As the test reached the half way point and sphere points doubled, the mood became tenser. Michael and Hope had been able to recruit two more people before they decided that was enough. Ray Bailey, who was average height and build, brown hair, and with a short beard; he was a pretty forgettable student and he liked it that way, because he liked to fly under the radar. He had readily agreed to join since he had such a high rank, yet was not well suit to hand to hand fighting. And their second recruit had been Ross Wood. Initially the plan was to attack him, but Hope suggested trying for the alliance and that had made all the difference. Ross was capable of teleporting all four of them at once; although it took a lot out of him. They had therefore become very mobile, but still slightly lacking in the ass kicking department.
Ross was actually doing much of the work, acting as both transport and the big gun. Normally that much activity would be impossible, but with Hope keeping him charged they had taken out four monsters and with Ray’s super senses they avoided those they wanted to avoid and found the ones they wanted to find. And who they wanted to find was Pinnacle.
When they found him, he was just finishing off a hydra. They decided on a quick strategy and then Michael had Ross teleport him right above Pinnacle and he shifted as he began to fall. The form was very different than it had been the last two times he faced Pinnacle; possibly because that form had lost or perhaps because of the current environment or maybe because he was going to be fighting with a team. He still had the claws necessary to cut Pinnacle, but he no longer had wings and seemed to be built more for speed than defense. But the biggest difference was he now had a poison breath attack. Ross didn’t need to breath in his shifted form and Michael would be immune to the attack, which meant he could flood the hall with a poison miasma and hope that Ray and Hope stayed back. The plan did call for them to take up position at either end of the hall to watch for ambushes, so they should be alright.
Michael dropped right onto Pinnacle’s back; catching him by surprise. He then clawed into Pinnacle’s neck. He dug his claw deep into the side, almost certainly hitting the carotid artery. If he didn’t know what Pinnacle was capable of, then he’d be afraid he’d gone too far, as the attack looked very brutal and bled a lot. Pinnacle responded by violently grabbing Michael’s arm, attempting to break it, and throwing him when that didn’t seem to be working. Michael hit the wall hard and was stunned for a while. Fortunately, Ross was ready and unloaded with his beam attack before Pinnacle could capitalize on a downed, stunned Michael.
The beam hit Pinnacle in the back and drove him down to his knees and almost to his stomach. Pinnacle steadied himself and began to push back against the beam. His whole body was shaking and his uniform was slowly disintegrating. The exact nature of Ross’ form and by extension his beam attack were unknown and were generally just called ‘energy’ but people had seen Ross’ beam bore a hole through three inches of steel plate, so they’d all expected a little more here. Once Pinnacle regained his feet, he sidestepped the beam at incredible speeds, spun, and flew straight towards Ross’ form while charging his own energy attack.
Ross did have some ‘physical’ form within his ball of light. When weighed, he had about the same mass as a large rat. However, that mass was quite spread out and very little of it existed in larger pieces than a grain of sand, which is why physical attacks were almost useless. But, there were options, being trapped and crushed in a force field, some mental attacks worked, enough energy over a large enough area; such as fire and especially electricity, enough cold would slow him down, but not really cause damage, and a very lucky physical attack on his ‘core piece’ could all hurt him.
So it wasn’t a big surprise when Pinnacle’s attack flew through Ross’ body, displacing his form a little, but causing no damage. Pinnacle continued up and began to punch the light form, quickly and efficiently. Ross couldn’t get himself together, but it gave Michael time to recover. His form allowed him to move up the wall quickly and quietly, he jumped across the hall and he once again landed on Pinnacle’s back. And he once again clawed at the neck before Pinnacle shook him off once again. “You do not act like heroes!” Pinnacle nearly raged. “It is cowardly to attack the back!”
“No it’s not!” Michael yelled back. “It’s teamwork!” And he unleashed his poison breath at Pinnacle, while at the same time Ross recovered and blasted him in the back, forcing him closer to the oncoming poison cloud. Pinnacle flew through the cloud and hit the ground hard. Michael stood over him, but didn’t press the attack too much. While not knowing the specifics, he knew his power well enough to know that the poison would do its job. Pinnacle coughed, and then wheezed and then gasped, and then a portal opened up under him and he fell through. A few seconds later a smaller portal opened and all of Pinnacle’s spheres dropped into a pile.
Once the poison cleared Michael and Ross shifted back and Hope and Ray came in to stand over the pile. “How do we do this?” Ray asked.
“Hope, you should take the white one,” Michael said.
“Why?” Ross asked.
“It will be worth the most for her, that way we can divide the rest between us. The point of this alliance is to maximize the points and Hope taking the white will do that,” Michael said.
“Yeah, alright,” Ross said. Hope picked up the white sphere and they all watched as the screen showed it was now worth 1900 points.
“Damn,” Ross said. The rest of the spheres actually divided up perfectly among the other three, with four gold spheres and 16 silvers.
James had taken out two students, another monster and had picked up a bunch of silvers and decided it was in his best interest to drop some of them off, especially now that they were worth double. He moved towards what he’d been thinking of as the center, while keeping his shadow cloak on. As he moved through the labyrinth, he did continue to hear things that tempted him to go and investigate, but he had made a plan and he was sticking to it.
It took longer than he’d have liked. He hit a couple dead ends and he had to find a way around a monster once, but finally he found it. He stood at the exit of hall and looked in. Despite its size and lack of torches, it somehow had light covering everything. He saw no shadows, so his cloak would be useless. But on the plus side, he could see everything and see that there wasn’t anyone down there.
The two students he’d taken out had given him a nice little store of energy and he used that now. He sprinted down the stairs of the arena, vaulted the small wall, and dropped to the floor. He sprinted to the center and pulled out the three white spheres he had and decided to also hang onto one of the golds until the triple points, but dropped all the silvers and the other gold and watched the fire show, ‘680’. He turned and ran back the way he came and was suddenly shoved into the dirt.
He rolled out of it and got back to his feet and was punched in the side of the face. He nearly fell over, but recovered and out of the corner of his eye he caught movement and turned to see Robert a moment before he disappeared in a blur and James was hit again and this time he fell to the ground. He quickly created another tendril cocoon and felt it being disturbed a moment before he was punched several times. He tried to concentrate on draining, which wasn’t easy when being hit, but even so, Robert had retreated again before James could get even one second’s worth of draining. He continued to use energy to heal and recover, and no single hit was bad enough to knock him out.
He jumped up and was hit again, but he was more prepared and started moving. He was hit and tripped and kicked a number of times, but he kept moving and he also kept draining small amounts of energy from Robert with each attack. Finally he got his back to the wall. With his back defended, and with the flowing energy keeping him alert, and with the ability to heal himself, and with the tendril making it difficult for Rob to see him, he was able to keep standing and draining and defending. In was in no way pleasant and it required a lot of the temporary energy he had stored, but finally Rob saw he wasn’t strong enough to overcome James’ healing speed, and as suddenly as the attack started, it seemed to end.
The massive African Elephant charged at its top speed towards the Chimera. The lion/snake/goat headed creature, which was barely half the size of the elephant, blew fire from its lion mouth and Tony burned the same as any elephant would, but he was committed and ran straight through the flames. His ear practically disintegrated and he was mostly blinded. Which is why it was such a surprise when one of his tusk actually pierced the eye of the goat head, and then it made thing awkward.
The chimera jerked to the side, pulling Tony’s head with it, which in turned caused him to trip over his own feet. So as the three ton elephant fell, the much lighter chimera stuck to its tusk went along for the ride. They both got tangled in a heap and rolled a little. Along the way the tusk ripped free and the elephant rolled over the chimera; crushing it. Tony tried to stand and relieved he’d broken a leg so he shifted back.
His leg really hurt, as did his face. His mind was still telling his body that it was supposed to be injured and it’d take a moment to understand what it wasn’t feeling. So in the meantime, he went looking for the gold sphere. The beast was pretty misshapen and he could see a lot of the mechanical parts that made up the goat head spread across the floor, but he didn’t see the gold sphere. He opened the snake’s mouth, but didn’t find it, and he tried to do the same to the lion, but it was locked up. He shifted into a chimpanzee and was able to rip off the lower jaw and found it embedded in the tongue.
Jennifer ran at a full sprint out of the infirmary and into the HCP halls, heading to the lifts. She’d made a stupid mistake and it had cost her. Fortunately, it had been a monster and not a student that had taken her out, therefore she still had her white sphere. However, she’d lost her two golds and countless silvers. She ran into one of the lifts and it began moving even without her pushing anything and she tried to will it to go faster.
There was still a chance she could recover her own spheres, although it’s not called the labyrinth for nothing. But she knew she’d been close to the center when the monster attacked her. So she hoped to, at minimum, find her pile of lost spheres and maybe get some revenge in the process. It was a snake-haired monster, similar to Medusa, however this one had done a scream thing that had knocked Jennifer out of the air causing her to hit the ground too hard. After minutes in the lift it finally opened to a waiting room and she ran through it and out the other door into the labyrinth.
She jumped and took off flying at speeds that were reckless in the relatively tight quarters. She stayed high and generally tried to stay on a straight course from where she entered from. She saw a monster and maybe a few students, although they tried to hide from her. Even though she hit several dead ends, at the speed she was moving it didn’t take long for her to find the center. She flew into the central chamber and moved up even higher. There didn’t appear to be anyone else in there, so she instead focused on finding where she’d been knocked out at. But as she circled the arena and saw that there was at least twenty different exits and that every one of them looked the same. She had no reference for the direction she’d been facing when she was eliminated. The odds of picking the right door were small and even if she somehow picked the right one, there’d be no guarantee that she could find the exact spot she fallen or her spheres could have already been found and she’d be spinning her wheels for a long shot. After circling a few more times, she finally decided; she’d try one hall and if she found nothing, she’d go back to collecting. And her number one priority after that has to be to get at least some points for herself; even one silver would alleviate some of her fears right now.
Allison was having trouble repeating what she’d done with Amy. Apparently the situation had been perfect at the time and was hard to reproduce when people kept moving and running and their first instinct was to fight any student they saw. She’d almost had Hector, but either he felt something was up or Allison had just been unlucky, because he’d teleported away before the necessary tipping point. Then she’d found Derrick and was again close, but then he was joined by Tom Peterson and Allison was forced to run away herself.
She still had to avoid monsters, as she couldn’t do anything to them. But on the plus side she was pretty flush with silvers and was moving towards the center. She kept getting side tracked by emotional signals, but she moved out if they started heading away from her, or if there was more than one person there, or if the situation just felt wrong. And finally she found the arena.
She felt for any emotions and while there was none hiding within the arena, there were at least three people very near various entrances, likely looking to ambush the weak; which includes Allison. She came up with a plan and she started with the nearest one. She pushed on their pride and anger and confidence, trying to make them reckless, then she did it for the next one and finally the third, and when they were all ‘primed’ and ready, she released one finally burst and suddenly in almost perfect synch they revealed themselves and saw each other and attacked.
One was Robert Pinto, another was Tara Reese, who wasn’t shifted into her tree form yet and the third, Allison could feel it, but she couldn’t see it, so it was probably Lindsey. Tara shifted when she saw Robert. Her tree form was impressive, massive in width, which conveyed its strength, but also showed how slow it was. It might be considered a willow, since the branches and leaves fall lightly downward to look like hair, but the bark was closer to oak, but with the trunk being humanoid looking, it conveyed yet another type altogether. The face, her face, looked carved into the trunk about eight feet off the ground with the branches for the hair going up another eight or ten feet. And if all that isn’t intimidating enough, she can grow even larger given enough time.
If Allison were Robert or Lindsey she wouldn’t attack a massive tree creature, which is why Allison helped them do just that. She pushed the anger even more on the other two and saw Robert charge Tara and felt Lindsey sneak up on her; Allison couldn’t imagine what Lindsey’s brain was telling her she could do here. Tara is slow in her movements and Robert is very fast, so there wasn’t much chance for her to hit him, but flip side is that even with a speedster’s increased durability; it is a terrible idea to punch a tree at super speed.
Allison saw after the first volley that Robert’s hands were bloody and broken, but his emotions didn’t convey that he was going to stop. Allison was afraid of what he’d do to himself, so she hit him with fear. It only took a moment, actually a little longer than it should, considering how fast he was moving, but one moment he was there, and the next he was back into the halls. Tara looked confused and angry, or as angry as a face made of wood can look. Allison still felt Lindsey sneaking toward Tara, and suddenly Tara turned right towards that spot. Suddenly, weeds and plants and vines shot up from the stone blocks making up the steps of the arena. In no time at all a small forest had formed around the area Lindsey was in and a moment later something invisible was wrapped in plants. Allison took off running towards the fire and blasted Tara with fear to try and get her to leave, but her tree form wasn’t responding like a human brain. There was some push, but Allison was throwing the fear as hard as she ever had and it was only working a little. Plus side though was that she wasn’t recklessly attacking Lindsey, only searching her for her spheres.
Allison reached the fire and tossed in everything but the whites and was thankful for the half a year spent training in running. Then she turned and ran in the opposite direction from the tree, but tripped. She looked down and saw a root growing out of the ground. She jumped up and saw roots everywhere, she didn’t dwell on it and sprinted off, jumping new roots every few seconds. One formed into a claw type thing and snagged her pant leg, but she just pulled, ripping it up the side. Then she was back on the stone steps and the plants had a harder time pushing through the stone stairs this far away from Tara. She made it to the top and ran back into the labyrinth.
Sam had made it over three hours using only a bare minimum amount of energy. The only things he’d had to do beyond keeping his senses high enough to avoid danger had been to run from a few students, including Michael and a few silvers that had been traps and that a big burst of speed had allowed him to avoid. Which is why he had finally broken down and decided he could spent a bit of power and take out a monster. And he’d managed to do just that. But, like all his fights this year, he’d misjudged the amount of energy necessary and it had cost him, more than he’d been willing to use. He got the gold sphere and debated if it was time to bank some of his points. And since slowly walking through the halls, waiting for disaster to strike wasn’t that impressive of a plan, he decided, at the very least, to find the center and scope it out and then decide if it was time to put away some of his spheres.
The center was pretty easy to find. Even though the whole thing was designed as a maze, it wanted to funnel people towards a central point so that they’d fight it out. He reached the edge of the hall and looked through the arched opening. It seemed like these halls were designed specifically to be able to hide. With the arena so bright and the halls so dark, it was difficult to see anyone even a few feet into the hall. Sam stayed pressed tight against the wall and looked down into the arena. He saw the fire, but he also saw that surrounding it were many small trees and one huge human shaped tree patrolling and ‘tending’ to its new forest. This was bad for Sam, while very smart of Tara. Getting the trees to a size that’s big enough to block the fire, strong enough to stand up to most things, and being intimidating enough to deter the average student would take a while. Starting now meant that by the time the melee began, Tara would have complete control over most of the arena floor, wielding every tree as another set of limbs. And, unfortunately, Sam was not in a position to stop her; brute strength would not do the trick. Jennifer would really be the best person to clear the field. Which all made his decision for him; he had to deposit his spheres. It would only get harder the longer he waited.
He decided to use a full blast of speed in order to get in and out of there as quickly as possible. Fighting trees would be a stupid waste of energy. He ran down towards the fire, slipped between two trees, slowed for just a moment to drop in his spheres and picked it back up and was clear moments later. Tara didn’t even turn around until Sam was already clear of her reach. He gave her one last look before heading back into the labyrinth.