Chapter 217

               Chad prided himself on his analytical abilities. Though the others didn’t realize it, a great deal of what he accomplished was tethered to the fact that he could predict an attack based on an opponent’s style and history. His brain enabled this wonderful trick, and the body he’d spent his youth training and remodeling allowed him to act on the information. Often the data was processed so quickly he didn’t even consciously register all that was going in; instead it felt like what others would call “intuition”. Chad knew better, of course, that was merely his subconscious running a routine that had been done so much it was automated, like breathing. Still, as Roy charged forward with his bat in hand, Chad felt an impulse that had never come from his intuition against this opponent. It was to not only dodge the blow, but to get clear altogether. The idea made no sense, yet Chad prided himself on those analytical abilities; he’d be damned if he stopped listening to them now.

                The crack filled the cell and flecks of concrete pelted Chad’s skin as he landed, having jumped back a solid eight feet from where Roy was swinging. Where he’d been moments before was a small crater, the tip of Roy’s bat resting in its center. By Chad’s calculations the blow had been carrying a lot of force… and it was clear from Roy’s muscle position as he swung that he was holding himself back.

                “Haven’t seen you hop away like that before,” Roy commented. He swung the bat around up to a ready position, eyes set on the target before him.

                “Your attacks have never been that dangerous before.” Chad lowered his stance slightly, improving his center of gravity. Technically the stakes weren’t any different than before; Roy’s strikes had been strong enough to end the fight with one direct blow in their last match too. But that was a maybe, at best. The bat carried a far higher chance of pulling it off, especially with its increased range. He could try to disarm Roy, but if he was able to wield something that heavy Chad suspected his grip might difficult to break. This wasn’t a fight where he could allow Roy to go down and recover after each bout. Chad had to keep the momentum if he wanted to win this time.

                “If you liked that one, you’ll love this.” Roy charged forward again, bat in ready position. This time, Chad understood the danger. Rather than letting Roy get into a spot where he could swing, Chad bolted forward, slamming a palm into Roy’s chest while simultaneously sweeping both legs out from under him. Powerful as he was, with no time to counter Roy found himself airborne, and suddenly all the strength in the world became meaningless. He barely had an instant to adjust to the spinning world when he caught sight of Chad’s heel raised directly overhead. It shot down, delivering a perfect hammer kick to Roy’s skull and driving him into the concrete, creating a brand new crater.

                “Hold!” Professor Cole hurried over and Chad stepped back, ceasing his attack instantly. She still shot him an uncertain look as she came to Roy’s side. “You know that probably ended the match.”

                “Roy asked me to fight him as best I could,” Chad replied. “While I was able to give him leeway in our hand-to-hand matches, the threat he posed with the weapon was significantly increased. Thus, I switched to a heavier offense just as I would in a real fight.”

                “Luckily, you probably just knocked-”

                Professor Cole was cut off by Roy rising from the ground, a small trickle of blood smeared on his forehead and concrete dust matting his chestnut hair. That much was expected as getting slammed headfirst into the ground, but what neither Chad nor Professor Cole was anticipating was the expression on his face.

                Roy Daniels had a wild, madman’s grin sliced across his face as he hefted the bat over his shoulder and turned to face Chad. It was no facade meant to intimidate his opponent, nor misdirection to hide his injury. Chad doubted Roy even knew he was making the expression, which made it all the more disturbing.

                “Finally.” Roy’s word fell from his lips like an avenging angel from the heavens. “Three years. Three goddamned years I’ve been waiting for that. All this time you keep holding back, trying to make our fights into learning opportunities for me. All this time, you’ve never viewed me as a real opponent, a genuine threat. This is the first time you were ever even a little bit afraid of me, and you tried to end me for it.” Roy lifted the bat and pointed it toward Chad, like Babe Ruth calling his shot. “Finally.”

                “Do you want to continue?” Professor Cole already knew what his answer would be. If Chad had torn Roy’s legs from his body, she still knew what the answer would be. Roy wasn’t especially skilled, or graceful, or precise; he was more like a giant boulder barreling down a hill. And just like a boulder, he wouldn’t stop unless he was completely obliterated. Roy Daniels had determination in spades.

                “Damn right.” Roy tightened his grip on the bat. “And please don’t stop the fight again unless it’s absolutely necessary. I have a feeling the two of us are going to get bloody, but we’ll want to see this all the way through. That okay with you, Chad?”

                “Perfectly acceptable.” Chad felt something stirring in him besides his intuition. It was a familiar sensation, one he sought out constantly but had never expected to find with Roy Daniels. This was the thrill of a true battle, where defeat was a genuine risk, where he could push himself to become better. Fights like these were the essence of what it was to be a warrior, and he would no more see it end early than Roy would.

                “No more holding back. From either of us.”

                “You sure? I can do a lot more damage with this thing than with just punches, and you were worried about those,” Roy pointed out.

                “It’s only fair. You tested your unarmed skills at full power; you should test your weapon-wielding skills the same way. Besides, I’m curious to see just what you can do.” Chad readied himself, and saw Roy echo the body language.

                “If I think someone is going to die, I’m stepping in.” Professor Cole retreated back to her corner of the cell, unwinding several of her bandages in case she needed to grab someone in a hurry. Otherwise, she intended to stay out of it. She’d been around enough Heroes to know that sometimes they had to just beat the living hell out of each other.

                But, in a friendly way.