Chapter 41

“Don’t you just look positively suburban,” said the voice from behind Nicholas. Inwardly he winced, but his face showed no semblance of concern. It had been a couple of weeks so he’d started wondering if any move was actually coming. Which, it was now clear in retrospect, was what Nathaniel had been hoping for. Thankfully, his training didn’t permit doubt to lower his guard, so as Nicholas turned around to face his adversary, it was with the knowledge that he had several concealed weapons stowed away on his body and in his bag.

Nathaniel Evers sat on a nearby bench, one that faced the sidewalk along the exit of the Business and Education building. He looked about the same as he had last time they met: same slanted grin, same raven’s black hair that he left shaggy, same style of slightly behind-the-times suit, and of course the same eyes. Nathaniel was a Super whose condition had left him with an aberrant physical trait, like Mary and Vince. His, however, couldn’t be played off as dye or contacts. Nathaniel’s was too advanced for such subterfuge. His eyes glowed a dull orange, the color subtly shifting as one stared into them. It was as though there were a candle behind each iris, dancing in the wind of his thoughts.

“At least my look is only due to the clothing,” Nicholas countered. “I could give you the name of my tailor and stylist and you’d still look like a sweaty fifteen-year-old on his first date, wearing a hand-me-down suit from your father.”

“Nice to see that college has made you so kind,” Nathaniel replied. Nicholas noticed that a small backpack rested at the foot of the bench. It either contained weaponry, actual books, or, most likely, both.

“The academic world changes a man. What classes do you have today?”

Nathaniel gave him a smile that was especially creepy. It might have been impressive and threatening to someone else, but Nicholas had been seeing that smile since they were children. Nathaniel worked on it constantly, even hiring acting coaches to find new ways to make his expressions scarier. Given his power, Nathaniel’s decision to seem unsettling made sense, however Nicholas always felt like he was trying too hard to be especially terrifying. True horror didn’t come from creepy smiles; it came from faces that remained impassive even as they were splattered with flecks of blood.

“We both know you’ve memorized my schedule, just as I have yours,” Nathaniel said. “Today is Introduction to Chemistry and a sophomore Spanish class. I actually went to them too, though I must say the professors were less than welcoming.”

“That will happen when you skip the first couple of weeks of class,” Nicholas informed him.

“Be that as it may, I think I’ll keep checking them out, at least until I get bored with them.” Nathaniel rose from his seat and took a long stretch, his lanky, scarecrowesque, form crackling with pops in his bones. “I believe I see what’s attached you to this place, old friend. Our world is so advanced, so calculated; dealing with these people requires little more than the minutest of efforts to get what one wants.”

“No, Nathaniel, you’re the only one of us who is lured in by games he finds easy. I like greater challenges, not smaller ones.”

“Oh really? I don’t suppose you’d like to inform me as to why you’re here, then. You vanish for the larger part of two years, and I do mean vanish: not even we could find you. Then, all of a sudden, you pop up as registered to a college in California.”

“I’m getting an education,” Nicholas replied tartly. He was aware that the flow of students exiting the building had lessened, so he made sure to pay attention to Nathaniel’s movements. If an attack was coming, it would be when there were fewer witnesses.

“Of course you are, Nicholas Campbell and his grand ambitions,” Nathaniel said, his eyes’ glow brightening momentarily at the same time his voice grew harsh. A second later, both features were back to normal. “Funny thing, though, I’ve been watching you these last few weeks, and you seem especially at home here. Never getting lost, never asking for directions, never seeming out of place. It’s almost as if you’d already spent a large amount of time here. One might even wager two school years.”

“Or, alternatively, maybe I just showed up when classes actually started and learned the campus,” Nicholas countered.

“Certainly possible,” Nathaniel admitted. “But I doubt it. I know you’re here for a reason, and I’m keen on finding out what it is.”

“On the subject of reasons, why don’t we talk about what brought you out here?” Nicholas asked.

“Unlike you, old friend, I have no need to lie. I followed you here. If you’ve left the safety of Vegas then it is for something big. As future head of the Evers Family, I consider it my familial duty to explore if your goal could be useful to our own ends.”

Nicholas debated telling him that this had nothing to do with their Vegas affiliations, however that would still be giving him information. Though Nathaniel was a lesser opponent, Nicholas hadn’t managed to always beat him by giving him handicaps. Better to turn the talk toward something that would give him nothing while still ending the conversation.

“Future head of the Evers Family? My goodness, you seem to have lost touch with reality since I’ve been gone. Everyone knows your cousin is the one who is marked to sit in the big chair. Even if she wasn’t, you really think they’d give it to a pumpkin-eyed freak like you?”

The glow in Nathaniel’s eyes intensified once more. Poor fellow, years of training and yet his eyes were still a precise tell of his emotions.

“Better a pumpkin-eyed freak than a fucking Powered,” Nathaniel spat, advancing slightly and closing the small distance between them. Nathaniel couldn’t be blamed for believing Nicholas was still a Powered; in all of Vegas only Gerry and Ms. Pips knew the truth. “You act like you’re the fucking crown prince of your Family just because Ms. Pips favors you. But she’s not the king, and when the day of her retirement comes, do you really think the rest of the Family will back putting a man with your defect on top of the casino? At least I can control my ability.”

“And it’s done you so much good, hasn’t it?” Nicholas shot back. “Face it Nathaniel, I’ve done more with a minus in my column than you’ve ever accomplished with a plus. Now if you’ll excuse me, we both know I have another class to get to.”

Nathaniel’s hand snaked out and grabbed Nicholas’s arm. For a moment, the sandy-haired young man held his breath, wondering if things were going to come to a head right here and now. He’d have preferred to have backup, but he had enough hidden cards that he was confident he’d survive.

“Your sense of superiority has always been the most insufferable thing about you,” Nathaniel said, his words scarcely louder than a whisper. The glow from his eyes was so bright it was reflecting off his cheeks. “I don’t know why you’re here, but I’m going to find out. And then, once I know what you want, I’m going to take it away from you.”

“Then it seems the game is on,” Nicholas replied, pulling free his arm with little effort. He calmly turned away and began walking down the sidewalk. It was dangerous to show an enemy like Nathaniel his back after riling him, however it would have been more detrimental to turn around.

When dealing with Nathaniel Evers, it was imperative that one never show fear.