Second String Supers: Freshman Intrigue: Chapter 4

Chapter 4:
Step Up or Ship Out

“Welcome to your first ever Combat Rankings!” a large portion of the crowd of students gathered in the HCP auditorium cringed at Coach Rachd’s booming shout. “And welcome to 6am on a Saturday morning, I understand that it is not a thing most college students like to be acquainted with.” Several glares came from those students awake enough to summon the energy to change their expressions. Most of the assembled freshman class just continued to blink sleep out of their eyes as they waited for the Coach to get to the point.

“Here’s the way this works. On the large monitors found in this auditorium and the main gymnasium you will see a list of paired HCP ID numbers and combat room numbers with a start time. As you can see on the monitor behind me,” the Coach jerked his thumb in the direction of the large display. “This should be simple enough for even the zombies in the room to figure out,” some affirmative sounds came from the students in response to this statement. “After you complete a match you will report immediately to the infirmary to be checked out by the healers. If you are unable to get there under your own power don’t worry, we have plenty of ways to get you there. Keep an eye on the monitors once you get checked out because your next match will start thirty minutes from the time when both participants have received a green light from Doc Saxena and his people. The format for out Combat Ranking is double elimination. For anyone not awake enough to figure that out, it means that you fight until you lose twice, or until there’s no more opponents for you. Everyone with special equipment, report to myself or Coach Martinez in the main gymnasium to confirm that it has not been modified prior to the start of your first match or you will be disqualified and probably expelled from the program.” That announcement snapped a few students to a more alert status. “And lastly, there are only two rules for these matches. FIRST! You will cease immediately if your opponent loses consciousness or becomes otherwise incapacitated or submits. And SECOND! You will hold back from the handbook described ‘Lethal Force’ levels of conflict or you will be punished severely, expelled, and possibly face actual charges for your actions. Good luck children!”

A brief cry and a muffled crash brought several people in medical scrubs running into the room. An embarrassed looking young man attempted to extricate himself from a tangle of clothes and bedding as most of the group dispersed with shaking heads and a few carefully concealed grins.

“Are you feeling okay Mr Rocke? Do you have full movement in your arms and legs?” the man that remained behind to ask questions of the young student was middle aged, sharp featured, and of apparent middle eastern descent.

“I’m fine, just, what happened?” the younger man, one Melvin Rocke, finally extricated himself from the sheets of the infirmary bed he had recently been occupying and pulled himself to his full six foot height.

“Do you remember where you are Mr Rocke? What you are doing? You suffered some injuries and it’s important that you can answer the question you just asked so we can insure that your head is functioning correctly.”

“I’m at Overton, it’s the combat rankings day. And…” Melvin’s voice trailed off as he ran through recent events in his mind. “I lost my first match. Bad.” The young man looked away from the doctor as he fought to keep himself from crying.

“Yes Mr Rocke, you did lose your first match. As did twenty four other students. Please, try not to become so disheartened. As I am certain James Rachd explained to you all, the ranking format is double elimination. If you are able to continue, there is every possibility you can redeem your loss in the first round before the end of the day. Now please, move your arms and legs a bit and let me know if my healers did their work properly.” The doctor’s tone was encouraging, but still quite businesslike.

“I’m sorry doc, I don’t remember your name?” Melvin began to stretch out as he asked the question, suppressing more than a little shock that he truly did feel completely recovered. That guy nearly ripped both my arms off. They’re damned good at what they do here.

“I am Doctor Raj Saxena. Feel free to use any sufficiently polite combination of those three terms to address me,” the tone was now more joking as the doctor appraised his patient and smiled. “I believe you are fully recovered? Your next match should be in half an hour then. We just recently finished reassembling your opponent.” Melvin took a little comfort from knowing that whomever he was facing next had apparently fared at least as poorly as Melvin had in the first round.

“Thanks Doctor Raj. I guess I’m off to get ready then.”

Melvin made his way out of the infirmary and into the central area to determine where his next match would be held. He moved without the absolute confidence he’d carried with him throughout the first week. He found himself replaying his first match in his head over and over as he stared at the screen seeing his student number next matching up in CR 19-A. His opponent had been a shifter like himself, and seemed an overall decent guy. A brief pause before the fight had gotten underway where his opponent had explained he was unable to speak while shifted and that reverting would signal surrender for him. Melvin had just worn a cocky smile and nodded, absolutely certain that he would emerge victorious. His match had lasted less than two minutes. His opponent was impossibly strong, incredibly durable. Melvin’s claws had broken without penetrating, his left leg had been crushed by a casual stomp when he had attempted to grapple and take down his opponent. Both of his arms had been wrenched out of their sockets as he had refused to give up, howling in pain until he had finally blacked out.

Coming to himself he realized that it was nearly time for his next match. He had been spaced out in front of the monitor for nearly twenty minutes already. Moving at a quick jog now Melvin made his way to his appointed room and found the entry door displaying his ID number to make his entrance through. As the door opened and he walked down the short entryway before coming into the massive 80′ x 80′ x 40′ room he saw that his opponent was already waiting for him. Melvin caught himself to keep from laughing out loud as he recognized his next opponent. The tiny hispanic girl that had barely held on through the physical training this week. He smiled widely as a loud beeping drew both students’ eyes to the digital display on the wall counting down from thirty.

“I’m Melvin, I don’t think I caught your name in class!” he called out to the petite girl, condescension obvious in his tone.

“My name is Louise furry boy. You should remember it!” Melvin was a little surprised at how confident the girl sounded, but she had made it into the HCP after all.

As the beeping tone grew louder to signal the final seconds of the countdown Melvin triggered his ability, shifting into a hulking bipedal canine form. He knew he was vastly stronger and faster than any normal human in his shifted form. He knew that his opponent had no exceptional physical abilities of her own from seeing her during the long hours of ‘Gym’ during the week. Louise didn’t stand a chance. It had just been a fluke that he’d gone up against such a monster in the first round.

As Melvin charged his wide muzzle broke into a toothy grin seeing that his opponent was charging right back at him, seemingly planning to take him head on. He cocked back both arms as he closed, trying to plan how much he would have to hold back not to execute his opponent and get himself expelled, when suddenly the small girl catapulted herself at him, closing the distance much faster than he had expected and catching him unable to intercept her. His grin didn’t waver as she crashed into his waist, barely enough of an impact to break his stride. Then Melvin’s world exploded in agony and everything faded away.

Melvin awoke in a familiar room, staring at a familiar ceiling. He jerked upright to see one of the student healers watching over him.

“Hey man, slow it down. You got shocked like crazy in there, give it a minute before-” Melvin simply forced himself to his feet and strode angrily out of the room, ignoring the healer entirely.

He felt the tears in his eyes as he walked but couldn’t bring himself to care. This place was insane. The people were insane. He couldn’t even beat a girl smaller than his fourteen year old sister. Fuck this place. Lots of better things I can do with my life. Tears fell as he made his way to the elevators leading to the surface.

Antoin was not looking forward to his second match of the rankings. He had managed to somehow defeat his first opponent, a stroke of pure luck in the match up. Wilma Perez’s ability was to produce various types of venom and poisons and deliver them by touch. As a healer Antoin was somewhat specifically suited to be able to counter that ability, and with about a hundred pounds of weight advantage it had been a short battle. He had not expected to make it to the winner’s bracket as a healer, and he was growing increasingly nervous as he waited for his next opponent to arrive.

When the large display on the wall of the combat room began it’s thirty second beeping countdown, the door opposite him finally opened and his opponent strode in. Antoin’s jaw dropped and he stared at her. The shifted form in front of him was about 5’6″ be his estimate, and he found himself unable to describe her form as anything except ‘succubus.’ Slate grey skin, short but sharp looking black horns protruded from her forehead, platinum blonde hair, wings that had to stretch better than fifteen feet when fully extended were somehow curled tightly against her back, and a long spade tipped tail waved almost playfully from side to side.

“You should close your mouth and get ready for this,” the voice finally broke him from his gawking stare and brought Antoin back to reality. He found her voice quite pretty, but while she didn’t exactly sound angry there was a very serious tone present.

“Sorry, I bet you get a lot of stares. I should be a better man than that, on behalf of my species I apologize,” Antoin completed his statement just before the buzzer signaled that their fight had officially begun. His opponent simply smiled and strode towards him, seemingly completely unconcerned for his superior size or combat stance.

“I’m used to the stares. I still stare at myself in the mirror sometimes,” her tone was quite a bit more playful now as she drew closer. Antoin recognized the distraction for what it was though and kept his guard up, wondering how enhanced her physical abilities were as she continued. “But we aren’t here to stare, we’re here to FIGHT!” And she lunged forward, mouth suddenly open and hissing to reveal several very sharp looking teeth, fingers splayed and outstretched towards him with some very vicious looking claws tipping each one.

Antoin reacted as he had spent years training to do, he simply stepped forward and threw a hard front kick directly into his unguarded opponent’s lunge. He stumbled badly off balance as his kick passed straight through the snarling visage in front of him, and was caught completely off guard as a massive wing came slamming into his head from the right. As he attempted to recover his wits he felt a cold weight on his throat and looked up to see his opponent standing over him, heavy boot resting lightly on his neck. Meekly he tapped the floor three times to indicate his surrender. His opponent smiled at him again, then turned to head back for the door she had entered through.

“You know you could have been disqualified if you actually crushed my throat!” He called after her, wanting to find a reason to prolong the encounter with the incredibly attractive female.

“You’re a healer, it wouldn’t have been lethal damage unless I was stomping hard enough to take your head off.”

Antoin actually shook for a moment in startlement. “How did you know I was a healer? Have we met?”

His opponent turned and gave him a hurt look. “You mean you don’t remember me? After all the time we’ve spent together? I’m hurt Antoin. Forgetting someone so quickly must make you a disgrace to the Montaine family name!” As his expression of confusion grew more pronounced his opponent’s hurt look deepened until finally she dropped the facade and burst out laughing. Antoin remained as confused as ever though.

“Did one of my dorm-mates put you up to this? Is that how you know about me?” Antoin was desperately trying to figure out who this woman could possibly be, the fact that she didn’t necessarily look ANYTHING like her current form while un-Shifted didn’t help matters.

After laughing for a few more seconds his beautiful tormenter finally stopped and walked close to the confused Canadian, leaning in to whisper before turning again to leave. “I did tell you that I would definitely win the ‘Swimsuit Competition.'”

Antoin stood staring blankly in the room for several minutes after his opponent had left before finally collecting himself enough to go learn where his next match would take place. He’d always thought of himself as an open minded person, but the possibility of what had happened had never remotely occurred to him. Antoin found himself smiling as he sought out his ID number on the monitor for his next match. Ramón’s speedo didn’t stand a chance.

Scott Jameson found himself waiting impatiently to learn who his opponent was for his third match. He’d found himself similarly waiting after his first match, his combined one win and one loss had seen him inside the combat rooms for less than a full minute. A girl of apparent middle eastern ancestry with teleportation abilities had been his first opponent, but she had been wearing a lot of metal jewelry when she jumped in to try and take him off guard, and in his surprise he’s nearly torn both the poor girl’s arms off at the forearm when he’d reflexively yanked the metallic jewelry he’d felt appear behind him away from himself. For the life of him Scott could not remember the girl’s name, though he’d been glad that she had taken her loss as well as she did, actually seeming more upset with herself for forgetting to remove her jewelry than with Scott for seriously injuring her.

His second match had been similarly quick for different reasons. Collin Gauge, one of the biggest assholes from East Academy, had apparently also chosen Overton’s HCP. I thought he was always talking about going to Lander with his brother. Good thing you remembered to fuck with my life instead oh Lord.. Scott had known he had no way of combating the incredibly powerful shifter, so he had simply clumped all the metal on his person into a single heavy mass at the start of the match and chucked it into Collin as hard as he could. When his opponent quickly regained his feet, Scott signaled his surrender. Better to take one shot than no shots. Would have been even better if you’d have let it work Lord..

Finally the screen flashed and a new student ID appeared on the line where Scott’s own number was already present, along with a room number. Scott hurried off towards his next match. It didn’t officially start for half an hour but he’d learned at his second match that if both participants showed up early, they could start early. Scott saw no sense in delaying the inevitable. Fortunately for the small young man, neither did his opponent.

“Ah, I hope I have not kept you waiting long? My name is Antoin,” Scott couldn’t quite place his opponent’s accent. French but not? Maybe Canadian?

“Only a couple minutes. I appreciate your punctuality Antoin. I’m Scott,” the smaller man tried to stifle a sigh as he noted he was at least six inches shorter than his opponent. Dear Lord can’t you just let one guy here be smaller than I am. Just one?. Aloud he asked, “Are you ready to start or do you need a minute?”

“I am as prepared as I think I can be. We might as well get this moving then!” his opponent assumed a relaxed combat stance, as the timer on the wall switched to a ten second countdown with both fighters indicating readiness.

Scott quickly floated several of the high density magnetic bands he kept concealed in his sleeves out to slowly orbit his arms and hands as he assumed a similar stance. The sudden presence of the floating metal seemed to give his opponent pause.

“You are telekinetic?”

Scott smiled as his opponent’s apparent nervousness. “Something like that.”

“You are going to hit me with those?”

“That is the plan.”

“Well then, I fear I must give up,” and with that his opponent raised his hands to signal his surrender. Scott felt his jaw drop open as his third match finished in less than fifteen seconds without a single blow thrown by either side. “I am just a simple healer you see Scott, it would not do me much good to be beaten up by someone that has an actual combat ability when it’s unlikely I could do anything except recover enough to prolong my own pain.”

Scott nodded along with his opponent’s logic, still having a little trouble processing the win. He found himself headed back out of the combat room with a wave to Antoin, still a little in shock. Lord, I know you’re setting me up for something awful here. But I still appreciate the free win!

Lisa felt confident as she entered the combat room where her third fight of the morning would take place. So far she’d been able to overwhelm both of her opponent’s, a Shifter with a weird giant bird person form and an insanely fast speedster, with a purely offensive blitzing strategy. Hopefully her third opponent would be similarly overwhelmed. The heavily tattooed asian girl was glad when she didn’t have to wait long in the huge room before her opponent, a tall, lanky blond man made his entry from the opposite side.

“Hi, you’re number 141? I’m in the right room? I’m Jon.”

“I’m Lisa, and I’m 141 so you seem to be in the right place. Are you ready to start Jon?” Lisa was eager to get underway, and hoped that Jon wasn’t planning on using the full allotted time for a rest.

“I’m ready when you are.”

“Ready then!”

With both fighters confirmed as ready, the countdown clock began beeping its way towards the start of the match. Lisa noted with some curiosity that Jon kept his hands partially clenched, almost like he was holding something, as he assumed a ready stance. Lisa simply spread her feet and braced as if she was expecting to be bowled over.

The second the buzzer hit Lisa’s curiosity as to why Jon’s hands were held as they were was sated as a glowing staff materialized as the lanky blond immediately charged towards her. Lisa smiled briefly at the realization that she was facing another melee combatant, before sucking in a deep breath, and locking eyes with her opponent.

Jon must have realized something was wrong from her stance as he skidded to a halt and a wall of light materialized in front of him just in time to intercept a blast of flame from Lisa as she forcefully exhaled. Her opponent was driven a few steps back by the heat, and his wall quickly dissipated, but her fiery breath had been equally short lived as she had quite taken to heart the warning about not engaging in lethal levels of force. Lisa quickly blew several more brief gouts of flame at her opponent, but all were intercepted by the rapidly materializing walls of light. The small girl found herself wondering what the hell her opponent’s ability was actually doing as it might lend itself to be countered if she understood it better. Switching tactics the girl took in a much deeper breath and noted with some interest that her opponent responded by throwing up a trio of barriers this time, before she exhaled a blast of super compressed air.

The first two barriers shattered almost instantly, the last held just long enough to disperse most of the energy of her attack before it similarly came apart. Lisa smiled as she inhaled again. She had learned that the barriers were indeed a physical presence and not simply inhibiting the passage of energy. Jon again materialized the triple barricade, but this time it wasn’t a blast wave of air the girl exhaled, but a frigid stream of rapidly freezing moisture. The barriers again withstood the attack, but as the girl had hoped the physical presence had allowed her to form a large ice wall in front of her opponent. She saw him charging around the barricade, attempting to close some of the distance before she could attack again. Gotcha

Lisa’s next attack was not targeted at her opponent as he formed more barriers in front of himself quickly in response to her inhalation, but instead a far more sustained blast of fire spewed forth to crash into the icy barrier that was now slightly behind her opponent. She heard him cry out as he was quickly engulfed in a rapidly expanding cloud of scalding steam. Her final attack was an almost half hearted air blast, slamming her opponent off of his feet but also dispersing the scalding cloud before it could do him serious harm. Lisa prepared herself in case another attack would be required, but her opponent only groaned weakly from the floor where he lay.

“Healers to CR 7B!” she yelled for the room’s recording system to pick up. The Dean’s voice had instructed all of the students via the PA system just prior to the first match that they should immediately call for healers if their opponent was incapacitated. The girl then allowed herself a brief victory dance. Three and zero! Maybe I can bring home the gold!

“Dean Jilles, this is absolutely insane!” Kathryn Jilles massaged her temples in a vain attempt to rub away the oncoming migraine brought on by occupying the observation lounge at the same time as Walter Raines. “You must intervene, your students are going to be killed, are you even WATCHING this savagery?”

“Mr Raines, I understand that you aren’t used to seeing combat between Supers that is unscripted by a director or unedited by the media, but I assure you, AGAIN, that combat rankings are a vital and STANDARD practice in all HCPs.” Maybe repeating herself for a fifth time would finally get the point to sink in to the man’s skull.

“But Dean, are you actually watchin-” Raines attempted to continue his protests, but was cut off by an unexpected party this time.

“Shut up Walter. We’re here as Oversight, that means we watch, not try to do the Dean’s job for her. You were briefed on what the combat rankings and challenges would be like, so either watch quietly or go and bother someone else.” Kathryn was overjoyed to see that Mirror’s duplicate had been replaced by the woman herself just in time to cut off Walter’s sixth round of complaints. Having someone who technically outranked him on the committee giving instructions seemed to finally get through to the man, who sank back in his chair muttering angrily, but quietly. Turning from the simmering politician the Hero addressed the Dean.

“Anyone particularly interesting today? Or any major upsets?” Having come through the program herself Mirror knew full well that most of the Overton HCP instructors would have filled out a bracket with their picks for the combat rankings by now, though by long tradition the Close Combat instructor was not allowed to participate, and sadly betting was not permitted.

“Actually more than a few. The tiniest girl in the program eliminated the eight foot ‘werewolf’ shifter in the second round, and the young man took it so poorly he’s already withdrawn from the program. Also if you’ll look right now at the monitor for room 13A you’ll see Mr Finne and Ms Montez continuing what is approaching a University record match length in the fourth round undefeated bracket. Montez is a teleporter and Finne is the gentleman creating the very mobile kinetic barriers.”

“There’s still a teleporter in the fourth round undefeated? That seems at least as interesting as the ongoing match. Wait, what did she just do?” Mirror noted the action on the indicated monitor a hispanic woman of average build was facing off against a tall, rather chiseled blonde man. “Is she throwing things at him?”

“She’s teleporting them. Apparently the intricacy of her particular variant of that power allows her to put a decent amount of acceleration on objects she teleports away from herself. She can do a similar thing to her opponent’s directly if she can get close enough to touch them, hence her current standing.”

“That is an impressive trick, so does i- OOHH, that had to hurt. I think Ms Montez is down.” Indeed, the image on the monitor showed the muscular blond had finally predicted where his opponent would pop back into reality and intercepted her with an invisible wave of power before she could react. “Anything else of interest so far?”

“Laurence has been keeping a mental ear over the proceedings, and as per usual a large number of the two and out students are considering dropping, or have already dropped in the case of Mr Rocke. Oh, and another of our dark horse students appears to have just won her fourth straight match.” Dean Jilles indicated a monitor almost directly in front of her where a tall extremely skinny girl with long braid had taken hold of her opponent’s shoulders, but was not apparently making any further moves.

“Are you sure that match is over? She doesn’t look like she knows what to do now that she’s caught her opponent. What’s the power match up?”

“Mr Carrera is a moderate strength minor speed Super physique type. Ms Jacobson is an extreme strength and durability Super physique.”

“Jacobson? Is that the girl that Rachd put into the wall on day one?”

“The same. Also the girl that came right back up swinging after bouncing off the concrete hard enough to remove a significant amount of said wall.”

“So how strong could such a scrawny looking gir- Oh. Oh my, I think I’m going to be sick.” Walter Raines fled the room with a decidedly green look to him as the monitor displayed Carrera’s cheerful refusal to submit to his opponent, followed by Jacobson calmly snapping both of his arms by simply squeezing them tightly. Even the two combat experienced women in the room winced at the sight.

“So to finish Raines’ question, how strong is that girl?”

“We don’t know her upper limits yet. We’re getting some new top of the line equipment that Riley Walker is generously donating to our program to replace the extremely outdated Hi-Mag machines we were using for the high end strength Supers. We’re hoping to get a max out evaluation on all the strength enhanced students on the holiday Monday when we post the rankings.”

“Anything I can do to help Kathryn?”

“Keep Raines out of my hair for a few extra hours a day.”

Mirror laughed. “No promises there Kathryn. If I keep him out of your hair, then it will be ME that gets stuck with him.”

Tasha took a deep breath as she faced off with her fourth round opponent. The massive, muscular black woman had surprised all of her opponents so far, though she’d still lost her second round match. How the hell does someone fight an anthro bear shifter anyways? But her incredible self healing had taken all of her opponent’s off guard. It allowed her to practically ignore pain and push through injuries that should have leveled her, as well as letting her largely ignore the normal limits of what was intelligent to do with regards to her own musculature and bones. After all, she could recover from having her chest ripped open by bear claws in a few seconds, muscle tears and cracked bones were hardly even noticeable inconveniences.

Her opponent was a black man nearly as large as she was, although the young woman smirked a bit as she still stood a solid three inches taller than her opponent. The buzzer went off and her opponent assumed a very standard boxer’s pose as he advanced. Tasha charged full out, as she had in all her fights. Her style was a hodgepodge of things she’d been able to beg from local martial arts trainers built around a core that was more or less traditional Karate, the only martial art her parents had actually allowed her to officially participate in, if only briefly.

Tasha landed the first punch, avoided her opponent’s quick retaliatory jab, and then crushed a full force heel kick into the cocky grin he was wearing, knocking him off his feet with the weight of the hit. Unfortunately for Tasha the man bounced right back to his feet seeming none the worse for wear from having just taken a kick that would likely have killed an average man. Tasha was not quite fast enough in evading his counter attack and as a right hook grazed her arm she grimaced as she felt the bones separate and the muscles in tear.

Rolling away Tasha came to her feet realizing that her opponent had not pursued. “I’m Ben by they way.” Tasha would have given a great deal to wipe the arrogant smirk off the man’s face. “And I think you just lost this one. I’d prefer to find something nicer to do with such a beautiful woman than beating her til she can’t stand if you don’t mind.”

“It’s Tasha, and this?” Tasha pulled her arm back into its proper position, and with a brief surge of energy it was whole once more to wave at her no longer smirking opponent. “You have to do a whole lot better than that if you want to win this one.”

“You’re a healer then? That’s cool, but you know you can’t win this fight.”

“Entirely possible, but I’m not going to give you a free pass either, so let’s do this!’ Tasha charged her opponent again, catching him off guard and managing to knock him off his feet for the second time. “C’mon Ben, work for it!”

Ben’s smile as he stood was no longer the arrogant smirk he’d worn a minute ago. He nodded to Tasha with something resembling respect, and came at her. For real this time. Tasha threw everything she could think of at the man, but the fight ended quickly from that point.

Collin found himself looking somewhat incredulous as his opponent entered the arena for the fifth round of the undefeated matches. He’d thought he’d recognized the girl in Gym during the week, but had dismissed it at the time as the person he thought he was seeing hadn’t even had powers back at East Academy. There was no mistaking it now though, Erin Casse was in the HCP.

“So how was your summer Erin?” He shook off his surprised look and tried to smile at the attractive girl. “Develop some super powers when no one was looking?”

“Fall in a hole and die Gauge. You were an asshole at East, and you weren’t even a smart enough asshole to figure out which of your classmates had abilities and which didn’t.” Collin wasn’t terribly surprised at her response. He had definitely not been the nicest of people towards those at the school who had not had powers, and even worse to those with ‘worthless’ powers like her two friends had.

“I was an asshole for most of the time at East. I’m trying to do a little better here though. Can we get a blank slate?”

“Spend a semester not being an asshole and we’ll talk Gauge. You ready?” Collin noted his opponent was slipping on a pair of very heavy looking knuckle guards as she spoke. He smiled at the idea of her taking him on in hand to hand combat.

“Just one thing to clear up, I can’t talk while I’m shifted. So if I revert during the fight, that’s me surrendering. OK?”

“I think I can remember that.”

“Ready then!” And as the countdown beeping started Collin shifted, from a muscular 5’11” man, to a monstrous sculpture of living crystal and obsidian standing nearly half a foot taller and more than five hundred pounds heavier. The surface of his ‘head’ was expressionless, but he definitely registered surprise when Erin’s entire form became transparent in front of his eyes, then everywhere around her was swirling, disorienting, shifting color and shape. She was definitely going to be hard to keep track of.

Collin stalked his opponent as the fight began, having learned not to simply rush in during one of his earlier fights when he’d faced off against a huge hispanic super strength male that had nearly cost him his current undefeated status. His crystalline torso still bore a network of cracks from the heavy impact of that fight. Erin came at him quickly, or at least Collin thought she did. Her form was constantly shifting, and he found himself unable to get more than a general idea of where she was even standing. Finally deciding his only option was to close to where her distortion wouldn’t be as effective Collin attempted to lunge the remaining distance to his opponent in an impressive leap, but as he pushed off her entire body pulsed a blinding flash of light and he found himself disoriented by the brief visual overload. A heavy impact met him on his left side as he landed off balance and staggered away. In spite of his failure to close with the girl, he grinned inwardly. Even with the heavily reinforced knuckles she hadn’t been able to land much of a blow against his extremely resilient form. This would just be a matter of endurance until he closed with her.

Fifteen minutes later, Collin began to accept the horrible truth. He was losing. Every time he tried to attack, Erin slipped effortlessly through or past him and landed a solid strike to his upper left arm. The individual blows did almost no damage, but the girl had to have landed more than a hundred heavy hits by now. His arm was completely covered in a spiderweb of cracks, some of them deeper than he liked to think about. In desperation he charged full speed, and spun to flail wildly and what he hoped was unpredictably as he did not attempt to slow his run at all towards his infuriating opponent, attempting to pass in and out of range before she could land another hit. A shattering crunch informed him that his plan had failed as a reinforced boot slammed into his flailing arm, and the sickening crack that followed shortly thereafter rendered his left arm unable to lift at the shoulder. He bit back his disappointment, and tried to accept what he’d already accomplished as a solid start. Hopefully not the sign of failing as Jeff had, as he reverted to his normal appearance.

“You’re done?” Erin’s tone held more than a small note of surprise at his surrender, but reinforced his decision in Collin’s head as she showed no signs of fatigue yet.

“I can’t catch you, and eventually you’ll break me down. I’m already going to be walking into my next match down an arm, no sense in getting dropped completely in a single loss. I’ll quit while I have a chance to continue. You are a truly frightening woman Erin.” Collin’s voice was threaded with disappointment, but he hoped the sincerity of the compliment made it through.

Erin accepted his handshake as she seemed to re-solidify into her normal appearance. “You really are trying to be less of an asshole Gauge. Keep it up and you might actually have friends by the time we go on Winter break.”

“You know you’re going into the last undefeated round, right? Any idea who you’re fighting?” Collin wasn’t sure why he felt the need to prolong the moment, but something was urging him to talk to the woman walking away from him and he couldn’t think of anything else to say that wouldn’t just sound stupid.

“I have a guess. See ya around Collin. Time to go get my ass kicked.” and with that Erin continued out of the room without another backwards glance.

The tone had been joking, but Collin was a little shocked that her expression had been much more serious. It was a little scary to think that the woman who had just dismantled him with so little apparent effort seemed to think there was someone she couldn’t beat. Collin found himself wondering who it could be as he made his way back to find out the details of his next match.

Amelia stepped into the combat room for her sixth match, feeling an unfamiliar nervousness as she waited for her opponent. She’d been amazed at her own success so far, even with her absolute lack of fighting ability she’d managed to overwhelm all five of her opponents up til now. Fortunately her wait didn’t stretch too long, as a familiar girl entered from the door opposite her.

“Hi Ames!”

“Hello Erin,” Amelia found herself smiling back at her friend’s cheerful greeting, the two temporarily appearing not at all as if they were about to engage in brutal combat with each other.

“I need you to promise me something before we get started Ames.” Erin’s expression was more serious, but she was still smiling at her roommate.

“I promise I won’t get angry if you beat me up, as long as you buy me dinner afterwards.”

Erin laughed at her response. “Winner buys dinner sounds like a good deal, but no, I wasn’t worried that you’d be mad.” Erin took a deep breath as her body relaxed to its natural transparent state. “I need you to promise me that you won’t hold anything back in this fight. Don’t kill me please, but don’t be afraid of your strength today. If I win I want to know it’s because I beat the best. And if I lose I want to lose to the best there is. I’m going to be very upset if you try and baby me Ames.”

Amelia’s expression showed fear for the first time that Erin could remember seeing on the taller girl. “I don’t know if I can do that Erin. I could really hurt you. I could-“

“Aim for the limbs Ames. Limbs and the lower torso, don’t take hard shots at the upper chest, neck or head and I’m durable enough to live. If you get a grip on me I’ll give up because there’s nothing I can do to stop you from slamming me into a hard surface or pulling me apart at that point. I’m not stupid Ames, just proud. I want your best. Please?”

“All right Erin. Although I still think you’re going to be the one buying dinner tonight.” With a final shared smile and a ready signal to whomever was monitoring the room, the two girls adopted far more serious expressions and stances, and closed quickly to decide who would be the last undefeated student in their class.

Second String Supers: Freshman Intrigue: Chapter 3
Second String Supers: Freshman Intrigue: Chapter 5

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