Chapter 43

“What the hell are you doing?” Hector asked as Camille’s coat wafted gently to the ground. She paid him no attention, seizing her pants by the waistband and undoing a series of concealed buckles on the interior of each side. She jerked outward, separating the snaps that ran down the legs and tossed her now-halved slacks to the grass. She stood before them in a pair of biker shorts and a sports bra. She felt a flush creeping over her as they stared; she was all-too aware of how little clothing now covered her. She took a deep draw of air and felt the elastic of the bra dig into her chest. Her breasts were larger than her frame would indicate, and the pressure pushing down on them made every breath just a touch more ragged.

“This took an interesting turn,” Allen said.

“Our uniforms don’t have zippers and snaps. Did you customize yours just to be able to strip it off?” Hector questioned.

Camille addressed neither, instead she began running toward Vince as fast as she could. If she made a dash for one of her two opponents they would suspect something. Forcing them to block her, however, would ensure at least one of them got in range.

Sure enough, Hector stretched his arms outward, cutting off any path she might have to her fallen ally. Camille never hesitated, she kept running until she careened into his right arm, his long elastic fingers encircling her bare torso as he pulled her away from Vince.

“Nice distraction, but did you really think we’d let you-GAAAHHH!” Hector’s words were cut off by a tortured scream that was ripped from his throat. Allen could only watch as his partner released the girl and collapsed to the ground. Something was wrong. Hector was bleeding and his arms and legs were twisted in awkward directions. Generally, Hector could move his appendages without regard to joint limitations, but it was always a smooth appearance, like stretched taffy. This looked like someone had ripped that same taffy apart and haphazardly slapped it back together at all the wrong angles.

“What... what did you do?” Allen said slowly. “You’re a healer, you can’t hurt Hector like that.”

Camille remained silent. The only response she gave was to step away from Hector’s mercifully unconscious body and begin to approach Allen. She took three tentative steps then charged. Allen hurled a series of green bolts at her feet, but Camille deftly sidestepped them with grace he never would have expected. Gone was the slow-moving girl with the gentle demeanor; in her place was a relentless stampede of skin and flowing hair. She threw a hand out, as if to grab him, and Allen rolled to the side on instinct. She shouldn’t be able to hurt him, but shouldn’t didn’t mean a damn thing when Hector’s sundered body was less than twenty feet away.

Allen reoriented himself as he stood, barely getting a chance to leap away as Camille spun on her heels and came rushing back at him. He tried to send a bolt at her, but now he was playing defense and aiming came second to dodging. She whirled around and came at him again. This time Allen took an extra second to line up his shot before moving. That second cost him everything. A bolt of relatively-weak energy exploded against Camille’s shoulder and Allen slid to the side. He barely registered the small fingers that brushed his neck, but he definitely noticed what immediately followed. His left ankle bone exploded within the skin, dropping him to the ground in pain and hobbling his movements quite efficiently.

He looked up to see the girl pressing her hand to the burn mark on her shoulder. A gentle light came over it as the singed skin became pink and healthy once more. If he’d used a stronger blast, he could have ripped that shoulder clean from its socket; however, that would have constituted lethal force. As his ankle throbbed again, part of Allen wished he’d done it anyway.

“You’re a damn healer,” Allen cursed at her. “You aren’t supposed to be able to injure people.”

“I’m not a healer,” Camille said as she walked briskly toward him. She had no inclination to give him time to focus and fight back. The pain would mar his concentration for now, but sooner or later he’d work through it. “I’m an absorber. I hold injury the same way Vince holds energy, and healing people all last year has given me quite a supply to work with.”

“That’s why you stripped. You need to touch us skin to skin. Hector couldn’t grab you without touching some part of you,” Allen said as comprehension finally dawned. “And that’s why no one knows this about you. You spent all last year under the radar just so you could build up a backlog of damage.”

“I do apologize,” Camille said as she closed what remained of the gap between them. She hunkered down and cupped his face gently in her hand. “I’ll heal you as soon as our match is over. I don’t want anyone to suffer unnecessarily.”

“Kiss my ass if you think I’m letting you heal me. You’re not getting this damage back; I’ll use someone else. And I’m telling everyone about this so your little trick won’t work anymore,” Allen threatened. It wasn’t much, but he couldn’t go out without saying something. This defeat was already embarrassing enough; his pride refused to let him be silent.

“Do what you please,” Camille said softly. “Tell people what you want. Just make sure you understand, I have plenty of damage left to give, and I will do whatever it takes to protect my V-, teammates.”

Allen might have asked about that verbal slip had his world not dissolved into a cacophony of thunderous pain.

*    *    *

Alex felt Allen’s conciseness slip away from his position back at the flag. He glanced at his watch nervously. Alex knew Camille had been victorious, somehow, so she’d heal Vince and the two would be returning shortly. The problem was that there were two more presences coming toward him, and more importantly, toward the flag. They were using the same thorough, time-consuming pattern as the previous two, but they’d get here eventually. Alex wasn’t sure that Vince and Camille would have time to return and go scout in a roundabout enough way to conceal their direction before the enemies were close enough to find the flag. He weighed his options carefully before settling on a choice.

Alex would go meet the new people head on. Even if he failed to stop them, it would at least give Vince and Camille enough time to return. Plus, if Alex could take at least one of them down then a lone fighter would be no match for Vince. It was the logical choice and it adhered to the strategy. Now he just had to hope it was the right one.