Chapter 181

Vince and Camille didn’t talk much as they moved through the arena. They’d run into Alex, who had told them of the need to move toward to the depository; however, after that brief discussion they’d lapsed back into silence. One could make the argument that this was out of necessity, since they were sneaking across terrain where enemies could come from any direction. That theory wasn’t wrong, not entirely, but it failed to capture the true awkwardness of the silence that had descended upon them.

Vince turned at every noise, halting their progress. He was on alert, beginning to verge on paranoid, determined not to be taken by surprise again. It might not have made a difference against Shane, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t make a difference against the next opponent. He was out of second chances. If he screwed up again then failure was inevitable.

The two crept past a thick patch of bushes, walking into a clearing they hadn’t expected to be there. Waiting for them was a pair of figures, quite possibly the last coupling they’d expected to see.

“Nick?” Vince pulled himself to a standing position. His dorm mate smiled back at him, but it wasn’t the smile Vince was used to seeing. There was something different about him, something far more disconcerting than the glowing eyes.

“Just in time,” Nick said, jerking his prisoner to his feet. “By my count we have less than twenty minutes until the depository becomes active.”

“Why did you tie up Rich?” Vince asked. He heard Camille walk into the clearing behind him, then felt her tense up unexpectedly. This was their friend, so why were both of them getting such a sense of danger from the situation?

“For what it’s worth, Vince, I didn’t want to do it this way. I sincerely hoped you’d be able to pull things off on your own. Unfortunately, sometimes even the purest of intentions need a little help from people on my side.” Nick made a quick motion with his hand, one so subtle Vince barely noticed it.

Vince opened his mouth to ask for more clarity then saw a more attention-catching movement: a flutter of grey cloth floating to the ground. He glanced at it, only for a second, but a pair of eyes was waiting to meet his, and then it was over.

Nick snatched the cloth from the air as Vince froze, securing it once more around Rich’s eyes in a manner of moments.

“You gave him exactly what I told you to, right?”

“I included the entire framework. His own mind has to supply the details,” Rich answered, his voice strained. “For now, he’ll follow basic direction. Once I look into his eyes again, his subconscious will start the scenario and he’ll begin moving on his own.”

“That gift of yours never ceases to amaze me.”

“Nick,” Camille said hesitantly, noticing the way Vince had frozen in place. “What did you do?”

“I made a bet against long odds,” he replied simply. “Come on, we need to get moving. The rest of the teams will be gathering around the depository soon.”

“I would really like to know what you’ve done.” Camille was working hard to keep calm, but after her day so far she could hardly be blamed for a bit of worry.

“You’ll know soon enough,” Nick said, moving Rich toward the clearing’s edge. “Everyone will know quite a bit, in fact.” His prisoner set for movement, Nick walked back over to Vince, who was unmoved from the spot he’d been standing.

Nick patted his frozen friend on the shoulder. “I suppose we should get you in position. I know you can hear me right now, although I have no idea if you’ll remember any of this. If so, I just wanted to take the opportunity to tell you that you’ve been a great friend, and I’ll do all I can to watch over you out there.”

“Nick, seriously, you are freaking me out,” Camille said.

“Babe, you aren’t nearly as freaked as you should be,” Rich muttered under his breath.

“That's enough,” Nick snapped. “Complain afterwards. Right now, it’s time for action.”

*    *    *

Roy, Alice, Mary, and a somewhat downtrodden Alex huddled together near the edge of the tree line that faced the depository. The bright beam of red light surged from a metallic box in the center of a clearing all the way up to the ceiling. Mary could hear the thoughts of others drawing near, hiding themselves amongst the trees until some signal was given. It would be a mad dash for the box. Theoretically someone could easily go stand atop it now, but giving away one’s position would be suicide. Too many of their classmates had ranged abilities, and until an orb was deposited, it could still be stolen.

Mary heard the thoughts of an impending trio and prepared to get everyone in defensive formation, then realized there was no need. Nick, Camille, and a blindfolded Rich reached them a few minutes later, all but Nick looking some manner of peeved or disheveled.

“Where’s Vince?” Alex whispered. Theoretically no one was close enough to hear them, but with Amber in the mix, it was always better to play it safe.

“He ran off,” Camille whispered back. “Nick made Rich put some vision on him and he went darting off.”

“Rich’s visions immobilize people,” Alice reminded her.

“Only if he wants them to,” Nick corrected. His own tone was as loud as usual; he made no attempts to lower it. His eyes had dimmed as he appeared, going almost back to their normal boring color of brown. Finding the group had taken some luck, as had locating Rich and running into Vince. So far his luck had panned out, giving him the outcomes he was hoping for. There was still one last task to complete, and he was going to need every scrap of energy he had to pull it off.

“Okay, so where did you send Vince?” Mary asked, her tone curt. She was clearly getting tired of not knowing what was going on.

“Um, I think I can answer that one,” Roy said, pointing past a thick trunk they were using to stay hidden. The others followed the direction of his finger, and what met their gaze was not a sight any of them would have hoped to see.

Standing next to the depository, in full view of all the opponents watching and waiting, was Vince Reynolds. He should have been bracing for attack, instead he was staring down at the metal box as though it held the secret to eternal life.

“Nick, you had better come up with a real good explanation, and I mean now,” Mary threatened.

“I would, if only there were time. I’m afraid we should get moving. The show is about to start.”