It was past time he left.
Travelling with Julian was dangerous, no mistake--the other boy already disliked Raidon, although whether this was because of his status as a killer or their philosophical differences was a question Raidon was unable to resolve (there was something dimly funny there, but Raidon put it off for the moment). And travelling with Soryu...she muddled him, made it hard to work, hard to accomplish what he needed. Following their argument back at the house, he'd assumed they'd reached an accord--he had, apparently, been wrong.
Damn you, Roland Harte
He dug about in his bag for a moment. He had his knife back (he'd need it, he suspected). He had five flashbangs, one gun with a single bullet, a bit of bread, two bottles of water...not exactly the best haul he'd ever taken in. He was going to be have to be careful--this would last him no more than two days.
Was he really going to leave Soryu?
He lifted his hand to the wound in his shoulder, applied a little bit of pressure. Fire rippled out from his touch: Raidon gritted his teeth to stop from crying out.
She did that to me. The pacifist did that to me to disarm me.
Maybe we're learning from each other after all.
And then the scream came ripping out from somewhere farther in the woods.
All pretenses to selfishness died in that instant--all pretensions that he could leave Soryu that easily, that he could go off on his own. He was furious, of course, because he was right--because they had to play by Danya's rules to have chance of survival, because he wasn't scared anymore, because he could kill, he had kill, and need be he would kill again. The player-killer, Julian, was just another facet of the game, pretending at justice; the pacifist, Soryu, was a powerless anomaly.
He knew Soryu clouded his thoughts--he'd stepped in front of her, risked himself against a much larger opponent, in order to save her. But what happened next was not a realization--it was pure, thoughtless, action.
He was on his feet and running, bag pulled over his right shoulder and knife in his hand, before he even realized what he was doing. The surge of hot agony that broke out from his shoulder was subdued in his panic--was it Julian? Had he been mistaken? Could the other boy have turned? Jesus, this was...
The scream cut off abruptly, Raidon felt terrified frost blossom up from his stomach, numbing even his pain--he ran on, heedless, mindless, panicked.
Not Soryu. You can't take her from me.
That was the fleeting nobility, the momentary goodness that would later surprise Raidon and make him wonder about himself. What came immediately after was far less sentimental but infinitely more familiar and comforting.
He broke into the open, found what he was looking for. Soryu was sprawled on the ground in one direction, Julian in the other. In between them was a boy Raidon recognized at once. They were among the wealthiest kids as Bayview, though their social circles (what with Maxwell being a spoiled asshole and Raidon being an emancipated antisocial orphan) varied wildly; they had crossed paths, here and there, and the unusual name had always stuck with Raidon. He'd heard it repeated constantly over the past few days, hardening the image in his mind; he had transformed it into the iron outline of hatred, the focus of his need for revenge, his fundamental compulsion.
He dashed forwards, knife out--in his rage he had forgotten that he knew relatively little about Lombardi, about his wound, about his complete lack of any athleticism save for what appeared to be above-average hand-eye coordination. One moment later, and the knife had flown from his hand. Raidon did not see where it landed--he had smashed into the ground himself, skidding a few inches on his left shoulder and yelping as pain geysered out from his wound. He scrambled to his feet immediately, his bag slipping from his shoulder as he attacked again. Julian, on his feet again, stumbled backwards, and without any apparent concern Maxwell turned and struck Raidon, sending him tumbling again with a fresh spike of pain in his chest.
This pattern happened, again and again. Julian could more or less hold his own against Maxwell, although the murderous sonofabitch was clearly the better fighter: Raidon's attempts to intervene ended inevitably with him sprawled on the ground, a new part of his body in pain. It was only after the third such fall that Raidon lay where he had fallen, his eyes closed, his mouth a white line as he felt the various aches over his body.
I can't beat him. I can't-
Focus. He's only human. I can do this.
He's stronger than me, even with that injured arm.
Lots of people are
stronger than you. Is he
smarter than you?
Raidon cracked an eye--his bag was about three feet away. With a quiet groan he forced himself to his feet and staggered towards it, reaching in, digging around. He had one bullet left in Victoria's revolver, maybe he could-
Something hit the ground behind him. Raidon's eyes flashed wide and he turned, grabbing the first thing he laid hands on. He took off running before he had time to think; Maxwell look a second to spit on Julian's body and only then began to turn towards Raidon.
There was something in Raidon's hand--something hard and metallic, something that felt far stronger than his fist. He hurled another blow, smashed it into the side of Max's face. Maxwell stumbled, spat (and Raidon, with some satisfaction, noted the red tint to the saliva, the blood he'd drawn with his own hands), but did not lose his footing; without thinking, Raidon launched in again.
There followed a truly spectacular ass-kicking. Unfortunately for Raidon, he was on the wrong side of it. Even with an injured arm, Max was stronger and faster than he was. All Raidon really had going for him was a high tolerance for pain, and even that was subsumed in the blows he suffered--kicks to his legs, his stomach, his sides; fists to his face, his chest, his arms. He shied away from blows aimed at his weak left side, swung desperately with the metal thing in his right hand. It was this that forced Maxwell to duck and dodge, to weave about, to try and stay away. Two livid bruises had formed on Maxwell's face, and blood trickled from one of his nostrils.
Raidon suspected he looked much worse.
His eyes flickered to his hand. His lips curled back. He swung, a little weaker--Maxwell, as he had earlier, turned and caught the attack. Raidon slipped backwards, pulling until he fell backwards, and then immediately scrambled through the underbrush, closing his eyes and throwing his hands over his ears.
The bang was still loud enough to rattle the brains in his skull. He struggled to his feet as soon as it had passed and then limped forwards, his breath coming to him in ragged gasps. Maxwell was on the ground, hands over his eyes, yelling; without faltering in the least, Raidon kicked him as hard as he could in the side.
Over everything he'd read, authors had generally insisted that vengeance was never sweet--that it robbed its seekers of their humanity and their drive, and that it was ultimately poor compensation for what they'd given up. At the moment Raidon kicked Maxwell, he discovered that they were wrong--the low, short cry he forced from Maxwell's body was pure elation.
So he did it again--this time with his right hand. And again. And again. For twenty seconds he did nothing but rain blows down on Maxwell's body, aiming at everything he could reach--at his face, at his throat, at his chest, his groin, his legs and arms, at the recently-stitched wound on his arm. And each one felt good
; each twist on Maxwell's face, each cry, groan, yell. The cold, brutal, ruthless certainty that had taken over Raidon was gone; so too the terrified fear in which he'd operated his first few days on the island.
He relished ever moment.
He broke off, riding high on this black joy, unable to shake it off, unsatisfied with what he'd done. He needed his knife, he could work with that--with his knife he could do more to Maxwell, cripple him, teach him-
"No," Soryu said. "We're not killing him. Not until we talk to him, at least."
He turned, eyes flashing and the image of an overweight red-haired boy imprinted in the endless space behind his eyes. The thoughts that came then had nothing to do with their argument--about human life, about morality on the island, all of that. Instead they were simple calculations. Julian still seemed somewhat incapacitated, and Soryu had a limp. If he moved quickly, he could lay hands on his dagger, force his way past her...he wouldn't be able to exact his full vengeance on Maxwell, but a blade across the throat is a blade across the throat regardless of pain inflicted.
Then came the Announcements. Except this time, they weren't hosted by Danya
"Let's go," she said earnestly.
I can't get out.
The thought came with brutal certainty. He looked down at the knife at his feet and remembered sinking it into Roland's stomach--he remembered carefully placing the gun against different parts of Maddy's body. He remembered too much--his whole time on the island, from start to finish.
I don't deserve...
He swallowed and looked to Maxwell. It might still be possible. He had killed Simon. He deserved to die, regardless of circumstance.
If you let him live, he'll be dangerous. Kill him now.
Practicality demanded Maxwell die. Vengeance--the ordinary compulsions of a human being who genuinely cared for those who had been killed--required he die. But...
But Simon Grey was already dead.
If you let Lombardi live he'll come for you. You remember Victoria Logan, don't you?
Damn right I do. I also remember why she did it.
Attacking for the sake of Alice. Attacking for the sake of someone she'd cared for.
Raidon bent over and picked up the dagger. He swallowed, forced himself to stay under control as he returned the knife to his waist. He looked over--Julian had gotten back to his feet and was moving to his sword. "Julian," he said softly. The dark boy looked up at him.
Simon's dead. She takes priority.
"You trust her that much?" he asked. "You think she's that right?" He nodded towards Lombardi. "I'll leave him to you." A pang in his heart, sharp as if he'd been stabbed.
Welcome to the island of loss.
"Do hurry, though," he said, offering a weak smile. "If it's any consolation, I really do think you deserve to get out of here."
If we're very, very lucky, we get to choose the things we lose and the things we get to keep.
He turned to Soryu and grabbed her shoulder with his right hand. "Lean on me," he said quietly. "Only way we'll make it with your limp."
The pacifist had a chance to survive. Raidon would be damned if she didn't make it.
(Naoko Raidon continued in The Cavalry Arrives