When he looked back on it later, Alex would realize that it was the same innocent curiosity formed during their relationship that allowed Selena to sneak up on him. Just as he had wondered if it was possible to deflect her ability, she’d tried to see if there was a way to avoid detection from his. It would take him some time longer to understand just how she’d done it, that she’d figured out he sensed the emotions and general sense of a person more than their specific thoughts and that she’d sung a song of emptiness to push those things down in all who heard it, but none of that information was available to him at the moment. All Alex knew was that he should have been safe, should have been far from anyone else as he moved toward the direction of Tiffani and Amber; however, he still rolled to the side when he heard a crackling sound from behind him.
The training with Alice and Mary might not have increased his raw force as much as they’d hoped, but it had damn sure helped train his reflexes. Alex jumped up and spun around, noticing a small smoking spot on the ground where he’d been standing, and faced the opponent who’d managed to sneak up on him. Jill stood there, her arm still raised and a small device glowing on her gauntlet. She was barely recognizable; the suit she wore had clearly undergone some serious modifications. It gleamed in the fake sunlight, dark metal flowing across her body, little notches and bumps giving away the various devices that she could call to action with a mere thought. All of it was topped off by a helmet with two barely-visible eye slots. It should have greatly obstructed her vision, but Alex knew Will’s craftsmanship too well to count on such an oversight.
“Nice dodge,” Jill said, her voice somewhat muffled by the apparatus enclosing her head. “You’re getting better.”
“You, too; you’ll have to tell me how you managed to avoid my mental detection,” Alex replied. As he spoke, he brought down the same telekinetic force he’d used on Will in the second match, pressing on her like she was a sandwich in a panini press. Unlike Will, she didn’t immediately buckle. Her suit had either been formatted to increase her strength or somehow counter this exact strategy; knowing Will it was probably both. She did begin to go down slowly, her shoulders hunching and knees buckling outward. He was about to turn up the pressure when the song hit his ears. It was a song of slumber, one that made his head swim with visions of soft pillows and thick blankets.
He glanced to the tree line and sure enough, there was Selena, singing her siren’s lullaby. Alex switched into sound repelling mode, but the necessary focus meant he had to release Jill, who immediately called forth two new glowing devices to the gauntlets around her wrists.
“You were right,” Jill called to her teammate. “Having Will create a sound negation device was a good idea.” The handy doodad allowed her to fight in close proximity to Selena without falling under her spell unless Jill willingly deactivated the system. It was a good thing, too. Alex’s ability meant he could very effectively counter either one of the girls in combat. Both of them working in tandem, on the other hand, now that was a task they doubted he’d be able to handle.
* * *
“Things aren’t going too hot, are they?”
Mary glanced at Nick, whose face wore an expression of practiced disinterest. If he’d been asking because he cared, one wouldn’t know it from looking at him. Mary was used to that part; what concerned her was how unsurprised he seemed at the idea that their team was in trouble. It was especially impressive since she hadn’t given him any updates since they separated.
“How did you know?”
“I didn’t, I merely suspected. You’d be feeding me information about each person’s victories if they were having any. Since you’re silent I’m assuming it means they’ve hit a few obstacles.”
“Too soon to tell,” Mary replied. “But a few of them are in some tough fights. Vince and Camille are facing Shane, Alice is squaring off with Violet, Roy and Thomas are about to throw down, and Alex just got ambushed by Selena and Jill, with one of Julia’s clones watching from a safe distance.”
Nick made a clicking sound somewhere in his throat. “Fuck. That is not an ideal lineup for us.”
“A couple of them could swing our way.”
“Sure, but not the most important one.”
“I think you’re underestimating Vince,” Mary said.
“I doubt it,” Nick shot back. “I’ve spent more time working with him than anyone else in this group. I’ve run endless scenarios in my head to try and prep him for as many of them that are winnable as possible. I think it’s safe to say that right now I know Vince’s abilities better than anyone else, himself included.”
“Except his father,” Mary pointed out.
“Allegedly. That cute little tip hasn’t been proven yet.”
Nick gave a curt nod. “Keep me updated on their fight. Once I know how it shakes out, I’ll know how to proceed.”
“You have a plan for if he loses?”
“I have a plan for everything. I have a plan for Zeus blasting down through the ceiling and declaring himself the king of Naples. Just because I have one doesn’t make it particularly good.”
“I see.” They walked in silence for a bit longer, Mary redirecting them a few times as their target changed direction. Eventually Mary’s curiosity was too much, and reading Nick’s mind was no help as he was purposely obfuscating by doing complex math in his head.
“So, are you going to tell me what the plan is?”
“Make an offering to Nyarlathotep, one of the ancient dark gods of the abyss, to come and challenge Zeus for the throne. I figure if one god is real, why not others? While they duke it out, I hightail myself to safety. Then avoid Naples for the rest of my life.”
“I meant what’s the plan for if Vince loses?”
“Oh, I’m not going to share that one,” Nick said. “You’d hate it anyway. Far too much of a long shot.”