Chapter 148

                Vince lay on the rough stone, panting. Dimly, from far in the distance, he could make out the occasional boom echoing from elsewhere on the mountain. Another of the few people here, no doubt, pushing themselves to their absolute limits. He hoped they were making faster progress. Vince was accustomed to training, used to working his body hard and pushing through his limits. Even with all that experience, however, this regime was still quite draining. Literally, in fact.

                Around him was nothing, save for a long path that led back to the main building and the small section of concrete where he was currently laying. Other than that, he had only open air, snow, and rocks to deal with. Barren as the landscape was, that was also what made it perfect. Here, with no concrete cells or nearby school, Vince could fire off shots he’d have never dared let loose within Lander. It wasn’t just about training his speed at building up energy, although that was certainly a large part of the process, but also creating attacks that truly hit with as much force as he could wield. There was a limit, it seemed, as Vince discovered that not even he could release an entire wildfire’s worth of flame in a single go. Like trying to funnel a lake through a hose, even with tremendous pressure built up a nozzle was only so large. Electricity was a little easier, thankfully Mr. Transport was running Vince (along with a set of lightning rods) to and from various storms every night to recharge so he always had plenty on hand, but even then he was discovering that only so much could be channeled into a single strike.

                Kinetic, on the other hand, was a different animal. Vince didn’t know if it was because his body was actually designed to deal out kinetic damage or it was just the simplest to wrangle, but so far he’d been able to void his whole reserve with a single punch no matter how much he absorbed. They’d been using Lander East staff members with enhanced strength to refuel Vince, and the sessions were getting longer each day.

                Picking himself up, Vince took a survey of the area around his small stone patch. The mountain was pockmarked with scars from his training, boulders turned to rubble, scorch marks all along the ground, entire sections of snow burned away. He started to build an electric shot, then thought better of it. Along with working on his output, Vince was also trying to get better at rapid absorption. If he’d been a little quicker in the battle with Professor Cole, they might have been able to freeze her cloth and hold her in place. It would have been a less showy victory, but also a safer one from a practical standpoint. With it so cold already out here, this seemed like as good a place to practice as any.

                Taking a deep breath, Vince felt the heat on his skin. Minute as it seemed in the freezing landscape, he actually knew there was a tremendous amount. He could feel it, pushing against him, when he focused. Vince allowed the heat to flow in, and dragged all of the warmth around it along for the ride. On the stone, ice began to form as water in the air froze solid. It worked its way out bit by bit, a steady progress but also a slow one. Dropping the temperature of an area was easy; achieving a true freeze was a whole other matter.

                “Not too shabby.”

                It took more of Vince’s self-control than he was proud of to resist the urge to whirl around. Even having been here for several days, seeing Michael around and chatting with him on occasion, the sound of that voice coming from behind put Vince on edge. The reaction was a just one, born of necessity during their feud, but it no longer served a purpose. That Michael had either been wiped out with his memories or thoroughly purged in his time at Lander East. Or he was faking it to an incredible degree. Either way, he probably wouldn’t risk it all for a potshot at someone who was able to beat him two years and lots of training ago.

                “Thanks,” Vince replied, halting the absorption. “I learned to do areas a while back, and I’ve gotten better about focused absorbing, but I can’t seem to join the speed and the wide coverage very well. Taking this long in battle makes it a pretty limited technique.”

                Michael turned about in place, looking over the scene of wide-spread destruction that Vince had left in his training’s wake. “Yeah, when I see all this, ‘limited’ is definitely the first word that comes to mind. If someone with your kind of power is stressing out this bad, competition in your class must be crazy damn stiff.”

                “It is, but that’s not the point.” It was strange to talk to Michael this way, like they hadn’t traded blows and blood on the battlefield, like he didn’t remember how it felt to fight for progress in the HCP. This version didn’t, though, and somehow that made conversation actually flow a bit easier. “During my last trial, there was a fight where we might have won earlier if I’d been able to freeze our opponent. I couldn’t, though. I wasn’t able to drop the temperature far or fast enough.”

                “But you said you still won,” Michael pointed out.

                “That time. When I need the technique again, who knows if things will work out the same way. The next occasion I have to freeze someone it might be life or death. Same goes for when I need electricity, or kinetic power, or fire. I have to be capable with every tool at my disposal, because there’s no telling when any one of them could be the thing that keeps a civilian or fellow Hero alive.”

                “Seems to me you’re trying to put a whole lot on yourself,” Michael said. “I’ll admit I don’t get the full training experience being here, but even I know they constantly tell you all that no one can do everything. Even Heroes have limits.”

                Vince shook his head. “There’s a difference between lacking the ability to do something and having the ability but not being good enough with it. While my power has its limits like everyone else’s, it comes with a lot of versatility. Mastering every aspect is how I’m going to be strong enough to make it in the Hero world.”

                A gust of wind blew across the snow, stirring up the white powder and momentarily chilling both men. When it was done, Michael jerked a thumb back toward the main building. “They sent me down to let you know lunch was ready. We should probably start heading back that way.”

                “Thanks,” Vince replied. “I’ll be up in a few minutes. If I have to head in, I may as well squeeze in a little more training and empty out some energy reserves.”

                “Don’t overdo it,” Michael said. His feet crunched through the snow for a few seconds before halting. “Look, Vince, I’m not stupid. Well, okay, maybe I am kind of stupid, but even I can tell you’re tense around me. Whatever was between us, I’m sure you have good reason not to trust me. That said, if you ever want someone to talk to about trying to make things freeze…” He reached out a hand, and a flash of blue light rippled off of it. When it cleared, a large block of ice was resting only a few feet away from them.

                “…I’m not the worst guy in the world to consult with. It’s only an offer, if you want to take me up on it. I won’t force the issue. It’s just that something tells me that might be the very least I owe you. Anyway, see you at lunch. Don’t stay here so long you freeze.”

                He was off again, moving easily through the snow as Vince checked over the ice block. Embedded inside, he could still see the snowflakes that had almost made it to the ground. Whatever else he could say of Michael, the man had a point. No one knew the cold quite like he did.