Renala and Ankur had been working hard on their trap when they heard Marnie approaching. A moment later they heard Claire, who was making a lot more noise. There wasn’t much distance between them, but hopefully it would be enough for the plan to work.
“Run between the two fat trees and turn right.” Renala said. “You’ll see a vine hanging down. Grab it and hold on as tight as you can. We’ll do the rest.”
Marnie didn’t bother to respond, but she did exactly as instructed. She rounded the tree and found the vine. She really hoped that their plan had something to it. She didn’t want to die hanging from a vine without her hands free to defend herself.
As soon as she was on the vine, Ankur shouted “Jump!” from above.
Renala and Ankur leapt from their perch. They were holding the other end of the vine and as they dropped, Marnie was ripped from her feet, launched upward by their combined weight. All was going well until the vine snapped, dropping all three of them to the jungle floor.
They rose quickly to see Claire rushing at them with her hatchet swinging wildly.
Prolier sped up his step a bit. “Angus says that the plan didn’t work. Renala, Marnie and Renala are facing Claire with nowhere to run. We need to get there now.”
Lethen nodded and put more effort into his stride. He was still feeling the aftereffects of Dmitri zapping him, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He cared about all of his teammates, but Marnie more than the others. She was in trouble and Claire would only get to her over his cold, lifeless body. “How far out are we?”
Prolier asked the question and was quiet while he got his response. “Not too far. A couple minutes at most. If they can survive that long, we should be able to back them up.”
They ran for about another thirty seconds before Prolier howled and fell. His injured leg had finally given out.
Lethen stopped and ran over to him. “Are you alright?”
Prolier looked up with rage in his eyes. “What the hell are you doing? Keep running. You’ll be on them soon and they’ll need your help. I’m no use in this state. Go. Now!”
Lethen nodded at his fallen comrade with a new respect. If someone had told him that Prolier would give up his chance to make a name for himself to save another, he would’ve laughed. Something had changed in Prolier. Lethen nodded again and took off running. By now he could hear the ring of battle from not far off. He was close and he prayed that he would make it before anyone got too badly injured.
Angus watched with shaking hands as the battle between Claire and the others got started. Their tactics were sound but he wasn’t sure if it would make any difference. They had taken up positions with Renala in the center. After all, she was the only one with any kind of chance to defend against those wild, brutal swings. She had wisely chosen to stick with the shield for this. It was lighter and more maneuverable than the halberd and so far it was serving her well against the berserker.
Off to the side he noticed the predicament with Lethen and Prolier. “Prolier, is it broken now?”
Prolier’s voice was thin and dripping with pain. “I don’t think so, but I don’t imagine I’ll get much further on it. I’m sorry sensei. I have failed again.”
“No, you haven’t and don’t ever think that you have. You got to Lethen and brought him to the battle when he had no other way of finding it. I have seen more growth in you today than in every other day combined. Today you realized that helping your team is more important than any vengeance or personal vendetta. Today, more than any other, you showed yourself to be a true daemon knight. Do you know what the most successful daemon knights had in common?”
“Their hearts. It’s not about how many enemies you can take down by yourself. It’s about how you react to situations and how well you protect and help those around you. There are legendary knights who have never won a fight by themselves. They had gifts that were much better suited to a support role and fulfilled that without worrying about whether they would ever be noticed. They served a greater purpose.”
“So I’m to play support to Lethen for the rest of my days?”
“Yes, and he is to play support to you, just as you are all meant to support each other. But in answer to what you really meant, I don’t think you’re the type to fade into the background. There will be times when you are at the forefront of things and I’m sure your value will be noticed by those whose approval you desire. Don’t worry, your time will come.”
“Thank you sensei. I will do my best.”
“I know Prolier, I know.”
“What should I do now?”
“That is entirely up to you. I know you can’t run any more, but your role in this might not yet be over. Just be ready in case they need you.”
The battle wasn’t going too well for Marnie, Renala and Ankur. Claire was swinging faster and harder than any foe Renala had ever faced. The shield was whipping about with tendon ripping fury, but it was only just barely keeping up. It wouldn’t be long before either Renala or her daemon got too tired to keep it up.
“Can you summon that tiger of yours?” Marnie asked.
Ankur stopped for a moment to focus. “Not yet. It takes her a little while to recover from wounds. Renala got a good strike on her and she is using her energy to repair that.”
“Damn. I don’t know what to do about this girl. I want to get in there and get some hits in, but I really don’t want her to turn her attention to me. Sorry Renala, but you’re the only one who can face her right now.”
“Maybe I can help.”
Marnie and Ankur looked up the see Lethen emerge from the bushes behind Claire. Marnie was happy to see him, but knew that even he probably couldn’t make any kind of difference here. Then again, maybe he was the only one who could.
“Can you drag her under?” Marnie asked.
Ankur watched as Lethen slowly sank into the ground. “I had heard that he had the gift of earth-swimming, but I did not expect to see it with my own eyes. He was truly lucky in receiving such a powerful daemon. It is indeed an incredible gift.”
Renala was panting as she defended herself against the berserker. “Could you guys hurry it up with whatever plan you’re cooking up? I don’t know how much longer I can keep this up.”
“We’re working on it,” Marnie said. “Just a little longer.”
A hand emerged from the ground at Claire’s feet and tried several times to grab at one of the fast moving limbs before managing to grab a handful of her pantleg. She didn’t even look down before slamming her other foot down on his hand. Hard. The hand retreated and Lethen slowly climbed his way free of the turf a few feet away, clutching his left hand.
“Sorry,” he said, “she’s moving too fast and she’s too strong. I might be able to do it if I could see, but once submerged, I’m blind. She almost broke my hand that time and I know I won’t be able to hold on to her long enough to get her far enough below to make any kind of difference.”
“Well, it was worth trying,” Marnie said. “What’s next?”
“I will try my tiger again,” Ankur said. This time he was successful. The beautiful animal leapt from it’s spear prison and circled around behind Claire. It waited until it was directly behind her before it raked one of it’s claws down her back.
She was no longer interested in Renala. She turned around so fast that Marnie was sure the daemon’s face registered surprise, though if asked later, she wouldn’t be able to describe exactly how a feline face is capable of that expression.
Claire’s hatchet made several swipes, causing the cat to jump back.
“We need to run now,” Ankur said. “She will hold Claire off as long as she can, but she is still weak and will not be able to retain that shape for long. We need to be out of view before that happens. I will return later for my daemon. If she is injured, she will return to her spear form. If one of us is injured, we will likely die.”
They didn’t need to be told twice, but they didn’t make it far. It wasn’t long before they heard a feline roar and the sound of foliage being shredded behind them. Claire was on the move and coming for them.
“Keep running,” Renala told them. “I will hold her off as long as I can. With any luck, she’ll snap out of it soon. Whatever you hear, don’t stop running.”
Lethen stopped next to her. “You heard her, go.”
“That means you too Lethen. I’m the only one who can even slow her down.”
“I’m staying.” Lethen turned to Ankur and Marnie. “You two, get out of here. See if you can find Prolier and drag him if you have to. Just stay the hell away from here until after this is all done.”
Marnie and Ankur looked at each other and took off.
“You don’t have to do this,” Renala said. “I know my role in this team is to slow down the foes that we can’t defeat individually. You should go, though I am glad that you’re here with me.”
Lethen didn’t have time to wonder what she meant. Claire had closed the distance between them. First she went for Lethen, but, in a mercurial blur, Renala’s halberd shot out to stop the attack, bringing the berserker’s focus back to her. She switched back to the shield just in time to stop a slash that would have separated her head from her body.
Lethen watched the fight, wishing he could find a way to help. He had only one idea, but it was a last resort. Renala was doing a fantastic job at stopping the blows that were raining down on her, but Lethen could tell that she was beginning to slow down. There wasn’t much fight left in her.
“Goodbye Lethen. It’s been a pleasure.”
It appeared that the time of last resorts was upon him.
He saw a swing coming that he wasn’t sure she would be able to block and swung as hard as he could. The ring of the weapons connecting turned his arm to jelly, but that wasn’t the worst of it. The scream of pain that erupted from his daemon was so intense, he was sure that it could be heard for miles and not just in his own head. It was so fierce, he crumpled as if gravity had just increased a hundredfold.
“Lethen!” Renala cried. She made the mistake of taking her focus off her opponent for a moment. She moved to reach for Lethen. Claire’s attention was not distracted. She swung her weapon down in an arc that caught the back of Renala’s leg, nearly chopping it off just below the knee. This time Renala cried for a different reason.
Claire pulled the blade free and swung again, trying to finish the job she’d started, but when her daemon came down it was stopped by Lethen’s shovel again, but this time it was stopped dead. The berserker’s eyes rose to regard her new foe, her rage the only thing that kept her from being terrified by the sight before her.
Lethen stood before her, eyes glowing with fury that dwarfed even hers.