Chapter 130

                “Roy, I’ll admit this is unorthodox, but I’ve been thinking as hard as I can and I just can’t come up with any other way to do this.” Vince was watching his opponent closely, waiting for any sort of surprise attack. “While I don’t want to risk seriously hurting you, I think we both plan to give everything we have in this fight. Neither wants a hollow victory from the other holding back.”

                “Bit of a weird lead-in, but you ain’t off-base, so I’m listening.” Roy’s entire body was still; ready to react in an instant if this turned out to be some ploy or trick.

                “Then if you wouldn’t mind, can you tell me how close that last blast was to knocking you out?” Vince saw the uncertainty wash over Roy’s face and scrambled to explain. “I don’t want to use so much power that I cross the line, but it’s obvious that I’ve underestimated you once already. If you can give me an idea of how close that last shot was, I can use the right amount of power without frying your brain.”

                Roy said nothing for a moment, merely staring at Vince with careful consideration. “You know, if this was a real Hero fight, you wouldn’t have access to that information. You’d just have to keep coming until you got the job done, and if you overshot the mark then your enemy would be dead.”

                “True, but if this were a real Hero fight you’d be a criminal, not a friend,” Vince countered.

                “Guess you’ve got me there,” Roy admitted. “Alright Vince, only because I really want to see which of us is stronger in terms of pure combat power, I’ll do my best to ballpark it for you. This is a guess, mind you; I don’t know exactly how much electricity it takes to bring me down. But based on how that last one felt, I’d say it needs to be four-to-five times stronger if you want a shot at taking me out of the fight. That’s the other reason I don’t mind telling you: we both know you don’t keep enough juice to manage that sort of attack. Maybe you can find a way to use a similar amount of fire though.”

                Although he kept a straight face, inside Vince was balking at the number Roy had given. Four-to-five times stronger than the last attack… did Roy have any idea how much power had been in that first strike? If he was telling the truth, then it was going to take a ridiculous amount of raw energy to bring Roy down. If he was bluffing… there was a good chance Vince might accidentally cook one of his closest friends. But he’d underestimated Roy once already, that wasn’t a mistake he planned to repeat.

                “Mind if I adjust my armor?” Vince asked.

                Roy nodded, and without waiting for more than that Vince began to peel away the layers of body armor he’d piled atop his costume. Much as it seemed like altruism, and it certainly was, they both also knew Roy was going along with the request because it bought him more time to recover. That last attack would leave an impact even on Roy, but this might buy him long enough to shake it.

                It worked out well for Vince too, as he tossed the armor onto the floor. Against Roy’s strength it was useless anyway, and Vince was going to need every ounce of speed and flexibility he possessed if there was even a hope of dropping Roy. Hard as he’d been working on rapidly summoning energy, drawing that much was more than Vince could manage quickly. He wasn’t going to be able to shift between absorbing and attacking for this one. The only chance he had was to summon the energy and land his shot. If he missed, or failed to dodge a single one of Roy’s attacks, that was going to be the end of this fight.

                The last piece of Vince’s body armor fell to the ground, and he took a quick stretch to feel his body moving properly once more. “Ready when you are,” he told Roy. There was still some preparation left to do, but it would have been disingenuous to gather power with the break he’d been given for stripping off armor.

                This time, Roy didn’t bother with being subtle. He slammed his bat into the floor, creating a small shower of concrete chips, which Roy scooped in his free hand as he began advancing toward Vince. He was methodical and careful, but this time a bit more aggressive. Seeing Vince’s first big strike fail had obviously given Roy confidence, and he probably wanted to press the advantage before Vince thought of a way to recover. Not a bad plan, actually, however it failed to take into account the fact that Vince’s electrical supply was nowhere near tapped out.

                As Roy moved closer, Vince’s right hand began to crackle once more. Unlike the first time, he didn’t immediately sling a blast at Roy. Instead, Vince continued letting it build, focusing on drawing forth as much power as he could while still keeping an eye on Roy. The caution proved prudent, as seconds later a volley of hand-thrown concrete buckshot whipped through the air. Vince leapt to the side and dodged, hand growing still brighter as he moved.

                With that one motion, however, he’d exposed his weakness. Roy now knew that Vince was powering up, and that meant he couldn’t absorb kinetic blows without losing his progress. Suddenly, offense was back on the table, and Roy didn’t hesitate as he bolted in closer, swinging the bat at Vince’s legs. Stepping back carefully, Vince dodged the strike, and the punch Roy tried to throw at his shoulder next. Blocking was a non-option, even a glancing blow from Roy would shatter bone at this point, so all Vince could do was dodge and jump around. It took nearly everything he had; slowing the rate he could draw out electricity tremendously. It was still growing, however, even if it wasn’t as quickly as Vince might have liked.

                Then, it happened. Roy read his movements a little too well, and Vince realized that there was no move he could make which would get him completely free of the impending punch. Thinking fast, moving almost on pure instinct, Vince threw up his left arm to catch the blow. Roy’s knuckles struck Vince’s forearm, and just like that it was shattered. The pain was incredible, blinding even, but Vince fought through it. He refused to let his effort go to waste, and even as his bones came apart within the skin he continued concentrating on his right hand, which was glowing a hot-white color with all the energy he’d been pulling toward it.

                Bad as it hurt, the injury did cause Roy to back off for a moment. It was a kind gesture, meant to give Vince a chance to forfeit so he could get healing, but Vince merely shook his head in reply. Roy stared at him for a long moment, then let out a small snort.

                “Damn it, Vince. You can never make this easy can you? Fighting through a broken arm, and don’t think I haven’t noticed how much juice you’re charging. Where did all that come from?”

                “Mr. Transport took me to a lightning storm.” Vince spat the words out, not due to anger but because the pain and concentration had caused him to clench his jaw. “I came ready to fight.”

                “That you did.” Roy glanced down at Vince’s hand, unable to miss the electric glow that was shining brighter than the lights around them. “Guessing that one is about four-to-five times stronger than the last.”

                “Close as I could get,” Vince confirmed.

                “But that forearm looks like hell, and you’re in a lot of pain. One more hit and I doubt even you can keep focus.” Roy was grinning now, even as he clearly readied himself for another charge. “Next one to land a clean hit will probably win then.”

                “Looks that way.”

                “Then let’s make sure the winner really earns it.” Roy blasted forward, launching himself off the concrete and hurtling toward Vince so quickly that there was barely time to move out of the way. Still, Vince managed by less than an inch, swinging around to find that Roy had dug his feet in and was coming with another attack from behind. The bat nearly clipped Vince’s shin, and Roy’s punch would have cracked Vince’s shoulder if he hadn’t ducked at just the right time.

                Somewhere in the battle, between the focus and the tension and the pain, Vince had stopped consciously thinking about the moves he was making. Every ounce of mental power he had was directed at keeping the electricity ready, his body was acting by sheer instinct and reflex. A lifetime of training condensed into a few steps and quick dodges, yet amazingly it was working. He was hanging in there, albeit always by a span of inches.

                When the opening appeared, Vince instantly knew it was too good to be true. Roy was only pretending to have exposed his left side, trying to bait Vince in so he could counter. Yet Vince took the chance all the same. Even if it was a trap, the opening was still there and it was the best one he’d seen yet. Besides, Roy still had to move faster than Vince if he wanted to counter, and that was a task easier said than done.

                Vince wouldn’t remember much of the fight’s details when the day was done. Most of the minutia and moments were lost in the fog of battle. But that instant, where his hand was inches from Roy, who was swinging a bat about to make contact with Vince’s right elbow, was seared perfectly into Vince’s mind. In that freeze-frame, either of them could have been victorious. But Vince, now that he was finally close enough to be sure Roy wouldn’t be able to dodge or deflect, was a lone heartbeat faster.

                The room seemed to dim as Roy glowed with lightning, so much coursing through his body that Vince imagined he could see Roy’s bones. It was a tremendous blast, smaller bolts were leaping off Roy’s back, hitting the overhead bulbs causing them to spark and shatter. Like all lightning strikes, however, it was over quickly. Vince stared at his friend carefully, hoping against hope that he hadn’t done so much damage as to really hurt him.

                “Yup. About four-to-five times as much.” Those were the only words Roy spoke before he fell over flat on his back, his bat cracking the floor as he landed.

                “He’s okay,” Mary said from nearby. “As fast as Roy heals, I bet he’ll be up and around again before we get a healer down here. But he’s definitely out. You win, Vince.”

                Much as he wanted to pump his fist in triumph, instead Vince let out the scream of pain he’d been holding in since Roy broke his arm.