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The bullet streaked through the night. Its aim was true, but somehow it impacted on stone, not flesh, then ricocheted harmlessly into the night. Everett couldn’t understand it. How had he missed? That should have been impossible!

No time to dwell on that now, though, Nathan had sat bolt upright and was raising his own handgun to return fire! Everett flung himself backwards and Nathan’s shot zipped overheard. Then Nathan kicked dirt into the small fire, throwing them into the black. Everett didn’t try using his firearm while blinded, instead he lifted onto all fours and charged forward like a bull. By the time Nathan heard him coming and understood what he was doing Everett had closed the distance and slammed into Nathan at full force! The two men fell to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.

Everett tried to punch Nathan in the gut, but his hand struck something hard in Nathan’s backpack. Nathan curled his arm around the back of Everett’s head, gripped the man’s chin, and gave a sharp tug. Everett rolled with the motion, spinning his whole body across the ground. As he went his head struck a large rock that had been hidden in the dark.

“Rrrrrrrgh,” Everett growled, trying to push past the fuzziness that came swimming in at the corners of his eyes. He couldn’t let himself fall unconscious. He forced his arm to swing his gun through the air, firing off two quick shots. They weren’t even close to hitting Nathan, but they spooked him enough that he turned and ran off into the dark.

Everett tried to stand and run, but he quickly stumbled back to the ground. Whether he wanted to or not, he was going to have to pause for a moment before he continued the chase. His back pressed against the rock he had hit his head on and suddenly he understood. This rock had been right in front of Nathan’s head when he was sleeping, and in the dark Everett hadn’t been able to make it out. That was what his first bullet had ricocheted off of. Yet another precaution Nathan had known to take, no doubt due to some prior night-time attack during his long, seven-year journey.

While Everett regained his wits, Nathan bolted full speed over the rocky terrain. There wasn’t a lot of moonlight, and more than once he tripped and fell. Fortunately he had the presence of mind to catch himself on his good hand, and not damage his broken one further.

He didn’t know who this attacker was that had come for him. Normally he would assume a common raider, but it would be strange for a thief to happen upon him in such a removed place as this. Unless there was a bandit hideout nearby.

There came a sound of clattering stones, and Nathan glanced over his shoulder to see his Everett sprinting down a hillside, two hundred yards distant. Definitely not a common thief, then. Only someone with a mission to fulfill would be this persistent.

So be it. Nathan had made it through a grueling, seven-year journey, what was one more night of life-and-death struggle? He already intended to be dead before next nightfall anyway, so a little lost slumber bore very little weight?

For a moment Nathan considered waiting to ambush the man. He rounded a particularly large boulder, knelt down, and pulled out his gun. He had to hold in his left hand, though, since the right hand was broken, and he saw the gun’s muzzle shaking erratically in front of him. No good.

With a snarl Nathan stood up and kept running. He bounded over a small rise in the rock next, and came upon a wide, open bowl. Running through it would make him an excellent target for his pursuer, but there was no alternative, sheer cliff faces or sudden drop-offs lay on either side. So Nathan continued forward, making for a rocky outcropping halfway through the bowl.

As he went, he strained his ears for the sound of footsteps halting, of sleeved arms being raised, or of a gun cocking. But, of course, he couldn’t hear anything over the sound of his own clattering feet. Thus he had no warning before the shot suddenly rang through the night. It made a deep graze across his arm, just above the elbow, and he winced in pain as juked left and right, spun and snapped back around the other way. Then he dove behind the rocky outcropping, waited for a moment, and popped back up to fire two shots towards the entrance to the bowl. He ducked back down as another shot was returned. Nathan popped off another volley, but this time no other shots came his way.

Nathan fired once more. Still no return.

Then Nathan understood. His foe was armed…but had little or no ammo remaining. He had left it all behind to be as quiet as possible when stealing towards Nathan’s camp! So Nathan weighed his options. Did he turn aggressive? Try and get the other man to burn his last shots and then finish him off with his own gun? Or did he just sprint out of there and focus on his final objective?

Up at the top of the bowl Everett understood the silence perfectly. He knew it meant Nathan had figured the situation out and was concocting the best way to finish him off. Now Everett could try to run through the exact same scenarios in his own mind, figure out the same conclusion Nathan would come to, and then try to think of a way to counter it. But that would mean continuing this game at a disadvantage. Rather than wait for Nathan to make his move, Everett would rather tip the board over and knock all the pieces to the floor!

So without any further thought Everett bounded out from behind his juniper tree and sprinted across the bowl. Nathan heard him coming and stood up, firing off a few rounds. Everett raised his own weapon and fired wildly in return, pouring out his last two bullets.

Both men missed, Everett due to shooting while running, Nathan due to having to shoot with his weak hand. Both gun clips clicked empty, and before Nathan could reload Everett bounded over the rocky outcropping and body-slammed him to the ground for the second time that night!


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