The way I saw it, cheap shots were the only ones worth taking. In situations like the sort I seem to keep finding myself in, you either learn not to play nice, or you don't learn anything because you're dead. Of course, I can't really say that for sure. I've definitely survived a whole lot of fights I had no business surviving, but maybe I would've come out fine even without playing dirty.

Guess I'd just have to live with never finding out.

I shot a thin layer of water away from me over the surface of the ground as Lung, already as big as an elephant, charged me. They call semi trucks eighteen wheelers because they're trucks so big that they need eighteen wheels to support their weight, but all those wheels serve another important function: friction. It's hard to handle something as big and as fast as a semi without a lot of contact with the road. Now, you may not think that a general knowledge of trucker physics gleaned from your ex-stepdad's poker buddies would come up in a fight with a giant flaming gang leader, but uh, you'd be surprised, I guess.

See, Lung was about the size and shape of a semi-truck tractor at the moment, and every step he made as he bounded forward left huge dinosaur tracks in the pavement. So when he tried to take a bounding leap toward me and stepped on my thin sheet of rushing water, he suddenly found that the amount of friction between him and the ground was somewhere south of zero. For the second time that day, Lung, terror to Brocktonites everywhere, faceplanted hard. Last time he'd nearly toppled a bookcase on top of himself. This time his face left a smoking crater.

It gave me all the time I needed. I ripped more water from the hydrant and caught the kid who had frozen behind me, throwing him into the school. How much being inside of the building would really help him if Lung and I kept going, I don't know. Hopefully it would at least shake him out of panic mode.

Lung, naturally, didn't have the good grace to stay down, and he came up with a roar that rattled the windows of the buildings around me, hot asphalt dripping from his shoulders. I breathed deeply and ripped one of those 'School X-ing' signs from the road, twirling it to get a feel for its balance. The thing was unwieldy and nearly a foot longer than I was tall, but it was the closest thing to a real weapon that I could lay hands on. With the tip as warped and bent as it was from coming out of the ground, I figured it made a half-way decent spear.

Fire-Breath approached me more slowly this time, careful of his footing, moving like a boxer despite his inhuman frame. He learned his lesson. I smirked, and a short laugh escaped me.

Lung paused and cocked his head at me.

"I was just thinking, you learned your lesson about trying to rush right at me, and then I thought, 'hey, this is a school, right? That's what you're supposed to do here!' Learning!" I shook my head. "Now that I got you listening though, here's another snippet of wisdom: Don't push this. I don't know who you think you are, Lung, but whoever you've fought before, whoever you've killed, whatever you've endured... you've clearly never messed with me."

I ceased from twirling the sign, and slammed it to the ground, sinking the steel tip into the pavement. "Maybe I can't kill you right here, right now, but so what? I can clearly leave anytime I want to, and if you piss me off enough, your little empire is driftwood. You control the docks, Lung?" I felt cold settle deep within my chest. "I rule the ocean, and every cent your territory earns passes through my domain. You really want to go all out? You really want no holds barred? Because if it comes to that, the next time you go within spitting distance of the bay I'll drag you to the bottom of the ocean and leave you there. How long will it be before your power wears off and you pop like a grape? Take a good long minute here, Lung, and think about whether you want to push this."

Lung growled and a lance of fire shot out at me, only to get caught by a tendril of my water and explode into so much steam. He came at me through the steam, wreathed in fire and vapor. I barely jumped clear as a claw the size of my torso came within a hair of mauling me. The problem with jumping clear, though, is that for the brief second you're airborne, you're pretty much totally vulnerable. A second lance of fire caught me in the face and I rolled backwards. I landed and blocked a third lance with what little water I had on hand. Hot steam billowed out from the impact again, and Lung rose from it, fifteen feet of steel and fire. He fell on me, a volcanic avalanche of raw, deafening fury. The pavement itself shifted under my feet, going soft as I tried to draw myself into a decent stance. He was a tenth of a second from crushing me before I shoved the street-sign up his throat.

The steel pole stuck straight up into Lung's Larynx and through the back of his neck. The brute choked, but I didn't even have time for a cocky smirk before he backhanded me into a car clear across the street. Growing still larger with every passing moment, Lung gagged where he stood. The people of PHO had been pretty sure Lung couldn't actually drown, but maybe he had to ramp up a bit before that stuff didn't effect him at all. The corner of my mouth twisted into a smirk as I wiped a tiny smear of blood from it. Bastard had finally managed to tag me.

I sighed. There was nothing for it; I'd have to run. I'd made a good show, but he wasn't getting any weaker, and every second we fought here was just another chance for things to get out of control. Next time he hit me I might land in someone's geometry class and mess up their proofs or something. My hand flicked to my pocket again and I groaned inwardly. Man, did I miss my shiny sword of death-to-monsters-ness just then. Still, escaping to the bay wouldn't be hard. Lung wasn't like the protectorate, with a huge network of officers and speedsters to harry me as I ran. If he tried to follow me I could just trip him again.

Lung coughed molten steel onto the sidewalk, and I took in a breath. Every instinct in me screamed to just have another go at him, to teach him to respect me... But I could teach him that later. I got ready to run.

Then the darndest thing happened.

Lung, twenty feet tall and full of muscles, collapsed in the middle of the street.

He didn't get up.