Chapter 41

Roy shook off an ice barrage and ran in swinging. Michael dodged to the side and retreated, quickly increasing the space between them. He let loose another flurry of freezing attacks which Roy didn’t even bother to avoid. They slowed him down a bit; however, the real problem dragging out this fight was Michael’s attack style. Instead of handling things head-on like he always had, Michael was using a ranged attack style and dodging like a spider monkey every time Roy came close enough to deliver a solid blow. Admittedly, Roy hadn’t sparred often with Michael in class, and given that he didn’t have enhanced strength or endurance it was a smart way to fight, yet something about it seemed to go in the face of the bald boy’s usual brash tactics.

Roy knew this was dragging on longer than it needed to, and the more time Alice spent up in the air, the more attention she was going to draw to them. He pushed off from his starting position and charged at Michael. It would open him up to getting frozen on vital parts of the anatomy; but that wouldn’t matter if he could land a good punch. Without even his ice-armor on to absorb the impact, Michael would be slowed significantly, if not crippled outright. All Roy had to do was make sure he targeted the appendages so he didn’t accidentally kill him.

Roy quickly closed the gap, taking a pair of freezing shots to his chest. He could feel the cold seep deep into his bones; however, it would take a lot more than that to stop Roy Daniels. He drew closer and readied himself to let fly, only to feel his footing go out from under him at the last moment. What should have been a fight-ender turned into a barely glancing shoulder blow as Michael slid away. Roy regained his balance and realized the ground beneath his run had been turned into solid ice. It was smart, it was crafty, and it confirmed what Roy had already begun to suspect.

“You had me going for a bit there,” Roy said, facing his opponent once more. “One thing, Michael would never think to take out someone’s footing on a charge. He’d be cooking up a way to beat them fist to fist.”

“Michael is something of an idiot,” Michael’s doppelganger agreed. “Strong, and with a useful power, but he lacks any real creative thinking.”

“I have to say, Adam, we figured you would take on Britney’s form,” Roy remarked.

“We’re weak on fighting people. It made more sense to double up on our heaviest hitter,” Adam/Michael said.

“Too bad you guys don’t have any real fighters,” Roy said. “I’m not going to take any joy in crushing you like this. You don’t have Michael’s training or experience in getting hit. You’re already favoring that shoulder. If you’d taken the form of someone like Chad or Stella you could have at least handled a few knocks.”

“It is indeed unfortunate that there are so few people with damage resistant bodies among us,” Adam/Michael agreed. “Hector’s rubbery form offers some protection, however it would have been quite inefficient against you. That’s all right; I’ve already found a way to put myself back in this fight.”

Before Roy could banter back, it was Adam/Michael’s turn to charge. He raced forward, freezing blasts flying ahead of him. Roy took one in the shoulder that formed into a solid block, and before he could recover another struck him directly in the face. There were a few dark, primitively terrifying moments when Roy couldn’t see or breathe. He kept his brain from going into panic mode with forced control and used his free arm to tear away the ice like it was little more than packing foam.

“Real cute, asshole,” Roy said, taking a deep gulp of air. “Too bad that’s not going to beat me.”

“Didn’t think it would,” Adam, just Adam, replied. “But as you said, for this fight to be any good, I need the form of someone who can take a super-strength punch. That meant getting close enough to touch you.” Adam’s form was already growing wobbly, his body altering itself to take on the new shape it had grazed. There was a swift sound of muscle condensing and bones rearranging and just like that, a whole new person stood before Roy and under Alice.

“What the shit?” Adam/Hershel cursed as he felt his new body settle. “Why am I the fat kid?”

“Oh my, you didn’t realize I was a conditional shifter did you?” Roy laughed as he shook off the last of the ice. “My natural form is Hershel. It takes a trigger to bring out all the magnificence you see before you.”

“I don’t suppose you’d like to tell me what that is,” Adam/Hershel ventured sheepishly.

“Nope, but I’ll make you an offer. I don’t really fancy the idea of beating the hell out of someone who looks like my brother, so if you turn back, I’ll only break one of your legs to incapacitate you.”

“How very kind of you.”

Roy began lumbering forward. “What can I say? I’m a giver.”

*    *    *

Vince and Camille had been walking for nearly twenty minutes with no sign of the two people Alex had sensed. Admittedly, they had taken a very roundabout route in the process, but each was beginning to feel like they should have encountered someone by now. Part of it was merely mental fatigue: one can only jump at each twig snap and rustling leaf so many times before the adrenaline began to fade. Still, they endeavored to keep up their wits, which proved to be a very good thing. It was that attention to detail that alerted Vince to the rustle of footsteps behind him, and the familiar tingle at the back of the neck roused him to impending energy being conjured. Vince didn’t have time to think, only for a single burst of movement. He grabbed Camille by her narrow shoulders and hurled her away with every bit of strength he had.

The explosion detonated directly under Vince’s feet, sending him airborne with the shockwave and dropping him into a crumpled pile on the ground. He was unconscious before he even returned to the earth, his feet singed and bleeding at the ankles and his legs shattered in various places.

“Shit, that idiot damn near got himself killed,” Allen said, his position unchanged since he had fired the green exploding blast.

“He pushed the girl away and inadvertently stepped into your attack. No one can call that intended lethal force,” Hector assured him.

“Yeah. Good thing, too. I heard that guy can be a bastard to face head on,” Allen said.

“Him? I don’t see it,” Hector replied.

Camille heard their discussion like it was far away, her ears ringing from the same explosion that that had rendered Vince inert. She slowly pulled herself back to her feet. That idiot had nearly killed himself keeping her safe. He wasn’t supposed to do that. That wasn’t why she was here. She was supposed to help him, not endanger him. She took a few tentative steps forward to get her bearings.

“Sorry, Camille, can’t let you do that,” Hector cautioned her, bounding forward in a few ultra-stretchy steps and putting himself between Camille and Vince’s still slightly smoking body. “The last thing we need is him healed up and awake.”

“Yeah, we’re going to have to incapacitate you as well,” Allen said, hurrying to join his partner.

“It’s nothing personal. If you don’t struggle, I promise we’ll keep it gentle. We could probably just strand you high in a tree until the match is over,” Hector offered.

“Nah, man, they have a flier on their team. We’ll have to at least break her legs,” Allen corrected.

“How about we stick Vince in a tree and take out one of her ankles so she can’t heal him?” Hector replied.

“I guess that’s okay,” Allen agreed. It seemed soft-hearted to him; however, Camille had that aura of innocence that made hurting her feel like something akin to kicking a puppy. Besides, giving a healer a reason to hold a grudge was just plain stupid, even Allen knew that.

Camille merely watched them as they talked, trying to make the world become steady and preparing herself for what was to come. She wished she weren’t so frail; even this little bit of dizziness could make or break the fight that was about to happen. She didn’t have time for wishes, unfortunately. Vince was hurt and these people stood between her and helping him. She narrowed her focus down to that single fact.

Vince was hurt. Nothing else mattered. Not her shyness. Not her fear. Not her injury. Not these two warriors. Nothing else. Vince was hurt, and she was the only one here who could heal him.

Camille grabbed the coat of her uniform and clutched the zipper, racing it downward and hurling off the garment in one fluid motion.