Chapter 017: The bigger they are

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"I don't think you know what you're getting yourself into, boy," Atlas growled.
"That's what I've been saying all along... but there's no going back now."
"Hmph... if you tell me what you're doing, and come quietly to the station with me... then perhaps you can avoid getting hurt."
"Well, that's not happening," James said. "Besides... if I told you about it, I doubt you'd let me go anyway."
"You only have yourself to blame," Atlas replied. "Tell me, boy... what is your name, so I'll know what to put on your grave?"
"I'm- hold on, I can't even see anything in these..." James said before removing his goggles and surgical mask. "Much better. The name's James, and you'll remember that as the name of the one who brought down mighty Atlas!"
 
"What the hell are you doing," Muse whispered - to herself, given that she didn't want Atlas to hear her - through gritted teeth. "Don't provoke him any more than we have to!" She had hid herself in a cluster of trees too the right of where James and Atlas were currently standing, sitting on a thick branch as high up as she could get herself in the largest tree of the bunch. Between the sun being down and her wearing a dark cloak, spotting her should at least be hard enough that as long as James kept Atlas's attention on himself, she should be safe. She held an arrow in her right hand, ready to fire whenever she got a chance.
 
Muse's bow was quite the marvel of engineering. It was a compound bow of her own design, metal limbs joined together by gear-like mechanisms, allowing it to be folded together and stored in her quiver. At the end of the limbs, the bowstring was being kept wound up on pulley-like wheels.
 
"Time to clean this up, then," Atlas said and took one long step towards James, swinging his anchor down. James threw himself to the side, causing it to miss and instead bury its pointy end in the ground.
"You have got to be kidding me..." James said to himself as he spotted the hole it had made. If he got hit by that, he'd be lucky if he just broke all his bones... but as long as all the swings he had to watch out for were that wide...
"Still, boy," Atlas said and followed up with a horizontal swing. James ducked, avoiding any damage, but Atlas didn't pause - he continued swinging towards James, who nevertheless managed to stay out of harm's way. The problem was that he didn't find many opportunities to counterattack - he'd have to get into Atlas's danger zone for that, and one wrong move there would be the last move he made. He silently cursed Muse in his head... give her opportunities, indeed. But there had to be a way, and if anything, it would be through the fact that Atlas didn't quite seem to take a careful and calculated approach to this fight.
 
He studied Atlas's movements. While every swing of the anchor left a large dead zone, Atlas would easily be able to cover that with his long legs. A kick from those wouldn't be too much less dangerous than a hit by the anchor. The horizontal swings didn't seem to leave any room to be used, but the occasional overhead strike...
 
That was it. Atlas always led with his left leg for those, meaning he wouldn't be able to do much on his left side right away. The problem was to get him to actually do one of those. He sidestepped to the left...
"Is that all you got?" James shouted. Atlas had little patience, he'd have to try to use that... and the overhead swing was definitely the one that'd cause the most damage if it connected, so if he could provoke him enough...
"You're getting on my nerves, boy," Atlas said as James dodged yet another swing. Atlas raised his anchor - just what James had been waiting for - but before bringing it downwards, stomped on the ground with his left foot. James felt the ground vibrate, but managed to keep steady as the anchor came down. "Be still!"
"That's it..." James said to himself as he took two quick steps backwards, and immediately rushed to Atlas's left side before he had pulled the anchor back out. He gripped his dagger tightly in his left hand, and as he passed, stabbed it into Atlas's left leg. But as he tried to pull it out, he found that he was unable to... it was stuck. "Oh for the love of-"
"Begone!" Atlas yelled and swiped at James with his leg. James let go of the dagger and managed to avoid most of the kick, but was brushed by it enough that he fell over. Atlas turned to him... and quickly turned back, using his right hand to catch an arrow that was flying his way.
"That can't be good," James whispered to himself as Atlas glanced towards the trees where Muse were hiding.
"So that's it," Atlas said as he broke the arrow in his hands and pulled James's dagger out of his leg, throwing it behind him. "You're not alone."
"What about it?" James asked as he got to his feet. "With your size, this isn't fair either way!"
"Fair has nothing to do with it, boy," Atlas said and swiped with his anchor to deflect two more arrows that were heading his way. "But we'll have to deal with that."
"As if I'll let you," James said and put his fists up.
"Without even your knife, what can you do?" Atlas said as he removed the chain that was hanging from his belt and moved it to his left hand. James didn't pick up exactly on what he did, but he soon threw the anchor upwards, the chain following after it. Atlas grabbed hold of the chain and pulled on it, causing the anchor, now with a chain attached, to come crashing down between them.
"Okay, now you definitely have got to be kidding me," James said as Atlas used the chain to bring the anchor airborne again, and this time did a horizontal sweep - James just managed to flatten himself on the ground to make it pass over him, but it wasn't the best position to be in. He prepared to roll away, but was given a moment's reprieve by Atlas's attention being taken away by another arrow from Muse, which he again caught in his right hand.
"I'll deal with you next, boy," Atlas said and started spinning the anchor around in the air by way of the chain, before sending it flying straight towards the trees that Muse was hiding in. It struck the trunk of the largest tree, easily breaking it, and soon the sound of something falling down was heard - and it wasn't only a tree trunk.
"No..." James said as Atlas pulled his anchor back to his hand. He made another attack towards the trees before turning to James, sporting a sinister grin on his face. This had certainly not gone their way...
 
~~~~
 
"I would rather not hurt you," the town guardsman in front of Mirise said. "How about we try to solve this peacefully?"
"I am afraid that it's much too late for that," Mirise replied. None of them had moved yet, just staring each other down with spears in hand. "It is my responsibility to not let you past here."
"So be it, then," the guard said and took a stance with his spear pointing backwards at an angle and his left hand extended towards Mirise. "My name is Taggart, vice-captain of the Kurita town guard. What may I address my opponent as?"
"I cannot tell you my real name," Mirise said. "But you can call me, uh..." She looked around. She hadn't actually thought of any fake name, even if she still thought it was a good idea to not say who she was. She briefly moved her left hand up towards her face, but obviously didn't get that far as the mask stopped her. The mask...
"Yes?"
"Plague. Yeah. You can call me Plague," Mirise said.
"Plague?"
"What's wrong with that now?"
"Alright," Taggart said with a chuckle. "Plague it is."
"Come at me as you wish," Mirise said and raised her left hand, with the palm opened towards the sky. She had started shifting certain parts of the water on the ground around, but not noticeably so. She didn't move, waiting for Taggart to take the first action. He took a few quick steps towards Mirise and swung his spear upwards, but Mirise dodged with a step back and to the right. She aimed a stab towards his leg with the spear she was holding, but it was unsurprisingly clear that he knew a lot more about spearmanship than she did and blocked it easily with his own weapon. Mirise closed her left fist, and a gush of water hit Taggart in the back. Not with a lot of force, but enough to divert his attention for a split second.
"What-" he said and glanced behind him, seeing nothing, but feeling that his clothes had become wet. Mirise made use of the moment she had been given and spun her spear around, hitting Taggart's left leg with the back end. As he briefly started stumbling from the hit, Mirise begun moving the water under his feet around to make him slip, but it wasn't enough as he used his spear for support. He quickly regained his footing and started aiming a series of quick stabs towards Mirise, who moved backwards and attempted counterattacking with the spear she was holding, but it proved ineffective. But she still had her main weapon - and sent a decently-sized splash of water upwards from just in front of Taggart, hitting both his spear and his face. He ceased his attack in surprise, enough for Mirise to start her own barrage of attacks, combining swings of the spear with gushes of water from multiple directions. Now Taggart was getting pushed back, but it didn't last for as long as Mirise had wanted - after only a few steps, he planted his feet firmly on the ground and blocked Mirise's next spear attack, holding the spear horizontally in both hands and making an upwards motion, knocking Mirise's spear out of her hands. Before Mirise had enough time to react, he rushed forwards and hit her chest with the still horizontally held spear, knocking her to the ground. He dived down after her, holding the spear across her neck and his knees on her arms.
"Fast..." Mirise started saying.
"Enough!" Taggart yelled, looking down at her masked face. "Let's see who's hiding behind this 'Plague'..." he continued and moved his right hand off the spear, up towards Mirise's face, intending to pull off her mask.
"You wish," Mirise said and directed as powerful a gush of water that she could manage at his left arm, moving it enough that she without much trouble could move her head upwards quickly, using the beak of the mask to deliver a few pecks to his face. She at least managed to strike his forehead, nose and mouth, which apparently was enough to make him reel back, giving up the unmasking attempt. Mirise felt the weight of him on her arms lessen, so she managed to wriggle free, pull herself further away and with her hands as support, direct a kick with both legs into Taggart's torso. He fell backwards, dropping his spear in the process. Mirise quickly snatched it up as she got back on her feet, made a short dash over to Taggart, planted a foot on his chest and pointed the tip of the spear towards his throat. "One move, and I'll..."
"Al... alright," Taggart said. "You win... finish it..."
"I will not kill you, mister Taggart," Mirise said. "This island... this town is going to need someone to take care of it... after..."
"What is... what is that you are hoping to achieve?"
"Tell me, mister Taggart... what do you think of your mayor and chief?"
"Are they your targets?"
"I believe you know already... that's why you sent the other guards away."
"Atlas is... mayor Galt uses Atlas to keep Kurita afraid..."
"You do not like him."
"What I think doesn't matter... you have beaten me, fair and square," Taggart said. "I failed to stop you, and will accept responsibility... which means that if whoever that man that Atlas chased can't kill him, then both you and I will be the next targets for his wrath, if we stay here..."
"And if Atlas falls?" Mirise asked.
"Then... I don't know. But I will not try to stop it."
"Where do you come from, mister Taggart?" Mirise asked.
"Born and raised on Kurita... joined the town guard in the hopes of protecting it..."
"I trust you... I'm going to let you go now, but no sudden movements..." Mirise said and diverted the spear from his throat and removed her foot from his chest. "I believe that you care about this island."
"I do," Taggart said and slowly rose to a sitting position. He crossed his legs and his arms. "Whatever the outcome of tonight is... I'll stay here. I don't think that you have any intention to cause problems for the citizens."
"We don't," Mirise said as she picked up the spear she had originally been using as well and started recollecting her water. She laid both spears on the ground in front of Taggart and then sat down on the other side of them. "I'll keep you company until I know who lives when morning breaks... you will have important work to do once we're gone, mister Taggart."
"You may be right... miss Plague."
Mirise smiled behind her mask, but didn't say anything else. Hopefully that was never going to come up again.
 
~~~~
 
James swallowed. While he hadn't particularly liked Muse, he hadn't wanted for her to...
 
"Now you're on your own, boy," Atlas said as he started swinging his anchor in James's direction again. This time, with the chain in play as well, James found his situation had become significantly worse. The swings were wider, but the chain covered a lot more ground and gave Atlas more control, leaving no space for James to do... well, anything at all. He still had one card to play, but right now, that would be useless. There was only one thing he could use that would hopefully give him any sort of room, and for that, the greater distance between them, the better... at first, at least. So he ran backwards, and thankfully, Atlas seemed content with staying in place and letting the chain do the work. But the farther away James got, the less effective swings would be - and so, he pulled the anchor back to his hand, and threw it straight towards James instead.
 
This was what he had hoped for, and he didn't have any idea if this was going to work at all, but he had to at least try. He started running towards Atlas, as fast as he could. As Atlas saw him coming, he dragged the chain towards James, who managed to clear it with a jump and approached... Atlas caught the chain and started sweeping the other way, but before it reached James, he removed his helmet. His metal helmet.
 
And threw it at Atlas's crotch with as much force as he could manage.
 
Atlas roared out in pain, but it didn't stop him for as long as James had hoped - he immediately pulled the chain in James's direction, and this time it caught his legs. He fell backwards as Atlas took a long step towards him, and placed his right foot on James's left leg. He wasn't pushing down with as much force as he could, but James wasn't sure if that was better... the pain increased as he started hearing a cracking sound. He tried to struggle free to no real avail, and looked up to see Atlas raise his anchor.
 
"I will end you, boy," he said, his face showing more anger than it had done before.
 
Muse observed as she took aim at Atlas's upper body. She was now sitting in the top of another tree that was still standing. When she had seen Atlas's anchor coming, she had quickly hooked her rope onto the tree next to her, and as the one she had been in fell, used the rope to let herself fall to the ground in a controlled fashion, avoid the next anchor attack, and quietly climb back up as Atlas's attention turned back to James. If Atlas thought she was dead or at least incapacitated, he wouldn't pay her any further mind... and if James did, he would hopefully start being more reckless in his attacks. In combination, Muse hoped that would mean a slightly better chance for an opportunity to take a shot.
 
And that was exactly what had happened. Atlas had stopped, and as long as he wanted to hurt James, wouldn't want to move much. This was it... this was the best opportunity she was going to get.
 
"This is the best opportunity you're going to get."
 
Muse's hands started shaking. She had to take this shot... but a host of voices kept going through her head, memories whirling around... none of them being anything she wanted to remember at this time.
 
"Fire."
"You don't want anything to happen to him, do you?"
"Do it for Morrina."
"Remember your promise, and we'll remember ours..."
"You're the one who'll have to live with the consequences."
"Just this shot, then it'll all be over..."
 
Screaming on the inside, she let her arrow fly.
 

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