Chapter 172

Roy didn’t have much of a plan as he jogged through the patches of forest. He knew he didn’t want to get near the giant pillar of red light; it was too early for anyone to be congregating around it. He also knew that any attempts at stealth were a waste of time. Roy didn’t want to go unnoticed, he wanted to fight. So instead of creeping and crawling along the ground, he just jogged casually in a wide circle around the beacon. He figured sooner or later he was bound to run into someone. If it was Julia, that would work, and if it was anyone else, he would make do. What he really wanted was to run into someone like Chad or Shane, someone he could truly pit his new strength against. Roy didn’t exactly get his wish, but it wasn’t too far off.

He felt his leg go out from under him as it was jerked quickly into the air. He found himself hanging upside down, a bright orange hand of energy wrapped around his ankle leading along a glowing path back to Thomas. The two looked at each other in silence for a moment, two warriors taking the measure of their opponent. Roy had never fought Thomas, but he knew the boy’s ability from Vince and Alex’s match against him in the maze. He didn’t imagine this would be too hard.

“You aren’t very quiet when you run,” Thomas observed.

“Nope,” Roy agreed.

“I suppose that means they didn’t give you an orb.”

“Go figure, they didn’t think I would do a good job of staying hidden.”

“You’re going to tell me which of your teammates has it.”

Roy flashed Thomas an upside down grin. “You’re welcome to make me try, but I gotta warn you: I’ve gotten a lot stronger than the last time anyone saw me fight.”

“You don’t say.” Thomas gathered his internal energy and prepared for the impending battle. Roy was a powerful opponent; he always had been. But unbeknownst to Roy, his team didn’t have a monopoly on people finding new ways to use their skills.

*    *    *

Vince and Camille were walking with care through the brush, trying as best they could to muffle their movements. He was far more adept than she was: a life of sneaking onto and off of railway lines will impart a generous amount of talent in stealth. However, even Vince wasn’t quite good enough to avoid detection. Neither of them heard their attacker approach, neither of them saw the practiced flick of his wrist. The first clue Vince had that they’d been attacked was the searing pain that ripped through his left leg. He let out a gasp and tumbled forward. Camille reached for him but found herself thrown backward, landing in a heavy heap ten feet away from her fallen friend.

“I loathe sneak attacks,” Shane said, stepping out from a small pine cluster and into a clear area. “I sincerely do. Even knowing they’re a recognized piece of strategy, they still make me feel dirty. I’m sorry I had to use one, but Vince is simply too dangerous to fight head on.”

The dangerous man in question was currently pushing through his pain. He tried to pull himself up and discovered that his right leg was worthless. Somehow Shane had cut his Achilles tendon, leaving the appendage unable to bear any of his weight. He ignored it, years of training kicking into place as he steadied his mind and began to take aim.

“None of that,” Shane said, another jerk of his hand precipitating a yelp of pain from Vince. This time Camille saw what happened: Vince’s shadow contracted into a thin blade of vibrating darkness, leaping up from the ground and cutting into his shoulder.

“I don’t mean to be cruel, but I’m not letting you work past the pain enough for a clear shot. Just surrender your orb if you have one, or tell me who I should be hunting. I’ll still have to incapacitate you, but there is no reason to make that process any more painful than possible,” Shane explained. He jerked his hand once more.

This time it was Camille who had to stifle a shout as she felt her leg go numb. This sent her crashing to the ground face first, since she’d been trying to sneak over to Vince and Shane.

“I can’t let you do that either, Camille. Look, you are both very pleasant people and I bear you no ill will. Please don’t make this hard on yourselves.”

Had Vince’s face not been pointed toward the ground Shane would have seen the silver-haired boy’s eyes nearly watering with effort. He might not have understood that Vince was thinking of all the people counting on him, of having to stand by while Shane incapacitated Camille, of feeling useless. What he would have gotten, almost assuredly, was some sort of warning about what Vince was trying to do. It likely wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Vince was already resolved. If Shane wouldn’t let him get off a clean shot, he would just have to settle for a dirty one.

Vince clutched his hands into fists and summoned up a torrent of fire that would have made a volcano feel impotent.

*    *    *

Alice decided after the first few minutes that Mary’s idea to take the high ground wasn’t such a bad one. After all, anything she saw would be available to the telepaths, which would help them coordinate their search for the orb holders. Besides, Alice was a flier at heart; trudging along on the ground when the air was accessible just held no appeal to her.

She shot above the trees quickly, lest one of their ranged opponents get off a lucky shot, then slowed her ascent as she got clear of a surprise attack range. The ceiling was still some ways above her, though as she rose higher she could make out the blue paint and spaced out lights used to illuminate the field and create the illusion of a sky overhead. It was an impressive piece of work, but one that lost its luster when one drew too close. Alice was so absorbed in looking at the ceiling that she nearly missed the other human figure floating over to her.

“Fancy seeing you here,” Violet greeted. “Guess we had the same idea.”

“You can fly?”

“I can do a lot of things. Now how about you hand over the orb I’m sure you’re packing and I won’t have to show them to you.”

Alice felt her lips draw tight as a mischievous grin crept across her face. Oh hell yes, this was going to be good.