Chapter 307

               The trouble with fighting Chad wasn’t that he was impossibly powerful; Roy was stronger, Sasha had been faster, and Nick possessed a keener tactical mind. The issue was that he was so damn adaptable, it made finding a good strategy difficult, especially since few options would work more than once. Vince could darken the area around them, but that would leave him vulnerable while barely inconveniencing Chad thanks to his enhanced senses. Attacking with kinetic strikes would leave Vince both vulnerable and in melee range, a very dangerous place to be. While absorbing kinetic constantly would cut off most of Chad’s attack options, it would leave Vince unable to do any damage back to him. Even if Vince was willing to play his most dangerous card, absorbing all of the kinetic energy in Chad’s body, it probably wouldn’t work. Chad could will his blood to move even without the force of his heart.

               Worst of all was the fact that Chad clearly had no intention of giving Vince time to get his bearings. He raced in, sending a bone-spike kick that would have wrecked Vince’s legs if it connected. Thankfully, the bone-armor still slowed Chad down. Not by as much as Vince might have liked, but enough to let him dodge. Vince returned the favor by firing off a quick blast of lightning, managing to catch Chad in the shoulder. It was a smaller shock, meant to stun at the most, in hopes of bringing him to his senses.

               To Vince’s surprise, the jolt may as well not have happened, Chad didn’t even lose a step as it hit. He charged in, swinging hard as Vince did all he could to dodge. Blocking was possible only if Vince was absorbing kinetic, and right now he was focused on trying to do some damage. With a lucky dive to the left, Vince got momentarily clear and hit Chad with another bolt, this one packing substantially more juice. The hit caused Chad to pause for a moment, if that, before he was coming again, no sign of pain or weakness from the shocks.

               “When did you become lightning proof?” Vince switched to absorbing, the onslaught was coming faster now as Chad found a rhythm. Blows smacked ineffectually against Vince’s skin, adding to his already impressive kinetic stockpile, until he saw an opening and managed to get a few feet clear from Chad.

               “When one of our professor’s beat me with it,” Chad replied. “I am always learning, from victory and defeat, so it became obvious years ago that I needed a way to deal with electricity. I’ve realized that once it enters my body, it briefly becomes part of my nervous system, and with enough preparation that means I can control it and sent it into the ground before it hits anything vital.”

               “I wasn’t actually expecting an answer.” Was he lying? Maybe it was a bluff to keep Vince from turning up the power and hitting him with enough force to actually bring Chad down.

               “I know. But fighting you is wasting precious time, so I hope that if you see how pointless it is, you might give up.” Something like a chuckle bubbled from Chad’s throat. “What a silly notion. These emotions truly are clouding my thoughts if I entertained the idea that you could be convinced to stand down.”

               Another rush, but this time Vince was ready. Summoning the last of Thomas’s energy, he created a giant orange hand that appeared between him and Chad, wrapping the latter in its clumsy fingers and hurling him upward, into the sky. The only time Chad was vulnerable, the only time he couldn’t completely dodge or counter, was when he was airborne. Militia had shown them all that, and Conrad had proven it. Even without the ground at his feet, Vince didn’t trust Chad not to counter more lightning. For his one shot, the best option Vince had was the oldest, truest one in his arsenal.

               The air burned as Vince let loose a massive torrent of fire, aimed directly for Chad. It should be enough to wound him, slowing him down and creating more openings. He could have done more, could have gone hotter, but Vince wouldn’t risk killing a friend. The world had senselessly lost one Intra already, there was no reason to let history repeat itself. Searing flames found their target, slamming into Chad and coating him in fire. Vince held the shot for as long as he dared before finally letting the flames die away. As the last of the embers faded, Chad was revealed. Arms in front of his face, the minor burns on his skin were already healing. It wasn’t enough. Vince couldn’t seriously injure Chad without putting his life at risk, and they both knew it was a line he wouldn’t cross. Chad’s arms moved aside as he descended, revealing a grim smile. A smile that said it all. Chad knew that the momentum of the fight was swinging in his favor. But suddenly, the smile vanished, and a panicked look came into Chad’s eyes.

               That alone was terrifying. Even in the few times Chad allowed emotion to poke through, it was usually something like anger, or joy, or sadness. Never panic. What was out there that even could make Chad afraid?

               Landing with a roll, Chad sprang to his feet, running toward Vince. Only now, he didn’t have his fists up. “Throw me again!”

               “What?” The sudden shift had left Vince uncertain. If it had been a tactic to lower his defenses, it would have been pure genius.

               “Throw me again, jump up with me, and punch me to the northwest!” There was something new in Chad’s voice, an edge Vince had never heard there before. Desperation?

               Vince opened his mouth to ask more questions, but Chad grabbed him by the collar before he could. “If you have ever trusted me, if there was ever any real friendship between us, then do this right now. Every second matters.”

               There was nothing else to say to that. Vince did trust Chad, even with his current judgement. “I’m out of the orange stuff, so I’ll carry you up and punch from there. Northwest?”

               “Northwest,” Chad confirmed.

               Not wasting a moment, Vince grabbed Chad under the arms and then blasted them both off the ground, high into the air. When they reached the apex of the leap, Vince pressed a fist into the most bone-fortified part of Chad’s back and let off a burst of kinetic energy strong enough to send him shooting through the air like a spiney-bullet. Much as he wanted to see where Chad was off to, all of the bodies flying through the air was drawing attention, and Vince had to shift to absorbing bullets as he plummeted back toward the earth. He landed cleanly, taking in the force of the impact, and found that he’d managed to move about five feet closer to Globe than where he started the match.

               Whatever Chad was doing, Vince hoped it went well for him, so long as it wasn’t about hurting Globe. Head down, Vince began running once more, firing off a round of lightning at the nearest group of guards in his path. With Chad out of the way, crossing the rest of the battlefield didn’t seem nearly so daunting.