Chapter 199

              Nick didn’t whistle as he walked across the parking lot, away from the line and the neon lights and into the half-dark area where a group of large men, many in leather, were all milling about. It was tempting, and it would be a good way to show them all how unintimidated he was by their size and numbers, but ultimately Nick didn’t feel it was appropriate to the situation. Whistling would show his usual blasé attitude toward Nathaniel’s shenanigans, and Nick wasn’t feeling particularly carefree as he trudged across the sea of concrete. It was time to make Nathaniel realize that much more poking around would lead to him dealing with Serious Nick, a prospect that terrified those who were fortunate enough to have survived it.

                “Evening gents,” Nick announced as he came upon the group of wide-shouldered people. He quickly noted that none wore gang markings associated with Vegas, or Nevada at all for that matter. So Nathaniel was either using local talent or working outside the usual resource pool. That was to be expected, since the Evers were no longer backing Nathaniel’s plays, but it deepened Nick’s curiosity about where these goons were coming from.

                “And a good evening to you, Nicholas.” Nathaniel stepped out from the group, his orange eyes flickering in the darkness. The effect was unsettling with the shadows surrounding him, but Nick had seen that trick too many times to be bothered by it. Even before Lander, he’d thought of Nathaniel as half-challenge at best. After dealing with HCP caliber students, the idea of Nathaniel being dangerous was laughable. All the same, Nick kept his guard up as he watched the young man walk away from his group and move a few steps closer.

                “If you’re all here to watch the Cowgirl Rodeo, you just missed the qualifiers, but I think you can catch the shot races.”

                “Sounds like quite a thrilling event. Tell me, is that lovely blonde you had on your arm competing?” Nathaniel asked. “She’s such a fierce one, it almost seems unfair to the other contestants.”

                “Well, life isn’t exactly fair in the first place. We both know a little too well about that, don’t we?” Nick replied. “One of us gets a good power he can’t control, the other one has control of a power that creeps people out and makes him ineligible to rise through the ranks. When you really get down to it, we probably should have been friends, given our similarities.”

                “Except that you have the sort of arrogance not even gods could pull off, and I abhor everything about you and your family,” Nathaniel replied.

                “True, plus you’re a creepy sociopath with no redeeming or interesting qualities,” Nick said. “Guess we weren’t meant to be friends after all. But that’s no reason we have to be enemies like this. You and the peanut gallery can still walk away from all of this.”

                “Of course you would want to call it quits when I’ve gotten you outmaneuvered.”

                Nick carefully raised a single eyebrow and glanced off toward the seemingly empty street. “Do you though? We’ve been at this a long while, Nathaniel. Do you really think I’d just come out here, on my own, with no backup or trump card to turn things around?” Nick wasn’t bluffing, but he was also dearly hoping not to be called out. Surprises assets were better than ones the enemy knew about, after all.

                “Actually, no, I don’t.” Nathaniel’s eyes seemed to brighten, the flickering orange light casting a soft glow on his pale face. “You see, we have been at this a long time, which means I know you always have contingency plans in place. I’m sure right now Eliza is watching us through the scope of a rifle, Jerome is ready to jump in at a moment’s notice, you have several weapons concealed on your person, and there are probably at least three other assets ready to converge the moment I escalate our encounter beyond wordplay. Which is why I’m not going to do that. My friends and I are going to peacefully walk out of this parking lot, making no aggressive movements against you.”

                “Interesting strategy, come all the way out here just to annoy me and try to spoil my night,” Nick said. “Honestly, I’m a little impressed. It has a subtle touch that you generally lack with your schemes.”

                “Thank you. My inspiration came from a single, simple realization about you.” Nathaniel turned and began heading back toward his group of lingering goons. As he walked, he looked back and tossed out a few parting words.

                “Even the great Nicholas Campbell can only be in a single place at a time.”

                Nimble as Nick’s mind was, it still didn’t have time to work out the meanings of Nathaniel’s words before he heard the sound of people yelling from behind him. Spinning on his heel, Nick saw dark smoke beginning to stream out of Six-Shooter’s roof.

                “You god damned son of a bitch.” Nick didn’t bother hurling the insult at Nathaniel’s face; instead he started sprinting across the concrete, making a beeline right for the building. As he ran, Nick pulled out his cell phone and punched a number on the speed dial. It rang exactly one time before Jerome’s familiar voice greeted with a single “Hello.”

                “I need you and Eliza down here now. Nathaniel lured me out then had people inside the club start some fires. You need to open up an escape route to get everyone out of that building as fast as possible.”

                “We’re heading down, but I think it will be alright,” Jerome told him. “All the exits still look clear, and Nathaniel’s’ people are leaving, so everyone inside should be able to get out.”

                “I’m not worried about people able to get out; I’m worried about a certain someone with a knack for making fire go away deciding to play Hero. The only way to keep that idiot from doing something stupid is to make sure he sees there’s no need for it. Hence, we need to get this place empty and fast.”

                Nick clicked off the phone as he reached the back door. Smoke was already beginning to trickle out, as were a healthy amount of people, but he managed to jostle and slam his way through the current of bodies and back into the club. As he moved, his irises began to turn from brown to a glowing golden hue.

                Much as he hated using his power out in the open, Nick had a feeling he was going to need all the luck he could get.