Chapter 16

The pair stood a few feet from each other; watching carefully and waiting for the first move. The weapon in her hands shook ever so slightly, but enough to catch his attention.

'Just a little longer.' Christian thought, 'It's going to take her down soon. I could never take her at 100%, that's a proven fact. We think faster than normal people, but she's at least three steps ahead of the rest of us.'

Moby noticed the slight shake of the weapon in her hands with a sense of dread. He recognized the signs of the toxin now in her blood.

'Phoenix can fight the effects for a time. She has always fought the drug since they started testing it on us; she is the most able to fight its effects. However there is a time limit before it starts to affect her worse than it already is. This has to end soon. Christian holds the upper hand; he can wait for the toxin to run its course, until she cannot act against him.'

Christian glanced at the small group at the river's edge. Her current allies had some part to play; no doubt. What it was he did not know; apparently neither did she. Alliances were made as needed and discarded once it was unneeded.

'Black Dragons trust no one, care for no one, and rely on none but ourselves. We exist apart from everyone; without bonds, and yet...'

Christian's anger made him take a step forward unconsciously, an action that was quickly interpreted as menacing and immediately answered by the sound of a gunshot. The bullet hit the ground less than an inch away from where he stood. He focused his attention on her once more as she moved, instinctively placing herself between him and her allies.

"Keep your eyes on the threat, Christian." she hissed softly.

Her mind was working all the possible scenarios and actions he could take. He had yet to reveal if he was armed but that meant less than nothing. Appearances were deceiving and she knew that far better than most. She's not at her best now; at the most she was operating at less than half at this juncture. The one thing she was thankful for was the high priority nature of the situation that would not allow for any failure on her part.

'My options are currently limited; take the offensive or continue to hold my position. Both are risky in my state. I will not be able to take Christian down easily and time is a factor to consider. As Moby and the others are forbidden to interfere; assistance will not be forthcoming. At least not from that quarter,, and I'd rather not involve any one else.'

She was very aware of the presence behind her. While her action was hardly unexpected; the significance of the display would be disconcerting to her opponent

At first Christian was pleased by her shift in position; from her original location she could keep her attention on both her allies and himself. Where she now stood made that far more difficult. After the warning and a couple of minutes passed, he noticed that he retained all of her attention. His unease grew exponentially when she never bothered to check the positions of those behind her.

'A Black Dragon never turns their back on an Outsider. Outsiders are inferior of course, but to do so in such a fashion is a statement of that fact. All Outsiders are inferior but Phoenix would not ally herself with any that she considers mediocre.'

Christian felt a chill run down his spine as he continued to meet her arctic blue eyes.

'This is no insult. Phoenix would not insult her own allies because it would also be an insult to her. She means this as a display of trust. To turn one's back on an Outsider in this manner indicates a level of trust that should be impossible for any of us Black Dragons.'

/"You lower yourself, Phoenix, allowing them to use you for their own purposes. Both you and Dragon are weak, we are meant to be superior, to reign destruction upon our enemies. I would see us stand above all everyone, where we belong."\

/"No one stands above anyone else, Christian. It simply is not possible no matter how you might wish differently."\ she responded. Her tone was cold and quiet as she watched him calmly.

/"Are you so satisfied to play at being human? We are gods."\ he snarled at her.

/"No, we are not gods, Christian. We were human but we are not anymore. We don't belong here. This is madness. "\

"I agree, we should not be fighting each other. The madness should end. This in fighting would be exactly what he wants. Do you recall what it was like for us, before this madness started?" he asked quietly almost pleading.

"I remember. We were never friends; you and I. That is what it was like." she remarked casually. His sudden shift was disorienting; it put her into high alert.'What are you playing at Christian?'

"No, but we were comrades. Can you simply ignore the past? All any of us Black Dragons had was each other at that time. We were lucky then, we never had to lose one of our own for any reason. I would hate to be responsible for changing that, don't you agree?" he asked.

"My opinion on the matter is path we are now on cannot be changed, regardless of any one's opinions. Too much has occurred for either of us to choose another path." she answered. Her gaze narrowed on him knowingly. 'He's worked too hard to bring everything to this point; he would not change it even if it meant his life. He's only trying to stall long enough for the toxin to run its course. He believes he knows my limits.'

"Then there is no way around this, Phoenix? Even if I was to offer you the chance of walking away now?" he asked, his tone curious.

"Why must you continue to ask questions when the answers mean nothing to you? My answer is pointless when you have no intention of keeping your word. You were fully and well aware that this path you chose would only end in blood and death. There is no other way, Christian!" she snapped. The revolver that had lowered to her side was once again aimed at him.

"True, it doesn't actually matter and it will not change anything. I just wanted to see what you would do; you know how I like to see how people react. The kinds of things I know provoke the most interesting reactions. Why the things I could tell you..." Christian began.

"Christian!" she interrupted him, anger edging sharply into her voice. The gun in her hand cocked loudly in the ensuing silence.

"A very interesting reaction, indeed. Makes one wonder what I was going to say that would provoke such a reaction." Christian said cheerfully. He had gotten what he wanted; proof that he had gotten to her.

Her fingers traced the trigger in a motion that was almost a caress. Christian watched her eyes closely; the hard glacial blue shifted minutely becoming slightly darker. He knew what she feared and he had access to it. She would do anything to keep it from becoming known, including let him dictate how this would play out. 'We Black Dragons made games of dodging bullets. Anger and fear cloud our thoughts, providing a distraction for me. Once she fires the first shot, she loses the initiative. If I get past her, behind her; she will hesitate to take the shot.' He thought, watching the way the revolver trembled in her hand.

Her finger began to slowly pull the trigger back when another sound broke the stillness. Every Black Dragon heard it; not as loud as they may have imagined it to be, but it drew their attention as one. From where he stood Moby looked past Phoenix to where the sound had originated; neither she or Christian moved or took their eyes off of each other. But both had instinctively froze at the sound.

The sound of fingers snapping had startled Christian when he heard it partly because it was so unexpected. Phoenix had frozen at the sound, merely moments from firing on him. The interruption caused some imperceptible shift in her. He watched as she took a deep breath and closed her eyes.

'Calm down. Let go of the fear and the anger. This is what he wants: control of the situation. Strengthen your resolve, steady your heart. Have no doubt, no fear. Fear does not bring victory. Abandon fear. Do not stop. Do not look back. Resolve yourself and think only of moving forward.' The voice in her mind sounded a little like both Danny and Ian. Christian had been intentionally trying to bait her; he knew her and how she could potentially react to whatever he could do.

The trembling of the revolver stilled once she opened her eyes again. Christian noted with some trepidation that the darker shade of blue had left her eyes. She had retaken control of herself and with it the situation.

"No more of these games, Christian. It ends here and now." She said softly, ice in her tone to match the pale blue of her eyes.


A/N: Hope you enjoyed this chapter, thanks for reading. It would have been out sooner but I had some technical difficulties.