Chapter 216

                The first blast came seconds after Vince stepped into view, striking nearby concrete and exploding on impact. It was easy enough to avoid, but the closer he got the tighter his windows for dodging would be, especially since he had to focus on offense for at least the start of the attack. If he didn’t make himself look like a credible threat then the Sims wouldn’t have to focus on stopping him, and that would make things harder on Chad. Fire danced along his hands, building as he dashed forward, ready to burst out with a single thought. Vince drew as close as he could while dodging more and more frequent blasts, until he finally caught sight of a Sim peering out from around a corner, visibly taking aim.

                One moment, one shot. Vince didn’t hesitate, in his mind part of him was already back at Lander East, trying to strike full-force in the span of seconds. His hand whipped upward in a blur, and the column of heat that burst out from his palm was as thick as an arm. It roasted through the air, hitting the Sim dead on and melting through most of its head before the body fell backward, out of view. First Sim down, countless unknown to follow.

                Another volley of shots rained down from the second floor of the orphanage, and Vince realized with a shock that not all of them were energy-based. Rubber bullets bounced off the concrete, flipping through the air and throwing some sort of liquid from their tips as they spun. Poison, probably, something meant to paralyze and replicate the loss of a limb when struck. Were some of the Sims supposed to be human, and this was their defense? Maybe, or maybe not. Supers could use guns too, there was no reason they wouldn’t give them to some Sims without ranged powers. Either way, Vince had a hunch he didn’t want to take any of those bullets.

                Scanning the top floor to make sure there were no children near the attackers, Vince swept a torrent of constant flame across all the windows, forcing the attacking Sims to either pull back or get burned. A few caught fire, their clothes going up even as they jerked their skin away, but most seemed unhurt. He needed to do something faster, something that would buy him enough time to really work in.

                Mentally tallying his energy assets, Vince ran through his options. He had plenty of fire left, as well as a good deal of kinetic, but his electricity was running low after the last fight. There were a few bits of Thomas’s energy from the last time they sparred, though that was running near empty, and a good deal of light he still had absorbed. Another flash bomb might be the best way to blind them, however to pull it off he had to get as many of them looking at him at once as possible. It wouldn’t do to burn his stockpile and only stun half of the Sims. He couldn’t just spray fire into the building either, not without risking the lives of the kids.

                But then again… they didn’t know that. Although he wasn’t confident in his skill with it, there was a technique he might be able to use that would get the Sims’ attention and give him the chance to blind them without risking so much as a single civilian in the process. It was a new method, for him anyway, and knowing he was on unfamiliar ground made the idea scary. Then again, it was nowhere near as terrifying as the idea of burning a bunch of children. Vince set his resolve. He was going to do it.

                Vince was going to try and bluff his enemies.

                “You cowardly assholes hiding in a building with a bunch of children? You think that’s going to keep you safe? Well news flash, I know what you’re doing in there. I know that if I don’t stop you those kids still die, along with every other person on the planet. So if I have to choose between one smoldering orphanage and an entire world being annihilated, I’ll take the first one.” Vince was a touch surprised to notice how much lying had led to him emulating Nick, although upon reflection he realized it wasn’t that much of a shock. After all, Nick was the best liar Vince knew, and he really wanted to sell this fib.

                The fire around Vince’s arms was intensifying, growing brighter by the second. They had to see it, to feel the warmth from all the way over there, to believe he was serious. “The good thing for us is that I don’t even have to set foot in there to stop you. That Armageddon Sim of yours needs ten minutes to focus, right? I wonder how well he’ll focus with an inferno coming down on top of his head. Last chance you bastards. Come out peacefully, or I’ll roast the lot of you. You’ve got until the count of three.”

                Bold as his voice sounded, Vince was actually shoving down his nerves as fast as he could. This was going to be the hardest part. He’d been working so hard on switching energies, on building up power in the span of seconds. If he were trying this with fire, it wouldn’t have worked, ditto for electricity. They both demanded too long to gather and concentrate. Kinetic he could have managed, that much he knew. Light… light was among Vince’s newer tools. He didn’t know if he actually could pull this off or not using light, but it didn’t matter. Vince would make it happen, force it too with every ounce of determination he had, because failure wasn’t an option. He had to succeed, that was all there was too it.

                “One.” Vince fired off a few rogue blasts, missing the orphanage by a decent margin but making his presence felt. The counter could come at any time, he had to start dialing off of fire, this was his last bit of theater to make sure they took the threat seriously.

                “Two.” From the windows, Vince could see twitching, hurried movements of Sims getting into position to stop him. Any moment now. He took a deep breath, let the fire recede, and pulled up every bit of light he could muster.

                “Three.” Many things happened at once. The criminal Sims sprang up out of hiding, almost all of them holding smaller, child-sized Sims up in front of them as cover. Bastards. They’d known he was planning something and were using kids as shields, trusting he wouldn’t attack. Trouble was, they still wanted to shoot at him, which required aiming, and all Vince needed was for them to glance in his direction at the right time. All of that fired through Vince’s mind in the split-second of the Sims rising up from their hiding spots, and he came to an instantaneous conclusion.

                Vince would probably never be the kind of man who could actually burn down an orphanage, even if the entire planet hung in the balance. It was just a step too far. Temporarily blinding a few children, on the other hand, was a price he was willing to pay if it meant saving the world. Vince released all the light that he’d gathered in a massive flare, one that lit up the entire block. Instantly the sounds of clattering guns and cursing Sims filled the air, he’d gotten them, or at least most of them.

                There was no small amount of satisfaction in Vince’s expression as he lined up a shot on a second-floor Sim, one that had dropped its child-shield in surprise. He’d managed to pull off his bluff, now it was time to press the advantage. If he was quick and precise, Vince could cut their numbers in half before their sight recovered.