Notes: Have some ACTION! DRAMA! PERIL! And a CLIFFHANGER, because I'm super mean ;)
Title: Rivalries: Chapter Twenty-Three, Part Two
Chapter Twenty-Three, Part Two
It had been a long time since Charlie dueled, but he felt the rust falling off his knack the further along the duel got. Applegate had thrown nothing but classics at him so far—big, booming offensive shields that cracked and crowded at his defenses, smothering shields that fell over him like a thick, cold blanket of snow, electric shields that sizzled and spit as they tore at him.
Charlie had an answer for every shot. It wasn’t as easy as he remembered it, and not just because of the rust—Charlie didn’t move like he used to. How could he, when he could only trigger his knack from a kneel? But he was mobile enough, enough to change his defenses effectively to handle the colonel’s attacks: a sharp wedge to defray the biggest attacks, a thousand tiny swells to slough off the heaviest blankets, hard, heavy shields that refracted the sparks and heat. And firing back was…
It was fun. Charlie hadn’t expected it to be so fun. Working his knack, pushing himself, stretching the parts of his past that had been locked away behind therapy and trauma for so long, it was more than fun: it was joyful. If he had lost in the first minute, it would still have been worth it, because he was connecting with that hidden part of himself for the first time in a long time. But he hadn’t lost.
He wasn’t losing. Maybe he wasn’t even going to lose.
Charlie had thought he’d given his ego up back when he lost his arm—what was the use in hanging onto his past self when he felt nothing like that person anymore? When he wasn’t able to be that man any more, the man who had been sent all over the world on covert ops, the man who had saved some people and maybe doomed some as well? Better just to give him up and adjust to life as a civilian.
In retrospect, it was good he hadn’t given up too much of his past, because this was definitely not a civilian duel.
One of the last things Charlie had learned to do in his training was create a shield that could both travel and bend. It was hard to keep up the power in a move like that, and he couldn’t let go of his defenses while he sent the bender out there, but the first bending shield that hit Colonel Applegate staggered him, reaching around his defenses and nearly knocking him off his feet.
Charlie grinned to himself as he focused his knack on that move. He could do it. He could get one in there, make it arc like a boomerang and attack from the back. All he had to do was get the better of his opponent once, knock him over and make him lose control of his shields, and that would be the end of it.
The colonel could block it, of course—he could put a complete shield around himself, and that would block an attack from every angle. It would also completely cut off his ability to attack himself, and the colonel wasn’t the kind of man who liked to stop or slow down on the attack. His entire personality was wrapped up in his ability to attack, and he wasn’t going to give that up on a whim.
Boom. Boom. Boom. Foot by foot, Charlie was working his way closer to Colonel Applegate. The man looked displeased with that progress, too—his smirk had long since become a permanent scowl, and he was doggedly holding his ground.
Crack. Crack. Crack. Charlie’s shields were getting closer and closer to breaking through, he could tell, and his defense was strong. He was shaking off the toughest stuff that his opponent had thrown from his position, and he felt like he could take more. He could do it, he could—he could handle this man. He could handle what he was doing, and he could push himself further.
Wait…what’s he doing?
Charlie watched the colonel change his target to the ground in front of him, turning the dirt to sand and sinking in it up to his knees. He was entrenching. Why was he entrenching? He shouldn’t be throwing any move with enough power to make entrenching necessary; that was a heavy-duty defensive play.
Was he…going to throw up a shield storm? Surely he wasn’t. That was too dangerous—if he lost control of a shield storm, it could be devastating to the crowd. Shield storms weren’t target-specific, they were broad and extensive and incredibly powerful; not something that should be utilized outside of a combat situation.
Charlie gauged the distance between them and swore. Fuck, fuck, he was just barely within the classically taught range of a shield storm, he needed to—
The storm erupted from the colonel like a cloud of weaponry made from light and glass, a terrorizing hurricane of slicing edges and screaming sound. It was powerful, so powerful, and as Charlie felt it hit his forward shield, he knew he wasn’t going to last against it without entrenching himself. But there was no time to dig down, no time to dig in. He was going to have to do a bubble shield right here and hope he wasn’t hit so hard he was knocked over.
He crouched down and funneled power into his front shield, expanding it to a few feet away from him in all directions and then strengthening it. It had to be tough but not brittle, flexible without being soft. He’d seen entire specialty units taken out with shield storms before— nothing could penetrate them and there was no way to block them except with that same energy working against itself.
He was getting tired. The lashing continued, though, crashing in on all sides of his shield and digging at it, trying to uproot it at the edges and send him reeling. If that happened…well, if that happened, he had to hope that the colonel was paying close attention, because otherwise Charlie would be chopped to pieces in half a second.
Tired. Breathless. Spots wavered in front of his eyes, melding with the blue and white sparks of energy clashing against his shield, and Charlie finally closed them. He would give up if he could, surrender, lose, but there was no way to indicate that in a way the colonel would be able to see. When was the referee going to step in? Shouldn’t they have called it off by now?
Was he going to be killed in a stupid demonstration duel, right in front of John? In front of Ari?
A crack appeared in the top of his shield, thread-thin, but it would widen quickly. He tried to pull it back together, but he couldn’t. Energy heated the top of his head, the shield storm barely held at bay.
He needed this to end. He needed someone to end it, now, or he was going to be dead in less than a minute.