A slow grin crawled onto Morphine's face. She turned toward me. Her lips squirmed apart, revealing a pair of perfect fangs. She raised the water-gun..
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I dove for cover. I heard the skirmish behind me as Jeremiah and Christy broke and ran, but there was no time to react. I landed in the midst of a bank of seats, rolled, and ducked down just in time to avoid a blast of glimmering water from on high.
"Squeal, piggy, squeal!" Morphine was obviously enjoying herself. I scrabbled away on my hands and knees. She was advancing, firing randomly at the seats in an ever-decreasing circle. In a moment, she would see me.
"Here, Renny Renny Renny..." Her voice, mocking, from the nearby aisle. I gathered myself into a crouch.
"Where aaare you, my daaaahling?"
"Come out come out wherever you aaaare..."
"C'mere shitball, or I'll jam this gun up your ass..."
Her legs appeared at the head of the line of seats.
I sprang, throwing myself high and away, sailing over the bank of seats and twisting midair to direct my course toward the stage. Still in mid-leap, I heard Morphine curse- "Fuck!". I twisted away, acting on pure instict, and saw a rill of phosphorescent liquid pass through the spac I had occupied a half-second before. Then I was arcing down, my leap just barely long enough to gain the edge of the stage. I landed on my feet and cut across the twelve-and-a-half feet to the curtain, all the while expecting a lethal blast from behind. None came, and I flung aside the curtain and ducked inside.
The room beyond was pitch-black. I could see nothing at all, and had no idea of either size or geography. It could have been a hundred feet wide; a thousand, for all I knew. My imagination conjured up visions of eldritch set-designs, strung together by boards and wires that might have been years old...or decades. There was no way to tell, short of blind-walking my way around. I waved a hand in front of my face, just to check. Nothing. It would be hearing and touch only here.
I caught a faint, clumsy shuffling from somewhere far to my right, and listened. The shuffler was breathing hard, but their breaths in little eeps and yips, rather than full-throated gasps. Christy, most likely. I would have no problem avoiding her; she made enough noise to act as a human homing beacon. I could have shot her blind in the dark if I had wanted.
I did not want. Christy was an unwary opponent, and not very skilled at the game we were playing. To shoot her would be no great task, carry no nobility. I would leave her be, and wait for my real quarry. Perhaps she would serve as bait.
I took several steps forward and ran into a latticed construction of wood and metal. It was obviously a platform of some kind, but one so frail, it shook when I collided with it. I ducked under the lowest of the bars and shuffled forward, hands outstretched. The space beneath the platform was rife with cobwebs, and they stuck to me and my gun as I passed. A few caught on my face, and tickled my nose. I wiped them absently away, my mind focused on the task at hand.
Morphine was somewhere in the theater- that much was obvious. When I had made my wild dive, I had known her position, but afterward...
She hadn't followed, I knew that for certain. If she had, the curtain would have parted, and I could have shot her as she stood there, silhouetted and vulnerable. She hadn't come through. She must have known the score.
I found myself grudgingly admiring Morphine, despite her vicious and unfair attacks. She was an excellent hunter- that much I knew- and her initiative at the start of the battle proved that she knew how to bring down human quarry as well as animal. I was running on autopilot, simply trying to stay alive, but she...she had been precise, methodical, and unhurried. The perfect hunter. Even now, she was probably hiding somewhere in the theater, waiting for me to make a mistake.
I resolved, there in the darkness, not to fall prey to her devices. I had underestimated her once, but not again. I would be stealthy, and I would be cold, and I would take her apart like a high school science project before the game was over. I felt the bonds that held me to my sometime Mistress loosening as I forced myself not to think of her as a friend or a lover, but as the enemy. I raised my gun and kissed the cool plastic for good luck. I would need it.
I shuffled further forward, and smacked chest-first into some kind of wooden barrier. I ran my hands along the obstruction, and found it to be made of something thick and sturdy; hollow beneath, with a crawlspace. I added this to my mental picture and blinked. I had gotten turned around somehow, walking through the darkened room, and I was now standing against the opposite side of the stage. As my brain registered this, my eyes began to take in the tiny slices of dimness where the curtain did not completely cover the floor of the stage. A shadow drifted across the slice of twilight. Morphine.
I ducked down and got a blast of cool air to the face. The hollow space beneath the stage was obviously more than a shallow alcove. Above me, I could hear the stealthy swish of the curtain being drawn up. It was enough. I duck-walked into the crawlspace just as Morphine's bare feet tiptoed past on the floor above. How well could she see in the dark? Would she be able to spot me, even in the total umbra of the stage? I crawled further into the space, covering my hands in several years' worth of dust, and hoped that I was not making enough noise to be heard. The crawlspace was huge compared to my mental picture, and it seemed to stretch around me on all sides, limitless. I kept moving in what I hoped was a straight line- away from where I had entered- and waved a hand in front of me, expecting at any moment to run headfirst into a wall and have to backtrack. My hands found nothing but dust and three-foot-tall support columns. I could have been in a tiny auditorium for all I knew- maybe a theater designed for midgets. It seemed possible, in the dark.
I realized suddenly that it was no longer completely black in the crawlspace. Ahead, the darkness was split through with two tiny vertical slices of theater-dim; not much, but enough to see the difference between them. I crawled toward the light. As I did, my questing hand brushed something soft and pliable, and I understood: I was underneath the stage, near the front edge; the part that faced the boxes directly. What I had mistaken, at a glance, to be retaining wall was, in fact, no more than a flimsy brown curtain attached to keep up the illusion of elegance.
I considered. If I had made the mistake of assuming there was a wall where I now hid, would the others have done the same? It was a chance worth taking. I settled to my knees, and set myself up at the curtain-wall, gun raised in anticipation of Morphine's next move.
"Quit this world, quit the next world, quit quitting!" -Sufi proverb.