Chapter 11

Vince was impressed at the combat cells that Lander possessed. Seventy feet by seventy feet in size, they were made of reinforced concrete that was several inches thick, with five-inch plastic serving as a window and a triple-locked door the only entrance and exit. What was truly amazing, though, was that there were so many of them. Right now, each member of the freshman class was standing in a cell just like Vince’s, staring across at some other student who they would soon be facing off against.

In Vince’s case, the boy who had entered was a few inches taller, and a few muscles broader, and a multitude of follicles shorter. His head was perfectly bald, drawing more attention to his striking face and frost-blue eyes. The only other person near them was a girl wearing a white uniform, staring down at them through the glass. She was one of the senior class, doing her duty of watching over the new recruits to make sure no one was killed. Serious injury wasn’t a concern since there were healers on hand, but no one could bring back the dead. At least, no one employed by Lander.

Vince and his opponent were both wearing black uniforms of a style similar to the girl watching them. It seemed the hierarchy at Lander was that freshmen wore black uniforms, sophomores and juniors wore grey, and the few seniors that managed to stay in class were issued white uniforms. This supposedly represented the students growing closer to the goodness and purity that all Heroes were meant to represent. Vince thought it was just that there was more training and fighting in the lower years and black didn’t stain as easily, but he kept that particular theory to himself.

“Introduce yourselves,” came a female voice from a speaker hidden somewhere in the concrete around them. It took Vince a moment, but he realized it had come from his overseer. Apparently there was some sort of intercom system set up for the rooms. It made sense; how else was someone going to talk to them through solid walls?

“My name is Michael Clark,” said Vince’s opponent, a broad and confident smile smearing across his face.

“Vince Reynolds,” said Vince.

“I like your hair,” Michael commented.

“I like your... style,” Vince reciprocated as best he could.

Michael laughed. “I know it’s a bit odd, but you know how that goes, right? What can I say; I just love feeling the cold air against my head.”

Vince said nothing, merely kept sweeping his eyes over Michael, trying to get some sense of what the boy would be doing once the metaphorical bell sounded. He didn’t have to wait long to find out.

“Begin,” said the same, crackling intercom voice. Vince resisted the urge to look around for the speaker again and that discipline was all that saved him. Before the word was even done being spoken, Michael had reared his right arm back and was punching in Vince’s direction. Granted, since there was forty feet between the two of them, it was a ridiculous gesture that shouldn’t have endangered Vince in the slightest. Vince leapt to the side anyway.

A flash of blue light roared past him, striking the wall where he had been standing only moments before. A quick peek back showed Vince that a long chunk of the wall was now coated in ice. Someone who had cold-based powers. Freaking perfect.

“I’m impressed,” Michael complimented. “Not many people think to get out of the way of a punch from across the room.”

“I try to prepare for the worst case scenario,” Vince admitted.

“Let me know if that helps you,” Michael said as he balled up both of his fists. “Because to be honest, fighting me in the first round is the worst case scenario for anyone.”

Vince didn’t respond this time; instead he took off running. Michael was a good shot with those freezing punches of his, but he was still shooting from forty feet away. Vince was quick on his feet, and more importantly he had a lot of practice at running away, so he was able to stay a few steps ahead of each punch as it went out.

Michael was no slouch either, though; he began looking to where Vince was running and firing ahead of him. More than once Vince was only saved by a quick roll to the side or a slide underneath. The only upside was that the more Michael fired, the more Vince began to get his timing down. Michael needed to take a deep breath between every two punches, though whether it was part of his fighting style or just a necessary moment to recharge Vince was unsure. The good thing was that every time he took that breath, Vince had a moment to pause and see where Michael’s eyes were aiming. The only real chance Vince had was to wear Michael down slowly until his endurance was thin. Using powers still seeming to require him to use physical actions, so if Vince could get Michael gasping for air then he might have a chance at getting close to him.

Unfortunately, it seemed Michael had figured that out, too.

“What the hell is your power?” Michael asked as he threw two more freezing punches that Vince leapt over. “Running away?”

Vince said nothing, conserving his air for movement, not talking.

“If this is all you can do then you should just give up,” Michael chastised him. “So you’ve got a weak power. That doesn’t mean you should jump around and make an ass of yourself because you’re up against a real opponent.” To punctuate his words, Michael let loose another flurry that crashed at Vince’s feet.

Vince hurdled over the fast-forming ice and kept moving. He realized the problem with his strategy the moment he was away from the slicked ground behind him. The more punches Michael threw, the more ice formed around the room, which made running away increasingly difficult. Already small pillars and blocks of ice were forming where more than one punch had landed. If Vince didn’t bring this to a conclusion soon, he was going to run out of room to dodge.

“Damn it,” Michael cursed. “I don’t care if you can’t fight. Just give up so I can move onto an opponent with some skill.”

Michael threw another right at Vince’s feet, forcing him up into the air, then threw a left punch toward Vince, who was suspended in the mid-jump. On instinct, Vince hurled his upper body forward, turning a midair somersault and dodging the blue blast that would be blaring down below him in mere instants. But the blast didn’t come. Vince crooked his eye back to Michael to see him standing there with an extended left fist and a pulled back right one.

Michael hadn’t used a blast out of his left hand; it had been a feint, which meant he still had one to throw. Michael’s right arm shot back out just before Vince’s feet touched the ground. The concrete below was instantly frozen, impossible to get traction on. Vince was on it only for a moment before his leftover momentum sent him flying onto and across the concrete. As he skidded along the hard surface, Vince tried to think. Michael would have to take a breath now, which meant Vince had maybe an extra second to get to safety. There was no way Vince could scramble up in time; he’d be a sitting target. What other options did that leave him?

As he rolled along the ground, he noticed he was near a moderate-sized block of ice that had been built up by Michael’s attacks. It wouldn’t be much in the way of cover, but it was a better option than anything else Vince had. Rather than trying to get up, Vince used his window to keep rolling, picking up the speed and veering his course so that he was able to stop himself directly behind the ice block.

The crashing sound of energy accompanied by the cracking sound of growing ice told Vince he had made it just in time. Several more crashes followed, ironically building more ice and reinforcing Vince’s defensive wall. Moments later the sounds stopped.

“So you’ve resorted to hiding now? Is this the best you’ve got? You must have some kind of ability or you wouldn’t be here. How about you try using it?” Michael taunted. “What is it, then, are you just scared of fighting?”

Vince let Michael talk; it bought him precious time. He checked his body and found that aside from a bloody lip, the fall had given him minimal damage. Vince knew he couldn’t stay like this for long; it left him utterly vulnerable if Michael were to come around to this side. Michael was still being a bit cautious because he didn’t know what Vince’s power was, but that wouldn’t last forever. The wear-down approach wouldn’t work; Michael could destroy the terrain before he got tired. So, in lacking any sort of reliable defense, Vince decided to use the next best thing.

Pure. Offense.

“You seem to be mistaken,” Vince said as he pulled himself up carefully from behind the ice block. “Our powers work in contrast to each other, that’s why I’ve been taking the defensive. It was the smart move until I understood your tactics. Let me assure of one thing right now, though.”

Vince slowly, deliberately wiped away the blood from his mouth with the back of his fist. “I know how to fight.”