Chapter 276

                There was no grace or plan to it. Vince couldn’t use those, even if he wanted to. Lucinda was trying to smother his flames by creating oxygen voids as fast as she could, so he had to keep blasting fire in every direction, too chaotic for her to stop. Sometimes it would hit one of her concentrated oxygen pockets and explode, but such instances were fleeting and rare. She couldn’t afford to create many of those now, not with Vince doing his best to burn out every bit of oxygen around them. He was a pillar of flame, fire pouring out in all directions, torching everything it could touch. It would have been easier if there was more than rocks around them, trees or grass that could serve as easy fuel and burn themselves. As it stood, Vince’s stolen fire was the only source he had, so he was pouring on as much as he could muster. This wasn’t quite how he’d expected to use his Lander East training on summoning big bursts of power, but anything that worked in a fight was a tactic he was happy to embrace.

                The thing was, Vince already knew he couldn’t actually pull it off. There had to be sources of fresh air coming into the cell, and no matter how fast he burned the oxygen Lucinda would be able to pull from those unseen vents and refuel herself. Choking her out was impossible. All he was really doing, all he’d ever been trying for, was distracting her. Breaking that concentration. Giving her too many threats to deal with so that one could slip past.

                The moment came after thirty seconds of trying to burn the room down. Around Vince, the circle of flames he’d been pouring out parted for an instant, showing him Lucinda waving her arms around, frantically trying to get control of the battlefield once more. Lifting his hand, Vince halted the flames and switched energy as fast as he could, getting off a single blast of electricity. It raced across the field, unbothered by pockets of oxygen, before slamming into Lucinda’s shoulder and knocking her back.

                “Oh you fucker. All that for a potshot?” She was staggered, but not down. He apparently hadn’t hit her with enough juice to end things.

                “You have no idea what people in my class will do to land one blow.” Vince didn’t reignite the fire. Instead, he started absorbing. Not the dying flames around him or the heat burning the air. No, he took something almost as precious as the oxygen itself. Vince stole the light.

                “The fuck?” Lucinda was plunged into darkness, as was the rest of the cell.

                Vince dearly hoped the people watching had some way of seeing what was going on, but he couldn’t worry about that just yet, instead focusing on racing toward his opponent. Lucinda was going to be weakened by getting a sudden electric shock, enough to slow her down slightly. Between that and the fact that she’d be fighting in darkness while he could still sense her location, it might be enough to make up for the fact that Vince was essentially suffocating. He didn’t have much left in him. Those last few breaths felt hours away, and every limb was moving heavily. If this one didn’t work, he’d probably pass out before there was another chance to attack.

                Quickly closing the gap, Vince managed to land a jab to Lucinda’s ribs. She let out a curse and a gasp of breath as she leapt back and flicked the devices on her gloves. Suddenly, she was ringed by flames, unseen in the darkness as Vince drank their light. He could switch over and absorb them quickly, however there was no chance Lucinda wouldn’t attack in the brief moment of light she had. That shouldn’t be enough to change things, but against an opponent like her it seemed idiotic not to assume she had some sort of plan tucked away.

                “I call this move the Johnny Cash. Absorbers do one at a time, right? If you want to get rid of my ring of fire then you’ll have to show yourself, Vince.”

                No, she was wrong. He had to switch if he wanted to safely get past her defenses, that part was true. But there was still a way forward, a path to victory, for those willing to pay the toll. Vince didn’t hesitate, he ran through the flames, feeling a familiar sear on his skin as they burned his flesh. His reward for the burns was landing another punch to her ribs, this time much harder than a mere jab. Lucinda tried to jump away again, but Vince wasn’t giving her the chance. A kick to her knee sent her sprawling to the ground, and Vince was right behind. He pinned her legs with his knee, placing a fist against her stomach. The lights flashed on as Vince quit absorbing, he was going to need access to kinetic energy for this part.

                “So, that’s it huh? You’ve got me pinned, that must mean you’re pretty sure this is done.” Lucinda was still calm, unnervingly so. Though her left arm had gotten pinned under her back in the fall, she was still moving her free hand slowly, almost at random from the appearance. “This is the part where you try and talk me into surrender, right?”

                “Maybe.” Vince leaned forward, using his free hand to grab Lucinda’s elbow and jam her hands against the ground, eventually dragging it around behind her own head. “But first I’m going to make sure you don’t torch me. Or did you think I wouldn’t figure out that you don’t actually need to aim directly at me to score a hit? Just a spark would do it, once you had the oxygen ready.”

                Lucinda stared at Vince for several seconds, her arm twitching as she struggled to get it free. Finally, she went limp. With a weary sigh, Lucinda leaned her head back down to the ground. “Damnit. Thought that would buy me enough time to counter-attack if I kept you talking. Fine, I’ve got my pride, I can admit when I’m bested; you’ve pretty clearly got me in a deathblow. It’s your win, Vince. I give.”

                “And Vince Reynolds wins another match by locking his enemy in a deathblow! Looks like Lander is back on track.” Victor was as enthusiastic as ever; apparently unbothered by the destruction this last match had left in its wake. “Lucinda, please let Vince breathe normally again, and then both of you get over to the med rooms. Vince, you can skip punching the ground since your opponent gave up.”

                Pushing himself to his feet, Vince enjoyed a deep, oxygen-rich breath as he helped Lucinda up. She was largely unharmed except for a few broken ribs. Now that he had a moment to think, Vince realized how much his face and arms hurt from running through the fire. The sooner he got to a healer, the better.

                “How did you know?” Lucinda asked. “That I was bluffing to buy time, I mean.”

                “I’m pretty good at fighting. Not much else, honestly, but that I’m good at. Part of that means getting a sense of what my opponents can do. Since you were able to guide the fire after it left your hand, it only made sense that you could still strike, even with your arm on the ground. Also, my best friend is a really good liar. It’s given me a lot of practice in seeing people bluff.”

                “Kind of weird, but whatever works I guess,” Lucinda replied. “That was a ballsy move, jumping through the fire.”

                “You’re really hard to fight. I had to do whatever it took. Besides, I’m used to being burned.” Vince hesitated, suddenly unsure of how much he should say about his past. “It, um, took me a while to get control of my power, so I burned myself a lot by accident.”

                Lucinda chuckled. “Seems like you’ve got it well in hand now. You’re damn strong yourself, you know. Maybe too strong, actually.”

                “What do you mean?”

                She stopped walking, looking at him with a surprising expression of concern. “Haven’t you noticed? Vince, so far you’re the lone student here to win both fights using deathblows. You’ve got so much power that it seems like the only way you can stop an enemy is by killing them. I’m glad you’re on the side of the Heroes, but that’s a scary amount of power for anyone to wield.”

                Vince followed as she started walking once more, suddenly feeling far less exhilarated about his victory than he had moments prior.