Every single freshman student was on the combat cell level, even those that didn’t have a match-up today. Coach Tillman had set up the schedule like some prize fight, with the lower ranked matches going first and several running at the same time, and ending the day with Michael and Drew’s match last and with its own timeslot. Allison and Hope had both challenged Wilma Turner for her spot, but since Hope was ranked higher, she got the match and the place, but since she was still within five spaces, Allison had changed her challenge to Hope, which is now who she was standing across from in the combat cell. “Sorry about this Hope,” Allison said.
“No worries, you have a great power and you deserve to be higher on this list, but I’m not going to go easy on you. I hope you won’t hold back either.”
When Hope got into the cell she moved as close to Allison as she could without making it too obvious, so as soon as the buzzer started the match, she took off like an Olympic sprinter and only had about 30 feet to cover. The shock that showed on Allison’s face likely gave her another few seconds, but then she felt the first blast of fear. It leaked into her mind as doubt, she was afraid her attack was going to hurt Allison, afraid it’d ruin their friendship, afraid that if she did hurt Allison too badly the whole villain program would suffer. But Hope had been doing martial arts for half her life and that included controlling your emotions, plus the logical part of her mind was on her side, she knew her skill would make her attacks effective as she wanted without permanent harm, and almost no chance of deadly force.
It was just enough to close the distance, then Hope dove at Allison’s chest and they went down in a heap. Hope was able to get on top and get several powerful and precise strikes to Allison’s head, whereas Allison’s attacks were pathetic. Hope hoped that the strikes would distract Allison from projecting emotions, but she soon learned that wasn’t the case, the fear was getting intense, she was staving off the worst of the mental picture, but her body was physically responding; her heart was beating fast, her breath was getting shallow, and she thought she might be hearing things.
So, she became desperate and she did something they taught you not to in martial arts and punched with a closed fist as hard as she could into Allison’s face. It broke Hope’s hand, but it also worked to knock Allison out. Hope immediately jumped up and away from Allison’s prone body and retreated to the farthest corner of the cell. The fear was totally irrational now and Hope was having trouble getting a calm mind. She almost lashed out violently when a student healer touched her and fixed her hand and most of the physical effects of fear, but the fear still persisted as she cowered in the corner. Then suddenly the fear disappeared, looking up she saw that the healer had gotten Allison on her feet and that she must be lowering the fear. A few deep breaths and she could think again, so she got up and hugged Allison, and both started to say how sorry they were. They left the cell together, laughing and crying.
Sam knew he deserved a better spot and that he could carve his way through the bottom half of the combat rankings easily, so he’d challenged the full five spots ahead of him, Lindsey Hutch. She was a short, thin girl, with short black hair and tanned skin. Even before the buzzer sounded she disappeared and Sam knew from James’ list that it was just invisibility rather than something more esoteric, so he increased his durability to four times, if she sucker punched him, it wouldn’t hurt any more than if a six year old did it.
As soon as the buzzer sounded Sam increased his hearing to super human levels. He heard her sneaking around, she was behind him. He didn’t want to give away that he knew she was there so he put his arms out in front of him and started to do slow circles, waving his arms around like a bad game of Marco-Polo. He heard her only a few feet to his left now, so he dove and tackled her. It took longer than he expected and had him grabbing some places on a woman he shouldn’t, but he finally got a good hold on her arm and he increased his strength enough to make it painful before asking, “Do you surrender?”
“Yeah, you got me,” then she reappeared and Sam released her.
Five spots ahead of Jennifer was Rosa Duffy and nothing had changed with Jennifer to believe that the result would be different than the first combat trial, but just below her was Alex the summoner. Jennifer had gone over James’ list, but nobody was certain what his summoning limitations were. In the combat trials he’d shown five different creatures and another at the range, but it was still unclear if he had more and what their abilities were.
The red headed kid was already in the cell when Jennifer arrived, sorting through his cards. When he noticed her, he gave a big goofy smile and said, “Hey Jennifer! How are you?”
“I’m okay,” Jennifer said hesitantly, “you ready?”
“Sure,” he said putting all but one of his cards back in his jacket pocket. The buzzer sounded and Jennifer flew towards Alex without hesitation as he tossed his card forward. Jennifer had to veer away at the last moment as it took the form of a mermaid. Not the classic children’s tale mermaid, but rather a blue female, with tentacle hair, and a long tail that looked more like a snake than a fish, but still ended in a fin. In the water it’d probably be fifteen feet long. As she was turning back, it began to spit jets of water at her, nowhere near as strong as Rosa, but still dangerous.
Jennifer increased the power of the fire that was coming from her feet; it wouldn’t make her go faster, she didn’t need that, but it would cause the room to begin to heat up fast. She circled near the ceiling several times looking for an opening to attack Alex, but he was staying close to the mermaid. He saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere, so he reached into his pocket and pulled out another card without even looking at the deck. He then threw it into the air and it formed into a bird creature.
Jennifer wasn’t a big fan of fantasy but she recognized a harpy, a female body with wings for arms, talons for feet, and an ugly human face. It flapped it wings a few times and was then near the ceiling. Jennifer was circling it while still watching the mermaid spit; the temperature in the room was up five degrees in just a few minutes, but it wasn’t happening as fast as she wanted, so she dived straight for Alex, but the harpy followed and grabbed at her with its talon feet, ripping a deep gash in the jacket, but avoiding the skin. It also threw off her trajectory and she had to put all her energy into avoiding going headfirst into the floor. She still ended up hitting the ground at an angle and sliding halfway across the cell. She got quickly to her feet and noticed she had either a broken or dislocated shoulder, so she raised her other arm and opened up with a wide range blast towards Alex and his monster and started walking towards them. Alex’s harpy was still circling over-head, but Jennifer only had one hand to work with, so she increased her pace, hoping to finish it before Alex came up with another strategy. The harpy stayed near the ceiling and tried to go to the other side of cell to be behind Jennifer, but she saw what it was doing and redirected her flame at it.
It wasn’t a direct hit, but a small amount touched the wing and the creature lit up like dry tinder. It flapped its wings hard, but it just fanned the flames. It fell from the ceiling and hit the ground hard, the screams from it were…way too human. Alex did something with his hand and the harpy vanished. Jennifer hadn’t stopped blasting with the flame, but she’d been a little distracted, so she turned it back on the mermaid, it was able to scuff off most of the heat and flame; it seemed its skin was covered in a water-slime, but she could tell it was starting to get dried out.
She continued to walk forward towards the mermaid, whose attacks were not getting through her flamethrower. Then she noticed Alex was reaching for another card, so she turned her fire on him, turning up the heat and increasing the accuracy. She aimed for the ground as close to him as she could, he dropped the card, which began to burn, and he jumped away from the flame. Jennifer looked over and saw the mermaid charging her, it was faster than she expected. She turned her flame on it, upping the power to as high as she could get it at this range and the beam pierced her chest and continued out the other side; it fell over dead.
Jennifer once again saw Alex reaching for his deck, so she activated her flight again; dangerous without two arms to steer and plowed into Alex a few seconds later. They rolled around on the ground, and Alex noticing the hurt shoulder punched her there. Jennifer screamed, then grabbed Alex’s forearm and turned the heat up just on her palm, it was like a stovetop, she could feel his uniform burning away under her hand, and then she was touching his skin. He screamed even louder than she had and surrendered a moment later. She rolled off him and clutched her shoulder, she looked over and saw Alex had third degree burns in the shape of her hand on his arm. The healer rushed to help Alex first.
Tony had challenged Valerie, thinking he could turn into something that could hunt her without eyes, but she’d surprised him. He’d turned into a wolf since they were scent based trackers and hunters, while big cats relied more heavily on sight, he was still worried he’d have trouble keeping the animal’s eyes closed, as animal instincts sometimes overrode what he wanted. But, as he took to all fours and closed his eyes, he felt confident he would be alright, he could smell her from anywhere in the cell, and with no ambient noise his ears could even pick up her heartbeat. He got low, raised his haunches, bared his fangs and growled; intimidation went a long ways as an apex predator. He could hear her heart increase a little, but hardly as much as he’d hoped for.
The buzzer sounded and he took off, his claws not getting the best traction on the cell floor. He ran at her and jumped, snapping at the hand she used to redirect him, he came down gracefully turned and ran at her again. He stayed low and went for where he thought her leg was; he caught some uniform and clamped down. Then he dragged her to the floor and got ahold of some skin and started to violently shake his head back and forth trying to get his teeth through the reinforced uniformed, but soon the blood flowed. Valerie didn’t make any noise as a massive wolf ripped into her leg, she simply kicked him several times with her other foot, until he let go.
He backed up just a little, ready to chase the wounded prey, but she attacked instead. She jumped onto his back, wrapped an arm around his neck and dragged him to the ground. Tony tried to kick with his canine leg and snap with his massive maw, but she just leaned back out of range. He considered switching back to human, but she was definitely a better fighter and already had a hold on his neck, he wasn’t confident he could get to another form before she got the advantage. Then he felt her hand claw at his face and suddenly his eye was pried open, he tried to look away, but then…just a glimpse and he was frozen, every muscle refused to move; he couldn’t even shift back to human. It was a terrifying feeling.
James had been challenged by Kathryn; she probably figured that since she’d beat him easily during the combat trial that she could do it again here. James thought she was probably right, but she didn’t know he was capable of draining her electricity and it was only the shock of the drain that had really caused the loss. James was secretly excited for the chance to fight Kathryn again. If he could take her power and stand to have it in his body it would be a huge offensive weapon for him, but there was a lot of ‘ifs’ in that scenario, the least of which is being able to avoid bolts of electricity long enough to get a good drain.
When he got into the cell he stayed as far back from Kathryn as he could. His best hope would be to send his tendril out to its very maximum range, the drain would be agonizingly slow, but she just had too much power to risk giving her a clean shot. As soon as the buzzer sounded Kathryn released a bolt, it split several times and missed James. He had extended his tendril and at about 60 feet it was so faded he could barely see it; that would be the maximum range. So he walked carefully forward until it finally touched her body, although she was watching it and jumping around, trying to keep it off her and at this distance it was working.
James was forced to move a bit closer, and Kathryn’s next shot was much closer, striking near his feet and James could feel it. His leg felt numb and he was forced to drop his tendril to help with balance. When he’d taken his eyes off Kathryn, she’d capitalized and charged ahead. James looked up and saw her about twenty feet closer. He raised both hands and launched a tendril with each. He hit her and started draining, at first it was just the normal human energy, which he put into his body to help with the pain, but then he felt her grab her energy and he started taking that. If she was aware of that fact she didn’t show it, but James could feel her working with the energy as he drained; she moved it from her core down her arms into her hands and then launched it.
James took all the remaining normal energy he’d taken and put it into strengthen his body, because a split second later the bolt struck his chest and he was lifted off the ground and landed on his back. His uniform was smoking and his limbs were twitching, but he was more or less capable of continuing. He played dead though, Kathryn knew she couldn’t use too much power, since James technically didn’t have advanced resistance, so although that hit had been at the high end of what a human could take, it wasn’t meant to kill. He waited for her to get closer to check on him.
When she got to about ten feet away, he again lashed out with both tendril and started to drain. Again he took normal energy first and strengthened his body with it and at this close range the two seconds before she tapped into electricity had been a big drain. Big enough to cause her to stumble, so James jumped up and punched her. She fell over and he started draining from only a few inches away, the amount drained was intense. After about five seconds, she recovered and turned towards him, opening her hand to blast him, but it just ‘fizzled.’
“What’d you do!?” Kathryn asked desperately. James didn’t get a chance to respond, because the electricity store ran out and he started in on the normal stuff before he relieved it and she passed out a second later. He stopped the drain, waited for the word that he’d won, then returned the normal stuff to her. She woke and quickly started to open and close her palm and throwing her hand forward like she was trying to throw it out. “You took it all?”
“Looks that way. You can get more, right?”
“That’s not the point. Why didn’t anyone know you could do that?”
“I didn’t even find out until our first match and I wasn’t going to let on until I understood it.”
“Wait. Does that mean you can use it now?”
“…Yes,” James said hesitantly since he didn’t fully understand the mechanics of it yet. “But, it’s going to take a while before I can use it safely.”
“Ha,” Kathryn laughed, “You got that right, it took me years to get it down to something I could safely use on another person. And it’s not even really your power, it’ll probably take you longer. Oh, that’s going to be funny. Well good luck,” she said sarcastically and headed out of the cell.
“Thanks,” James said half-heartedly to an empty cell. He hadn’t thought about how hard it’d be to safely use, he only thought it’d make a good weapon, but if it got him kicked out for lethal force, then it wasn’t worth the feeling of having it.
James got back up to the platform and found his roommates in a group talking. “We saw your match,” Michael said, “What’d you do to her power?” he asked nervously.
“I absorbed her electricity. I can drain the energy that absorbers save up,” James said.
“Wait, does that mean you can take mine?” Sam asked.
James hesitated before answering, “Yes. When I used you for healing a few weeks ago I took some of your stored energy. I didn’t mean to, and you didn’t look any worse for wear, so I didn’t want to say anything until I understood it better.”
“Oh, I feel so violated,” Sam said in a mock voice. “You should have said something man. I would have given you some to practice with.”
“Really?” James asked excitedly, “That would be great! Actually having a stored energy source. I have electricity now, but…I don’t know what I’m going to do with it. Your energy though, that felt more normal.”
“Well, we’ll talk about it later. With Hope charging me I expect I’ll have a surplus soon anyways,” Sam said.
Michael had challenged Drew knowing nothing had changed yet and his chances of winning were still about fifty/fifty, but he had to see it out to the end. Plus, with his overall poor ranking, he wanted to show everybody exactly where his strength lied. They stood across from each other and shifted; Michael’s form was nearly identical to the first match and he figured Pinnacle would fight the same as last time. If he were to fight dirty, try a surprise move, then he’d probably win, but this ‘heroic’ personality was just too straightforward, so Michael was pretty sure he knew what to expect.
The buzzer sounded and Pinnacle flew at Michael at high speeds. Michael put his wings in front of him and locked his claws into the floor; the hit was powerful and Pinnacle followed it up with a series of quick and powerful punches to the wings. Each hit forced Michael back a few inches. Michael waited for the right moment, then flexed his wings outwards to throw Pinnacle off, then jumped forwards and slashed across Pinnacle’s chest, obliterating his uniform and leaving four shallow cuts. Rather than retreating like he’d done during the combat trial Pinnacle pressed the attack and slammed his fist into Michael’s face. The hit left him unable to see out of one eye, so he lashed out wildly at Pinnacle catching him on the arms and legs, before they both retreated.
Michael dropped down low and used his wings to cover his whole body in a half dome. He blinked his eye several time and could feel his regeneration working to fix it, but it would take a few minutes. In the meantime he could feel Pinnacle hitting him with energy blasts. It was hard to gauge it perfectly, but he could tell that if Pinnacle focused on one spot and hit it a few dozen times before he could regenerate, than it could definitely break through; Michael couldn’t stay hiding like this. From the way the blast were coming in he could also tell that Pinnacle was about 30 or 40 feet off the ground. Michael was pretty sure this form could jump that high, so he set his stance like a sprinter, took a deep breath, and then took off running. When he was close enough he jumped; he was right that he could jump 40 feet, but what he didn’t take into account was that Pinnacle would just float higher, so Michael just swiped at air.
He flapped his wings, and although they got him a few extra feet and kept him level for a few seconds, they were just too heavy for flight. So rather than hang around vulnerable in mid-air, he tucked his wings and dropped to the ground. Pinnacle had learned his lesson from the last fight, and knew Michael had no ranged attack at the moment. Which had Michael wondering why his power wouldn’t account for this.
Pinnacle fired off more blasts and Michael defended, then Pinnacle charged him, but instead of punching, he grabbed hold of Michael’s wing, flipped head over foot in mid-air, lifting Michael off the ground and throwing him into the wall with shattering force. Michael was very resilient, but he could already tell how this would end; with their combined endurance and regeneration it’d take hours, but eventually Pinnacle would prevail.
Michael did eventually lose, but it’d taken almost two hours, so he didn’t have much to complain about with his performance. Sunday brought another round of challenges, with Sam gaining another four spots, and even Allison winning against the invisible girl. Lindsey’s power really didn’t help when Allison could track her mind and affect her the whole time, and she’d learned her lesson with Hope and had stayed as far from Lindsey as she could get. It’d only taken about two minutes before Lindsey was clawing at the door to try and escape. Jennifer had even challenged Tony and broken into the top ten; Tony had no range and nothing that could walk through fire, so it wasn’t much of a contest. But after two days of challenges the top five remained unchanged.