Sam rushed out the door as soon as it opened and stopped in his tracks a split second later. Sam had been expecting cold metal walls and well lit corridors, like in the obstacle courses. What he got was…something else, it was the Greek labyrinth. The walls and floor were made from massive stone blocks, muted browns and grays. The light came from torches on the walls and made it difficult to see any significant distance. The halls were massive, forty, fifty feet wide and twice as tall, maybe more as the light didn’t reach to ceiling. And then there were the small details that made it all the more realistic, dust, dirt, cobwebs and a deafening silent.
He went to the wall and tapped the stone; it was real. He checked the torch and saw that they weren’t supplied by a gas line; they were just burning freely. He increased his senses and looked up and saw that the ceiling wasn’t much higher than the light reached, but there were still way too many places up there that someone or something could hide in. He kept his senses higher than he was comfortable, but it’d be worth it not to be ambushed.
He walked about a hundred feet into the maze and saw a silver sphere sitting in the middle of an intersection. He stopped about twenty feet away from it. The dean had said that some were traps and some brought monsters, but there was no way all of them could be and he couldn’t be spending time debating a course of action for 20 points. Yet, he couldn’t not attempt to pick it up and yet it would be stupid to be knocked out from a stupid decision for so little points.
He’d been just staring at it for a while, until he caught himself. He was doing exactly what he promised himself he wouldn’t and was wasting time. So, he steeled his nerves, increased his senses a little more and crept forward. He looked for changes in the walls and floors, he listened for any unusual sounds, and felt for any changes in the air pressure or feel of the floor. He reached the sphere, reached down, and picked it up, then he waited for something bad to happen. Nothing did, so he put the sphere into his provided bag and walked straight ahead from the intersection.
Once Tony had gotten a good look at the labyrinth he shifted into a hawk, grabbed his bag, and flew off into the maze. When he saw a silver sphere he’d swoop down and quickly grab it with skill and grace and then fly a little ways away from the spot before shifting back, putting the sphere in his bag, then shifting back to a bird and repeating the process.
He saw several of the labyrinth monsters and they were intimidating. He wasn’t completely oppose to attempting to fight some of them, but his goal right now was to actually find the center and deposit everything he collected so far. His bird form was only so strong and he wouldn’t be able to fly for too long with more than a few spheres.
Jennifer did the same thing as Tony and took off flying first thing. She too grabbed silver spheres while in the air, but the big difference between their approaches is that she stopped the first time she found a monster. The monster happened to be the monster known for roaming the labyrinth; the Minotaur. Seven foot tall, head of a bull with huge horns pointing straight ahead ready to gouge. Legs of a bull, that while large, somehow conveyed there speed. Its body was that of a man, albeit a very hairy and heavily muscled one. And if all that wasn’t enough of a threat; it also carried a massive double-sided broad ax. She could also see the gold sphere imbedded in its forehead like a third eye.
The Minotaur noticed her right away, since her flames were so bright. He stomped his foot and snorted at her. Then he brought his ax over his head, shook it and taunted her, as if he needed anything else to make him look more fearsome. Jennifer went back and forth above him several times and he didn’t appear to have any tricks up his sleeves, so she landed; well away from him. The Minotaur didn’t hesitate and charged Jen as soon as she landed, so Jen unleashed on him. The flame engulfed the charging bull, but didn’t slow him down.
His hair/fur ignited and burned and it roared, possibly in pain, but it didn’t slow down. Jen launched herself back up and the Minotaur ran by underneath her. She hovered around and looked for damage. Obviously it wasn’t real skin so it’d be difficult to mimic real damage, but there appeared to be none. Maybe, the Minotaur from myth was fireproof and the staff was just trying to make it realistic. She could make her flame a 100 times more intense but it’d require her to get much closer.
Jennifer flew low again and attacked with another flame right at the Minotaur’s face. She tried to make it brighter than normal; a trick she hadn’t practiced very often. But it worked; the bull was blinded. Jennifer landed and jumped on its back and it started bucking like its real world cousin. Jennifer hung on for dear life and then made a flame out of her hand so intense it was white hot and difficult to look at. She shoved it into the back of the beast’s neck. There was some resistance at first, causing flames to fly in all directions, but soon she bore a hole in the back of the neck and Jennifer jammed her hand forward even more, widening the flame. Then the Minotaur let out a finally roar, fell to its knees, then onto its face, before going still.
Jennifer lay on its back for a moment, catching her breath, until she noticed it had a realistic smell too and jumped off of it quickly. She soon went back over to it and looked in the hole she had made and saw metal and wires and gooey black liquid. Then she went around to the front and pried the gold sphere from its head. It was gross and felt like she was pulling out its eye. As soon as she stepped away from it, a portal opened under the monster and it sank into floor. She pocketed the sphere and took off flying again.
Michael had shifted into his basic form as soon as he entered the maze. It was stronger, faster, tougher, and had more endurance than his human body, but it was still too little to deal with most other students and likely all of the monsters. He’d found three silver spheres and put them in the bag provided, and then he ran into his first monster; almost literally. Rounding a corner he met the back end of a giant three-headed black dog; Cerberus. Michael jumped, rebounded off the wall, and punched the thing as hard as he possible could in the face as it was turning towards him. The punch did nothing but hurt his hand and piss of the dog.
Seeing how hopeless it’d be to try and fight the beast in his current form; Michael turned tail and ran. Unfortunately, the dog (dogs?) weren’t having any of that and gave chase. Michael ran for over five minutes before he was confident he had finally lost it. He went back to picking up silver spheres and searching for a strong student to fight so he could get a better form. And he found that student when he encountered Sam.
“Hey,” Sam said nervously from down the hall. Michael didn’t know what he had to be nervous about here, he was number one ranked in combat.
“Hi Sam,” Michael said and shifted to the form that’d match Sam. It took a few moments to finish up the shift and when he got his bearings back and looked for Sam; he was gone. He quickly turned around and checked behind him and above him, and used his new forms improved senses to locate him, but he seemed to have run away. “Weird,” he said out loud. But, good news, he had a stronger form and he checked it over. It looked similar to his basic form, maybe a little more muscular and a bit taller, but no claws or fangs or wings. He already felt that his senses were much better, but what made it good enough to challenge the number one combat rank?
Then he found it. If he had to describe it, then he’d have to call it a super adrenal gland. When used, it would give a temporary, but massive increase in strength, speed, regeneration and toughness, but it was also limited, like Sam with his stored energy. Still, it’d be enough to take down the giant dog, so he turned around and retraced his steps.
Sam had run from Michael. His plan definitely didn’t involve him fighting the second ranked combat student. Especially since Michael would have so few spheres so early, therefore, it wouldn’t be worth the prize. It was a much better idea to continue to bide his time. He’d been able to find six silver spheres so far and avoided all monsters and now Michael. His goal right now was still to run, hide, and find the center of the maze.
Allison’s ability to sense people was coming in handy. She had a pretty good range, at about half mile, which she could tell just by the number of people she couldn’t feel, that the labyrinth was probably several miles wide. However, just because she could sense their locations, didn’t mean she could find them. The ‘maze’ made it difficult to actually get to them. It felt like every time she honed in on a new signal she’d hit a wall and by the time she found a way around the person had moved farther away. It was just bad luck, but the flip side was that she’d been able to find several silvers and had yet to run into a monster.
Then she sensed another one, only a couple hundred feet almost straight ahead. She ran towards it quickly and came to a corner. She heard something slam into the wall, so she slowly peeked her head out and saw Amy Danvers battling a giant scorpion. Most of that section of the hall was covered in ice. Amy was standing behind a massive half-sphere of ice and directing the ice on the floor into spikes and hands and slamming them into the monster. It also looked like a few of its legs were rooted in ice as it kept trying to break itself free. But, even with as much force as she could create, it didn’t seem to be penetrating the scorpion’s hide.
Allison was kind of stuck here. If she wanted to get Amy’s sphere, then the only real option would be to up her love and trust emotions. But, that’d only work if Amy was looking at Allison when she did that, otherwise she’d fall in love with the scorpion. Which technically if Allison did that, then the scorpion would probably win and Allison could run in and grab any dropped spheres, but it’d be unlikely she’d get the white one. Which means…she had to wait out the battle and hope Amy wins, so she could then attempt to manipulate Amy.
She peeked her head back around the corner to watch the fight. Amy now had five of the eight legs rooted in thick ice. Under its belly the ice had formed into several spikes of ice and Amy was building up several columns around it. The scorpion still lashed out violently with its tail and claws, and occasionally it dropped a column or freed a leg, but Amy always quickly regained control. Her mastery over the ice was very impressive as she continued to do several things at once, including strengthening her ice shield, catching and rooting legs, throwing new ice constructs at it to distract it and she continued to build the columns around it. The scorpion was just overwhelmed.
It didn’t take long before the columns started to creep in towards each other and soon the beast was surrounded by an ice cage. It wasn’t happy about that fact either, as it struck out at them, but at this point they had grown much too thick and it did little damage. Then Allison could see the cage begin to press down onto the scorpion’s back and more ice converged at the peak adding to the weight. Slowly but surely it was being forced down and into the spikes of ice that had been formed under its body.
Allison saw it was only a matter of time now, so she started her manipulation of Amy. She started slowly upping the right emotions so Amy wouldn’t notice. It took about two more minutes before the scorpion was impaled and stopped moving. Allison walked around the corner and headed towards Amy as she collected the gold sphere; stopping about ten feet from her ice field. “Hi, Amy,” Allison said, conveying friendliness. Amy didn’t immediately turn and attack, which was a good sign that Allison’s manipulation was working.
“Hi,” she said cautiously, yet still making no move to direct her ice at Allison.
“Nice work on the scorpion,” Allison said and sent a burst of emotion to go along with the compliment.
“Thank you,” Amy said slightly more cheerfully, less cautious. Allison kept slowly building the emotion; it was easier on men or woman who were actually attracted to her. Straight woman took more time and would be more resistance to love. The subtlety work she’d done over the last few weeks had been a big help here.
Allison made sure to keep talking, to keep adding compliments, and to not make any sudden movements. Finally she felt the tipping point and she hit her with one last massive blast. “Can I have your spheres?” she asked sweetly, even batting her eyes a little.
“What?” Amy asked slightly confused, while still moving towards Allison with the intent of handing them over. “I need them for the test.”
“Me too,” Allison said. “But, I’m not as strong as you,” Allison pouted. “Since you can always get more, while I can’t fight any of these monster, maybe you could spare some for a friend?”
“I guess I can get more,” Amy said smiling and handed Allison her bag.
“Thank you so much, you’re the best!” Allison said and Amy beamed at the praise. Allison emptied the bag and found the gold sphere she’d just gotten from the scorpion, two silver spheres and the white one. And as Allison grabbed it the displayed changed to 620 points. “Thanks again. Maybe…” but before she got a chance to continue, Amy fell through one of the dean’s portals. ‘Guess that answers whether I can use them after I control them. Or maybe it’s because I took the white one,’ she thought and she headed toward the next closest person she was feeling.
James’s first monster was a giant lion, possibly the Nemean lion. If it was and the robot was ‘mythologically’ accurate, then it hide shouldn’t be able to be pierced by any weapon made by man; however that was supposed to work. He’d first seen the lion from a good distance off and had snuck to within his tendril range. He sent it forward and slowly touched the lion’s leg, but as expected he didn’t feel anything. It wasn’t alive, but the dean had said that it would respond realistically, yet how was he supposed to know how much he was draining if he couldn’t feel it. So he playacted a little and just sort of let the tendril sit there.
The lion was moving around a bit, but if James was making it tired, it wasn’t showing. After about five minutes, he became concerned that it was either immune to his draining or the robot wasn’t reading the effect. So he decided to move closer.
The lion was in the hall, and it would require James to walk down that same hall where there was no cover and too much light. So he took both shadow tendrils and wrapped them around his body until he looked like a blob of shadows; of course his black freshman uniform and his black skin helped with the sneaking too, but now he was all but invisible in most of the hall. He stayed low and watched for any unusual movements from the lion. His disguise seemed to do the trick, as even when the lion looked right in his direction, it continued on with no indication that it saw anything.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, James got within about thirty feet. He kept one shadow around him and sent out a white hand towards the lion; keeping it low and moving quickly while its back was turned. Once it touched the lion’s hide, James unleashed electricity and kept it flowing for several seconds. And…nothing happened. Oh, it smoked and sparked and the lion definitely took notice, as it turned and snapped at the fog hand, but it didn’t seem to cause it pain.
James stayed hidden in his shadowy cocoon and kept moving his other tendril around to distract the cat. Fortunately, it didn’t seem too smart, as it kept attacking the mostly intangible arm. James tried a different tactic and released heat as hot as he could get it and again it didn’t seem to be affecting the lion, until it bit the hand. Once the lion closed its maw over the super-heated hand it cried out in pain; its insides weren’t protected. James needed to jam his tendril down the things throat, yet it was now weary of what the fog tendril could do it and kept jumping away from the hand.
James took a risk and dropped his shadow tendril cloak in order to send out a second fog hand. He continued to use the first you to distract and piss off the lion and he moved the second tendril over the back of the lion and rested it almost on the top of its head. It would have been comical if James wasn’t so nervous about the timing. He then moved the first hand slightly away and taunted the lion. It took a few attempts, but soon the lion roared. James moved the second tendril as quickly as he could and entered the lion’s mouth. The lion didn’t seem to notice right away as the fog didn’t really have much form. James pushed as hard as he could and then unleashed another round of electricity. The lion seized up and soon smoke started to waft out of it nose, ears and mouth, so James stopped the flow.
It hadn’t fallen over or looked dead in anyway, but it did stop moving. James, very slowly walked over to it and waved his hand in front of its face; it didn’t react. James let out a huge sigh of relief and then went looking for the gold sphere. He wasn’t sure how these sphere were placed on these things and he didn’t see anywhere obvious. He reached into the thick mane and felt a leather collar and he followed it along and near the bottom was a ball, so he snapped it off and held up the gold sphere.
The only person Hope had even seen so far was Matt Mcgee and she didn’t even attempt to form a truce with him. She’d seen a few monsters, but had avoided them and just continued forward, and by complete accident had stumbled upon the central chamber. It was incredible; the maze was one thing, but to build something like this down here was insane. Her first thought was professional football stadium mixed with roman coliseum. It had less seating/stairs than the coliseum, meaning it probably took less area, but the ‘field’ was every bit as large as the pros. It was a 500 foot perfect circle set about 70 feet deeper than the halls, with the steps at about a 45 degree angle. And in the center of that field was a large brazier, sort of looked like the Olympic flame; a large marble bowl with a roaring blue fire in it.
Hope had collected three silver spheres and she figured that while she was here she’d deposit them, since she wasn’t too confident she could hang onto them during any conflict. She ran down the steps and hopped the wall, dropping five feet down to the loose dirt floor of the arena. She ran full bore to the center, dug out the silver spheres and tossed them into the flame and the fire actually jumped up and spelled out, ‘60’. She double checked she still had her white sphere and turned towards a different exit, but after only a few feet a force connected with her face and she fell to the dirt. Then she felt a kick in the ribs and she finally noticed the dirt was being disturbed. She mentally kicks herself for not noticing it before. “Hello, Lindsey,” Hope says snidely as she pulled the batons out of there holsters and faced the footprints.
“I didn’t know we could bring weapons in,” Lindsey says.
“Did you even ask?” Hope says, hoping to keep Lindsey talking as she starts to circle her footprints.
“Well, no,” she says and then Hope can see the footprints charging her. She swings the first baton sideways and feels only air, then she jabs the second one straight ahead and misses again. Then Hope can feel her wrist being grabbed and her leg being swept out from under her. She hit the dirt and rolls away as she sees the dirt puff out from an obvious stomp. She gets back to her knee and watches where she thinks Lindsey is, but she’s wrong, as another strike hits the side of her head and she rolls away again.
Hope jumps back up again quickly and runs to an area of the floor where the dirt is less disturbed and retakes a fighting stance. “We don’t have to fight!” Hope yells, “We can work together!”
“I don’t need any help!” Lindsey yells back from the area they started at.
“I can enhance you. Make you stronger and faster. We can get more together than alone!” Hope says, but gets no reply and sees no disturbances in the dirt. After five minutes with no attacks, no talk and no disturbances, Hope turned and ran towards the nearest exit and headed back into the maze.
It took Tony longer than he expected to find the central chamber considering how fast he was flying. He’d hit more dead ends than he would have liked, but the up side was his bag was now quite heavy with the nine silver spheres he’d picked up. When he finally did find the center, it was almost overwhelming; the sheer size and scope of this place, that just so happened to be somewhere under Sizemore campus. He couldn’t even imagine how the thing didn’t collapse, especially since Chicago isn’t really build on the hardest ground, but he figured it was probably one or more supers with just the right powers that happened to make this all work.
He flew in fast and got high; the ceiling was much higher here than in the maze. He circled around several times and used his raptor eyes to look for any danger and that’s when he saw the slight disturbance in the dirt. It was subtle and could be any number of things, but Tony didn’t take the chance. He dove fast to the ground, on the far side from the disturbance, shifted to his human form, pulled out his white sphere, and then dumped the rest of his bag into the fire. The fire showed ‘180’, and he was back in the air within seconds and headed right back into the maze, but made sure to keep track of where the central chamber was.
With the form Michael took from Sam he’d been able to take out the three headed dog and another monster, but then it was depleted. Even if his power hadn’t been fighting him to revert back, the adrenal gland was drained and he’d been forced to return to human form. He was even having trouble going back to his basic form, so he let it sit for a while and explored as himself.
He’d never really tried to fight this way before. Trying to fight multiple opponents, using a form not designed for a given situation and trying to force it to work for him, rather than with him. It had always been basically one-on-one combat every time he’d ever practiced with his power. Yet, these are the kinds of things he’d have to be able to do to be a hero. If this flaw persisted…he wouldn’t/couldn’t make hero.
Michael was lost in thought when he saw a silver and went to retrieve it. The moment he picked it up his stomach lurched as the floor began to crumble. He ran forward, but was losing traction with every step. He saw what looked like where the edge was going to be and took a risk by diving forwards towards that edge. Fortunately he was right and it had been the edge that he’d been able to grab. Unfortunately, he was now dangling by the tips of his fingers over what appears to be a bottomless pit and his power wasn’t even turning into his basic form.
He readjusted his grip, but a dusty, smooth, stone, block did not offer the best hold. He closed his eyes and focused on shifting; it’d never felt like this before. As if his power was now a slippery rope that he couldn’t get ahold of. He tried breathing techniques, but his arms and hands were now protesting. He tried readjusting and one of his hands slipped, one arm falling from the edge and his body swung dangerously, putting even more stress on his other arm. He was ready to let go. He’d lose the spheres he’d picked up, but he could be back in the maze in ten minutes and maybe the rest would get his other form working again. He was just about to let go when a couple of hands grabbed his wrist. “Hold on. I got you,” the voice said.
“Hope?” Michael asked.
“Yeah,” she said as she started to pull. Michael helped her out and grabbed the edge with his other hand again and put the last of his energy into pulling himself up. Hope was much stronger than her thin frame suggested and soon Michael was pulled over the lip of the hole.
“Thanks,” he said as he was kneeling on the ground shaking out his hands and arms.
“Why were you hanging there?” Hope asked.
“It was a trap.”
“Right. I get that. But, why didn’t you shift and pull yourself up?” Hope asked.
“Somethings up with my power. I pushed it too hard or something and I’m having trouble bouncing back.”
“Good?” Michael asked cautiously while moving away from Hope and watching to see if she’d go for the batons she was holding.
“Yeah, good. We can either fight now, and since I’m so much better than you and with these weapons, you won’t stand a chance. Or, we can form an alliance and I can charge your strength and we can share spheres. It’s the first time I can come at someone from a position of power. So, yeah, good.”
“Why would you want to team up? If you beat me now, that’s two gold spheres, two silver spheres and a white sphere. It’s doubtful that even working together, you could get that much. Why not just take it now?”
“While I appreciate the honesty, I’m thinking about the long term. Two people have a much better chance of recruiting more. Your other form will most likely come back. And it is unlikely I could hold onto your white sphere, alone, until the five and a half hour mark and might not even be able to get the other ones to the fire without being ambushed. A team-up makes the most sense for me, especially with someone as strong as you.”
“Thanks, but a lot of that depends on my power sorting itself out.”
“Sure it’s a bit of a gamble, but I think I’m getting good odds,” Hope said smiling.
“Fine. Since I don’t want to lose my spheres and since I’m feeling a little vulnerable right now. We can work together for now.”
“No. Not ‘for now’, I want your word that if we do this, that it is until the end.”
“Fine, but you give your word too.”
“Done,” Hope said and they shook on it.
“Alright, now what, oh fearless leader?” Michael asked.
“This!” Hope yelled, pulling her batons and charging Michael.
“What are you doing!?” Michael yelled and shifted. Hope wasn’t that powerful, so it wasn’t much more than his basic form, maybe a bit faster. He got ready to defend himself, but Hope had already stopped and was just standing there staring at him.
“See. You can shift just fine. Your power has always been more reactive rather than something you can force,” Hope said as though it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“Oh,” was all Michael could say to that. He was tempted to hold the form, but that’s what got him into trouble last time, so he once again returned to normal and followed Hope into the maze.