Max vs Erix I
Again Max stepped ashore, this time on Kon Kimbar, this time waiting after sunrise, rather than sunset.
After the attack on Aru, he and Justin rested as much as the remaining time allowed before embarking on the most treacherous stage of the plan. Once the Seeker was secure, they loaded the crates aboard the Maximum, on deck where they were clearly visible, to use as a last-resort bargaining chip, if need be. Max left Justin and Bandit back onboard, flanked by Sentry I and II, now that the prisoners had been dealt with, to observe— but not interfere— unless Max failed.
None of them trusted the dock, not with Erix occupying the island, so Max landed in a rubber raft, dragging it onto the sand, then working his way toward the stairway running around the stilts underneath Mr Larson’s house. Based on Toma’s expert assessment, this was the most likely place for Erix to be holding Shades.
As Max plodded through the damp sand, hoping his friend was still alive, that this wasn’t just some cruel joke whose punchline was yet to be sprung, he came close enough to hear footsteps descending those stairs. He spotted Erix as he stepped around the corner, then headed down the steps toward him. Both power pistols holstered, but even without the dormant energy blade in hand, Max knew from past experience those laser claws could be brought to bear on a split-second’s notice.
What caught his attention most, now that his adversary had shown himself, was that he was wearing Shades’ sunglasses.
“If you killed him…”
“You’ll what?” Erix snorted. “My, that is a scary face. Does that mean you’re gonna fight me for real this time?”
“Tell me now.”
“Damn, you’re no fun,” Erix muttered. “Fine, fine. He’s alive already. Happy now?”
“No,” Max told him bluntly. “What now?”
“Did you bring it like I asked?”
“Yes.” Max reached carefully into his pocket, fishing out a gold ingot from the treasure. Just as Toma recommended, to offer as proof. Max tossed it over as Erix stepped off the stairs, deftly catching it with a snatch of his hand.
Erix examined the gold for a moment, at last satisfying himself that it was the real thing.
“So what’s the plan?” Max demanded after waiting for as long as he could stand to.
“Now we fight to the death,” Erix replied. “The rules are simple. If you win, Shades lives and you get to keep the treasure. If I win, your friend kicks the bucket, I get to keep these spiffy specs for myself, and your other little friend hands over the treasure.
“Oh,” he added, raising his laser sword, “and no outside interference. The Checkmate already has those two Island Patrol ships targeted, so I can take them out with the push of a button. Do you accept?”
“I’ll fight you,” Max told him, “and I’m here now. Why do you still need Shades as a hostage?”
“Insurance,” Erix informed him. “And, I might add, you’re hardly in a position to dictate terms.”
“But this fight is pointless!” Max pressed, already firing up his blade, half-afraid he already knew the answer.
“So you need a ‘point’ to fight, do you?” Erix taunted, igniting his own energy blade. “You need a meaning? Then how about this? If you lose, I’ll kill you. Then I’ll kill your friends. It doesn’t get any more meaningful than that, does it?”
“So be it.” Max stepped up, inwardly preparing for battle.
“Heroes die young,” Erix reminded him. “So, are you ready to die today, Max?”
“Perhaps you should ask yourself that question, Erix,” Max said darkly. He knew this could be the last thing he ever did. This guy was a lot tougher than Striker, that much he had already seen, and he tried not to worry about how he would fare in the absence of battlefield distractions. Yet he found he didn’t care; after everything he had come through to get this far, Erix was all that stood between him and his friend.
A short clash of blades served to confirm Max’s suspicions. In spite of this, neither of them gave way. Max fiercely determined to get past him or die trying. Erix holding his own without too much apparent effort. On top of that, Erix’s eyes betrayed little to begin with, but with his friend’s shades covering them, it was even worse.
“I’m impressed, really,” Erix told him as Max finally backed off a bit. He knew a fellow prodigy when he saw one. Max’s form and style were definitely a cut above, but it didn’t take him long to find his opponent’s actual combat skills lacking. Yet during those moments when Max lost himself in battle, he clearly displayed keen instincts and a natural talent Erix had seldom seen.
Max, for his part, quickly figured out that the direct approach was out of the question. Much to his chagrin, this Erix was a bit quicker than him, and his moves weren’t predictable like Striker’s. Didn’t leave any openings, either, it was obvious this guy had fought way more battles and he and his friends combined, the difference in their levels of experience showing already.
I need to surprise him somehow…
They only had to fight for a moment for Erix to figure out that Max wasn’t really backing into a defensive posture, so much as he was trying to work his way around him to the stairway, and moved to cut him off.
Max, seeing that his initial plan was a wash, fell back among the stilts holding up the house above, hoping to slow Erix down with obstacles. As they dueled between the supports, Erix cut right through a couple of them before slowing his offensive. Max used that time to try to figure out a new plan, painfully aware that he could stall for only so long.
“You’re beginning to disappoint me,” Erix told Max as he hunted him among the beams. “Maybe you’re not as strong as I thought you were…”
“We’ll see,” Max shot back, thinking frantically while trying to keep Erix from pinning him against the cliff face at the back. As long as he stayed next to the stilts, Erix risked bringing down the house if he slashed too carelessly. Here in the shadow of the house, he felt as if he was losing this battle before he had even begun to fight.
At least until he spotted a way around Erix, gauging his position carefully.
Silencing and sheathing his laser sword even as he dodged, Max evaded Erix’s next attack, grabbing the stilt pole with one hand, shifting his weight and swinging around on it. Erix belatedly charged in the wrong direction, giving Max enough time to flip his legs onto one of the crossbeams, swinging the rest of himself up out of the way as Erix turned around and swiped at him. Just like the acrobatics he used to practice in the trees back in Paradise, he worked his way up to one of the landings of the stairway working its way up the outside of the scaffold.
He then took advantage of the opening he made getting past Erix, charging up the steps. Thinking that if he could free Shades, it would be worth the risk. Then all he would have to do is buy his friend enough time to escape, and then only need to worry about himself.
It only took Erix all of two seconds to figure out what his opponent was up to, chinning up to the nearest stair railing and dashing up the steps in hot pursuit. About halfway up, though, Max tripped on a storm-damaged step, giving Erix a chance to catch up with him. Max then had to turn and fight him as he worked his way up.
Having taken the risk, and had it backfire on him, Max quickly learned just how difficult it was, dividing his attention between not tripping over his own feet on the twists and turns of the steps, and not getting them cut out from under him by Erix’s ruthless blade. A stairway, he now understood, was one of those places where the classic “high ground” strategy just didn’t work. He barely managed to jump a couple steps as Erix tried to sweep his legs.
Max nearly stumbled again when he finally backed up onto level footing, barely rolling out of the way as Erix hounded him.
“I haven’t given you enough credit,” Erix conceded, “but you’ll have to do better than that.”
“Just tell me where Shades is!” Mad demanded.
“Do you think I’d be stupid enough to tell you after your little plan failed?”
“Just thought I’d ask,” Max said dryly, deciding that that was all the breather pointless questions would buy him.
“Turn off that stun blade and ask me with your sword,” Erix told him. He then reached for his utility belt, drawing a second laser sword. Seeing Max’s stubborn refusal: “Very well, then. Have it your way. Let’s up the stakes, shall we?”
Erix jumped back in, both blades swinging. This new approach quickly put Max on the defensive. Though they continued to duel, Max didn’t take long to figure out that Erix had the upper hand, even more than before, and now he was just barely keeping up with him. Now he was starting to get an idea of what he was really up against.
Still he fought on, knowing that if he lost, Shades’ life would be forfeit, as well.