Chapter 316

                In many ways, Sean was the perfect opponent for Blake. While the latter could summon destructive spheres known as black holes, drawing in mist was still a difficult task. They weren’t true black holes, of course, merely a Super-version of them. Still, they were dangerous, especially given the level of control Blake had over their strength. He could make them powerful enough to hold fog, certainly, but a black hole capable of drawing in mist was also going to be destroying terrain and anyone standing even remotely nearby. That had been their dance since childhood: Sean would turn into fog, and Blake would be unable to create a black hole capable of hurting him without wrecking the environment and putting himself in danger. But they were no longer children, and Blake had been given plenty of years to prepare for a rematch.

                “You know, it took me a while to figure out how to defeat you, and even then the solution wasn’t easy. I had to train up an aspect of my power to levels I never imagined I would be able to reach. Funny how with enough time and motivation, it’s amazing the things we can accomplish.” Blake seemed unworried by the advancing fog, his hand extended and finger pressed together, ready to snap.

                “Oh?” Sean’s fog voice was wavy, yet still easily discernable. “Finally find a way to selectively target living clouds?”

                “No. That would be impossible. Instead, I worked on speed.” The snap came on the heels of Blake’s words. Almost instantly, a dark orb appeared in the center of Sean’s cloud, manifesting so quickly there was no time to spread out away from it. Some of the cloud was sucked in, Sean quickly shifted the majority of himself away as fast as he could, but the bits where the hole had appeared were still stuck inside.

                Blake laughed quietly, peacefully, as he watched the show. “Each bit of fog can only turn back into whatever it was before, so I wonder what you just lost. An arm? A leg? Maybe a heart, not that you get much use of yours. If there is a kind god in the universe, then I got your mouth or vocal cords.”

                “No such luck asshole.” The fog surged forward, washing over Blake. Instantly the assault began, fists to the neck and kicks to the back of his knees. It was an effective rush, knocking Blake to the ground and quickly silencing his laughter. Sadly, the advantage didn’t last for long.

                All around Blake, more black holes began to manifest. They weren’t especially strong, barely potent enough to pull in a passing butterfly, but conjuring them in the middle of Sean’s cloud meant that each one grabbed the fog where it formed and anything that passed through. Worse, they didn’t appear and vanish, they were staying in place, keeping the bits of cloud they’d stolen sealed away inside them. Fog couldn’t be properly crushed, at least by Blake’s kind of black hole, but it could be contained.

                Retreat was the tempting call, however it wasn’t an option. If Sean moved away, Blake would keep on creating these black holes, and there was no good counter. Bunching up tightly made a smaller target, unfortunately that could allow a single good shot to end the fight. Spreading out meant there was more to catch but turned him into an easy target, essentially dooming Sean to death by a thousand cuts, or black holes in this case. The lone potential path to victory lay in keeping up the attack. Knocking Blake out got rid of any black holes he was maintaining. That was the only way Sean was making it through this.

                “You’re selling yourself short, you know. You’ve clearly been working on the number you can maintain on top of your speed.” Sean punched Blake in the neck, causing him to choke, and took the opportunity to manifest a foot that delivered a sound kick to Blake’s temple. It might have knocked out a lesser man, unfortunately the trouble with fighting other Heroes was that they tended to be tough sons of bitches.

                “And how well I can move them,” Blake coughed out. That was the only warning Sean got before one of the black holes flew toward him. It wasn’t exactly a zippy pace, but an orb that crushed all it touched didn’t need to be fast to be scary. The black holes gathered around Blake, creating a fine deterrent against Sean getting close. “I planned for this day. I knew it would end up like this. You’ve never been able to accept that we were trying to do what she wanted. Yes, it went awry, and I feel guilty every day for that, but is this really so much worse than what she was living through?”

                “That’s not why I’m going to stop you.” Sean’s voice was weaker, he’d lost more of his fog than he cared to think about. Reforming now would probably kill him, there were more than a few internal organs missing. “I hate that you were on Charles’ side in that fight, but I didn’t hate you for it. What I can’t abide is all the terrible things you’ve done in Shelby’s name. Before Blaine caught me breaking into that genetics lab, I saw early scraps of what you were experimenting with, and now I finally know the whole story. Killing Intra, framing Globe, experimenting on children, do you really think she’d want all this? To live on knowing what the price of her salvation was?”

                “Easy words from your position. The work is done, the sins already committed. Shelby has a path to resurrection, and it was laid by me.” Blake slapped his chest, the veneer of calm peeling away. “Me and Charles. We did the things you all wouldn’t. We made the hard choices. And now, now that we’re on the verge of getting her back, you want to come in and claim the high ground? Without me, there would have never been any hope of saving her. No, you don’t get to reap the rewards and scorn the methods.” Putting both hands together, Blake began to conjure more black holes, a dozen of the orbs appeared all around Sean’s fog. “I’m the one who helped save her while you rotted in prison. I’m the one who deserves to be thanked, not cast aside. I’m the one who will bring her all the way back.”

                The orbs were growing, pinning Sean in, when they suddenly stopped. One near the edge wobbled, shimmered, and then collapsed in on itself. Another two followed, then another, as the black holes began to fall apart. A shocked expression ran across Blake’s face and he looked around, focused on something other than Sean for the first time since the fight began.

                “Thank you.” Alice was floating nearby, Shelby no longer in her arms, which were extended out in front of Alice’s body. “Sincerely. Circumstances aside, thank you for giving me a chance to see my mother again. I am genuinely grateful for that. But it has to stop. It has to be enough. You aren’t fighting for her anymore. If you were, you’d have taken me up on my offer to deal with this peacefully.”

                Blake’s eyes narrowed as he stared up at his niece. “You were supposed to run.”

                “You should really know better than to trust a Subtlety student.”

                “Maybe you’re right.” Flexing his hands, Blake began to call more orbs into existence. “Really think you’ve got enough control to go against an experienced Hero?”

                To his surprise, Alice immediately shook her head. “Hell no. I’m proud, not dumb. But I’m strong enough to open a path.”

                Too late, Blake understood and looked back to Sean. Sure enough, Alice hadn’t been popping black holes at random, she was picking her targets carefully, opening up a path for someone shapeless to slip through. Blake turned just in time to catch a knee directly to his face, smashing his nose, teeth, and cheekbones as well as sending him tumbling into unconsciousness.

                All around them, the black holes dissipated, releasing the pieces of fog they’d sealed away. That was one of Sean’s favorite aspects to his power: clouds were almost impossible to fully destroy. He’d still need some serious healing when he reformed, but enough was recovered that he wouldn’t die immediately. Unfortunately, he was stuck in fog form until then.

                “Go get Shelby, and keep moving,” Sean ordered. “I’ll keep Blake handled until backup arrives.”

                “And you’re welcome.” Alice started to float away, then stopped. “Make sure he survives. I meant what I said, this all has to stop. Let him answer for his crimes in court, I’m sure we’ll have questions for him. Besides, when this is over and mom finally wakes up, she’s going to be dealing with a lot. Don’t make her mourn someone else, especially not her twin.”

                Sean floated over Blake as Alice sped off, thinking of how easy it would be to end this once and for all. His niece was right, though. There had been enough killing and secrets already. Shelby wasn’t coming back to much of a family as it was, Sean didn’t have it in him to take one more member of it from her.