Chapter 279

                If Shane had been asked before the match whether or not he could keep the barrier of slicing shadows around himself while moving, he would have said maybe, if it was a skill he trained and practiced for a while. In the heat of battle, however, he didn’t waste time wondering if it was viable or not. Shane simply ran for all he was worth, forcing the shadows to keep up. The result was a barrier that was nowhere near as stable or potent as the one when he stood still, but was at least able to offer some manner of protection. Given the fight he was in, Shane would take any advantage he could.

                Breaking out from the corn, Shane stepped into plain view, unsurprised to find Lesley already lining up her shot. If all he did was run, she’d hit him in no time. That was why the shadows around her sprang to life once more, swinging and slicing at Lesley’s body. By this point, Shane knew he wasn’t going to land a blow with such a casual attack. No, all he wanted to do was keep her on the defensive while she aimed, splitting her attention and making those shots a little less precise. Unfortunately, it was taking a lot of mental effort to attack, defend himself, and race around the field, so he couldn’t keep this up forever either.

                His best hope was, oddly enough, Lesley’s own talent. She was so accurate, so skillful, that most of her fights probably didn’t last too long. Either her opponent went down early, or they knew the trick to whatever she was doing and countered it. Whichever way her usual matches went, most shouldn’t be drawn out, so Shane had to bet on his endurance being higher than hers. Shane never seemed to get the easy fights. Not against Angela, or Chad, or the professors. Nothing was ever easy for him, he was eternally trapped in second place, fighting with everything he had to make it that little extra bit further.

                The first shot missed, barely, as Lesley had to swing to a wide angle as a shadow blade forced her to shift sideways. The second shot, close on the heels of the first, struck the shadow barrier that was trying to keep up with Shane’s mad dashing. No doubt about it, Lesley had increased her rate of fire. She knew what he was trying to do, and didn’t want to let him wear her down. He didn’t stop, however. This was the best chance he had, and she was already two bullets down.

                More gunshots rang as Shane weaved in and out of the corn, leaving a trail of slashed stalks behind him. Three, four, five shots down now. Judging by the make and size of the gun, information Shane hadn’t understood why his grandfather grilled him on as a child, she was probably working with eight bullets. That meant he was over halfway there. The trouble was, Lesley knew that too, and she suddenly grew much more careful with her next shot.

                A rogue shadow blade forced her to dodge slightly at the last moment, that was all that saved Shane. The bullet easily cleared the shadow barrier around him, whizzing past the back of his head so close that Shane could feel the wind from it on his neck. Damn, she was a crazy good shot. If she went sniper like Professor Baker then Lesley would be one of the most dangerous people on the planet.

                Wait… why hadn’t she gone sniper? Lesley was a Weapons major, not a Ranged Combat one. But with aim like hers, there was no threat she’d ever need to get up close and personal with. Unless there was some reason she couldn’t strike from afar. Some aspect of her power that limited that kind of technique.

                Shot number seven was cut in two by the shadows, both pieces spinning through the air, past Shane’s face. One bullet left now. Jerking to a halt, Shane turned his focus back to the shadow barrier around himself and the attack on Lesley. She wouldn’t waste her last bullet, and if he turned his back for even a second she’d use the chance to reload. Lesley and Shane locked eyes across the open stretch of land, nothing between them except some sliced bits of corn stalk drifting on the soft artificial wind. As they stood like that, aware of how much rested on the next move, a small bit of leaf drifted near Lesley’s face. Without breaking eye contact, she let out a puff of breath from the side of her mouth, blowing it easily out of the way.

                It was impossible to say why that set everything in place for Shane. Perhaps it was the casual indifference, or merely the final piece he needed to finish the puzzle that was Lesley Huber. But in that moment, Shane finally realized he’d been searching the wrong part of his memory for a power like Lesley’s. She didn’t have a similar ability to one of the Heroes he’d known or studied at all. No, it was actually a wholly different part of his life that Shane found the answer in, one that Angela had dragged him to in spite of their grandfather insisting it was a waste of time.

                “Perfect Catch. That’s what they called him. I don’t remember his real name, or who he played for, but I remember seeing him on the SAA football field. A player who could avoid every tackle, who could catch a ball as long as it was even remotely close to him. Not with flashy telekinesis or brute force, but with something much easier to underestimate. You’re like him, aren’t you Lesley?  While your powers might not work in the exact same way, you two fundamentally have the same ability: perfect spacial awareness. Within a certain range, you know the precise location of everything and your relation to it. That’s why you can dodge by less than an inch without looking scared, you know exactly where those blades are. And your shots are so good because you know where your gun is aimed in relation to your target, making it easy to find the perfect moment to shoot. Even with all that, you must have trained like crazy to have those moves and reflexes though.”

                “Damn. It took my class a lot longer to put that together. I was hoping to get through Intramurals without anyone catching on.” Lesley’s grip on the gun adjusted slightly, and a dangerous look gleamed in her eye. “But still, knowing what I can do and being able to beat it are different things. Even if you block this shot, do you really think you’ll survive another magazine? I’ve got your timing now.”

                To his own surprise, Shane laughed. “Sorry, sorry. I’m not laughing at you, you are a very serious threat and a skilled opponent. I’m laughing at myself. I worked so hard to come in here and show that I could win using precise, calculated strikes. That I was more than what my power made me. And now, out of all the people I might have to face, I end up with one who can’t be defeated using those methods.”

                “If this is you giving up, it’s a really long-winded version of it,” Lesley pointed out.

                “No, this isn’t me giving up, it’s-”

                The shot rang out, cutting Shane off and nearly hitting him dead center. She’d played along with the conversation to try and lure him into dropping his guard. A good tactic, but one Angela had used up years ago. Shane was still waiting, still ready, and his blades quickened as soon as he saw her hand tighten, slicing the bullet as it drew near. Lesley’s eyes widened, just by a hair, as she realized she was either going to have to reload or change weapons. No matter which she picked, there would be a time where she couldn’t counter-attack.

                “As I was saying, no, this isn’t me giving up. Think of it more as me giving in. Because while I very much want to be a Hero who can be relied on for precision and careful work, it’s not what I’m best at or naturally suited for.” Shane lifted his hand, calling to all the shadows around them. “This is my real power, the one I try so hard not to use on anything but Sims. The kind that’s impossible to dodge.”

                He closed his hand into a fist, and suddenly the world grew darker. Lesley was surrounded by blades, all moving, all spinning, a rapidly forming sphere that closed in on her like a demonic blender. For some, it would have taken longer to see the truth, but Lesley could tell at once that she was done. The way the blades were closing in, there was no space to avoid them. This wasn’t a move to stop an enemy, or injure them. This was a killing technique, one that would leave nothing behind but diced hunks of meat and bone where once a person had stood. Just when it seemed there was no space left, the blades suddenly came to a sharp halt.

                “Deathblow.” Shane’s voice was a whisper, but even so he knew they could hear him in the viewing room. And he knew how many Heroes had just started thinking of Shane as the kind of Super they could call in when something needed laying waste to. Maybe he’d never be able to completely get away from that. Maybe he would always be called on when wanton destruction was needed. But he could still decide the kind of Hero he was between those moments, and what causes he stepped over the line for. For better or worse, this was part of him, and it was time to stop denying that.

                “And Shane DeSoto of Lander wins another match!” Victor was enthusiastic as always, and why not, he’d just seen a hell of a show. “You know the drill, off to the med rooms, both of you!”

                With a thought, Shane dispersed the shadows, revealing an awkwardly posed Lesley standing on one foot, the position she’d been forced into just before the blades stopped. She was perfectly unharmed, although looked quite a bit grumpier than she had at the start of the fight.

                “If you could do something like that, you should have just opened with it.”

                “If I was the kind of man who opened with an attack like that, I don’t think I’d be fit to call myself a Hero,” Shane countered. “It’s the kind of tactic I only use against someone I can’t beat any other way.”

                Lesley still looked annoyed, but she nodded her understanding. “That makes it slightly better, I guess. Just don’t do anything crazier in the next fight. You’ll make me look bad.”

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