Chapter VII

StimPatch: Go Dok, go Dok, take him down, in one shot!

Will (apparently having contacted StimPatch cheerleading illness, thrusts fist in air): Yeah, Dok, you can do this!

Dolf (dryly): Will…

Will (falling back to planet Earth): Um, yeah?

Dolf (deploying healing ability): Dig out your medical supplies and help me with Jack here.

DeathGlare put up quite a gallant fight, but in the end he was laid to the ground. Jack was in no fighting condition, but he had Dolf and Will, a notch healthier than him, to have him cared for. The three stood aside and StimPatch cheered on as Dok4 and Crimson Talon engaged in an epic, life and death duel.

By the looks of it, the two of them were evenly matched: both wielded a handgun as well as razor sharp knives, anything that could deal damage aimed at the opponent, opponent whom has as skilled in dodging as was in damaging. Dok4, since his first encounter with Crimson Talons, had not gone through war like a hot knife through butter, he had gained the training and skill Talons himself benefited from: he could back and bend in ways only Talons thought he could, to save himself from both stabs and shots, plus Dok4 wouldn't let a chance to inflict injury slip by any more than Crimson Talons would.

Dok4 (feeling the knife Crimson Talons just threw at him rip through his coat at the shoulder): Surrender, Talons!

Crimson Talons (reaching for another knife): Not even in your wildest dreams, Dok!

Dok4 (reaching for and throwing a knife himself): We treat prisoners better than you might've heard gossiping about!

Crimson Talons (using his newly drawn knife to deflect Dok4's): As if I'd like to live to verify that!

Dok4 (loading his handgun and aiming at Crimson Talons): Well, it's either that or death, odds aren't giving you much choice…

Crimson Talons (throwing the knife he had used as a shield against Dok4's firearm): You're leaning too much on chance, Dok4 (thrown and deflected knife scratches Dok4's cheek) See?

StimPatch, who had, up to that point, been cheering Dok4 non-stop, froze in mid routine, as if electrocuted, at the sight of the slit on his friend's cheek. Dok4, focusing solely on his duel with Crimson Talons, merely wiped the cut with his sleeve and fired his handgun at the Royal.

Crimson Talons (dodging the rounds with relative ease, asks with mock concern): No really, are you seeing as well as you should, Dok?

As Crimson Talons was uttering that, Dok4 felt his vision beginning to blur.

Dok4 (recognising the tell-tale symptoms): Oh FRELL!

Crimson Talons (getting grim): You're good Dok4. Good enough to bring the worst out of your opponents. I really was hopping I wouldn't have to…

Dok4 (trying to fight the poison's strong effects): Treacherous, lowly, scum-spitting…

Crimson Talons (carrying on, unnerved in the least bit by Dok4): … resort to such measures. (draws out another knife) But if I want to lay you to the ground, I need to use some unorthodox weapons. (smiles wickedly before charging at Dok4) Though I heard you and your… mascot have already had a taste of said unorthodox weaponry.

Said mascot, a.k.a. StimPatch had given up the cheers and chants and was now closely watching Dok4; as Dok4 grew paler, Stim could feel the blood draining from his own complexion. Only one kind of poison could degrade that fast… and they still had the marks from their first… "taste" of it… God alone knew how Crimson Talons had gotten his hands on those daggers… or how they would defeat him with that arsenal.

In fact, it seemed that the only way StimPatch would deal with the sudden crisis was… to turn around and leave.

Will (seeing StimPatch leaving, barely able to stutter from the shock): Did… Stim just walk out on us?

Dolf (quite shocked himself): Afraid s…

Jack: NO! He'd never! He'd never turn his back on injured or needy comrades!

But Jack couldn't provide a logical explanation for StimPatch's departure, though. And since they could not do too much about that (or too much at all), they turned their attention back to the unfolding duel.

Dok4 (struggling to reload handgun and simultaneously dodge Crimson Talon's stabs): And you think I'll go down just like that? (has sleeve shredded by blade). I've got my friends, you know. They'll fight on for me. And for the Red and Black as well.

Crimson Talons (smiling as if Dok4 had said something childishly naïve): You don't get it, do you? (taking another stab at Dok4) It's not about flags or factions. It's about the two of us.

Dok4 (backing away from Talons): Wh-what? What do you mean?

Crimson Talons (gets bolder and bolder… and closer and closer to the retreating Dok4): You! were the only one that ever got me that close to death. (sarcastically) I didn't think I'd ever get to tell you that… (swings knife at Dok4) Back then, you were just a rookie. (takes another swing) A rookie like the dozens I had put to death up until then. (swings again) Heck, judging by the look you had on, I even thought you were going to die of heart failure right there, in my hands. (by now, Dok4 has backing against the fence) But you just wouldn't die (Dok4 aims handgun at Crimson Talons). Like right now. (Crimson Talons uses blade to slam the firearm out of Dok4' hands) Claiming deserted basses and eliminating people that can barely aim their guns, (takes Dok4's handgun) what a bore that's grown into! But putting someone as rough and tough as you dead (aims Dok4's gun at Dok4 himself) now that makes my life all worth while!

At that, Dok4 bowed his head and grew silent; but only to tilt it back up, to give Crimson Talons the mother of all death glares.

Dok4: You know what the problem with your type is?

Dok4's sudden and surprisingly vigorous outburst was answered by Crimson Talons with mildly widened eyes, frowned brows and... utter silence. Moreover, the handgun he had been aiming at Dok4 up to then was slowly but surely lowered, until it no longer seemed threatening. Dok4 saw this as genuine curiosity from his enemy's part, as well as a cue to continue:

Dok4: You stop seeing it as a job, a duty. It starts to be fun. (stars to etch himself off the fence) And I don't mean my purely friendly, competition sort of fun. I mean dangerous fun. The thrill of it. Cockiness gets dangerous too, though...

Dok4's flow of speech, clear and continuous, had, at that point, been interrupted by one violent fit of cough (courtesy of the toxins havocking through his body). With the tension that had been growing up to then, Dok4's abrupt and unexpected outburst made everyone jump in alarm; for Will, Dolf and Jack's part, they though Talons was going to cheese Dok4 right then and there: a cough-up like that would have scared them into frenzy-fire for sure. Crimson Talons, however, cool as an ice cap, budged just enough to loosely aim the gun back at Dok4; no panic-induced fire hail, though. That spared Dok4 from any (in)voluntary ad-hoc executions, but Will, Dolf and Jack were hardly at rest at all; they have all heard the phrase "stillness before the storm", enough to make it loose most of its sense value, but now, it could not have been any more appropriate to the scene before them. As for Dok4, as if to make up for the uncalled-for blast, he promptly whipped up, pushed himself entirely off the fence, in an upright and dignified position.

Actually, now that they look at it, Dok4 had gotten what Will, Jack and Dolf would dub as a little too close for comfort. If they'd be in Crimson Talons' shoes, they wouldn't want a suicidal (even if unarmed) nut-keg like Dok4 practically leaning onto their gun barrel like that; and God knew they'd never want an armed mortal foe that close to them, ever! Dok4's brain must have been pickled by them toxins, no doubt about that… as for Crimson Talons… surely, to only let slip out something so small as mild annoyance and eagerness for Dok4 to finish his speech/death wish already!, he must have had liquid hydrogen running through his veins… the freak!

Crimson Talons (nervousness starting to seep through, as seen by him cocking the gun, so as to hide the mild hand tremble): Aaand?

Dok4 (shiftily): Aaand… (cough) when you get cocky (cough, cough) you forget… things. (at that point, sickened from the poison as he was, Dok4 couldn't help not crack one malevolent grin at Crimson Talons) But I… don't!

Something sparked at the back of Crimson Talon's mind, just then and there. It may have been because, even if he had undisputedly been holding the upper hand over them all up to then, things had been too quiet for too long, or because of the way and tone Dok4 had slammed his final statement onto him, or because of a combination of all those factors (for his part Crimson Talons couldn't have bothered less to figure out which one of the causes was it and which wasn't; damn it all, he had just found himself in such a pinch, he was going to convey every single faculty available into getting out of it). Either way, it had suddenly dawned to Talons that Dok4 had played him right where he wanted him. That slimy, two-timing, scum-spiter of a cheat, poisonous injuries or not, he had played half dead, stretched and spun his mock-discourse, lulled and dulled to such an extent that Talons had felt himself standing on the top spot, over Dok4's body, when in fact the still live and dangerous Dok4 had pretty much taken him by the hand and all but pushed him smack into the bear trap. Only now had Talons noticed that hyperactive, blabber-mouthed cheerleader-mascot Dok4 had had tagging along was now gone and had been gone for a long time too; long enough to practically go claim all them basses some 3 times in a row; which he had not, otherwise they'd all been notified; which only meant he was up to worse… But if he were to give Dok4 a glance, he'd see (and he did) right away the source of Dok4's sinister glee; Dok4 was looking over Crimson's shoulder, right at it, for Goodness's sake!

Crimson Talons (glaring the weakened but still sneering Dok4 to death…): Damn your hide to hell, Dok4! (…before turning around just in time to lock eyes with one determined-looking, knife-wielding StimPatch).

StimPatch (perched on the mill balcony railing, no longer clutching them pom-poms, but a good half dozen knives in each hand): Didn't think you'd ever have to see my pretty face again, did you?

Now that Crimson Talons had turned his own, angry, not-so-pretty face away from Dok4 and towards him, StimPatch launched both knife-holds with the velocity and precision which any experienced knife thrower would find impressive. From Crimson Talons' part, this sudden twist of events caught him so off-guard, he only had the presence of mind to pull out a dagger of his own and, along with the hand-gun he still had from Dok4, and use them to somehow deflect StimPatch's hail of knives.

For one split second, Crimson Talons thought that was it; that was as 'bout as much as he could afford to ponder on the worse… before giving full attention to saving himself! At first, he didn't think he'd make it… but he remembered that StimPatch had launched two hand-fulls of daggers and he had two hands himself. Plus, them daggers were (surprisingly) far apart from each other. Focus, Crimson, focus! Four out of the dozen weren't even going to come near to touching him; four were close, but not close enough… those two pairs, those four precisely aimed ones… meet them with a double deflection… that's it… millimetric matching, no room for slips…

CLING! CHANG!

Crimson Talons (smiling triumphantly): Ha! Missed me, Pinkie!

StimPatch spared him no reply. Instead, he reached behind his back with both hands. Crimson's smile faded in a blink of an eye. He was sure StimPatch was reaching for another batch of knives… a batch of knives he might not be able to deflect once more. In a stroke of genius, he remembered he was still holding Dok4's handgun. Handgun which he promptly aimed at StimPatch. He was going to go down before he could draw another blade. But it was no blade StimPatch was reaching for:

StimPatch (smiling even more triumphantly than Crimson): DOK! (pulls out a pom-pom) FOR (pulls out the other pom-pom) THE (jumps in the air with all his might) WIN!

Crimson Talons felt one of his eye twitch in the pinnacle of annoyance. That oversized dust-bunny was becoming such a serious pain in his a**; to such an extent that Crimson Talons would dash him out of existence, if it weren't for the fact that he was reminded he had a ore urgent problem to deal with. StimPatch, with his obnoxious cheering routines, actually did Crimson Talons a favour: he reminded Crimson Talons Dok4 was dying right behind him. But since Dok4 was not yet dead by his hand, Crimson Talons could not allow himself to even take a sigh of relief. No, he had to turn around and end with Dok4 before…

SLASH!

… it all came to a screeching halt. Crimson Talons froze in mid strike position; not by his wish. A poison-bladed dagger was jabbed and being jabbed some more in his side by Dok4. A dagger that was part of those Stimpatch had tossed earlier and which Crimson Talons thought it was too far thrown to represent a threat to him; it was, in fact, thrown that far back so that Dok4 could safely get a hold of it… and the use it against his foe after StimPatch's diversion, fail attack, whatever, it stopped mattering some while ago…

Moreover, when his own vision was beginning to blur, Crimson Talons realized how utterly doomed he was:

Crimson Talons (feeling himself give in, due to the poison and blood loss, hurries up before his voice would begin to slur): Damn you, Dok4… (cough) Damn you straight to hell…

Dok4 (pulling out the blade and stepping aside): After you…

Before Crimson Talons could even begin to signal if he had registered Dok4's sayings or not, he fell to the ground, with no other motion other than a dyeing twitch or groan. Only when he had stopped moving altogether did Dok4 allow himself to lower his guard.

StimPatch (slowly walking up to Dok4): It's over, Dok…

Dok4 (barely standing due to the toxins and the duel): Yeah… We're finally through…

A moment of solemn silence was allowed to pass. Then…

StimPatch (cheery again): Great! (grabs Dok4 in a bear-hug): I knew you'd do it, I knew it, I knew it!

Dok4: …

Will: Um, yeah, congrads Dok.

Dolf: (sighs, but smiles as well)

Jack (is helped stand and walk by his friends, but still has the guts to joke): Aw, would you look at those two… When's the wedding? Can I be the best man? Ha, ha, ha!

Dolf (seeing Dok4's killer glare aimed at Jack): Er… don't mind him, Dok, it's… because of the drugs, gotta be because of the drugs we had to give him…

At that point, Dok4 started to violently struggle, trying to wiggle out of StimPatch's grip. Jack's drug-clouded mind was no where as murky as Dok4's; he sooo wanted to wipe that smile off his face but he remembered he couldn't hurt his own team mates… with conventional weapons at least.

Will: Dok, what're you doing?

Dolf: Dok, stay put. That poison's only going to flow faster in your blood stream!

Dok4: You're (wiggle) gonna pay (struggle) for that (kick) so badly!

Sure enough, Crimson Talons still had some, how did he call them? "unorthodox weapons" left and Dok4 was going to get them! and then shove them up that jack-ass Jack's…

Somehow, the injured and battle-weary Dok4 slipped out of StimPatch's bear grip and got to Crimson Talon's dead body. Before Jack could begin to apologize or before Dolf could lecture Dok4 on how unworthy of a National it is to scavenge a fallen opponent's body, Dok4 was already turning Crimson's pockets outward. But instead of a spare poison-laced blade, he dug up something of greater interest.

Dok: Hey, what's this? (lifts it up for inspection, as his comrades pile up behind him) It looks like a vial, but… (squints) I can't read what is says. Damn poisoning…

Dolf: It's no ordinary vial, Dok, it's an injection-abeling one.

Will: Yeah, and I can read the label. It says: USE IN CASE OF ACCIDENTAL POISONING.

Dok4: If we're to put two and two together, this is likely the antidote to this new, heavy duty poison added on the daggers… Convenient, actually, since I got nipped by one a while ago…

StimPatch (relatively serene): Oh yeah, that reminds me… (then becomes excited) You're hurt buddy! (bear-grabs Dok4) But don't worry (digs around in his pockets as his comrades stare) I got just the thing! (pulls out aid-bands… coloured in pink, butter-yellow and baby-blue… and decorated with hearts, teddies and happy faces) I'll be taking gooooood care of you (starts sticking them over the dumbstruck Dok4's slash on the face) and you'll be good as new in no time!

Will: Aw…

Dolf: I can't look…

Jack (snorts loudly)

Dok4 (cheek now caked in colourful bands): Um, Stim, buddy…

StimPatch: Yeah?

Dok4: I have something for you.

StimPatch (cheery): Really? What?

Dok4: Well, shut your mouth and close your eyes and you will get a big surprise!

Next second, he jabbed the needled end of the vial in StimPatch's shoulder.

Yep, still kicking…