Alice rocketed through the air as fast as she dared move with Mary’s thankfully light frame clutched in her grasp. She didn’t know how the small girl was still asleep, though she was smart enough to guess it had something to do with the metal headband wrapped around her skull. Alice glanced behind her to see if Coach George was somehow following her. She’d been so shocked when he lifted off the ground that the rock had slipped from her grasp. It was fortunate Nick had fired in time for the plan to work so she could steal Mary away in the confusion. Still, she had no idea how they were going to keep him busy long enough for her and Mary to get away.
Alice slowed the pace at which she was cutting through the air. She needed to get Mary awake, which meant stopping to take off the headband. It was a risk, because Coach George might catch up to her in the time it took. Alice thought it was even riskier to continue through all this without Mary’s help, though. Vince had assured her they could handle Coach George. Alice slowed to a hover and she lightly descended to the ground.
She would trust in her friends.
* * *
George skirted another fireball and nearly stepped into a column of focused flames. George wasn’t someone who normally feared a little heat; however, the flames that Reynolds was pumping out were intense enough to make him concerned for his inner circuitry. He pulled back and raised his arm to take aim, but the burning road made getting a precise bead on his target quite difficult. It certainly didn’t help that Vince’s attacks didn’t need to be precise to be troublesome, as the boy had clearly spent his two weeks crafting the art of the area blast. Before George could get a shot off, a blazing wall rose up in front of him, obscuring his vision entirely.
Vince soon burst through it, reabsorbing the energy around him while doling out new bursts of power. So far the dance of these two warriors had been one of distance by necessity. Vince was keeping the area around him at high enough temperatures that George would sustain damage to enter it. This kept the older combatant’s exceptional strength and skill restrained while giving Vince a temporary advantage. George knew the kid never absorbed too much power, so sooner or later he would run dry and George could put a swift end to this foolishness. Vince released another flurry and George hurried to get out of the way.
From a safe distance Nick watched calmly as the world burned around him. Most people probably would have been surprised to see Vince fare so well against his former coach, given his performance all year. Nick was not one of those people. He had long ago noticed the pattern that indicated Vince was an “all on the line” kind of fighter. He was good most of the time, yet he could never tap into his true potential. That was, of course, unless his back was to the wall. Then the guy could come out of his corner swinging. And if it was his friends in danger instead of himself... well, that was when you saw what good ole Silver was really made of.
Still, he couldn’t keep this pace up forever and they both knew it. Even if the fire’s energy didn’t run out, his own eventually would. He was using a lot of movement to try and keep George on the defensive and that would take its toll. Nick had originally planned to get to the truck and slip Hershel some whiskey; however, a series of poorly timed fireballs had cut him off from access to it. That was okay; Nick knew he would get the chance to play his roll soon enough. He just hoped it was at a point before all hope of victory was lost.
* * *
“Come on, come on, wake up already,” Alice said, bobbing through the air. She’d peeled the band off of Mary and taken back to the skies; however, the telepath had remained unresponsive.
“They need you, Mary. We need you. I need you. I don’t know what to do without you,” Alice pleaded to the unconscious form cradled in her arms. “I don’t know if I should even be running away right now. I know I can’t help, and I’d only be a distraction, but... I’m tired of only being good at running away.”
Alice moved upward in the air, hoping the chilly breeze would snap Mary into the waking world.
“You know when you fought Chad in the midterms and I ran away? I hated that, and I almost came back. Nick convinced me that sometimes being a Hero means knowing when to retreat, though. Knowing how to apply your assets so that don’t they get in each other’s way. Looking back at that moment now I can’t believe I fell for that bullshit. Then again, I fell for a lot of his bullshit. God, Mary, please wake up already. I want to talk to you, to tell about everything that’s happened, to get your opinion on what I should do. But most of all I want to save our damn friends. And I can’t do that. We need you.”
Alice began flying faster, causing the wind to tear at her eyes and whip her hair about violently.
“We need you, Mary. So please wake up.”
* * *
George got off a series of shots, driving Reynolds back as he rolled away. It was bad luck that George’s projectiles were bolts of energy, but good luck that Reynolds had never experimented with his repertoire enough to see if he could absorb them. Now was not the time to try and find out, so the kid had to dodge. Finally given a bit of breathing room, George decided he had wasted enough time with this grudge match. There was no doubt he could still outfly the Adair girl, but every minute this went on meant finding her would be more difficult. Since Reynolds seemed to still have gas in the tank, George decided on an alternate method for victory.
He dashed toward the truck, able to leap past the surrounding flames that had deterred Nick, and hopped in the back. He emerged moments later, right arm holding Hershel’s battered body and left arm wrapped around his throat, choking off any protests Hershel might have been voicing. For good measure, George finally used his thrusters and rose several feet into the air.
“Enough!” George screamed at his top volume. “Unless you’re in the mood for barbecued hostage, I’d refrain from any more pyrotechnics.”
Vince stopped in his tracks, a half-formed fireball reabsorbing into the hand that held it.
“There’s a good student, finally doing as you’re told,” George said from his airborne perch. “I swear, kid, if you’d shown that much spirit through the year you could have been second in the class.”
Vince returned his verbal volley with only a vicious stare.
“No demands that I release your friend? Good, glad we’re past that phase. Now, here is what is going to happen. I’m going to fly off with your buddy in my possession. When I catch up with Alice, I’m going to trade him out for Mary. I’m then going to fly away and you all are never going to see me again. Clear?”
Vince only glowered at the metallic man hovering in the air.
“Don’t be such a sore loser, kid. Maybe you should have paid more attention in the dean’s boring class. I mean, didn’t it ever occur to you that I might use the one of you without powers as a human shield?”
“As a matter of fact, it did,” Nick quipped from twenty feet away on George’s right.
Nick’s revolver barked its second shot and Hershel forced out a strangled scream of pain.