It was unlikely that Trap Master was actually trying to kill him, and so whatever the cannon that had popped out of her shoulder shot probably wouldn’t do any serious damage.
All the same, Styx’s instincts made him reflexively try to duck out of the way as soon as the sound of the cannon firing hit his ears. It was too late though as a ball of black slime sailed through the air and engulfed the upper half of his helmeted head.
Thinking quickly, Styx rolled to the side, unknowingly avoiding another shot, and quickly took off his helmet in one, smooth motion; revealing the standard grey mask he wore underneath. Keeping the latch that kept his helmet on relatively easy to release might have seemed counter-productive, but being able to quickly suit up or down seemed more important in the long run to Styx.
He didn’t have time to enjoy the validation of his decision, however, as he took in the battle before him.
Simikiel was maneuvering expertly around Trap Master’s shots and punches, while rapidly closing in with her own weapon. The split-second she got within range, though, a net shot from Trap Master’s hand before the armored Hero turned back to Styx. Simikiel dodged the net, she’d had to deal with far quicker surprise attacks from sparing with her friends, but it did delay her a second long enough for Trap Master to attack.
Styx didn’t give her the chance, he immediately animated armored Hero’s shadow again and made it try to snag her legs while Simikiel charged from behind. The young man prepared to follow up on the attack with his own shadow, only to have his eyes widen in mild shock as Trap Master jumped over the shadow tendril, twisted in mid-air to avoid Simikiel by centimeters, and had another tiny cannon pop out and fire another inky ball of goop at him.
Styx recovered from his shock just in time to side step the shot, but not before Trap Master flicked her wrist and sent a bolo flying at his legs. The intern jumped that particular projectile as Trap Master turned to mitigate the flurry of blows Simikiel struck down upon her.
With a second of breathing room Styx slowed down and reexamined what he and Simikiel knew about Trap Master. She was a Subtlety Major that started her internship, under Rancid, a year before them. Finding out her major had just been a matter of nicely asking Rancid. Her combat style had been a bit more difficult to pin down with scattered footage; she basically fought like her name indicated, with a lot of traps. Any time she got to choose where a battle took place it usually turned into a bottle-neck of hidden dangers that would shred anyone without some significantly enhanced durability. And even when responding to a battle in progress her suit seemed to automatically attack, deploy defenses, or throw stopping measure; as if the armor itself was designed to be one big trap when approached (though the black goo was new).
They had both known all of this, and yet still they were being pressured by just how quick and versatile her arsenal was.
Simikiel barely slipped out of the way of a dozen whipping cables with glowing red points before he came up with a plan, though he couldn’t voice all of it for fear that Trap Master would implement a counter measure. He’d just have to trust his teammate figure it out as well.
“Simikiel, keep up the pressure!”
His (unofficial)co-leader immediately followed the instruction with the kind of trust and lack in hesitance that can only be born from shared time in the field. Her assault began anew with renewed vigor, but the increase in speed was marginal; she didn’t want to seriously injure Trap Master and, just like with normal people, it was hard to hit accurately when moving as fast as possible.
Simikiel attacked in flurries while avoiding the endless stream of counter-hits aimed at her. Three stabs with the bladed end of her baton at a shoulder hinge, before dodging fired darts. She used her flight to negate having to worry about footing and tried to wedge her blade into another hinge before pivoting on it as another one of those damn cannons popped up and shot another globule of goo at her. With a quick jerk she yanked her blade out with a spray of heated sparks and used the momentum to kick Trap Master hard in the shoulder, barely making the other intern step back.
She could dodge and counter all day; Trap Master didn’t have anywhere near the speed or reflexes to keep up with her in terms of raw combat speed. The problem was that she was effectively doing chip-damage; hitting harder required speed that could risk serious injury, so her only recourse was to attack the joints. Yet such repeated and accurate hits took time, however slight, which Trap Master ruthlessly took advantage of to attack. A little excitement flitted through Simikiel at the appearance of a challenge; an outsider might have considered the restrictions unfair, but she could appreciate needing to know how to defeat an opponent while doing minimal damage.
Simikiel just wished that what Styx had planned was good enough to get past the automatic defenses, even his shadows weren’t fast enough when Trap Master was ready-
Then it hit her all at once and she figured out a way to leverage that particular advantage. Retracting the blade in her baton to give it more weight Simikiel weaved through punches, another set of coils, and even a laser blast from the chest-piece, before finally finding an opening after Trap Master took just a second too long to aim another cannon at her. With all the strength she could safely use, Simikiel slammed the butt of her baton into Trap Master’s shoulder, knocking her temporarily off balance despite the strength and weight granted by the armor.
And just as she’d hoped the shadows of everyone in the room solidified into blades and joined her in the assault, cutting deeper into hinges and joints with exceptional precision.
Trap Master still put up a good fight after that, but even she couldn’t defend from so many trained and coordinated attacks for long. Eventually she lay pinned by three shadows that sliced through her armor, into the concrete wall behind her, while another laid gently against the glossy material of her helmet.
“I’d contest how quickly that shadow blade could slice through the dome.” Trap Master grunted. “But it’s obvious you could hold me like this for three minutes. Which is more than long enough for DVA containment to arrive and capture a potential Super; I can concede this match to you Simikiel and Styx.”
The two other interns breathed sighs of relief, Styx releasing his influence over the shadows holding Trap Master a second later. They both looked at the older Hero with a new sense of respect as she looked over the damages on her suit. Even though they’d won, there was no delusion about who would have immerged victorious had Trap Master not allowed them to fight together in that match.
“Hmmm, I can see how you could use these kinds of fights to properly judge what equipment we might need.” Simikiel said before shifting back to human form. “You managed to strain us in an interesting way.”
“Yeah, but I try not to put too, too much weight to it; this was just a sparring match. It’s easy to let such things cloud someone’s true capabilities in real combat.” Trap Master cautioned. “We all know Styx could have made his blades bigger and moved them faster to carve through my armor, you were intentionally limiting your speed, and I was using a stunning load-out for this.” With her self check-up done, Trap Master opened the combat cell door and beckoned for the two to follow her. “But enough speculation, I have some gadgets in mind to show you.”
* * *
“I can see where you’re coming from.” Styx said. “But what exactly is this?”
What he held in his gloved hands looked like a bowie knife with an ergonomic, yet weighted, metal grip and a completely transparent blade that was cold as ice to the touch.
“That, young man, is an incredibly sophisticated tactical knife, with the blade being composed of unnatural material forged by a Super and with a hilt designed by me to super-heat the quasi-metal to the point where it rivals most plasma cutters.” Trap Master gently pulled the incredibly sharp weapon from Styx’s hand and flipped a small switch on the handle. The see-through material of the blade quickly transitioned to an incandescent purple and white. Though, strangely enough, Styx couldn’t feel any heat from it even though he was only a foot away. “Make no mistake, this could injure a standard class strongman. The material is incredibly conductive and contains the heat so well that it won’t burn anything that isn’t making direct contact with it.”
“Why this weapon?” Styx asked, the question more to just to see what her reasoning was; he could already imagine the practical applications of such a weapon.
“You don’t have a problem with damage, speed, range, or technique. The only real weakness I’ve been able to discern is that you lack any options against someone who emits enough light to disperse your shadow blades.” With that she flicked the blade off and slid it back into its sheath as Styx nodded. “I know that you can use shadow tendrils to throw objects but this will provide a more reliable melee option incase you get into a tough spot.”
Trap Master then turned and shifted her attention towards Simikiel, her iconic, sleek grey armor producing nary a sound as she approached. Simikiel was examining some of the more experimental contraptions that were scattered across the almost comically large workshop table smack dab in the middle of the laboratory.
“You got anything special for her?” Styx asked.
“Not really; the only thing she needs is a tune up that makes her baton-blade more like an actual spear considering that’s how she uses it most of the time.”
“And I assume you’ll at least consider the gadget were requesting for Samshiel?” Simikiel asked as she turned back towards them.
“Sure, just make certain it’s something he’ll actually need.” She cautioned. “I don’t take refunds if he breaks it in a fight, but I’ll repair it for a price.”
“Trust me, he’ll love it.” Simikiel chuckled.
“Thank you, sincerely, for the advice and equipment.” Styx said. “Still just a little miffed this’ll take all my merchandise money and a little bit of what I’ve saved up as well.”
“Hey, we both knew even small Super tech would cost a lot.” Simikiel spoke up. “Let’s just be glad we were able to keep it within the three-grand range.”
“Yes, you should. Most tech geniuses, even some other Heroes, aren’t so generous about their prices.” Trap Master mused as she looked at a screen and saw the money from Styx’s transaction get deposited into her shell account. “And I wouldn’t judge either. The time and materials people like me need is not cheap.”
“Before we go.” Styx said as he sensed things were starting to come to an end. “You said something in the morning made you want to switch from your usual armor. Care to share?”
“It’s not something you’d really…” Trap Master started to say before trailing off. She seemed to think on what she’d been about to say, or that was Styx’s best guess as looked at the onyx visor of her sleeker costume. The older intern mumbled something about “… exactly what Rancid would plan …” before she turned back to the duo. “Instead of telling; you should convince your mentors to do a quick patrol of the outskirts of the business district, focusing on the docks. It’s almost late afternoon, so news and footage should have spread locally by now.” Trap Master gave them an unsettlingly expectant grin. “Don’t worry, if I know my mentor, Rancid will have convinced yours to go along with it. Don’t do anything out of the ordinary and act as you usually would while on patrol.”
“Hmm, I don’t kno-“ Styx started to say before Trap Master walked forward and draped her arms across both of their shoulders.
“C’mon, pals. You can trust me, I’m a Subtlety major after all. I can promise you that things won’t go any worse than the usual jaunt through Brooklyn might.”
The dubious looks Styx and Simikiel gave her didn’t seem to diminish Trap Master’s grin in the least.