Chapter 51:

Chapter 51 - The Perfect Dive


Roulette heaved a deep breath and stepped forth from the shadows of the arena’s ready room. It was her turn, now, and Morgan had done what he could to prepare her for the rigors of battling in the Sebastopol arena. He’d been especially clear about not underestimating the opponent as he had done; to hear him tell it, that small mistake had nearly cost him the round.

The girl wished she’d been able to watch the fight, but the staff were adamant about keeping the doors to the ready room closed at all times. From what Morgan had said, the fight was pretty harrowing. She dared to hope that she’d have an easier time of it, but that didn’t seem likely considering the Menagerie Three’s decade-long domination of the tournament scene. If Morgan got saddled with a guy who fired live moles, what kind of Gunslinger would she have to contend with?

Somebody who fired attack dogs? Grizzly bears? She thought back to their brief encounter with the Menagerie Three just inside the city gates. The short, bald one had probably been Dugg; in retrospect, he had looked pretty mole-like. Did the other two resemble the form taken by their Gunslinger’s power, too? Was that even a thing? Probably not, she decided. Otherwise, Morgan would look a mite bouncier than he does.

“...our next foreign challenger, Roulette!” the MC was saying. “Round two is now underway! BEGIN!”

Shit! I wasn’t paying attention! The girl lurched forward, inwardly kicking herself for having paid so little attention to the introductions. What if the announcer gave away some kind of clue just then? I don’t even know who I’m fighting!

She slid into a crouch behind an irregularly-shaped mound of rock and tried to collect herself. The crowd was booing and jeering, still incensed by Morgan’s victory over their golden boy, and Roulette was pleased to discover that this only strengthened her resolve. She straightened up behind her chosen cover and took Lady Luck into her hands, determined to prove herself to her friends. As far as she was concerned, the haters and naysayers could all f–


The girl lingered there, stone-faced, as a shiver passed through her body. She reached up with one hand, feeling around at the wet mass that had just collided with her scalp. As she did, she noticed something wheeling overhead–something winged and dreadfully familiar.

Her hand came back white.

She wanted to die.

“EEEEUUUGHHHH…!” she bellowed, squirming in disgust. The will to strategize and keep a low profile crumbled under the pressure of living through such a thoroughly mortifying experience, and she found herself stumbling into the open before she even knew what she was doing. No sooner had she done so than she noticed a tall, mustachioed fellow with a hooked nose standing atop the ruined structure in the center of the pit with his hands on his hips.

He was looking right at her.

“I see you have received a generous care package, courtesy of my little darlings!” he cackled, not even bothering to cock his feathered gun in her direction. “They are exemplary creatures, are they not? Excellence manifested in avian form… It is enough to bring a tear to my eye!”

“Seagulls? Really??” she shouted a little more shrilly than she had intended, “This isn’t a fight! This is disgustin’!

“Ah, there it is,” he replied, hopping down from his perch. “The self-important whining of the rabble. An ugly reminder of society’s belief that the unconventional–no matter how efficient–is valueless. Implicit within that noisome bleating is the claim that we should never dare to truly excel, lest we complicate the small and depressingly mundane lives of the hoi polloi.”

At first, Roulette had no idea how to respond to that. Was this guy for real? “What the hell is happenin’ right now?!” she shrieked. “This ain’t a philosophy course! You’re talkin’ about bird shit for cryin’ out loud!”

Then, as if on-cue, a volley of freshly-squeezed droppings pelted her head and arms.

“STOP! STOP!!” The girl threw up her hands, squatting down to make herself a smaller target. “Eww eww EEWWWW!! Call ‘em off! Call these damn skyrats off!”

“Do you submit, then?” he asked calmly, advancing toward her with infuriating slowness.

Despite the rivulets of slick white waste matter coursing down her face, Roulette could think to offer only one reply:


The bird-brained philosopher chuckled darkly to himself. “A pity,” he lamented, pausing to whistle for his gulls. “In that case, I will have to show you just how high I, Livingston, have ascended above the common Gunslinger!”

Before she could react, the many birds he’d dispensed since the round had begun answered his call. They swooped down to swirl around him in tight concentric circles, flying faster and faster until the man stood at the very core of an impenetrable flurry of seagulls.

“Behold my ultimate technique: the Birdicane!”

“That is so incredibly stupid,” she sighed, bringing her unsoiled hand to her face.

“Indulge in the comforts of your own limited imagination all you like,” he sneered from within the swirling bird-barrier. “My Birdicane is invincible! Your bullets are as mere grains of sand before it!”

To her chagrin, Roulette realized that he was right. If she were to fire on him, the bodies of his gulls would surely block the attack… And more than that, she found she had no desire to injure the poor things even though they had pooped all over her. As deserving as their master was of a sound thrashing, the birds themselves were blameless; she couldn’t bring herself to shoot them down to get at him.

So she ran. She dashed behind the nearest hunk of debris and continued on, weaving her way through the gaps between each fragment of architecture as she went. She needed to buy time to come up with a plan, and in lieu of a frontal attack, outpacing him seemed to be the only way.

“Scamper away all you wish, little mouse!” he taunted, following along behind her at a leisurely pace. He made no attempt to attack her, and a glance toward the giant hourglass standing at the announcer’s side helped her remember why:

The round was timed. If things remained as they were until he’d run down the clock, the MC was bound to award him the victory! She had to find a way to counter his Birdicane for a chance at the championship!

With newfound determination, Roulette skidded around a pillar and cast her gaze around the arena pit in search of something she could use. Sadly, there wasn’t much; mostly just piles of detritus and that flimsy-looking building in the middle. However, there was something of interest right next to that building:

A big hole–the very same big hole Morgan had used to win out over Dugg!

Roulette dashed toward the pit and hopped inside. The Birdicane was unassailable from all sides, but what about the bottom? If she could get a view beneath the roiling mass of seagulls, she might just get a shot at the man’s feet. It wasn’t the best plan she’d ever hatched, but it would have to do!

He arrived at the rim of the hole a short time later, providing her with the very view she needed. She set her jaw and took aim with Lady Luck, taking aim at his knobby knees… Only for the birds to suddenly change course to compensate! They altered their trajectory to dip just below the rim, making their coverage of Livingston’s form discouragingly complete.

“Do you see, now?” he gloated, now fully obscured behind his shield of living things. “You cannot win. Today, victory goes to me–Livingston, Sebastopol’s paragon of battle ingenuity!”

Roulette fired on the ground beneath his feet in frustration, hoping to cause a tremor or a minor landslide or… Something. But, as always, her bullets were too weak.

Lady Luck had let her down again.

The display was so pitiful that Livingston whistled again, causing the birds all around him to slow. She could see him leveling his gun at her through the veil of seagulls, plainly intent on finishing her while she was still coming to grips with the reality of her own powerlessness.

…But giving up wasn’t her style. Rather than sitting back and accepting defeat, the girl lifted her weapon toward the hints of human anatomy she was able to see between the birds. Get it together, Roulette, she thought, forcing herself into a state of focus.

You’ll only get one chance at this!

They both fired at the same time. The blobby form of a seagull erupted from Livingston’s weapon rump-first, careening toward the girl’s scat-soaked face through a small window in the churning wall created by its brethren. Meanwhile, something shot forth from Lady Luck’s muzzle simultaneously…

…But it wasn’t a bullet.

She looked in in pure, unadulterated shock as a mana-seeking bandage spewed from the tip of her gun, curving neatly around the incoming gull and throwing it off-course. The gull veered off into the wall at her side while the bandage continued on, neatly threading the needle of his lax bird-hewn barricade in search of its true prey:

Livingston himself.

The man screamed pathetically as it bundled him up, locking his arms and legs together in an instant. Before Roulette fully understood what had happened, her opponent had fallen swiftly to the ground, his body bound in the very same cocoon of cloth strips she had inhabited days prior.

“It is over! Livingston is down!” she heard the announcer declare, his voice sounding vague and distant in her current state.

Just what had happened there? How was this possible…?

“But, due to the fact that she did not disclose her gun’s abilities in full at the time of registration,” the MC continued, “We cannot award her the victory. As such, it is with great regret that I must announce…

“…That Roulette is hereby disqualified from the Gunslinger Games!”

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