Chapter 71:

Chapter 71 - To Know Thine Enemy


Beretta was dead, and, all things considered, she wasn’t taking it very well.

“I ran!” she protested, stomping her little foot in indignation. “I ran fast!

Morgan sighed and shook his head. “Doesn’t matter, kid. No matter how fast you are, you can’t outrun a bullet.”

“This is not fair! You are just making things up!”

“It may look like that, but there’s a point to it. I promise,” he said. “You died because you ignored the plan. If you’d stayed put instead of running out from behind your cover, you might have helped everyone win together.”

The corners of her lips sank low. She slid into a sulk, looking to Roulette and her daddy for validation.

None came. They smiled and shrugged their shoulders before shuffling back to their starting position behind the mast.

“You’re oh-for-three, team,” Morgan chided, stooping forward to lean on the foredeck’s railing. “Y’all need to listen to the details I’m givin’. The goal is to win without losin’ anyone–it’s not worth gettin’ one over on the enemy if somebody dies in the process. Now, let’s run it back.”

He closed his eyes and stroked his chin, focusing on the task of formulating a new imaginary foe for them to build their strategy around. “Alright. Long-range weapon. Low firing rate, medium-power bullets. Physically strong and agile. Good hearin’ and eyesight. Knows you’re there. Go.”

“You keep givin’ us hard ones!” Roulette complained, taking her customary position behind the barrel (which he’d allowed them to consider full for the purposes of the exercise).

“It’s life that’s hard–I’m just doin’ my best to prepare you for it,” Morgan replied. He scanned the deck, noting with some satisfaction that each Gunslinger had chosen suitable cover. “You’re all safe for now. What next?”

Roulette peeked up over the top of the barrel and took aim at him. “I lay down suppressin’ fire!”

“Good. That’s the ideal approach for this enemy! Marka, what are you doin’?”

“I take advantage of the distraction and move up!” he called from behind the mast.

“Alright. Where to?”

“Right under the enemy’s position!”

Morgan lifted his eyebrows. “You sure? That’s mighty risky.”

“The enemy’s weapon is medium-power and fires slowly. I can likely survive one shot,” Marka pressed, “Also, my size makes it impossible to hide properly behind anything else.”

Morgan readied the button he’d borrowed from Mimi and waved Marka forward. “Go ahead, then. Let’s see if you make it.”

Marka charged out from behind the mast and weaved between the detritus littering the deck. Morgan kept an eye on his progress, flipping the button into the air once Marka had reached the halfway point.

“Tails!” he cried, shoving the button back in his pocket. “You take a hit. Left thigh.”

Marka cursed, throwing himself up against the wall below. “So I move slowly now, yes?”

“Yes, but at least the enemy can’t see you down there. You’re safe for now.”

Roulette pounded her first on the barrel-top. “I was keepin’ him suppressed! How’d he get a shot off?”

“Suppressin’ fire ain’t perfect. A wily enemy can still pop up and get a shot off, and your bullets aren’t strong enough to drop him besides,” he explained. “It did distract him, though. Without you, that leg-shot might’ve been a headshot.”

Roulette grumbled to herself, keeping her barrel trained on him. “Okay. What now?”

“That’s up to you. Any ideas?”

“...I could simply run up the stairs and flank him, no?” Marka suggested.

“No. You’re limpin’–he’d have plenty of time to react before you got close. Any other ideas?”

Nobody spoke up. Morgan felt compelled to give them a little push, sensing that the team might get ornery if their losing streak went on much longer.

“There’s three of you, mind!”

“But what can I do!?” Beretta fumed from behind a few sacks of lentils. “I have no weapon to attack with!”

“Get creative. If you can’t shoot, think about what else could be done to make things harder for the enemy.”

Morgan heard nothing more from behind the sacks for several seconds. Then:

“...I want to creep up near where Father is!”

Now things were getting interesting. “Oh? Why’s that?”

“Can I do it?” she asked, pointedly ignoring his question. “Can I get where he is?”

He scratched his head. Just what was that little gremlin up to? “Depends. Go ahead and do it just like you would in a fight, and I’ll let you know how it goes.”

What happened next impressed him: she crawled out from behind the sacks and kept low, managing to keep her body obscured by the surrounding cover every step of the way. At no point did he spot more than the tip of her foot or the momentary swish of her hair, and, before he knew it, she’d arrived at the wall just below him without exposing herself a single time!

Credit where credit was due. Morgan clapped for her, absolutely gobsmacked by the subtlety of her approach. “Well done, Berry! I hardly spotted you a single time, there. Good instincts–you made it to your destination without takin’ a hit.”

He heard her cheer from below. And, judging by the tender expression on Roulette’s face, he figured Marka had probably swept her up into a bear hug to celebrate.

“Don’t go pattin’ yourselves on the back quite yet,” he scolded. “You could still lose it all here dependin’ on what you do next! What’s the plan, Berry?”

“I am going to move left toward the stairs,” she yelled, “and Father will go right!”

“Why? Are you both comin’ up here?”

The girl said nothing. Instead, she executed the most peculiar maneuver he’d ever seen:

She tossed her gun up the stairs, sending it clattering to the floor of the foredeck. He turned his head and blinked at it, utterly perplexed by the idea that she would intentionally disarm herself.

“...Berry? Did you mean to do that?” Morgan heaved a sigh and prepared to go pick it up, certain that she’d made some kind of mistake. He reckoned this round was going to be a wash, too. Maybe I could give them an easy one next time, he mused. A short-ranger, maybe. Something to build their confiden–

“You lose, Morgan.”

That was Marka’s voice! Morgan whipped around to find the big man’s gun barrel hovering inches away from his chest, ready to blow him–or the enemy he represented, at least–away at a moment’s notice.

“Well I’ll be,” he said with a grin, lifting his hands in the air. “That was quite the distraction you pulled, there! Congrats, all–you’ve completed the exercise!”

Morgan looked on proudly as his pupils ran to each other and cheered. Beretta was hefted in the air for her role in winning the day, and afterwards they all huddled together for a group hug, leaving him free to wander off and lean against the foremast. Several minutes of chatter passed before they approached him again, and when they did, he was ready with another lecture:

“Good work everyone,” he began. “I don’t have an exercise in mind for the last lesson, so I’ll keep this short. Observation is that last piece of the puzzle, and it’s somethin’ I can’t teach you–you’ve got to master it yourself. It’s about payin’ attention to your surroundings and your enemy. For instance, those things I described about your enemy earlier? In a real-world gunfight, you’d have to determine all those things yourself by observin’ ‘em. I may not always be around to do it for you.”

“So, that’s it?” Roulette huffed. “That’s the lesson? Just that little speech?”

Morgan smirked and wagged a finger. “Not quite. I may not have an exercise in mind, but I can show you the power of observation once you’ve got it down to a science.” With that, he walked to the other end of the foredeck and turned to face them. “Hey Roulette, be a pal and help me out with my demonstration, would you?”

“Sure. What do you need me to do?”

“I want you to shoot at me.”

As expected, the whole gang did a double-take at that. Roulette, in particular, looked taken aback.


“You heard me.” He wiggled his arms and limbered up, giving his chest a slap when he’d readied himself sufficiently. “It’s impossible to dodge a bullet, but with keen observation of your enemy’s facial tics, you can predict when it’s going to leave the barrel and get yourself out of the way just in time. Take your best shot, Roulette!”

She reluctantly leveled her weapon at him. “...You sure about this, Morgan?”

“I’m sure. Now, stop stallin’ already and shoot me!”

And so, in the absence of any compelling reason to deny her newly-minted mentor’s unusual request, Roulette took a deep breath, planted her feet, and fired…

…And that was how Morgan Sarada, the unwilling combat instructor–who had finally, after repeatedly embarrassing himself, gained a modicum of respect from his companions–got shot full in the chest.

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