Chapter 176

Roy and Thomas had never squared off before, though they’d spent enough time in the same social circle that each was familiar with the other’s abilities. At least, that’s what Roy thought before their match began. He’d expected to be battling against energy tendrils or maybe some straight up blast attacks. What he hadn’t expected was that Thomas might have been expanding his own repertoire since the match with Vince and Alex over a year ago.

The tree shattered as Roy was hurled through it, splinters tearing his uniform but failing to pierce his skin. Idly Roy wondered if he’d be holding up so well had this fight happened earlier in the year. He highly doubted it; right now the only thing keeping him conscious was the amount of damage he could take, and even that was beginning to reach its limits. He pulled himself up from the grassy ground and looked around, trying to locate his opponent. It didn’t take long; the one drawback of Thomas’s technique was that it made him easy to spot.

Thomas was walking toward Roy, ignoring any challenges the terrain might have presented to slow him down. It would be impossible to say what expression was draped across his face, since it, along with the rest of his body, was hidden beneath the orange energy that enveloped his entire form. It moved with him, surrounding and protecting the body beneath. Roy suspected he might be able to punch through it, but that would require getting up close and personal, a task at which he had thus far been highly unsuccessful.

Roy sprinted forward, closing the gap between him and Thomas as quickly as possible. He made it to within ten feet before a beam of energy leapt forth from Thomas’s hand and enveloped his legs. The taller boy was swept off his feet and chunked into another poor tree, which exploded on impact. A quick hop to his feet and Roy was running again. They’d been playing this game for some time now, and it didn’t seem like it would end any time soon. Still, Roy hadn’t quite lost hope yet. The first time he’d only been able to get within fifteen feet of Thomas.

He was getting closer. Now he just had to close the gap before Thomas found a way to put him down for good.

*    *    *

Alex grabbed the biggest thing near him - in this case a smoldering hunk of tree from Jill’s last missed shot - and telekinetically tossed it in Selena’s direction. The throw was wild; however, it landed near enough that she had to scramble to stay clear. That created a break in her song, which gave Alex a much needed moment of respite.

Sweat poured down his face and the beginnings of what would ultimately culminate in a hellacious headache were starting to manifest. A year ago he wouldn’t have even been in this good of shape. Mary always envied Alex’s level of control, but at the moment he was more thankful for his ability to multitask. Fending off Selena’s song and Jill’s blasters simultaneously was taking every bit of focus he could muster. He was managing not to go down; however, using all his resources for defense left him also no opportunity to counterattack. If he didn’t think of something soon then it was just a matter of running down the clock to his inevitable defeat.

Jill fired off another few rounds, two of which Alex dodged and the other he deflected. Without his telepathy he might have been hosed: fighting back all the sound around him meant he didn’t get any audible warnings of her movements. Only keeping tabs on her mind was giving him notice to defend. Even that strategy had a downside, because in this small of an area, listening to her mind meant feeling Selena’s as well, something he’d been trying very hard not to do since their breakup.

There was no softness in that head of hers, no inclination to go easy on him in this battle for the sake of old emotions. Selena was a sophomore in the HCP; she never would have gotten this far if she couldn’t divorce duty from sentiment. There wasn’t any anger, either, something he’d honestly expected, despite the reason for breaking up. It wouldn’t have been rational, but in Alex’s experience, people very rarely were when the heart was involved. No, none of that was bouncing around in Selena’s mind, likely because there was no room for it. Instead, her head was overflowing with love and regret.

He could feel it all: the depth of love she’d been surprised to find she had for him, the fear at something so serious so soon, the hasty rebellion to try and distance herself through a stupid drunken action, and the loss she’d been gripped with upon realizing what she’d destroyed. In a different time, in a different place, it might have motivated him to have a cup of coffee with her, to see if there was anything left for them to put back together. Unfortunately for both of them, this was not that time or that place. All Alex could feel at that moment was a wish that she would bottle her shit up so he could concentrate.

A flurry of excitement overtook Jill as she took aim for another volley. This time there were only two shots. One was far enough away to sidestep; the other would have to be deflected. He was about to grip it when he realized that only the first shot had been energy; the one heading toward him was a metal canister the size of half a soda can. Before Alex was able to react, the small canister exploded and his entire world went white.

It took a moment to realize he wasn’t burned or harmed, but from the searing sensation in his eyeballs, it felt like he had been.

“Flash grenade Will designed. You should regain vision in five to ten minutes,” Jill informed him helpfully.

Alex had just enough time to wonder how he was able to hear her then realized that his concentration had been disintegrated, along with his vision, before Selena’s song took hold. He slumped to the ground wordlessly.

Selena ceased her singing and walked over to him. She took off his jacket, singed in a few places for shots Jill nearly landed, and folded it into a thick square. Delicately lifting his head, she tucked the makeshift pillow under his cranium before turning back to her teammate.

Julia came up to them during this time, one of many clones scattered with the teams. She had to keep away from the actual battle, since if she was seriously hurt she would dissipate and they would lose their connection to the rest of the team.

“Let’s go find another one,” Selena said, her face largely expressionless.

Jill nodded her agreement, and the three set off for their next battle.