide to just keep it shut?”
“Making your foe lose their cool is a valid tactic. I don’t see why you’re so mad.”
“Because there’s a crazy person trying to butcher all of us and you had to go and piss her off!”
“Stop bickering,” Ankur said. “I have an idea, but I will need your help and we need to hurry. We already may not have enough time.”