Chapter 187

While the bright orange glow enveloping Thomas would normally have made stealth a distant impossibility, the downside to Vince’s outpouring of flames was that orange light didn’t exactly stand out in his field of vision. In fact, given the circumstances, Thomas’s energy armor was quite possibly the best camouflage he could have asked for. That was why he was able to close the gap and draw near his opponents without having to waste too much energy diverting fire or electricity. The area around him still required dealing with; however, Vince offered no direct assaults before Thomas got in range for his own attack.

He wasted no time, slamming Vince with a fist of orange energy, then immediately enveloping the silver-haired student in a cocoon of the stuff. Unlike during their fight freshman year, Thomas did not grab only his opponent’s torso. This time he wrapped Vince from head to toe, with a few open spots beneath the feet to allow air flow. Thomas had been taken by surprise when Vince fired from his eyes once before; it was a not a mistake he was eager to repeat.

It wasn’t until Vince was entirely imprisoned and suspended ten feet above the ground that Thomas allowed himself any sense of relief. This hadn’t been how he wanted a rematch with Vince, but his friend was causing too much damage and firing too indiscriminately. If no one stopped him there was a good chance he would really hurt somebody. Deep within Thomas’s core, he might have been willing to admit that part of the reason he’d undertaken this fight was as a test to see if he had what it took to bring down the man who had so far deflected all challengers. Call it hubris, pride, or simple curiosity: Thomas had wanted to test himself, and he was rather pleased with the results.

A crackling sound filled the air, originating from the cylindrical sphere that was currently encasing Vince. The next thing Thomas knew, a strange sensation was filling his body. He would struggle for months to accurately describe it, never quite managing to put into words how it felt. Many would suggest it was a sense of being drained, but that didn’t fit with what he’d experienced. Thomas would ultimately land on the word ‘peeled’ to encapsulate the sensation. It was like someone were peeling apart the layers of his very existence. It didn’t occur to him until after the fact to wonder where those layers were going.

Vince fell to the ground, landing carefully on his feet. He’d ceased the barrage of flames, yet he still glowed with an orange light, a strange effect from the arc of energy flowing to him from his former captor. Thomas’s armor dissolved, swept into the transfer before he had a chance to even think of some attempt at salvaging it. Then it was over; the arc had vanished and Thomas found himself staring across an all-too small distance at his friend, who was still glowing softly from the cascade of stolen power. He stared into those eyes, seeing the absolute malice naked within them. Thomas was never proud of his next action; however, he refused to be ashamed of it either. Given all that had happened to him in less than a minute, it was a perfectly sound tactical decision.

Thomas spun on his heel and ran like hell.

*    *    *

“Now that, I was not expecting,” Nick admitted, his breathing still surprisingly even for the speed at which he was moving while hauling along a prisoner.

“He really did what it looked like, right? He just absorbed Thomas’s energy,” Camille said, unable to keep the shock from her voice. She’d thought knocking away Chad had been the game-changer they were hoping for, but this was on a whole other level. Energy absorbers were rare, but Vince was hardly one of a kind. Her own type of absorption was far less common than his, in fact. That said, his kind were almost always limited to certain types of energy, and natural kinds at that. For him to be able to absorb such a broad spectrum was one thing. For Vince to be able to absorb the crafted energy of another Super, that probably put Vince in the top tier of known Supers.

“He did it all right,” Nick said. “Now let’s just make sure everyone gets the implications.” He came to a stop before a female form lying on the ground. It fluttered its eyes open at his approach; clearly the seeming slumber had only been a facade meant to make her appear helpless.

“How are you feeling, Amber?”

A painful groan was all that met their ears - clearly either the shock or the fire had impacted her ability to speak - though Nick noticed she was moving the fingers on her left hand into a position to snap if needed.

“No need for that; we come in peace. In fact, I’m going to offer to make you feel a lot better. You see, this is going to be over pretty soon, and when it ends there are a lot of people who need healing. You’re in pain, but you’re far from critical, so who knows how long it will be until your turn comes up? If you do me a small favor, however, I’ll have Camille heal you right here and now. Poof, no more burned skin.”

Amber stared at him with hard eyes; however, she moved her fingers in twirling motion, indicating for him to continue.

“All I want is for you to amplify my voice. I have an announcement to make, and it’s going to take a lot to be heard over this ruckus.”

She continued staring at him, giving no indication of acceptance or rejection. Nick could see the wheels spinning in her head, trying to figure out if this was some trick.

“We’ve only got around thirty seconds left, and if you think me yelling is going to do anything that Vince’s rampage hasn’t then you give me far more credit than even my impressive ego thinks I deserve,” he told her.

Finally Amber nodded her agreement. The nerves on her shoulder were too damaged to feel the light touch of Camille’s finger, but she immediately noticed the sense of relief as her pain began to wither into nothingness. Nick allowed her to be almost entirely patched up before motioning he was ready to begin.

He took a deep breath and surveyed the landscape one last time. His friends, still battling fiercely as time ran low, the scent of burning foliage that had become thick through the arena, the familiar sounds of combat, even as the point of it all became increasingly obscured. This was a madhouse, a place of carnage and insanity and utter disconnection from the real world. He’d loved it here.

“HEY, YOU FUCKING SUITS WATCHING THE SHOW!” Nick yelled, his already-hollered words blasting through the arena with incredible clarity. Amber definitely lived up to her side of the bargain, no question about that. He adjusted his tone slightly to allow for variation. “This is Nicholas Campbell. The silver-haired demon I've mind-controlled into beating the shit out of everyone who gets near him is Vince Reynolds. Former Powered. Adopted son of the villain Globe. Ass-kicking machine. My best friend.”

The last words Nick said more to himself than his audience, although Amber’s power carried them just the same. A brief chime sounded as the beam centered on the depository turned back to red. The window was closed. The match was over.

“You all just watched him knock back several top ranks, including Chad Taylor, our current king of the combat mountain. So I just wanted to ask you a quick question, while I had the opportunity.” Nick filled his lungs and raised his voice for one last bit of his speech. “WHO’S MIDDLE OF THE PACK NOW, MOTHER FUCKERS?!”