Chapter 45

Alex walked for about fifteen minutes before he began to draw near to his opponents. In truth, the travel time should have been roughly half of that, however, he’d stuck to protocol and looped around as instructed. He could feel Vince and Camille heading back toward the flag, which relaxed him a little. He hated leaving the place undefended. The closer he got to the interception point, the more he hoped they wouldn’t have to do anything. If Vince and a healer could take down two, then Alex might be able to as well. At the very least, he would defeat one and hobble the other.

Alex moved silently as he drew near the enemies. He didn’t have much practice with skulking, especially not through forests; however, he did have the advantage of knowing the others were there. That would hopefully enable him to get the drop on whoever these people were. It was easier to recognize the minds of people he spent a lot of time with, but when it was just fellow classmates, all he got were hints. One of the minds was incredibly focused, straining to hear every rustle and snap in the woods around it. The other was cavalier, uncaring save for a burning, violent desire emanating deep with its reaches. Alex knew if he wanted to utilize his advantage properly, he had to prioritize which opponent to take out first. The focused one seemed the more dangerous of the two, so Alex levitated a hefty log to his side and prepared to strike.

He burst through the woods to find not two enemies staring at him, but one. Michael blinked in surprise as Alex and a floating log came vaulting from the tree line. For the barest of moments, Alex forgot that Britney could become invisible and was confused by the absence of someone he’d sensed. He let his eyes sweep across the area, trying to find the missing presence. The mistake lasted less than a full second; however, even that was too much.

The first blue blast struck him square in the chest, the cold creeping through his bones and making every breath difficult as his torso refused to expand. The next one took him in the left leg, sealing him in place before he could move. Alex whipped the log toward Michael while he still had his concentration, but the poor piece of wood splintered against the armor of ice now encircling Michael’s body.

Michael froze the other leg next, just for good measure, though as Alex’s teeth began to chatter it was clear fighting off the chill seeping through him would sap a healthy amount of his mental resources.

“Nice effort, weirdo,” Michael said as he closed the gap between them. Alex tried to fight through the sensation of numbness and grab hold of Michael with his power. Before he got a chance, Michael’s ice encased fist slammed violently into Alex’s face. There was an audible crack in Alex’s head as he felt something in his cheek give way. He might have come back with a witty, if not slightly slurred, retort, had Michael not followed with two more blows to his head. His brain felt like it was filling with mercury and his entire face burned with pain. Even if there were anything to throw, Alex could barely focus on the image in front him, let alone on fighting back. It occurred to him, fleetingly, that this was why Coach George had them fight so much last year without their powers. He wanted them to get accustomed to working through the fog of pain. Alex wished he’d learned that lesson better.

“Take it easy,” Britney’s voice cautioned from somewhere over his shoulder.

“Fuck that; this kid can break through ice with his mind if I just freeze him. I have to make sure that brain of his is too scrambled to get back in the game.” Michael punctuated this statement with a solid left hook directly into Alex’s ear. Had he not been frozen into a standing position, Alex’s body would have tumbled to the ground as he passed out. Instead his head merely plopped softly against his chest.

“Look, he’s out, you’re done,” Britney said, this time less a request than an order.

“I’ll decide when I’m done,” Michael said, rearing back again. An invisible hand wrapped around his elbow, pulling it back.

“We have a deal, Michael. You want to win? That means you can’t get us disqualified. Keep pounding on his brain like this and I guarantee we get taken out of the competition.”

“I call getting tossed out for being too strong a win,” Michael spat back, not relaxing his arm one bit.

Britney sank her teeth into her lower lip. She had to get his attention off Alex or this was going to be bad. Unfortunately, she only knew one way to do that. She had to shift it elsewhere, to someone less likely to be immediately killed. She hoped that, if he were here, he’d understand.

“Fine, you want to end this then go ahead. I just thought you were going after the big fish. I mean, Alex here is barely considered a combatant by anyone. Isn’t that why you had your sights set on Vince?”

Slowly, so damned slowly, the tension in Michael’s arm decreased. He lowered it to his side. For a moment there was no sound except the slow drip of water running down the ice blocks encasing Alex.

“Let’s go,” Michael said at last, stepping around Alex and walking forward without so much as a single glance backward. His armor began to disintegrate, falling away in chunks that littered the grass behind him. Britney let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding. That had been far, far too close. If anyone besides herself had been here... she didn’t want to think about what might have happened to Alex. When this was over, she resolved herself to talk with Professor Fletcher or Dean Blaine. It didn’t matter if it weakened her team; Michael had no place in the HCP.

She only hoped she could get them through this ordeal before he bloodily proved that to everyone.