Hank could see that Heath was becoming incensed, and it amused him to no end. It was a good way of relieving all the stress he had from dealing with Alan earlier in the day. Although the plasma shield could defend against the piercing ability of the reinforced bullets, it was pretty simple for Hank to pepper the other man with bullets.
The first time that Hank had worked his way through his twelve bullet clip in his repeater, Heath had roared triumphantly, but Hank had calmly used his Quick Reload Skill, and within two seconds, his gun was restocked with bullets and firing.
In truth, Hank could have done it even faster than that. But as he could use the Skill while he was Dodge Rolling, he saw no need to reload without doing a quick check of the gun’s other mechanisms. Even in pleasure, Hank was extremely serious about caring for his weapons, fastidiously checking every moving part.
There were problems, with the fight, however. Hank was burning through his Stamina relatively quickly. At the same time, Heath was ripping even faster through his Mana, flashing the plasma shield on and off to block bullets, and using a small amount of Mana to power the suit constantly. Heath’s power suit had a slot for an external battery, but he had the sense to not use it; a bullet there would cause a small plasma explosion, and he would likely lose a chunk of flesh from his back for that mistake.
They paused in their game of cat and mouse, both catching their breath.
“Are you just going to run?” Heath demanded.
Smiling, Hank whistled a tune as he drew his right revolver, his father’s. He didn’t like to use it when he didn’t need to, because the 6 bullets within it took about 4 hours of work to properly infuse. Even though Hank had a high Skill Level in the process, there were occasional failures, and they would leave him with a headache that lasted days.
“Bang, bang,” Hank whispered, for luck. Then he rushed forward, raising both pistols to point at Heath. The other man straightened, which was the wrong move.
He kept the right pistol trained on Heath’s chest as a decoy, but his left pistol flashed, once, twice, five times in quick succession. Now, the bullets ripped forward towards the knees of the powersuit, aiming to dent the sides, crunching the delicate machinery there that allowed him to move easily.
Although the System improved human Perception and Reaction, they were still a hair away from reaching the point where they could truly dodge bullets, especially from this close distance. However, Heath had good instincts and hadn’t been slacking in his training, so he was able to throw himself to the side, making all but one miss. This last bullet slammed into the side of Heath’s knee, but it hadn’t hit as hard as Hank would have liked.
Although he would be slightly hampered, it wouldn’t be enough. Hank fired four more bullets, but Heath just built on his momentum, continuing to run to the side. The bullets skittered of Heath’s hand, which he had thrown out to protect his knee joints, which were already groaning from the earlier damage.
Both men reached the same conclusion at the same time.
“Deadshot,” Hank said, holding the pistol completely still. The bullet zipped out of the barrel, traveling at least twice as fast as the previous bullets, slamming directly into the side of the knee.
At the same time, Heath roared, and the power suit began to glow red. He twisted and powered towards Hank with surprising speed, even as he was forced to hop somewhat, as his knee was now locked into a partially bent position.
‘I reckon’ it’s time to finish this,’ Hank thought, as he raised his right pistol towards the red, glowing metal man. He almost seemed like an incarnate of lava, all molten metal and unstoppable momentum. But never for a moment did Hank doubt who would be the victor.
He pulled the trigger.
Things began to happen very quickly. Heath tried to dodge, but Hank had used Deadshot again, and the bullet moved too fast to be dodged. But a figure interposed himself between them, the Asian man, who had drawn his sword. Before the man could act, however, a voice cried out behind Hank.
A flash of bloom erupted from the Asian man’s shoulder, and he faltered in his movements. Then, he was slammed to the side by the winds gathered around Hank’s powerful shot, knocked away like a piece of paper on a windy day.
But that had delayed the bullet just slightly, and Heath had raised a hand, which was glowing with concentrated energy. The two forces met.
Or rather, Hank’s bullet ripped through everything, shooting through Heath’s arm and skidding through the rest of the parking lot, before it shot into a low field and created a small crater about 1000 meters away.
The metal of the power suit around Heath’s arm had been ripped away, and a long gash ran up his arm, before puncturing his shoulder and eviscerating a large amount of flesh near the wound. There was even a small hole visible in the meat of Heath, where the bullet had passed completely through.
Howling, Heath disengaged the powersuit, the front opening to allow him to stumble out. The Asian man was groaning to the side, while Ezekiel advanced on him with a queer, malicious grin on his face. Hank holstered his pistols and raised his hands to a boxing stance, smiling widely.
There was panic in Heath’s eyes, even as the man forced himself to come meet Hank in close combat. After all, this is exactly the way Hank had dispatched him on their previous duel.
Anyways, Heath was a fool for challenging Hank to a duel, to begin with. Not that he advertised having the Skill Dueling Edge, but people should know never to challenge a Gunslinger to a duel. It was like no one else in the world understood how dominant that sort of hero was, with a gun, alone against the opposition.
“Sharp Left.” Heath tried to raise his arms in a defense, but Hank was too quick for him. As a teenager, he had gotten through his repressed anger towards his father by getting involved in boxing. Hank had been good, too. Nationally ranked in High School. After he graduated, his trainer pushed Hank to go into MMA, but Hank didn’t have any interest.
Hank had always dreamed of being a boxer, but his height and slender body had worked against him, in that regard. Although he never went for it, every instinct told him that the shorter men, built like bulls, would weather his blows and crush his body when they came in close at the highest levels of boxing. So Hank had become a park ranger.
But the System breathed life into those dreams, as they also gave life to the nightmares.
Hank’s jabs ripped through Heath’s guard, bloodying the man’s nose and jaw. Heath was slightly stunned, but he was still good. He swiped with his hands, aiming to pull Hank in for a grapple, but Hank stepped sharply back, the haymaker grab sailing harmlessly past. Then Hank stepped forward again.
Heath’s jaw broke, at the same second that Gunslinger Instincts kicked into high gear. Without even thinking, Hank Dodge Rolled backward, turning to face the source of this powerful, cutting anger. To his surprise, it wasn’t directed at him, but at Ezekiel, who was shuffling backward, nursing what looked like a broken wrist.
“You… are a detestable creature,” The newcomer announced, staring balefully at Ezekiel, the air around him roiling with the anger. On the ground behind him, the Asian man coughed up some blood, his skin so pale his veins stood out like black worms on his skin.
Hank sucked in a breath; he knew this man. Or rather, this… being.
“Jade Prince, to what do we owe tha’ pleasure,” Hank said, watching their Zone’s Champion carefully. He was dressed in a silk shirt, ruby colored, as well as matching silk pains, embroidered with roaring tigers. He looked exactly like a normal person, but Hank had seen the Jade Prince fight the Whisper Man for the right to be Champion of their Zone, and had seen the man transform into a 3 meter tall Jade Colossus. He was not someone to underestimate.
But when the Jade Prince turned to Hank, he actually smiled, the killing intent melting away like spring snow. “Ah, Mr. Howard. You are… excellent. A small confusion is all. I generally do not interfere in administrative matters, so when the Temple on the Hill was asked for a representative for this expedition, Genji here volunteered himself and departed immediately. But I had other thoughts on who should accompany you but… they took some time to arrange.”
His eyes shifted meaningfully to Ezekiel. “It is also good that I made such arrangements… Genji’s wounds will take some time to recover from.”
Ezekiel brazenly snapped his wrist back into place and drank a Health Potion, as if one of the most powerful entities in Zone 1 wasn’t glaring daggers at him. Then he produced a sandwich from an interspatial watch, with the crust removed, and began to nibble at it.
Everyone ignored Heath, who was moaning on the ground in an overly dramatic manner.
Turning back to Hank, the Jade Prince then stepped to the side with a flourish, revealing a small girl. She was likely just below 5 feet tall, and her eyes were blank staring upwards. She had a bamboo cane, which she tapped on the ground, swaying side to side, as she walked forward. She wore dark, nondescript clothes, but Hank stared at her.
‘How… where the fuck did she come from?’ Hank thought. ‘And she’s…. blind? Is it just a ploy, or-’
“This is Affina Yu,” The Jade Prince announced. “She will be joining your expedition. I wish you well in working together.”