“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t figure it out.” Nathaniel stepped from the building’s shadow as he saw Nick enter the open area in front of the Business building. Nearby was the bench where Nathaniel had first confronted him all those months ago. Once Nick had figured out the general location, knowing the exact spot had been child’s play, and that was before his little meeting with Globe.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Nick replied. “I’ve known where to find you for a while now. But I had to make sure I got the timing right.”
Nathaniel’s eyes glowed even more brightly than the flames still flickering overhead. He couldn’t see Nick’s eyes through the ridiculous night vision glasses, but he could tell by the relaxed grin on his old enemy’s face that Nick wasn’t taking this seriously. No doubt he expected to win their confrontation as he had so many before. Nathaniel allowed himself a smile of his own. This was one surprise Nick Campbell wouldn’t see coming.
“The timing? What, wanted to die at a certain hour?”
“Nothing quite that dramatic. I just needed to wait until Zero and Wisp got your headquarters location out of that energy blaster girl. Now, they’re storming up there, with the other professors following. In a few seconds, they’ll take out the people keeping us locked on campus, but your head honcho friend has over a ninety-nine percent chance of getting away, thanks to a teleporter he keeps nearby at all times. If I came much earlier than this, there was a chance they’d find a way to take you along, too. But now, you’re out of reach.”
“Nice bluff, Nicholas, but not even you can predict what’s going on that well.”
“Maybe you’re right, Nathaniel. Maybe I’m bluffing. Maybe I didn’t choose this moment because it’s the only window where you can’t get away, and the Heroes have yet to arrive. Doesn’t matter, though, does it? You went along with all of this just so you could kill me. Sorry, beat me and kill me. After all, no one can pin the blame on your family if I die during a Hero hate-group’s attack on the whole campus, right?”
Nathaniel reached down to the well of power that currently resided in him. The time for talk was almost done. Much as he wanted to savor the moment of victory, it was best to make sure he achieved it first. “Guess you figured it out, Nicholas. I’m breaking apart from my family, building an empire all my own. Your death was the last piece of Vegas business I had to handle, and I didn’t want it to cause trouble for the people I was leaving behind. No need to burn bridges just yet.”
“It’s a stupid plan, Nathaniel. It’s stupid for so very many reasons, but the most important one has been in front of you the entire time: I can use this opportunity to kill you just as easily as you could use it to kill me.”
A loud crackling sound filled the air, and suddenly, the yellow dome that had blotted out the sky flickered once and disappeared entirely. Nathaniel didn’t have any more time to waste. He reached out to Nick’s psyche, ready to grab the deepest, most primal fear he had and twist it around himself.
“Stupid, huh? Well, let me tell you a secret, Nicholas Campbell. Right now, I’m more powerful than you’ve ever seen me. I can do more than just make your fears into hallucinations, I can make them real. I’m going to wear the forms of your deepest terrors like a cloak and tear you limb from limb.”
Nathaniel stretched his awareness into Nick’s mind, waiting for the flood of fears to come rushing forth, filling him with power and strength. Instead, he felt . . . nothing. There was no fear at all in Nick’s mind. It was almost perfectly serene.
“Believe it or not, Nathaniel, we’re meeting each other on even ground. I got myself a little booster shot too. Right now, fear is a foreign concept to me, because fear’s most basic core is rooted in the unknown. For just a bit longer, I don’t have unknowns. I can see the flow of everything around us. I can watch the lines of cause and effect as they blur into one another, and I can even turn the changeable factors in my favor. For example, this knife.” Nick unsheathed a blade from a holster at his side. With a single flick, he sent it through the air, where it lodged in Nathaniel’s stomach.
“There was about a seventy percent chance it would kill you when I threw, but I made it fall into the thirty, where you don’t die.”
“What the fuck?” Nathaniel spat. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Not at all. He was supposed to be unstoppable against this . . . this . . . Powered.
“I’ve got limits, of course. I can’t push an outcome that doesn’t at least have a chance of happening. Like, right now, there’s no chance that a piece of space debris will crush your foot, so I can’t make it happen.” Nick walked forward calmly, pulling another knife free. “But I can make my own outcomes. We’re not slaves to luck or fate. We can create new situations of our own.”
“You can’t do this! You don’t even have control of your power!” Nathaniel screeched as Nick continued advancing, moving closer with every step.
“I’ve been a Super for three years, Nathaniel. The one advantage you had over me has been gone all this time. And right now, I’m in a category all my own. There are so many ways this moment can play out, so many probabilities at work. But you tried to hurt my friends, Nathaniel. More than that, you came after my real family. I’d have kept playing this game with you all our lives, if only you’d had a little self-control. You’re the one who upped the stakes. You’re the one who made this round for keeps.”
Nick punched Nathaniel in the mouth, knife still gripped in his hand. In the moment of Nathaniel’s disorientation, Nick grabbed his hair and yanked it back, revealing Nathaniel’s exposed throat. The orange-eyed young man struggled vainly, tugging at Nick’s arms that had been strengthened by years of HCP training. In a last ditch effort, he smacked at Nick’s face, pulling away the goggles that kept his eyes protected. Nathaniel let out a gasp of shock.
It was, technically, his last word. Nathaniel’s corpse fell to the ground as Nick picked up his goggles and set them back in place. The night vision function was turned off, but it wouldn’t do to have people getting a glimpse of his eyes until they returned to normal.
He looked up at the sky, noticing the cornucopia of colors that had begun to fill it. Throughout campus, Heroes from across the nation appeared out of thin air, teleporting in with no idea what they were stepping into. Loud booms filled the air as Heroes running at super-speed finally came to a stop. It was official: the cavalry had arrived.
At long last, the hellish night that would become known as Lander’s Crucible came to an end.