Chapter 179

Rich might have heard his assailant coming if he hadn’t been distracted by Julia’s clone talking. He might have seen him if his gaze hadn’t been drawn by smoke rising to the north. He might have still had a shot if he’d gotten that prickling sensation of being watched before the taser sent its searing voltage into his back. None of those things happened, which only goes to show that a power which can merely affect probability still has its uses. By the time Rich recovered, he realized his hands had been bound behind his back and a thick strip of cloth was tied against his head, covering his eyes.

“Julia! Call for help!”

“So sorry, your energy clone has been disconnected. Please pick up a fresh one and try again later.”

Rich felt the tension he hadn’t noticed in his shoulders loosen. Being captured was bad. Having his eyes covered was worse. But if he was only caught by Nick, then he didn’t have much to worry about. The guy had caught a few lucky breaks, obviously, but he was nothing to get worked up over.

“Did you shock her too?”

“Cracked her over the head with a branch. I’m afraid she’s completely dissipated already.” Nick’s voice was coming from behind Rich, and it was calm. Actually, this was the first time Rich remembered Nick not coming off as flippant, joking, or sarcastic in some manner.

“That was stupid. If it had been the real one you might have gotten disqualified, not to mention seriously hurt her.”

“A calculated risk. I needed access to you, and I couldn’t risk her relaying to the others what was about to happen.”

“You leaving me captured and useless?” The tension was creeping back into Rich. Something wasn’t right. Ambushing him might have been Nick’s style, but the rest of this, the careful bindings, the ruthless dispatching of Julia’s clone, it didn’t sit right.

Nick laughed, and something in Rich’s stomach turned. “I’m not leaving you anywhere. You’re going to be a very helpful part in making sure my team wins.”

Rich snorted and felt Nick draw closer. Nick leaned in closely, his mouth less than an inch from Rich’s ear. Briefly he contemplated a head butt; however, he doubted Nick was as open as he seemed. This was all too calculated for him to make an error like that.

“I don’t want anyone to overhear this part,” Nick whispered, his breath hot on Rich’s ear. “It also wouldn’t do for them to read my lips later from some hidden camera’s video, so forgive the proximity. When they ask you about this later, you should tell them this is where I threatened to kill you.”

Rich gulped, not because he thought Nick was actually making that threat, but because some part of him understood he wouldn’t be telling him to lie if he wasn’t about to threaten something worse.

“In fact, this is where I tell you that I also employ a hidden camera or two from time to time. Like that time before winter break where I paid you and Adam to come incapacitate and then impersonate Vince to take his test for him.”

“But-” Rich’s next words never left his mouth; they were superseded by a cry of pain as Nick reached down and pulled back his pinky until it snapped.

“Your mouth isn’t covered. You don’t get to talk. Sorry about that, but at least that will make this look real.”

Rich whimpered softly, but otherwise took the cue and remained silent.

“Now then, I’m sure you were going to say that if I really did have that tape, then turning it in would get both Adam and me in trouble, too. You’re certainly correct there; however, you’re also operating under the delusion that I give two fucks about staying here. In that regard, you are woefully wrong. So here is what is going to happen. You will stand up and loudly protest that you’re not telling me where the orb is. That will keep the professors from intervening when they notice I’ve taken you prisoner. If you try and yell about me threatening your life right now, then they’ll save you. And then I’ll show them you committing extreme academic fraud for money, all but guaranteeing the end of your career as a Hero. If you play along, on the other hand, I promise to give you that video file and make sure you come out blameless when the dust settles. Your choice.”

Rich felt himself being pulled up, and while the force was rough, there was evidently care to make sure he got his footing and didn’t fall down. A sharp pain came from the broken finger in his hand. This was insane; this couldn’t really be happening. He was a Super, a skilled warrior. He couldn’t have been taken prisoner, have been made utterly useless so easily. And by Nick of all people! But... the scam to help Vince had been smart. The more Rich thought about it, the more it started making sense. Despite his demeanor, didn’t Nick always seem to come out ahead? Everyone had brushed it off as luck, but maybe...

Nick cleared his throat and brushed Rich’s broken finger, sending more pain through it. He was supposed to deliver the line about the orb: that was Nick reminding him. He could still call for help. The professors would let a certain amount slide, this was a brutal game by its nature, however this had to be more than they’d tolerate. He could get free, but if Nick was telling the truth, his career as a Hero would be destroyed. So it came down to whether or not he thought Nick was so cunning a person that he would record his own illicit activities in case he needed to blackmail his compatriots later. Rich didn’t think he was. Of course, he also didn’t think Nick was the type to do any of the things that had passed in the last five minutes. So, was he willing to risk it?

“Let me go, damn it! I’m not telling you who has the orb!”

“Fine then; I’m still keeping you with me to make sure you don’t get free,” Nick replied loudly. Rich could imagine the smug look on his face, and to his credit, he got it almost exactly right. The part he missed he can hardly be blamed for: only a select few people knew that Nick’s eyes glowed with golden light when he used his power.

Right now, resting atop that calculated smug expression, they blazed like a pair of twin suns.