Chapter 42

Nick spat a wad of phlegmy blood into the soft grass and wiped the remaining red trickle from his mouth. Gilbert’s punches weren’t the hardest he’d ever felt; however, the boy clearly hadn’t been slacking in combat training. After just a few of them, Nick’s vision was swimming at the edges and he was relatively certain there was at least a fracture in his jaw. He couldn’t take a whole lot more of this pounding, not if he hoped to pull his weight in the encounter. Gilbert materialized in front of him and leveled Nick with an elbow to the nose. The blow sent him sprawling to the ground and a fresh spurt of blood poured down his face.

“Not bad,” Nick said from his prone position. “I mean, if we ignore the fact that you’ve had over a year of physical training along with a few comprehensive courses in fighting under veteran Heroes. We have to leave that out of consideration, because if we included it then your inability to take me down would be just plain pathetic.”

“You’re the one on the ground,” Gilbert snarled at him.

“And it only took you five tries to get me, the physically frail Powered, down here. If you fuck as well as you fight I’m guessing your only successful pickup line is a chloroform-soaked rag.”

“Stop letting him get to you and finish it already!” Terrence yelled. He diverted his attention back to Mary, who had used the break in concentration to hurl a large chunk of tree at Terrance’s head. As it drew nearer the wooden projectile began to glow, then it shrank down nearly out of sight as it plopped uselessly against Terrance’s uniform jacket. His fingers dipped into his pocket and emerged with three quarters. He hurled them at Mary, a glow permeating them before they even left his hand. By the time Mary deflected them, the quarters had the circumference of dining room tables. That would have been bad enough, but the increased size did nothing to decrease the force they’d been thrown with, carrying them forward like the circles of crushing currency they had become. Mary had kept them away so far; however, it was becoming clear that these exchanges were more taxing for her than Terrance. All he had to do was shrink her attacks to ineffectiveness. Her mental endurance meant she could keep it up for some time, but this was a game where a single mistake on either part would create an immediate loser. It was not the type of battle she preferred to engage in.

“You heard your boss, Gilbert, better finish me off,” Nick said, nimbly rising back to his feet. “I don’t think he wants to keep trying his luck with Mary.”

“Don’t be an idiot, Terrance is clearly winning,” Gilbert shot back.

“Only if you ignore the fact that sooner or later he’ll run out of stuff to throw. Not to mention Mary doesn’t have to throw things at him, she can just pick him up and smash him to the ground,” Nick bluffed. She couldn’t use that strategy against someone as frail as Terrance safely, but there was no reason they needed to know that.

“If she could do that she would have,” Gilbert said.

“Maybe. Or more likely she’s keeping him occupied so you and I can have our little dance. See, I’m going to beat you, Gilbert, because sooner or later you’ll make a mistake and I’ll capitalize. If you were a better fighter maybe you could knock me out, but since this is all you’ve got I think we both know it’s just a matter of time.”

“You talk a lot of shit for a guy with blood all over his uniform,” Gilbert said. He kept his voice calm but the antsy way he shifted his weight told Nick that his ploy was working.

“A brilliant red testament to your failure. Each drop a symbol of my resilience and your weakness, because even with all this loss of life fluids, I’m still awake to call you a bitch.”

Gilbert didn’t reply this time, instead he teleported behind Nick. He resisted the urge strike him and forced himself to think smart. Nick was baiting him to prolong the battle. He wanted Gilbert to keep chipping away at him while Mary ran Terrance out of ammunition. Gilbert wasn’t going to play along; he’d shut Nick’s every yapping face hole using strategy. Gilbert leapt onto Nick’s back and sealed his right arm around the slender boy’s neck while his left palm drove the sandy-haired head forward. Gilbert circled Nick’s diaphragm with his own short legs and squeezed forcefully. This would drive the air out of Nick while Gilbert’s neck lock kept him from getting a new supply. It was a risky move that a trained combatant could navigate out of, however, Gilbert was certain someone as weak as Nick would be unconscious before he could work his way free.

Sure enough, Nick collapsed backward onto the ground and gasped as the majority of his oxygen was driven from his body. Gilbert smiled ruefully at his victory as he felt Nick’s body tremble on top of his own and couldn’t resist a bit of taunting.

“Where’s that constant chatter now? Don’t have anything to say before you pass out?”

Nick let out a ragged gasp that contained two barely audible words. If one hadn’t been as close as Gilbert it would sounded like a breath someone had stuffed syllables into. To him, in a moment that would haunt his memories, they formed two perfect conjugations that made no sense for the span of about a second.

“Got... you...”

Gilbert’s head exploded in pain as his whole body began to tremor uncontrollably. His grip was destroyed, but by the time he lost contact with Nick’s body Gilbert was already unconscious. Nick was too, lying a few inches away with a taser clutched tightly in his hand, the metal prongs pressed forcefully against his own leg. It was the only weapon he’d been allowed to keep from his original backpack of tricks and he’d hidden it in his pocket as soon as they were on the field. Gilbert was an impossible opponent to get the drop on due to his constant jumping about, and Nick had known that from the beginning. Even tricking him into using a hold would have been useless if he’d seen a counter coming. If the attack could be concealed, on the other hand, conducted through his own body, Nick would be able to take away the teleporter’s advantage. It was still a difficult and painful proposition, which might explain why Nick’s electrocuted and unconscious body nonetheless sported a grin some might describe as “shit-eating.”

“Well then,” Mary said calmly. “Now that those are two are done, I suppose that just leaves you and me.”

“Bring it on, I can go all day,” Terrance said. If he could make his stock last until Gilbert woke up then this fight could still be salvaged.

“Actually, you can’t. Funny thing about keeping all of your stuff to throw in your pockets: they can be ripped open and their contents can be covertly stolen away while you’re distracted.”

Terrance felt his stomach drop to his feet. He reached into the pocket he’d been using and found it intact, with a single dime remaining. Investigation of his other pockets revealed the unfortunate truth that they’d been torn along the seams and his entire stockpile was now absent from his body.

“I can still neutralize anything you throw,” Terrance said nervously.

“I don’t know about anything,” Mary replied. Terrance felt a firm force take hold of his coat and pants, jerking him several feet into the air. “I’m pretty sure you can’t shrink the ground when it’s racing toward you.”

“This, this is lethal force!” Terrance yelled.

“No, no, you’re only one story up. You’ll survive with at most a broken ankle or leg. As long as you land on your feet, anyway.”

“You could have done this all along,” Terrance realized. “Why didn’t you?”

“It’s been brought to my attention recently that I need to improve my level of control. Fighting you is pretty good practice at that. We should spar sometime when this is all over,” Mary offered cordially.

The grip on Terrance’s clothes vanished and he found himself tumbling rapidly toward the ground. No question about it, this was going to smart.