Christine Wallis had been preparing to be selected for SOTF for years, in a manner of speaking. It wasn't that she'd expected to be chosen, but like so many fans, she'd had a plan. Unlike the bulk of her fellows, upon finding herself forced into the situation for real, she was doing her level best to stick to it. It was, in its way, like fencing. You could win by being faster or stronger or more resilient than your opponent. You could also win by being smarter.
Christine had always relied upon her wits. In SOTF, that translated to avoiding the obvious traps. Every season, so many contestants got caught up in the spectacle and violence of it all, and that was important to the show as entertainment. It did precious little to see them through to victory, however. Christine wasn't happy to be here, but since competing on the show was to be her fate, she was determined at least to win it.
Her plan, for the longest time, had been to play a slower, more cautious game. The new rules, carrying over as they did from Season Sixty-Five, threw a slight wrench into her strategy and made her less certain in her course. Was it really wise to eschew teamwork simply because it was a variable she hadn't considered? Was laying low more like to see her through than gritting her teeth and trying for the ten kills?
But those were unknown factors, ones that could just as easily work against her as towards her benefit. So Christine clung to the outskirts and avoided her classmates for over twenty-four hours, skirting the edges of areas, lurking in the shadows of buildings, and avoiding everyone she saw. The announcements confirmed the wisdom of her decision, as the others dropped like flies. It was somewhat disconcerting and, she had to admit, hurtful to her ego just how many of the killers were from the other school, and how many of the victims were from her own.
But it wouldn't matter. In the end, all that counted was first place, and Christine had her eyes on the prize.
So now she was lingering in the area of the nature walk. It was a good spot in no small part because of how uninviting it was; anyone without a reason to be there, she assumed, would instead favor indoor areas for warmth and shelter. The chill did bother her somewhat—she'd shivered even under her light jacket during the night—and the trees and little hills through which the path snaked certainly provided ample locations for possible ambushes. Christine suspected she was more able to deal with such things than most of the others, though. Her time in the SCA had taught her to bear a certain amount of discomfort.
It wasn't even so bad in the late afternoon. The sun was out, and the air was fairly warm, and Christine had almost fallen into a relaxed daze, had almost forgotten where she was and what she was facing, when a voice rang loudly from her collar.
"Howdy, girl. I'm Randall Rochester—you might know me from TV—and I'm your mentor. Sorry it took me so long to get to ya; you just haven't been doing anything. Buck up, though. I reckon you're gonna have a chance to be something more in just a few licks."
The voice jarred Christine so much, its tone so sudden and loud, that she almost didn't catch the sound of earth crunching beneath sneakers. When she did, she tensed, whirled, hand going to the cleaver tucked into her pocket. Her mentor had blown her cover, given her away, and now all her caution might be for naught.
There was a boy, coming through the woods just off the path, his eyes squinting, searching. He spotted Christine at the same moment she saw him. She held her breath, but his posture was almost relaxed, and she saw, after a second more, that the bandanna he wore matched hers.
((Erik Sheely continued from I'm Not Here to Make Friends))
"Hey," he called. Christine let out her breath.
She didn't know Erik Sheely particularly well, but they were at least classmates, and he didn't seem too likely to cause trouble, at least not when they were assigned to work together. He held a cricket bat in a tight grip, one which did not loosen even as he greeted her.
"Hey," Christine called back. She gave Erik a nod, turning to face him more directly. "I guess we're teammates."
"I guess so." Erik shrugged, grip still firm on the bat. Christine's eyes tracked it as it rose and fell. "It's good to see a friendly face. I recognized our mentor's voice and headed your way. Only thing he's been good for so far."
Christine let out an awkward chuckle.
"Yeah," she said. "It's the first I've heard of him. Is he a piece of work?" Then, considering further, she added, "And what have you been up to? What's it like out there?"
"Scary." Erik moved up until he stood a comfortable conversational distance from her. "I was holed up in the ice palace, with James for a while, but these two others came in. They said they just wanted to search it, but set up shop and almost got the drop on us. James freaked, and they almost caught us out, but I d-drove them off. Then I came here to stay away from that stuff."
It sounded about like what she'd expected. She opened her mouth to say as much, but was distracted as three gunshots rang out, followed by a girl's scream.
They were at a part of the path with heavy vegetation, so it was hard to see what was going on, and Christine didn't have the necessary experience to judge how far away the gunfire was anyways. It was loud, but not loud enough to exactly hurt her ears. She tensed up again. Suddenly, the way Erik held his bat didn't seem quite so paranoid.
"Should we go?" he asked, his voice hushed.
Christine vacillated. Trouble would be best to avoid. On the other hand, a gun would do nothing but increase their chances in the long run. They had numbers, most likely. Someone would have to be pretty foolish to attack them head-on without vastly superior manpower or weaponry. If it turned out they were foolish, they could be dealt with. Christine was very aware of how quickly one could close on a combatant armed with a ranged weapon. She'd seen how inaccurate most of the contestants on SOTF were beyond close range. And yet, what would they gain by such a risk?
Before she could decide, a girl appeared, running down the path, nearly stumbling over her feet.
"Help," she shouted, her voice hoarse and breathless. "Someone's coming after me."
((Genesis "Sissy" Bradley-Baker continued from Honey Badger Don't Care!))
The running girl was a stranger to Christine, and that did nothing to inspire confidence. Two of the repeat killers were girls from the other school.
The only thing keeping her from being immediately suspicious was the air of desperation about the girl and the fact that she didn't seem to be armed. Christine would have let her pass by if she were on her own, waiting to see what came in her wake. It was just good tactics, especially if she was being pursued. They didn't owe each other anything. It wouldn't hurt Christine to turn away. She'd probably never even know for sure when or how the girl died.
But Erik apparently didn't see things that way, because he stood up and called out.
"What's going on?" he shouted. The girl almost tripped as she skidded to a halt, raising her hands up in the air. Her eyes were red and her nose was running.
"H-help," she stammered. "They were shooting, and—"
Before she could finish her sentence, someone else rounded the corner behind her, at a jog. This time, it was a face Christine was a little more familiar with.
((Christopher Schwartz continued from A New Morning))
"What's happening here?" he said. His voice was tense, almost angry. In his hands was a large gun. It looked like some sort of old rifle, wooden stock and all.
Upon seeing Chris, the girl gave out a shriek and darted towards the two Tan Team members.
"Who's that?" Chris said, glancing from the girl to Erik to Christine. While Christine hadn't moved far from where she'd stood when the gunshots first went off, the collective attention had followed the girl and now certainly included Christine as well. "What did you do to her?"
"We didn't do anything," Christine said. "She just turned up."
"Save me," the girl wailed. She gestured vaguely at Chris. "He's trying to kill me. You have to help me."
A frown had crossed Erik's face, and now he fidgeted with the bat, glancing between the girl and Chris. Christine felt similarly torn; on the one hand, she went to school with Chris. He hadn't been announced, though his girlfriend, Naomi, was dead to one of those killer girls from the other school. He had a gun, and this girl seemed unarmed. He seemed edgy and angry. The implications could certainly be read without too much mental stretching.
"What are you talking about?" Chris said.
"Don't believe him," the girl cried again, moving still closer to Erik and Christine. "He caught me when I was eating my food and told me to give him all my stuff or he'd shoot me. You have to save me. I didn't do anything. He just started trying to kill me and I don't want to die."
And just when Christine felt like things could not possibly get more complicated, somehow they found a way.
"She's lying." Another voice, one that belonged to none of those who had already spoken, cut through the air between them.
Not too far away, two other girls also heard the gunshots. The sounds of conflict carried very different meanings to them.
((Shadi Williams continued from If You Hit a Wall, Hit It Hard))
((Laura Mason continued from Gravity))
"Do you think it's safe, Clarissa?"
Shadi would have smiled, but that wouldn't have fit the role she'd adopted. This girl, Laura, had apparently been with a group, but had panicked and fled in the wake of a confrontation at the aqua museum. Shadi wasn't particularly interested in the details. She'd picked Laura up a short distance away from the building with a kind word or two. The two of them had been walking together.
Laura had said she was just glad to find someone to stay with. She hadn't questioned it at all as Shadi steered them further away from the buildings, out into the woods along the nature walk. It was a lucky part of the resort. The hill where Shadi had had her first profitable encounter wasn't far away.
"I don't think you have to worry about that," Shadi said. "It sounded a ways off."
Not that far, really. There might be something big going down, and Shadi could have really used a gun in her arsenal. Right now, her tactics were limited. She had the club, and she had bitten back her distaste for the provided clothing and changed into one of the spare t-shirts, leaving her less immediately evident as a killer. The deception shtick had served her well so far, so there was no need to abandon it before it ran its course. But with a gun, how her options would open up.
"Yeah," Laura said. She didn't sound convinced. "I guess so."
It was almost a pity. She might have been useful for something. As it was, though, Shadi was heading for ten kills by hook or by crook. She'd have to move quickly if she wanted to be the first, and it would be very unfortunate if she made it too late. She was going to make a lot of enemies on the way. Getting stranded with them would make her survival a far less likely prospect.
So she sighed, looked at the ground, and then glanced back up. She squinted into the trees and let a note of concern drip into her voice.
"Laura," she said, "what's that?"
"What?" Laura looked, confusedly, off into the middle distance, searching for whatever had captured Shadi's attention.
The wind was rustling a low bush slightly. It was as good as anything.
"That, there." Shadi pointed. "I thought I saw someone. Do you see it?"
Laura leaned forward, squinted. She was distracted enough trying to make out the movement that she never saw the shillelagh coming as Shadi brought it slamming into the back of her skull with bone-crushing force.
HB5, Laura Mason: DECEASEDShe caught Laura as the girl fell, lowering her softly to the ground, ignoring the blood pooling beneath her head. With a few quick movements, Shadi stripped the girl of her bag and stashed it at the base of a particularly large pine tree with a broken lower branch. It was out of sight, but she'd be able to come back for it. In the mean time, Shadi had a date with a gun. She was hoping it would work out as a nice long-term relationship.
After a second of thought, she stashed her own supplies with Laura's, the better to move quickly and unencumbered, and then headed in the direction she'd heard the gunfire from, bloodstained club in her hands.
"She's lying," the voice said again. It sounded angry. Looking up, Christine saw another girl she didn't know.
((Saachi Nidal continued from Walking is still honest))
The crying girl glanced at the newcomer and her face paled.
"She was with him," she said. "She's his accomplice. Don't listen to her."
"Don't listen to Sissy," the newcomer said. "She pulled this exact same trick right after she woke up. I just saw her shoot her pistol into the air, then come charging in here. I don't know why. Maybe she thinks it's funny. This guy wasn't anywhere near her."
Christine was trying to keep an eye on every person present, to read their faces for signs of deception. It was too much. She just wanted to leave, to leave with Erik, who all of a sudden felt like her best friend in the entire world just because she could unambiguously say he had no reason to try to kill her.
Erik was glaring at all of them. The bat was trembling a little in his grasp now. Christine noted this, and had a flash of concern. Even if he didn't factor into her plans, losing Erik wouldn't do her any good. Worse, if he did anything rash, she might well end up associated with it by virtue of team allegiance.
"What do you think?" she hissed at him, half just to distract him.
"Save me," Sissy called again. Her tone was starting to show some exasperation. "You aren't gonna just let them kill me, are you? Bitches."
"I don't know," Erik shouted. "I think you're all crazy and should just leave us alone."
The last word, "alone," he let out as a ragged howl, and for a few seconds everything was quiet and all eyes were on him, and, by extension, Christine. She wanted to take a step backwards and just melt into the trunk of the tree behind her, to merge with it and get away from this chaos and these threats.
The silence was broken when Chris cleared his throat.
"Sorry," he said.
"I mean," he continued, "I don't know what all this shit is about. I really don't. I've never seen this girl before in my life. Hell, I don't even know her name.
"But you know what I have seen?" His voice had been soft when he first started speaking, but now it took on an edge, one that made the hair on the back of Christine's neck rise.
"I've seen bodies," Chris continued. "I've seen my girlfriend's body, lying on the ground after I went off for ten minutes to take a leak. I've seen bodies of people I don't care about. There are people out there killing each other, and getting killed, and all this right now is pretty weird and crazy and I have no idea if I'm safe or not, and neither do you.
"So let's make it simple. You want me to be some monster, shooting at you for no reason? You want that?"
He moved forwards as he spoke, step by long and slow step, and as he did, Sissy shrank still further backwards.
"Okay," he said, raising his gun. Sissy started to shriek, but was cut off abruptly as the weapon kicked in Chris' hand, belching a spray of pellets straight into her face. Silenced, Sissy crumpled to the ground and moved no more.
GH1, Genesis "Sissy" Bradley-Baker: DECEASEDChristine felt something wet hit her face. Raising her right hand, she wiped at her cheek and came away with a smear of Sissy's blood on her index finger.
"Are you happy now?" Chris roared. "Was it everything you wanted?"
He kept the gun up. It was the only reason Christine didn't bolt.
"Naomi was going to get the ten," Chris said, his voice dropping almost to a whisper again, "and I was going to win the old fashioned way. Guess I don't have to worry about that now. So I'll just be taking whatever gets me out of this fucking hellhole first. If that means—"
But the other girl, the one who had vouched for Chris, had been moving as he spoke. Christine had expected her to run while his attention was diverted. It would have been the logical thing to do. Nobody could have faulted her for it. Instead, her face had turned ugly, and she'd come closer, had scooped up a rock along the way. As Chris ranted, the girl lunged, swinging for his head.
Her aim was poor. She connected with Chris' shoulder, spinning him and causing him to fumble with the gun for a moment. She swung again, and this time Chris stepped backwards, swearing as he did so. He brought the gun up, pumped and fired it once, twice, three times. Somehow, even at point blank range while wielding a shotgun, he managed to miss with his first two shots, kicking up twin sprays of gravel from the path and stumbling as the recoil tossed him around.
The third shot, however, took the girl in the gut. The rock fell from her hands, which in turn fell to clutch at the wound, trying to hold back the blood and viscera. She coughed, and a string of red saliva dribbled down her chin. Chris pumped the shotgun once more, fired again at her. As she stood immobile and Chris no longer had to split his attention between dodging her attacks, he was easily able to catch her in the left kneecap. The girl toppled to the ground, where she lay, gurgling.
"There," Chris said, his voice strained, his breathing heavy, almost panting. He spun back towards Erik and Christine, pumping the shotgun again. "There. That's two. Plus you two, that's four. I'm almost halfway home."
His tone sounded, to Christine, almost pleading. Maybe she could have mustered some sympathy for him, were she watching this on TV. Maybe he could have been her favorite to win. At the moment, though, she could do nothing but hate the boy she was sure was about to steal her life.
She should have stayed hidden. She should have run as soon as the girl turned up. She should have used one of these distractions to flee—throwing Erik to the wolves if he lacked the sense to follow her—or to get a leg up on Chris and disarm him. She had done none of these things, and so now she and Erik were going to die.
Chris smiled and pulled the trigger.
His eyes widened, and he pumped the shotgun. No shell was ejected. He'd run out of ammunition.
"Shit," he said. For a half second, nobody moved. Then Erik howled and charged toward Chris, bat finally raised into position, ready for battle.
To his credit, Chris was smarter than many Christine had seen on the show. He didn't drop his gun, or throw it as a distraction. He didn't try to stay and fight. As Erik charged, Chris turned tail and bolted, across the path and into the trees on the other side, heading down a slope.
For a moment, Christine considered running. It was the perfect opportunity. She had to make a snap decision, though, and running would mean abandoning Erik and giving up the chance of getting Chris' gun. Chris would probably attack her again if they encountered each other later. He was a threat, to her and her team, and now was the perfect opportunity to put him down.
These were the logical reasons for what she did, the things she told herself in the first minute of pursuit. In the second where she started charging after Chris, however, all that motivated her was hatred and rage for the boy who had almost held her life in his hands.
The one girl's face had been blown almost completely off. Shadi's fingers got very messy as she dug the pistol from the waistband of the girl's shorts.
She'd arrived too late for the action, having slowed her approach as the gunfire rang out, a different, deeper booming than that which had drawn her attention before. When it had quieted, she had made her way towards the source of the ruckus, and there she had found the bodies. The one with the shredded face was closer, and so it was where Shadi began her grisly investigation. Just her luck it turned up gold.
She fiddled with the gun, finally managing to release the magazine. There were still bullets in it. That was basically all Shadi needed to know right now. Digging through the girl's pack revealed an instruction manual and some extra ammunition, which Shadi tucked away into her pockets.
She stood for a moment, savoring the heft of the gun in her hand, so much lighter and yet so much more deadly than the club, when a soft, gurgling groan drew her attention.
The other body wasn't a corpse just yet. Shadi moved to it, and as she looked down she saw a face that was familiar even through the blood.
"Oh, hey," she said. "Long time no see."
It was that girl, her erstwhile ally when she'd been... Jenny? She thought it was Jenny. She'd killed the girl's teammate, and now she, too, was past help. The girl gurgled again and tried to shy away from Shadi. What came next could have been an act of mercy, but the dying girl's suffering was the last thing on Shadi's mind. What she saw was that someone hadn't cleaned up properly, leaving her the perfect chance to poach the point. Four would leave her one shy of halfway home.
"Tough luck," she said, stepping over the prone figure. The girl raised her hand to cover her face, and Shadi almost gently moved the girl's arm away again using her boot. She pinned it to the earth with her toe, smiled, and ground it a little.
The gun would have been faster but noisier, and there was no need to waste the ammunition. This one wasn't going anywhere.
The shillelagh came down hard on Saachi's head, again and again.
JR1, Saachi Nidal: DECEASEDThe stillness and silence of the aftermath didn't last long. From somewhere in the woods on the other side of the road came a girl's shriek.
With a shrug, Shadi loped off to investigate, new weapon in hand. This cleanup crew thing was a good gig, if perhaps a bit safe and boring. She could coast on it, though, or maybe catch someone when they were too involved in another fight to be watching their back.
It was shaping up to be a very productive day.
Christine couldn't exactly say how everything had gone to pieces so quickly.
The foliage on the slope was dense, yet most of it took the form of trees and bushes, leaving precious little undergrowth to hold the earth together. As a result, her and Erik's madcap pursuit of Chris quickly devolved into a stumbling war against gravity. They lost sight of their quarry almost immediately, to Christine's immense frustration.
When they came to the bottom of the slope, there was still evidence of his passage, in the form of bent and broken branches on trees and bushes, rocks disturbed from their mossy homes, but beyond a rough direction and a distant sound of movement there was nothing else.
Nothing, that is, until the girl coughed.
((Eden Bishop continued from You Snooze, You Lose))
She was standing there—right there, not ten feet away from them, watching, and as Christine and Erik spun her eyes widened. Christine knew Eden from school, at least a little; the girl was concerned with keeping healthy and fit, so their favored activities had a bit of overlap. They weren't close, though, and a glance at Eden's purple bandanna revealed that they were not on the same team.
"Which way did he go?" Erik asked, voice tense and hurried.
"Who?" Eden said. "What?"
"Chris. Chris Schwartz just came barreling through here," Erik snapped.
"He's dangerous," Christine added. "He shot Saachi and some other girl."
"Chris?" Eden said, as if she didn't quite understand. She glanced around nervously, looking over her shoulder. "Chris shot somebody?"
Erik took a step forward, bat held at the ready.
"Yeah," he said. "Chris shot somebody. You're lucky he didn't shoot you. He said he's going to shoot his way right out of here."
"Oh," Eden said. She took a step backwards, making eye contact with Christine.
"Let's go," Christine said. "She doesn't know anything. Let's hurry."
Erik paused for a second, then sighed.
"Alright," he said. "Let's hurry. Yeah."
Christine turned away, eyes searching for where Chris could have gone. The path he left was fairly obvious in its general direction. She was no tracker, but even she could realize that that obviousness would dissipate the slower he moved, the calmer he got. His state of weakness, too, might be temporary. By the time they caught him, would he have reloaded the gun? He'd fired five shots. Was that all it held, or had he expended some of his ammunition before encountering them?
She took two steps, her movements easier on the now-level ground, noting the ways the pebbles and rocks, already disturbed by Chris' passage, moved against her feet. She bit her lip, trying to focus, and so she was taken quite by surprise when Eden suddenly unleashed a blood-curdling scream.
Christine whirled just in time to see Erik swing the bat back again, specks of blood dripping from it, and then slam it once more into Eden's head. The girl staggered backwards, caught herself with one hand against a tree, lowered herself to a kneeling position.
She was silent, now, perhaps in shock. She did not move quickly. She had no chance of evading Erik's next blow, which caught her in the nose and tipped her over backwards. He gave her one more bash with the bat for good measure, then turned back to Christine. She didn't need to look closer to know that Eden was gone.
VW4, Eden Bishop: DECEASED"Alright," Erik said, voice grim, shaking a little. "Let's go."
"Erik," Christine said, and now there was something ugly and slimy trying to crawl its way up her throat from her guts, "what was that?"
Circumstance had thrown the two of them together, made them partners in this ordeal, and Erik had, for his part, seemed level-headed amidst the chaos. It had been so easy for Christine to unconsciously deem Erik worthy of her trust, to assign him a role as her ally and supporter, to forget that before all of this she'd known him as little more than the weird boy who did cheerleading. She'd had a plan, one that was predicated on the assumption that Erik's methods were compatible with her own.
And now, he stood before her with that bat in his hands, loose clumps of hair stuck to it by the tacky blood, as if he'd done nothing out of the ordinary.
He looked at Christine, squinted at her face.
"She was his accomplice" he said in a voice that betrayed not a hint of the doubt now coursing through Christine. "He didn't shoot her, and she was trying to stall us. If she wasn't in cahoots with him, she would've just told us where he went. She was buying him time, and then she'd've come around to ambush us."
"Ambush us?" Christine sounded shrill to herself, and so she took two deep breaths before continuing. She had to treat this like a fencing match. Stay cool, stay a step ahead. Use her wits. "He was out of ammo, Erik."
Erik bit his lip, and now a flash of uncertainty colored his eyes. It was fleeting.
"No," he said. "People here, they don't do that. They all want something."
Then, as if he only just became aware that his words didn't address anything Christine had said, he repeated, "She would've come around to ambush us."
Christine wanted to cry. Here she was, out in the woods, her ally turned murderer, her only protection a meat cleaver tucked awkwardly into her pocket, a classmate's corpse half a dozen yards away and those of two more cooling on the path upslope. She let out a little sob, but commuted it into a cough.
When she spoke, her voice was sounded alright to her.
"Erik," she said, "we can't just assume that. We need to get Chris, but with anyone else, we need to—"
But she was cut off as gunfire cut through the woods around her, as Erik dropped the bat and clutched at his elbow and howled in pain.
Shadi watched Erik kill Eden. Looked like he did a pretty thorough job, which meant she wouldn't be picking up the credit for herself. A pity, but what could you do?
And so she listened as the two teammates argued, listened and moved closer with as much stealth as her unusually large form could muster. She stopped in a bush, trained her new weapon, first at Christine and then, after a moment's reconsideration, at Erik. She lined up the sights. She knew how this worked, in theory. She knew that volume of fire often won out, compensating for poor aim.
So when the two of them were at their most focused on each other, when their awareness was at its lowest point, Shadi started shooting. She could've made it more of a show, more of an experience, and maybe in another situation she would have, but against two teammates her greatest chance of success came with an immediate leveling of the odds.
She fired five or six times, and as she'd feared and somewhat expected, the majority of her shots went wide. The gun was harder to work than she'd anticipated, the recoil and distance throwing her aim off, but one of her attempts met its mark.
Erik's right elbow caught the bullet, and he immediately dropped the bat and let loose a scream of pain. As he stumbled backwards, head whipping back and forth seeking his assailant, Shadi crashed out of her hiding spot. She aimed the gun, fired a snap shot at the girl to keep her down and missed completely, and then brought it around to Erik again, ready to finish him off. As she pulled the trigger, however, nothing further issued from the gun; its ammunition was depleted.
Shadi tossed the gun aside. It was fun while it lasted, but it seemed she'd have to finish this off with her trusty club. Bringing it into a two-handed grip, she charged at Erik, who was only just recovering his bearings enough to realize the danger he was in. He backpedalled, and as he did he stumbled over Eden's corpse, sending him sprawling on the ground.
"P-please," he murmured, staring up at Shadi with a look of horror on his face. She shrugged a shoulder, winked, brought the club crashing down at his head, but Erik was able to roll to the side, avoiding the blow.
Before Shadi could wind up and try again to finish the job, she heard a crunch of stone under foot, and, whirling, saw Christine. The girl held a meat cleaver in her hand, and she looked strangely calm. It was enough to give Shadi pause for just a second.
Perhaps Christine sensed that instant of hesitation, because she looked Shadi straight in the face and said, "Go."
Shadi laughed. The cleaver was bulky, unwieldy, and short. Christine was only an inch or two shorter than Shadi, but her reach would be significantly less than what Shadi's club brought to the table. The threat she posed didn't back up her attitude.
Christine frowned, took a step forward. Shadi raised her club, ready to meet any attack with the same force she'd brought to bear to crush the skulls of her previous victims.
Christine came in, rushing forwards, a straight line towards Shadi's core. It was all too easy, and so Shadi brought her shillelagh around in a long arc, aimed just so to catch Christine in the face. It should have staggered her if not outright taken her out of the fight. That was the plan.
It wasn't quite what happened. Shadi couldn't unpack it all. Somehow, at the last moment, Christine danced backwards, aborting her attack in time for the club to whistle past her face. Her arm snapped up and then down, and Shadi felt a sharp burning along her right forearm. Then the nerves in her fingers went dead.
The shillelagh slipped from her right hand's grasp. Blood was pouring down her arm from a cut just below the elbow. She tried to bring the club up again to defend herself, clumsily swinging it with only her left arm, but she was too slow, and in an instant Christine was inside her guard. The shorter girl drove an elbow into Shadi's solar plexus, and she coughed and doubled over as the wind was driven from her lungs. Christine followed up with a hard kick to Shadi's shins, then another, and her left leg gave under the blow, letting her stumble backwards and fall.
She dropped the club entirely, instead throwing her left arm out to cushion her fall. The rocky forest floor tore her palm, setting it stinging in a way somehow more immediate than the more serious injury of her right arm.
Rolling, she turned face up, trying to right herself and fight back. It took more work than she'd ever thought it could, showing her just how much she relied on having the use of all her limbs. As she finally succeeded, as she started to rise, a sneaker against her chest pushed her firmly back down.
She looked up and saw not Christine but Erik, his bloody right forearm a mirror of her own. As he raised his foot again, above her face, Shadi felt the first real pangs of terror.
SS3, Shadi Williams: DECEASED
It took some time to clean Erik's wound. They worked in silence. Christine tried not to look at the blood on his shoe, on her own hands. The knife lay beside her. She tried not to think, focusing only on wiping the blood away from the wound. Erik's blood she could acknowledge. She could make sense of it. Erik was still there, gritting his teeth and trying not to cry as she wrapped sterile dressings around what she was hoping wasn't the chunk of exposed bone it appeared to be.
It was only when they were done, when Erik's elbow was secured into a bundle of white-turning-rapidly-red cloth, that she let herself talk again.
"We should find her gun," she said. Shadi had thrown it somewhere during her unexpected attack, and with an arm out of commission, Christine figured a weapon less reliant on strength would be a better fit for Erik.
Then again, she wasn't quite sure he needed a weapon. The incident with Eden was still in her mind, almost as fresh as Eden's body, which was plainly in view if she turned her head.
"Yeah," Erik said. He shivered, stood up, and walked towards the cluster of bushes Shadi had emerged from. He squinted.
"I think I see—" he started, but was then cut off as a booming echo sounded throughout the area. Christine saw the shotgun blast catch Erik in the chest, tossing him backwards.
Chris stepped into view, gun raised. He pointed it at Erik's head, point-blank, and pulled the trigger.
TB1, Erik Sheely: DECEASED"Miss me?" he asked, glancing at Christine.
Before she could muster an answer, he shot her too.
It hurt neither more nor less than she'd always imagined, just differently. Chris was at a decent distance, so the spray of pellets had room to spread, peppering her chest and upper legs. Christine slumped backwards against the tree he'd been standing in front of, her head drooping forward, the dozen blooming spots of red jumping out, demanding her attention, spreading in time with the spread of pain throughout her body.
She moved her eyes up without moving her head. Chris was coming closer. He was talking. She couldn't say if his audience was her, himself, or the millions watching them on screens across the country.
"Should've known better," Chris said. "You went after me. That wasn't something I could ignore. It meant the two of you were dangerous."
He pumped the shotgun. Two shots left, at least. Christine had never felt so helpless in her life. She stayed very still, trying to ignore the pain. It was better if she pretended she was already dead.
Then the agony made her twitch, and her right hand brushed against the knife.
It was something. It was enough. She was dead, but she could still win, or at least manage a draw. Her fingers curled around the handle, hidden from view behind her leg. She coughed.
"Chris," she groaned. She let her voice drop low, lower than it could have been. She wanted to be hard to hear.
So often in her fencing, she'd been up against bigger or stronger or faster people. They weren't scary. The only thing that could reliably bring Christine down was when she was up against someone as smart as she was. Chris was crafty, with his ambush and his sudden changes of demeanor, but she didn't think he was smart enough. She hoped he wasn't smart enough.
"What?" he said, agitated. He stepped closer, gun pointed.
"Chris," Christine said again, letting her voice become quieter still. "You got me. But I was... just hoping you might... give me one final request."
"Oh," Chris said, stepping still closer. He looked almost bashful now. "I, uh, I guess I could probably manage. What do you want?"
"Die with me," Christine snarled, lurching to her feet. Chris was quick enough to fire a shot into her chest again, from five feet away, and Christine felt it tear through her, surely shredding organs and chipping bones, but it didn't matter. It lessened but did not abort her momentum. She caught Chris by the throat with her left hand, held it steady and braced as her right swung around and slammed the knife deep into the side of his neck. She pulled it out, swung again. Chris was screaming. Blood was spraying everywhere. She'd punctured an artery. He was gone.
Chris flailed, and now, her mission complete and her strength depleted, Christine fell. Chris was staggering, blood spraying from his wound, and he clapped a hand to it ineffectively. Christine smiled, started to laugh, and that was enough to get Chris' attention.
He turned towards her and cocked the gun and screamed, a cry of pain and fear and rage, and even as he fired one more burst straight into her, Christine laughed and laughed because she knew he wouldn't live long enough to make it fifty feet from where he stood.
TB5, Christine Wallis: DECEASED
RBP5, Christopher Schwartz: DECEASED