Chapter Five – Battles
Ash really hated Mondays. His first battle, of all the luck, had been against a wind manipulator and as soon as the battle started Ash had found himself blasted into the wall behind him. He thought about using his power, but he didn’t know what the aerokinetic’s power would do to him if he did. He hated using his ability on Mondays at the best of times, but in a combat situation against someone who could move air about. He didn’t stand a chance.
He glared moodily at the screens in front of him rubbing the back of his head from where he’d been thrown against the walls of the cell. Repeatedly. On screen he watched as Derek and some kind of, miniature assassin maybe, assassin attacked a boy who had shifted into some kind of looming hooded figure. He watched as Derek’s opponent, number 13, used Derek’s own shadow to grasp Derek by the wrists, pinning him in place. The hooded figure then moved forward to face the leather clad summon and he used the shadows around him to stab and grasp the lithe figure.
Ash watched as, despite his agility and flexibility, the summons was quickly subdued and Derek was subsequently knocked out.
“Boy, some guys really are overpowered.” The voice came from a freckled lad sitting who gingerly lowered himself into the seat next to Ash. Even though they had all been instructed to visit the healers straight after their matches, this boy acted as though he hadn’t quite been fully healed yet.
“You alright man? Didn’t the healers patch you up yet?”
“They did,” said the boy, “it’s just that I was beaten up pretty bad. My healer said that the injuries were gone, but the pain might take a while to fade. I really wish they’d at least given me a painkiller or something.
“I’m Mike by the way.”
“Ash. Who’d you face up against?”
“Have you seen the really fast guy yet? Makes these barriers that help him change direction and increase speed and stuff. Guy hits like a truck.”
Ash scanned the screens trying to see if he could spot a speedster on screen, but there wasn’t anything like what Mike had described.
“What number was he?” Ash asked.
“That’s the thing, dude didn’t have a number, just a letter, J.”
“Oh man, and you lost first thing to him. Dude I’m sorry.”
“What for?” Mike asked his face showing his bewilderment clearly. Ash bit his lip trying to work out how to tell him.
“What my friend Ash is trying to tell you,” Came a familiar voice, “is that those who are known by letters instead of numbers are the anons.”
Mike’s face fell as the realisation hit him.
“You’re kidding me!” He cried. “My only fight and I lose to the one male student whose matches aren’t televised! Goddamn it!” He banged his fist on his leg before cradling his heads in his hands.
Ash turned towards Mike’s bearer of bad news.
“Way to break it to him gently Bruce.” His friend shrugged, smiling ruefully. Since he was here with Ash instead of in a cell, Ash guessed his first match hadn’t gone too well either.
“Who did you fight against Bruce?”
“I’m not entirely sure how to describe his power,” Bruce said glancing at the screens. “He’s the guy taking on the floating shadows.”
“I think you mean my roommate Derek. He didn’t have you fight a tiny knight called Marvin did he?”
Bruce shook his head, “No it was a mini rogue he called Evening Shadow, but the summons said his name was Jim. That’s Jim on screen, the tiny guy in leather.”
“Jim huh. I think Derek’s got some issues with his summons. There pretty intelligent.”
“You’re telling me. They looked like they were going to start arguing. Strangest thing though, I thought he was a shifter at the start.” “Why’d you think that?” Ash asked, perplexed.
“Well he was wearing this full suit of armour. Had a sword and everything. When he swung at me I had to remind him of the non-lethal combat rules.”
Ash furrowed his brow. Clearly his roommate’s powers were more complex than he’d initially thought.
The three boys turned to watch the middle screen as the second round of battles finished. Slowly a new streamed of freshly healed combatants filed into the room as new pairs were matched up. Ash was glad to see Neil had yet to be knocked out, though Derek did make his way over to them, rubbing his head as if the knockout blow was still haunting him.
On screen only three fights were now taking place, a fourth screen showed a pair of identical looking students lounging in a cell.
“What’s up with numbers 8 and 9?” ash asked looking at the relaxed pair.
“Oh I saw those two,” Said Mike. “They’re twins whose powers can only be used together. I guess there skipping this round because there’s an odd number of students if they’re paired.”
Ash nodded. Super twins were extremely rare, and often incredibly powerful. He wondered what type of power they had and how it worked with the two of them. Were they really powerful telepaths maybe?
Ash picked out the screen showing Neil’s fight and was shocked to see his friend on his knees weeping. His opponent was clearly talking, saying something that had shaken his friend deeply. Did his power work through his voice? He continued watching as Neil’s shoulders shook from the force of his sobs until some unseen force knocked him to the ground, out cold.
“What the hell did that kid do to Neil?” Asked Bruce, just as shocked as Ash was at seeing their friend act that way.
“No idea, but it’s got to be something strong to make Neil cry like that.”
Eric wandered from the room that had held his last match. He didn’t bother to stay and help his previous opponent. The boy, Neil according to his guide, had been far too easy to break. It didn’t take much to reach out and find the right person to use.
Many psychologists had worked with Eric, trying to understand why Eric had so little empathy for those he used his powers on. Eric scoffed at the very idea. Why feel sympathy for those he spoke to? Didn’t these fools realise that, if anything, he should be thanked?
Shaking his head at the absurdity of it all he made his way into the next combat room.
His opponents stood before him. The two boys were identical in every way, down to the parting of their hair. He cocked his head, mildly perturbed at the new development but shrugged it off as just another way to prove how his power was superior. What better way to show the world how powerful he was than by beating two opponents at once.
“Once the bell goes you may begin.” Came the voice of Coach Barkley over the speakers. Eric still bristled at the memory of how the instructor had so underhandedly knocked him out last Saturday. If he’d only had more time he could have had the man on his knees in seconds. The Coach had far too many skeletons in his closet, Eric wasn’t sure which one he’d pick when the time came. The joy of veteran opponents. Far too many souls that wanted revenge.
The bell rung, breaking Eric from his reverie and he cursed himself for not taking the time to assess his opponent for a weak spot. As he turned his gift on his opponent he was stunned to find that there was nothing.
Opening his eyes, Eric was confronted by the appearance of a gigantic hell hound. The beast had two heads, it’s jaws packed with serrated teeth, its eyes glowing like lit coals.
Behind the monster dog, one of the twins sat on the ground, his eyes closed, his breathing measured.
‘Ready to fight now?’ came a low growling voice. Eric was startled by the fact it appeared to sound right inside his head.
“Why can’t I see your dead? Why are there no spirits seeking you?” Eric exclaimed, dropping his usual pretence of calm superiority.
‘Dead you say? We are masters of death, what spirit would dare seek us out?’
In his mind, Eric heard the demon dog’s laughter, cold and cruel. Pulling his power back in Eric reached out instead with his telekinesis. If he could scare his foe into submission, he’d have to beat him with force.
He readied a shield of telekinetic energy in front of him whilst simultaneously sending out telekinetic strikes at the dog.
The hell hound raced forward, its two heads snapping at him until it hit the barrier. The strikes Eric sent the beast’s way made contact but had little to no effect on the dog. Grimacing, Eric upped the power in his attacks and began blasting in earnest, hoping to find some kind of weak spot. As he increased his strikes, the dog retaliated by banging its immense body against the shield Eric had erected. He winced at every blow, forcing himself to concentrate. When the beast backed up and leapt straight at him however, even Eric’s trained mind cowered at the sight of a beast the size of a truck hurtling towards him, jaws a gape.
His shield was shattered and his body pinned beneath the giant hound.
‘Surrender now and I won’t have to hurt you’, came the mental voice of his opponent.
Eric, shaking in fear, shouted “I surrender! I surrender!”
Somewhere above the combatants a bell rang signalling the end of the match. The body of the hell hound began to shrink and shift, steadily becoming the body of one of the twins. He stood over Eric and offered his hand.
Eric batted away the proffered hand, instead getting onto his rather shaky legs.
“Stay away from me you freaks,” He declared backing away from the two silent boys as quickly as he could. As he ran from the room, Eric felt the fear roiling inside of him start to ebb away slightly, though he knew it would be some time before he attempted to fight either of those two again.
The viewing room was now filled with the defeated students. They crowded round the final screen to watch the battle to decide who amongst them would become top of the male lower sixth.
To one side Ash stood with Neil, Bruce, Derek and Tom. Tom had been disqualified in the same round as Neil, and Ash had been too distracted by his old friend’s fight to pay much attention to how Tom’s had gone. He had heard him say that his opponent, one of the two finalists, had been faster than even his quickest summons’ attacks.
As the seconds turned to minutes the boys began murmuring to each other, trying to work out why the final battle hadn’t appeared on screen yet. It was Bruce that eventually spotted the reason why.
“One of them is the anon!” he whispered loudly to the other three.
Ash turned to look at the match up screen and saw his friend was right. There on screen it showed that numbers 10 and 11 were fighting J.
10 11 vs J.
Neil let out a long low whistle.
“Damn, the anon kid must be really good. Anyone know what he does?” asked Neil.
“I spoke to one of his earlier opponents,” said Ash. “Apparently he’s a speedster that can also create these barriers.”
“A speedster in the top two? Not bad.” Neil’s admiration for the speedster wasn’t that surprising. Whilst his friend had moderate super strength, it was his super speed he worked hardest to improve. Ash had lost count of the number of times he’d helped put out the fires left behind by Neil’s attempts to increase his speed and precision. Whilst dried grass probably wasn’t the best surface to work on, it had let Ash practice using his powers.
“Whilst we wait to find out the results,” said Bruce. ”How about clarifying your ability for me Derek?”
Derek looked up at the taller boy and smiled.
“Oh yeah sure. Well you see I’m a high level summoner. I can take on aspects of my summons, like the armour I wore at the start of the fight. That actually belongs to my summons Sir Braveheart.”
Ash covered his mouth and coughed loudly in a way that sounded suspiciously like ‘Marvin’.
“I have two other summons currently, my rogue Evening Shadow,”
Jim, Bruce corrected mentally.
“And a cleric Justine the Pure. She and Shadow are currently the two whose powers I have trouble accessing on my own. I’ll be working with Justine a lot in Healing with Doctor Sol.”
“I wondered about that,” added Ash. “I didn’t get why you’d be in healing if you summoned combat based characters.
“The realm of fantasy classes goes beyond just fighters dear Ash,” Proclaimed Derek. “Why I’m hoping my next summons will be some form of magic user or long ranged fighter!”
Ash nodded. It made a strange kind of sense for Derek to want to expand his current repertoire of summoned characters, though he had his doubts about whether he’d manage to make it to four. Most summoners rarely managed more than three since the summons required a large amount of energy and imagination to create. Some researchers posed that a summons was really a part of the summoner’s consciousness made flesh.
“What about you guys, what do you do?” Derek asked.
“Well I calculate probability.” Said Bruce plainly. “Put simply, my power lets me see the odds of something happening and calculate based on certain variables what is most likely to happen and what I can do to avoid or change it. I have to physically do or say something to influence the probabilities, like hitting you in the nuts (sorry about that by the way), but when it comes to tactics it can be incredibly helpful.”
“You should see him at paintball,” Chimed in Neil. “He’s got incredible aim and his power tells him where the best place to fire is. He can pull of some incredible trick shots.”
“No problem. Me I’m your basic super strength and super speed combo. I also have low end durability that lets me cope with any crashes I make whilst going at top speeds.”
All three boys turned to Ash expectantly.
“My powers a bit like yours Derek in that it’s hard to explain.” Said Ash.
“It’s hardly difficult,” Bruce butted in. “Just a little bit odd.”
“How so?” asked Derek.
“He has a different power for everyday of the week,” explained Neil. “See on Saturday for example he can create and control these barriers and spheres that are almost impenetrable, but on Friday he becomes an elemental manipulator instead!”
“Wait so you’ve got seven different powers?!” exclaimed Derek. “No way is that fair, you’re totally OP!”
“OP?” asked a bemused Neil.
“Over Powered.” Supplied Bruce.
“I’m not OP,” Ash said, glaring slightly at Neil. “Whilst some of my powers are pretty strong, I can only use them on certain days of the week. So whilst I can control water and fire all I like on a Friday, come Saturday they’re completely unresponsive to my will. I can only create my barriers.”
“Oh,” said Derek, his head nodding. “I see. So what do you do today?”
Ash sighed and gritted his teeth whilst Bruce and Neil started to chuckle.
“What did I say?” asked Derek, once again confused.
“Ash really hates Mondays,” said Neil by way of explanation.
Derek’s expression just became even more confused as he tried to make sense of this statement.
“What he means,” said Bruce, “is that Ash’s Monday power is a little bit… well…”
“Rubbish. Absolutely rubbish.”
“What is it?”
“I turn into smoke.” He said grudgingly glaring at his two friends who were now doubled over with laughter.
A look of understanding passed across Derek’s face.
“I can see why you hate Mondays then. Not very useful is it.”
“Nope,” Ash agreed sourly.
Above them a bell sounded and the main tournament chart changed to show the winner of the fight they’d all been waiting on. Around them, all the boys began whispering as they took in the fights results.
“Well I’ll be dammed,” whispered Bruce, a sentiment Ash agreed with wholeheartedly.
From the speakers in the ceiling came once more the voice of Coach Barkley.
“And the number one ranked male student is J. Congratulations. Final rankings will be posted Tuesday. For now please leave so that we may prepare for the female matches.”
And with that sobering pronouncement, the boys cleared out.