Chapter 45

                Hershel was pretty sure he felt something in his hand snap as he blocked Vince’s kick, and the throbbing rush of pain confirmed the suspicion seconds later. Still, he kept his focus on the fight, doing all he could to halt the assault of strikes that appeared to flow seamlessly from his opponent, like a river of pain crashing over him. Months of training had made Hershel better, but that only meant he managed to block a couple of the attacks instead of taking them all at full-force.

                In a lot of ways, sparring Vince reminded Hershel of Roy’s time with Chad freshman year. The difference between them seemed immeasurable, a lifetime’s worth of training made Vince into a seasoned combatant, while Hershel was struggling just to figure out where the next punch might come from. Oddly, those memories of Chad beating Roy senseless filled Hershel with hope, of all things. Roy might not have closed the gap between he and Lander’s top student, but he’d unquestionably narrowed it. If he could do something that incredible, then Hershel could at least improve. Besides, with every session where Hershel truly pushed his limits, win or lose he still increased Roy’s potential, and that was the real goal after all.

                His mind had wandered, which was why Vince’s next strike seemed to manifest from thin air, a punch on course to likely dislocate Hershel’s jaw. With no time to think, something like instinct, but not quite the same, took over. Hershel leaned back, just barely avoiding the blow while punching with a counter-attack of his own. It was easily the best strike he’d thrown all day, which wasn’t to say it was enough. Vince still caught the blow and flipped Hershel to the ground.

                “Going to need a second,” Hershel wheezed out, the air from his lungs suddenly absent.

                In an instant, Vince was there, his focused expression of battle replace by the usual mix of guilt and concern. It had taken a lot of convincing to get him to spar earnestly, and every time there was an injury Hershel feared his friend would call off their training arrangement. Which ended up being good, overall, because it forced Hershel to fight through the pain rather than let on how much he was hurting.

                “Are you okay? I can go get Jada,” Vince offered. Jada was a bubbly sophomore healer currently on duty outside the sparring rooms. While it was nice to have Camille around, she did have her own training and work to do, which meant sometimes they had to use whatever healer was volunteering to help people while they trained. Jada wasn’t quite as potent as Camille, mending the injuries rather than stealing them, though the kind bedside manner helped. And something was working, because since they came back to Lander Hershel was definitely noticing an uptick in the ratio of his training to Roy’s increasing potential.

                “Fine,” Hershel assured him. “Just catching my breath.”

                Vince nodded, but got into a cross-legged position sitting by his friend, intent on waiting nearby just in case Hershel changed his mind. “That last dodge was really good, by the way. You nearly caught me off-guard.”

                “Enough training and even I’m bound to learn something,” Hershel replied.

                “You’re making great progress,” Vince assured him. “Remember, all your training partners are seniors in the HCP, and a lot of us have been doing this sort of stuff for years beforehand. Comparing where you are to where we are isn’t fair to yourself. By normal standards, you’d be able to hold your own by now.”

                “Pity we don’t play by normal standards.” Hershel tested his chest and found that it was once again taking in breath with only moderate complaining, though there was now an ache in his ribs from where he’d hit the ground. It was always strange, having Roy’s memories and knowing how much his brother could take, then doing these sparring sessions and feeling every single blow. Sometimes, Hershel thought that he might understand the divide between humans and Supers better than anyone.

                A loud rumble echoed through a wall of their combat cell, causing both Vince and Hershel to tense up. Despite all the assurances from the staff, the countless new security measures, and the DVA’s presence on site, deep down there was a part of them always waiting for the next attack to come.

                Several seconds later, the door to their cell opened and Jada popped her head in. “Sorry to interrupt, just wanted to let you know that was a freshman from a few cells over. Probably won’t be the last one, but didn’t want anyone to worry.” She closed the door behind her, off to pass the message along to the other people currently sparring.

                “Did she say a few cells over?” Vince asked.

                “She did indeed,” Hershel told him. “I’ve got a pretty good idea about the cause, too. One of the freshman matches I oversaw had a girl with a hell of a lot of power and not nearly enough control.”

                “That’s a problem I can feel for.” Vince hopped up in one movement, then reached down and helped Hershel to his feet. “But if she can get that control anywhere, it’s here. Look at what Lander did for me.”

                “Trust me, Roy had a great view of you in the trial, I’m all-too-aware of what Lander has done for you.” Hershel could still see through his brother’s eyes, the bolts of lightning, blasts of fire, and Sims falling under Vince’s precise punches. More than once, Roy had wondered how he’d beat Vince in a fight, if they were matched against one another. While there were a few ideas swirling around Hershel and Roy’s thoughts, there was also no question it would be one hell of a tough fight.

                “I’d say the test went pretty well for all of us,” Vince corrected. “The only thing I was disappointed in was my review. They told me the tactical decisions I made wrong, and I have to work on those, but there wasn’t much commentary on my fighting. Honestly, now that I’ve finally gotten some control over different energies, I’m a little lost on how to proceed. I guess I can keep doing more of the same training, maybe try and experiment with some new ones, but I feel like that’s starting to pay off less. I’d be better off figuring out my weaknesses and working on them.”

                “Oh yes, all those incredible weaknesses of yours,” Hershel teased. “How about you live with the diminishing returns and leave a little glory for the rest of us.”

                “You forget, I saw Roy fighting too, and I don’t think you two are going to have any trouble seizing plenty of glory for yourself,” Vince said. “He keeps getting tougher and stronger, almost by the fight. I’m not completely certain most of my normal attacks would even work against him anymore.”

                “Yet I’m sure there are a few up your sleeve.” Hershel’s tone was light, but they both understood the truth in his words. They were all friends, and would willingly lay down their lives for each other, but that didn’t change the fact that they were also competitors. Eventually, they might be pitted against one another, and if they didn’t have a plan for how to deal with it then they would be the one at a disadvantage. That didn’t mean they couldn’t help each other, though.

                “Actually, Vince, if you really want a good opinion on what your weaknesses are, and maybe on how to train, you should talk to Chad,” Hershel suggested. “He helped Roy see a lot of his failings when they started fighting, and honestly I think that’s part of why Roy’s been able to improve so much. I would be genuinely shocked if he couldn’t do the same analysis for you.”

                “Sounds like a good idea. But would we have to fight each other?” Even as he asked, Vince was getting back into position to resume their match, training overtaking all other concerns.

                “Maybe. I’m sure he’s already got some ideas, though he might need a match to test them,” Hershel said.

                “Then I’ll have to think it over. Even sparring, the sons of Globe and Intra having a match could be taken the wrong way by a lot of people,” Vince replied.

                “Well then, I guess let’s just focus on the one between the sons of Globe and Titan.” Hershel put up his fists and gave the nod that he was ready, then braced for the onslaught.