Chapter 44

“You think you might have gone a little overboard back there?” Alice asked as she and Roy trudged along.

“What do you mean? He changed back so I kept my word. I only broke one leg.”

“Yeah, I think ‘break’ sort of fails as an accurate descriptor there. ‘Shattered,’ ‘decimated,’ annihilated,’ these are words I might apply to what you did.”

“You’re being overdramatic. All I did was grab his leg and squeeze,” Roy defended. “There’s no room for squeamish stomachs in these competitions.”

“I suppose so,” Alice said reluctantly. “Makes me a little glad I’m not responsible for handling those situations.”

“Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.”

“I think it’d take a pretty miraculous set of circumstances for me to try it,” Alice pointed out.

“I guess so. Man, we haven’t run into anyone since Adam. Where the hell is everyone else? I’m going to be really pissed if that’s the only action I get all day.”

“They’re less combat-oriented than us. We didn’t expect them to come charging out in a full force attack.”

“I know; a man can still hope.”

“I’ll just stick to hoping we find the flag soon. The less people we see, the more I worry about them closing in on our base.”

“Nothing we can do about that,” Roy said with a shrug. “We’ve got our job and the others have theirs. We’ll just have to hope they’re as good at it as we are.”

“On that note, I’m going to fly up and take a look,” Alice said, rising off the ground. She moved carefully, cresting the tree line slowly and scanning the world below for any signs of movement. Nothing caught her eye, but when your opponent’s captain could become invisible that didn’t mean much. Alice lowered back to the earth after only a few seconds.

“No people visible around us, but there’s a clearing a ways ahead I want to check out. It looks similar to how the one around our base was set up.”

“Lead on, then,” Roy said cheerfully. The closer they got to the enemy’s flag, the better chance he’d get another fight. That thought made him perfectly happy to comply.

*    *    *

“You’re heavier than you look, anyone ever tell you that?” Mary asked as Nick leaned against her shoulders.

“Thanks, Mary, now on top of bruises and taser burn marks I’ve got a weight complex,” Nick shot back. “When we’re done here I’m going to have to purge and it’s all your fault.”

“You’re hilarious. Seriously, I get the feeling that narrow frame is hiding more muscle than a person would guess.”

“That is sexual harassment and I’m telling Hershel.”

“You know, I don’t have to let you lean on me.”

“No one is perfect; I guess I can let it slide this once,” Nick backtracked quickly. “How is everyone doing, anyway?”

“Roy and Alice are making good progress, Camille is about to heal Vince back from unconsciousness but they won their fight, and Alex is on his way to intercept Michael and Britney before they get close to base.”

“Vince got knocked out, huh? I’m curious how Camille managed to pull it out of the fire. Vince must have left them barely standing.”

“Actually, it seems Vince was taken out before the fight even began,” Mary told him. “We’re going to need to have a talk with Camille about holding back on us.”

“How bad?”

“Let’s just say you’ll be giving her a new card.”

“Huh. It’s always the quiet ones. Think we’re getting close to their flag?”

“No idea, but if Alex manages to bring down the last two then we’ve got all the time in the world to hunt,” Mary pointed out.

“Alex versus Britney and Michael. Maybe we should hurry,” Nick suggested.

Mary didn’t bother replying. Instead she quickened her pace and wondered if Nick’s uniform was sturdy enough for her to drag him along with her substantial brain instead of her meager brawn.

*    *    *

Vince moaned groggily as he came back into the world of the waking. He found himself with his head in Camille’s lap, staring up at her as his vision cleared. She’d taken the time to change back and move him away from the battered bodies of their opponents, so as his brain began to come together, only a single thought pierced his mind.

“Are you okay?” Vince asked immediately.

“Pretty sure that’s supposed to be my line,” Camille said with a gentle grin. “I’m fine. How are you?”

“I feel good,” Vince replied hurriedly. “Should I be laying here like this? What about our enemies?”

“They’re taken care of,” Camille assured him. “We can go back whenever you feel ready to walk.”

Vince slowly pulled himself to a sitting position and found the last of his head fog had already dissipated. “What do you mean, taken care of?”

“I mean they aren’t a problem anymore. You saved me, and I was able to handle the fight.”

“You were? I mean, I don’t want to say that you couldn’t, but-”

“I did tell you I’d been doing martial arts for years,” Camille pointed out.

“I guess you did. Who did you fight?”

“Allen and Hector. Allen is the one who threw the explosion at you. How did you know it was coming anyway?”

“It’s hard to explain. Mostly just that when you deal with energy as much as I do you learn the little signs it gives off when impending,” Vince said.

“Well, I’m glad you noticed it. Thank you for pushing me out of the way, but you shouldn’t have put yourself in danger like that.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Vince said as he moved his body all the way to standing. He looked back at the kneeling girl and offered her a hand up. “I’m the combat side of our team. It’s my job to keep you out of harm’s way. I’m going to protect you, no matter what. Next time I’ll just try to be better at it and stay conscious.”

Camille looked at him, towering over her as he smiled reassuringly. All these years, and here they were in the same position. It made her heart ache, just a bit, at how much he still looked the same as that day. She grabbed his hand and pulled herself vertical. Vince would do anything to protect her, which just meant she had to get even stronger so he’d never have to. She wouldn’t let him get hurt anymore. Not for her.

“Let’s get back to Alex,” Camille suggested softly.