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Chapter 45 – All Alone And A Long Way From Home

He moved a lot faster than I was expecting him to. The moment he concluded there was no way to avoid a fight, it was like a switch got flipped. He launched himself at me, a blur of movement I could barely keep up with, even with Zoe’s enhanced reflexes.

He struck me in the temple, sending me staggering back, and before I could recover, he’d hit me again. Each blow was vicious, precise, almost surgical, knocking me further and further off balance. Though it didn’t quite register as pain, the impacts felt deeply uncomfortable and disruptive.

He knows how Zoe’s physiology works. The idea irritated me a lot more than it should have. The bastard had an unfair advantage, and he was pressing it from the beginning of the fight. And why shouldn’t he? There was no spectacle here, no reason to pull punches.

I grunted, leaping backwards to put as much distance between us as possible. I needed breathing room, time to think. Thankfully, when focussed, Zoe’s mind worked incredibly quickly, and I seemed to be able to channel that, albeit only briefly.

Think, Sabrina. What are his weaknesses?

From observation and conversations with Zoe, I knew a few things about him. He was a little more resilient than she was, but she was faster. They were reasonably evenly matched in terms of strength, though she was more designed to cause damage. She was a killer, a wildcard, a singular force of destruction. He was a protector, a guardian.

Zoe’s nails were incredibly hard and sharp. I’d seen her use them like claws, watched them shred flesh like it was nothing more than paper. That was an edge I had.

Gabriel was more intuitively observant. His brain was designed to take in body language and micro expressions, tiny pieces of information, and predict actions and movements. Combined with his incredible reflexes, it was very difficult to catch him off guard or take him by surprise.

His body was more durable than Zoe’s, with denser bones and thicker skin. She was lighter, which helped her move just a bit more quickly. He also healed faster than she did, by a small margin.

So I needed to target vulnerable areas, and do a lot of damage very quickly. The only way to make sure he couldn’t counter everything I did would be to trick him into expecting what Zoe would do, then doing something different. That would only work a few times, so I’d need to make it count.

Technically, I didn’t actually need to beat him in a fight, just challenge him enough that he was completely focussed on the fight. Even still, I knew part of me wouldn’t be satisfied without giving it my all, and he deserved to suffer.

The moment my feet touched the ground, he was on me again, not willing to give me even a second to shift the balance. At least for once someone was taking me seriously as a threat.

Almost without thinking, I put all my weight on my right leg, lashing out with the left quickly enough to catch him off guard and get him just slightly off balance. I tried to follow through with a clawed swipe at his throat, but he was already moving away from it. He struck low, aiming for my thigh, but I twisted away, raking my claws across his forearm.

Blood splattered outwards, less than I’d have expected, but enough to take him by surprise. He actually cried out, though the bleeding had already stopped, clotting in a matter of seconds.

Didn’t see that coming, did you? Arrogant prick.

He switched tactics, adopting a slightly more defensive style whilst maintaining his aggressive pressure. He dropped low in an attempt to try and sweep my legs out from underneath me, a move I barely managed to avoid. Before I recovered, he used his momentum to carry forward into a brutal hook kick, striking me in the jaw.

Fuck! Livid, I reacted instinctively, grabbing the arm that had struck me. He was already trying to twist out of the grip, but it didn’t matter. I’d used the hand that was wearing Rachel’s gauntlet.

I felt the familiar sting as it drained me, delivering an electrical current that would have been debilitating to any human. I wasn’t sure what it’d do to Gabriel, but I was hoping it would at least surprise him.

As it happened, it did more than surprise him. Whether by accident or design, the gauntlet seemed to react differently to him than anyone else I’d tried it on. I could feel it sucking a lot more energy from me than usual, and the shock it delivered was exponentially greater.

Gabriel twitched violently, and I let my fingers clamp down harder, holding him in place. Shifting my weight to one leg, I slammed my foot into his chest. The impact sent him flying backwards across the room, and he collided with the wall with a satisfying thud. I was already moving towards him to follow up.

“She was innocent,” I snarled as he recovered, rolling out of the way of my attack.

He lashed out again, but my reflexes saved me, twisting sideways and striking back. Zoe’s own ability to learn seemed to be catching up, and unless he had any new tricks-

His heel crashed into the side of my head, and for a brief second, I saw stars. He didn’t let up, turning his hook kick into another savage blow, and I staggered back.

No. Fucking. Way.

Still off-balance, I threw myself towards him. It was a stupid, reckless move, and if I hadn’t had the strength and speed of a genetically perfect killing machine behind me, he absolutely would have won the fight right then and there. Instead, he only managed to turn my momentum against me, slamming me into the floor.

I twisted in his grip, shoving the gauntlet into his face. He tried to get away from it, but he wasn’t fast enough. Another jolt of energy paralysed him momentarily, which was enough to rake my nails across his throat, sending a small torrent of blood spilling out.

He grabbed the gauntlet, applying enough pressure to shatter it, and my wrist at the same time. We both backed away, his throat healing only slightly faster than my wrist.

“I must confess,” he said, once he was capable of speaking again, “I did underestimate you.”

Envy whispered in my ear, appearing beside me without warning.

“I’ve nearly got it, but you need to maintain eye contact.”

“I’m going to destroy you, Gabriel,” I snarled, my chest heaving. I wasn’t technically out of breath, but my body had a habitual response to exertion.

The idea seemed to amuse him. He began to unbutton his shirt, already ruined with blood. As it dropped to the floor, he laughed.

“A sentiment I’m quite used to inspiring,” he said. “Nobody’s come through just yet.”

I shook what was left of Rachel’s gauntlet off my wrist. It was a shame to lose it, but she could probably build me another. I’d just have to request one without telling her how much of a difference it had actually made. I still didn’t believe being a ‘tinker’ was a real super power.

Gabriel’s smug expression taunted me, and it took all of my self-control not to race across the room and try to hit him again. Instead, I tried to relax my body.

“Then this will be a new experience for you,” I said.

“I doubt that,” he retorted, but his confidence waned as my body began to change. I let go of the sensation of Zoe, and it was like pulling a plug, all of her power being drained back into the core of my being. At the same time, Ami’s form began to flow in. I could feel my face begin to reshape itself, my hair straightening.

All at once, I was intimately aware of every corner of the room. My presence filled the space entirely, and I could feel Gabriel’s body, every tiny movement.

“What? What are you?”

“Don’t break eye contact,” Envy cautioned.

“You’re not as clever as you think you are,” I told Gabriel, speaking in a new voice. Recognition dawned on his face.

“Exxo? How?”

“Nearly,” Envy chimed in, and I could feel a very palpable tension between Gabriel and I.

“You’re all alone and a long way from home,” I said, wrapping my focus around his body, a thousand invisible hands grabbing at every part of him.

It would be so easy to tear you apart right now…

“Got it!” Envy said, breaking my concentration. It didn’t matter. I could feel a new sensation floating inside of me, a new energy. His energy.

I let his strength fill me, replacing Ami’s, my body changing again. His form felt resilient, tenacious, tense. It was like being a tightly wound string.

And male. I felt my body shifting back to a form I’d tried so hard to escape, a form that had never felt right for me.

Except this did feel right. With all of this power, it wasn’t so bad, wasn’t so alien. It was me.

Oh, it wouldn’t do permanently, didn’t change how I felt about myself, but it was nice, in its own way.

“What did you do?” Gabriel asked, sounding almost panicked for the first time. “Who are you?”

I grinned. No, Envy grinned. It wasn’t me.

“You already know my name,” she said, using my lips.

“No,” Gabriel said. “This isn’t you. Exxo was, is my friend. You’re not them.”

“Maybe not,” she said, as I shrugged. I couldn’t fight her. “It doesn’t matter. I have everything I need from them, just like I have everything I need from you.”

Stop, I begged, unsure if she could even hear me. Give me back control. Give me back my body. Please.

“I’ll stop you,” Gabriel threatened.

“You’re nothing,” I replied, and I couldn’t tell if it was Envy or not. She was gone, leaving the two of us alone.

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