Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Rivalries Chapter Twenty-Three, Part Two

 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.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Rivalries: Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One

 Notes: Back to Rivalries! Something is rotten in the school of Euryale, and John is about to get a big, nasty whiff of it. Not the nicest metaphor, but it works ;)

Title: Rivalries: Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One


Chapter Twenty-Two, Part One


One of the things John liked most about being a counselor was helping his students through the tough periods in their lives. It had been hard on him, being a teenager: hard to have parents who thought his designation as a “knack” made him a freak and wanted little to do with him; hard to have a knack that always showed up on genetic tests but didn’t bother to actually do anything until he was almost done with college; hard to never fit in no matter where he ended up.

Even though he’d been the one to end up in the hospital back then, John still harbored a little guilt over making the duel with Charlie happen in the first place, because…what, he wanted to prove himself? To make the boy who’d infiltrated all his wet dreams finally notice him for once? To show that he could be just as shallow as so many of the rest of his classmates? It was bullshit, but he hadn’t known better. Now he was the adult, and in a position where he could reach out to kids in a tough spot and, hopefully, make their lives a little easier.

It was a lot more satisfying to help when he wasn’t stretched in so many different directions that he felt like he was on the verge of vanishing, though.

“Of course I’ll make sure Olivia’s work gets passed on to her at home…when will she be home, again?” One of his students was in a car accident over the weekend. It happened—it was awful, but it happened. What hadn’t happened before was the people in the other car blaming her knack, a mild mental Persuasion, for causing the accident in the first place.

John had spent an hour and a half on the phone dealing with parents and lawyers and therapists for Olivia already, and it was still ten minutes to three. This week, this fucking week. Monday had gone all right, Tuesday had been one step away from a disaster thanks to a number of court appearances being scheduled back-to-back with hardly any time to check in with the kids between them, and Wednesday was headed straight past disaster and into hellish without a backward glance.

It didn’t help that today was the day of the duel. It was all anyone was talking about, and John could tell that the chatter was affecting Charlie, even if he didn’t let on in a way anyone else would realize. It also didn’t help that he had Ari with him whenever the boy wasn’t at a doctor’s appointment, which his mom had done her best to reschedule once she saw how much better Ari was around Charlie. That made the students curious, and curious students who didn’t like Charlie turned into malignant little gossips the first second they got.

“I heard he’s his kid from overseas,” John overheard one of the senior boys say as he walked down the hall outside John’s office. “Like, he knocked up some woman in Afghanistan or something.”

“Dude, that’s stupid,” another student said.

“Oh yeah? Then explain why it looks like he just got this kid dumped on him full-time? I bet Principal Cross is pissed about it. Teachers shouldn’t be allowed to have their kids in school with them like this.”

John let the urge to follow Willard—oh yeah, he recognized the chatty one—down the hall and set him straight drain away.  John knew that Charlie could defend himself, and that he would defend Ari too. He knew that his boyfriend didn’t really care what his students thought of him as long as he did his job in the classroom.

But to hear them being so dismissive was just…it hit John in all the places that he usually reserved for taking care of his students, then doubled them, because this was the man he loved and he was trying so, so hard to be good for Ari.

At least this was one place where Principal Cross would actually be on Charlie’s side. Not for a good reason, really—unless money counted as a good reason, which in the world of private academies it definitely did. Huda had already spoken with Cross about Ari, and after using her influence to get Charlie this job in the first place, it was clear that Huda had some major clout behind her.

John sighed as he finally finished out all of his calls. The bell was going to ring in another few minutes, but he probably had time to go and talk to Principal Cross about Olivia’s situation. Not that he expected her to do much other than say “figure it out” to him, but she had to be kept in the loop when it came to students missing school.

Maybe it was opposite day, and she wouldn’t be a total bitch about it too!

John left his office behind and headed out into the hallway. School would be letting out shortly, and the whole place buzzed with a sense of anticipation. Plenty of parents were coming to watch this little “exhibition match” that Euryale was putting on, most of them ready to cheer for Colonel Applegate. Lots of Stheno students were sticking around to cheer for Charlie, though—even the busses had been rescheduled to work around the duel, which was a concession John hadn’t been expecting from Cross. It was moments like that that made him think she might not be such an unrepentant harpy after all.

Oh my god, you’re not twelve, stop name-calling. John had to get his mind in the right place for a meeting with Principal Cross. He had to be calm, confident, and ready to fight for his kids. There was her office, perfect, and the door was open. He was almost there when—

“—right here. I’ll be back as soon as possible.” He watched her exit the room, locking it firmly behind her. When she turned and spotted him, she jumped, like he’d surprised her.

“Mr. Gibilisco.” She folded her hands neatly in front of her blazer. “What brings you here?”

“I’ve got an update on Olivia’s situation,” he said. “I’d like to talk to you about it.”

“Very well.” She didn’t move.

“In your office, please. It’s a private matter.”

“We can talk as we walk,” she said, suddenly moving down the hallway at speed. John had to race for a second to catch up with her. “I’ve got too much to do to sit around right now.”

“But—” He glanced behind them at her locked door. Who was in there? Had she left a student alone in her office? “We should really—”

Principal Cross rounded on him, hands on hips now. This was her classic confrontation pose. “If you have something to say to me, you’d better get it out right now, or I’ll assume it isn’t really important and proceed with my day. Is that clear, Mr. Gibilisco?”

What is going on? “Clear,” he muttered, even though it was anything but.