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Not So Novel: The End (NN Episode 4)

[continued from Episode 3:  “In that same year, he carefully chose his target.  He didn’t choose one of the top 4; on the off chance that he did win, he would be a marked man (even more so than usual).  No, he chose to go after the 5th…..”]

He walked behind his opponent on the way to the enormous Dueling Hall.  She was a small girl, a foot shorter than him, slim, with close-cropped black hair.  She walked with an air of confidence, and no wonder.  He knew her record; she had obtained her rank and codename a year ago, taking out a guy who had outweighed her twice over and had 10 kills of his own.  Since then, however, she had only had to defend her rank twice.  That was one of the main reasons why he chose to challenge her; 5th was a respected position, but it didn’t attract the attention that the top 4 spots did.

They both stopped in front of the teacher who stood in front of the Hall.  Behind the teacher were two doors.  The teacher looked up.  “Nightingale, I know you have been here before.  Do you need the rules explained to you again?”

Nightingale shook her head.

“Fine.  Until the duel is over, I hereby bind you to follow the rules on pain of death.”  The teacher pressed something into her hand.  “Head into the left door, prepare, and wait for my signal.”

Nightingale nodded at the teacher, nodded to him, and then entered the left door.  There were no wishes of good luck, no camaraderie.  While they hadn’t been the best of friends before now, they had at least been friendly to one another.  But given what they were both planning on doing, you had to break all ties of friendship before going in.

The teacher turned to him.  “Well, I know this is your first time here, so I’ll go over the rules.  There aren’t many.  Once you pass through that door, you will have time to prepare.  You each will have access to the same set of equipment, and you may take as much as you think you need.  When you are ready, just stand by the inner door.  I will be observing the both of you at all times, so I’ll know when you are ready.  Understand so far?”

He nodded.

“Good.  When I see both of you are ready, I will unlock both inner doors.  Once you pass through, the door will lock behind you.  Inside you will find both open space and closed environments.  The only thing I will tell you is that the doors will put you in opposite ends of the Dueling Area.  You are free to engage your opponent in any way you see fit:  set traps, frontal assault, distance weapons, etc.    However, I must make this clear.  You enter the Dueling Area, one of you will die.  That is the primary rule; either you die, or she does.  If you yield, she will kill you.  If she yields, you are to kill her.  If neither of you can follow the rules, we will kill both of you.  Do you understand, and do you wish to continue?  This is your last chance.”

He nodded.  He wasn’t going to back down now.  There were a couple students who had backed down before, and they had been made fun of at every turn for it.  “Are you going to run again, little Rabbit?  Run!”  Even he had made fun of them.  In the end one had transferred to another division, but the other one had taken his own life.  Oh, it technically hadn’t been suicide, but when he challenged the number 1 ranked student to a duel….  Well, it ended up being pretty much the same thing.

The teacher held up a hand.  In it was a small stone etched with a rabbit design.  “Take this, and keep it on you.  Nightingale has a similar stone with her.  If you succeed in killing her, find it and take it along with yours to one of the cameras.  Show it to us, declare your opponent dead, and then we will come in to collect the body.”  He took the stone, and the teacher led him to his door.  “Until the duel is over, I hereby bind you to follow the rules on pain of death.”  The teacher turned and left.

He went inside and looked around.  Several kinds of weapons, gadgets, and traps lined the walls.  A quick look confirmed a rumor he had heard: no rations of any kind.  He smirked.  They didn’t want the duel to take that long, and frankly neither did he.  Alright, weapons.  Though students were trained with several types of firearms, apparently The School preferred duels to have more of a “classic” feel; the only weapons available were blades and bows.  Huh.  They probably probably got tired of fixing bullet holes.  It wasn’t a big deal, since he had trained extensively with swords and knives.  He strapped on a standard katana, one knife to his leg, and after thinking for a moment, stripped off his shirt so he could strap a knife between his shoulder blades.  He put his shirt back on and looked at the rest.

Trip wires?  Good, he’ll take a few of those.  Laser detection alarms?  No, too bulky.  The same thing could be said about a few of the other gadgets.  There were backpacks provided if you wanted to take several things with you, but he wanted to travel light.  Shurikens?  Definitely.  He hid several about his body, making sure the more concealed ones were wrapped in leather.  He had a couple of scars in embarrassing places from when he had forgotten……  A bow?  No….  That could give him an advantage if he got a clear shot, true, but more than likely it should just slow him down.  He sighed.  OK, enough.  Wait.  What was that in the corner?  There was a tiny bottle of spray medical sealant, just enough for one use.  It was the sort of thing used in the field for medical emergencies, to keep a person from bleeding out before they could get to a hospital.  What was that doing here?  The whole point was….  Eh, who cares.  He grabbed it and zipped it into an inside pocket.  Could come in handy.

He stood in front of the inner door.  The teacher’s voice came on over the intercom.  “Both duelists are ready.  Unlocking the doors in 3, 2, 1…”   There was an audible click as the door unlocked.

He raced into the room.  Houses.  Streets.  The Dueling Area was essentially like a tiny neighborhood that they had studied about in class, complete with grass.  He went to the closest house and started scaling up it.  Perhaps if he could get up high enough he could find his opponent.  He reached the top of the house and carefully climbed onto the roof.  Crawling on his belly, he got to front edge and looked around.  No sign of her yet.  He could see now that while there were many “houses”, none of them were wider than a room or two.  They had windows, porches, driveways…  He glanced in a window.  Yep, they even had some furniture.  But it was as if the builders had gotten lazy and just stopped working on each house halfway through.  He waited for a few minutes and then….there!  It looked like she was setting traps all around a couple of the taller houses.  He sighed.  OK, well, perhaps it would have been a good idea to grab the bow.  Nothing can be done about that now, though.

He carefully climbed down the house and made his way over to one of the houses she was at.  As he got close to the porch, he found the first trap: a razor sharp trip wire stretched across the doorway.  He shook his head.  She won with those tactics?  He went over to the window…  Scree!  Scree!  Scree!  Damn!  She had hidden a laser detection alarm!  As he turned and started to race away he heard a loud thud.  What the heck?  Turning back, he slowly made his way around the house.

There, in between the two houses, was Nightingale.  Oh….  She was lying facedown on the grass, her face and the grass underneath covered in blood.  Perhaps she had tried to jump off the house and misjudged?  She stirred.  This was his chance.  He could win without a fight! He unsheathed his katana and strode towards her.  Pain lanced through his legs as he fell, his katana falling to the side.  Shit!  He had just walked right into a expertly concealed razor trip wire.  He swore some more and gingerly pulled his legs free of the wire.  He started to get up….. Icy hot pain lanced through his body.  He looked down.  The tip of a katana stuck out of his chest.

Nightingale put her foot on his back as she tugged the blade free, kicking him to the ground.  He gasped for breath as he rolled onto his back.  Blood seeped out of the wound.  His sword!  Where was his…..  He saw that Nightingale’s own blade was still sheathed.  Stabbed with his own sword.  It was bad enough that he was going to die; did he have to die being such an idiot?

Nightingale walked over to him, wiping blood off of her face.  He could see now where she had carefully cut some of her own clothes to make a tourniquet for her left arm.  She saw his glance.  “Yes, I drained some blood out of my arm.  It’s amazing that little trick has worked on three of you guys now.  I wonder who the fourth idiot will be?  Now just lie still.”  She eyed him critically.  “With that wound I give you….oh, let’s say 3 minutes if you stay still.  But”, she said as she raised the sword, “only 3 seconds if you try to move.  Consider it a last kindness.  Pray to your god, make amends or whatever, but just be quiet and die.”

She held the sword to his throat as she rummaged about his clothes.  A moment later she had his rabbit etched stone, as well as the knife that was strapped to his leg and several of his shurikens.  She walked towards a nearby post which he could see had a camera inside.  He could hear her talking.

He fumbled in his clothing.  He nearly blacked out before he found what he was looking for: the sealant.  He carefully used one hand to open the wound slightly.  A spasm of pain made him gasp.  He looked at Nightingale.  She hand’t noticed.  He pressed the tip of the sealant can into the wound.  He pressed the button.  Blood flowed down his chin as the pain made him bite clear through his lower lip, but the sealant had done its job.  As he slowly sat up he could still feel a little blood coming out of the wound on his back, but he was no longer bleeding as freely.

He blinked rapidly.  He might not be bleeding, but he had lost a lot of blood, and he knew it.  He only had moments.  Struggling to maintain silence, he got to his feet.  He reached up his shirt and pulled out his one, last knife.  Reaching into his clothes, he found one shuriken.  He fumbled and finally got the leather wrapping off the shuriken, and then he cupped it carefully in his hand.  He staggered towards her in silence, this time stepping carefully over the trip wire.

Nightingale was still talking to the camera.  A voice was coming out of the speaker below.  “You know the rules, Nightingale.  If you don’t finish him off, we can’t come in there.  Are you certain he’s actually dead?”

“Fine!”  Nightingale said, “I’ll…”  Her words finished in a scream as he thrust his knife into her back.  As she turned, he took every ounce of strength he had left and thrust his other hand forward, burying the shuriken in her throat.  Her mouth moved soundlessly for a couple moments, then she collapsed.  He folded up next to her.  He started to black out again….

No!  He got up on his hands and knees and started searching.  A moment later he found what he was looking for in her hand: the two stones.  He grabbed them and held them up in front of the camera.  “She’s dead!”  With that, he collapsed and fought to stay conscious.

A moment later a door burst open and 3 medics came into the room followed by the teacher.  One of them went to check on Nightingale.   The medic nodded to the teacher.  As the other two medics bound him to a stretcher, the teacher bent over it and said, “Congratulations, Nightingale….”

[to be continued]

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