Chapter 55

Within moments Camille had shed the outer layers of her uniform, leaving a sports bra and pair of athletic shorts as her covering. In a rare surprise, her embarrassment was actually so overpowering she couldn’t even blush. Instead, she took deep breaths and tried not to think about how little she was wearing while in view of the entire class. This was the part of her power that she’d always hated most; the necessity for skin-to-skin contact. When healing it was no big deal. Grabbing someone to impart damage, however, was a more difficult task.

Her opponents took the strange behavior in stride, which spoke to just how bizarre the HCP world was that such curious actions didn’t even spark a few impromptu questions. They silently surrounded her, forming a triangle, and waited for their cue.

“Everyone, begin,” Professor Fletcher called.

Chad was the first to react, bolting across the circle at speeds the others could barely see, let alone match. He didn’t know why Camille was being put against three opponents clearly out of her league, but he had his suspicions. The most logical assumptions were that she was either far more powerful than she’d let on, or the professor was using her defeat to teach someone a lesson. In either case, the necessary course of action was the same: take her out as quickly and humanely as possible.

The small girl was jerked off the ground as Chad slipped a simple sleeper hold around her neck. It was crude, but it would incapacitate her in only a few seconds without imparting any unnecessary pain. She struggled briefly, then raised her hand a few inches and pressed her fingers directly on his cheek. The last thought that Chad had was idly wondering if she was going to waste time trying to scratch him. After that, his world went black.

Camille rolled to the ground as Chad collapsed, the severe concussion she’d given him doing its work. She’d also thrown in several broken bones he’d have to heal if he came around too quickly. Hopefully, she’d get to heal them before he ever needed to experience the pain, but she wasn’t taking any chances against the number one rank in the class. Her eyes darted about, both wanting and dreading to see what Vince’s reaction to Chad’s defeat would be. Instead, her gaze fell upon Roy, who was running toward her. Strange that he’d taken this long to get into the fight, then she realized why. Roy had used the extra time to remove his jacket, wrapping it around his right hand, giving him a makeshift boxing glove.

She dodged his first punch, leaping to the side in a move more acrobatic than Roy could have matched. There was crackling explosion, and the area she’d been in a moment before became charred as a blast of lightning struck it. The upside to this was that the electricity almost hit Roy, knocking him momentarily off balance. It wasn’t much, but it was an opening.

Camille reoriented herself, running past Roy’s cloth covered arm and diving for the hand still left bare. Roy recognized the danger and pulled his arm back; however, he wasn’t able to quite get away before her small fingers brushed his wrist. The months of training with Nick the previous year had noticeably increased how much damage she could impart with a light touch, which Roy discovered firsthand as he felt multiple bones in both his arms shatter. He grit his teeth through the pain and tried to focus, but his broken appendages meant he wasn’t able to stop Camille from grabbing his hand once more, this time snapping his femurs like twigs. With a grunt of pain Roy went down, toppling onto his side like a freshly chopped tree.

Camille spun about, ready to dodge another electrical attack. Instead she barely got away from a blast of fire, one that roared so close it struck her left shoulder and left visible burns. She found Vince, perched near the edge of the circle, another fireball manifesting in his hand. With a tentative, terrified rock of dread in her stomach, she let her eyes move from his flame wielding appendage to his face, and nearly choked in surprise at what she found there.

Vince was smiling, no, beaming. He looked happier than she’d seen him in months. She been ready for fear, confusions, even anger that she’d held a secret like this for so long. Instead all she found was unadulterated joy.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Vince casually remarked, sending his fiery blast at her legs. She rolled to the side, very nearly putting a toe outside the circle, then scrambled to her feet.

“Yeah, my power is more versatile than I let on,” she admitted, her own eyes tracking his to see where he was aiming.

“Oh, I knew about that part,” Vince replied. “I just didn’t realize it would work against someone like Roy.”

His words brought her up short, causing her eyes to widen and jaw to open slightly. “Wait… you knew?”

“Sure did,” Vince informed her. “That’s why I stayed over here.” This time he switched back to electricity, aiming for her legs. Through intuition or luck, Camille saw the attack coming and leapt to the side. This time, she didn’t pause for chit-chat. She kept running, zig-zagging through the small area of the circle before Vince could draw a bead on her.

Vince realized what was happening and immediately switched tactics. He released a wall of flame between himself and Camille, a far tamer version of what he’d done in last year’s final match. Rather than try and run around, giving Vince time to line up a shot, she pushed through it, the fire licking her skin and sending spasms of pain through her already injured shoulder. Breaking through, she thrust her hand out, nearly in touching range of Vince.

Through the entire course of getting to him, Camille had been thinking about how to minimize Vince’s ranged abilities. What she’d let slip her mind, in the fog of battle, was the fact that Vince was far better at hand-to-hand fighting than he was at ranged battle. He slid a boot-covered foot against her ankles as she lunged, taking away her balance and sending her tumbling to the floor. Camille landed prone on her back, staring up at the concrete ceiling and the silver-haired young man towering over her. For a moment, she contemplated grabbing for his ankle; however she doubted she’d be able to make contact, and even if he did there was still covering on his whole leg.

Looking up at him, Camille realized his face had suddenly changed. In a frenzied motion, Vince ripped off his jacket and brought it down on top of her head with surprising force. He repeated the motions immediately, beating her with the large cloth garment as fast as he could. For a moment, Camille wondered if this was his way to get her to surrender without hurting her.

Then she realized that she could still smell something burning.