Blades & Barriers: Chapter 21

                “The first thing you should know is that I’m sorry. Normally, we wouldn’t put you through something like this, but in terms of testing how your shield holds up against attacks that aren’t physical or energy-based, I’m the best option we have.” Panic looked a lot more abashed than she had on the night prior, even exchanging nervous glances with Unseelie. That alone wasn’t so concerning, however the outfit Brett had been provided with would have been enough to put him on edge by itself.

                It felt like the whole outfit had been fashioned from the paper-thin material that made up hospital gowns, not that there was a lot of outfit to begin with. Just a pair of pants and matching shirt, both of which were clearly disposable. Even more disconcerting was the fact that he was standing on a plastic tarp, one that had certainly not been there for his earlier tests. Despite having seen the team put safety first at every turn during this assessment, it was hard to shake the nagging fear that they expected him to explode and wanted to make clean-up as easy as possible.

                “It’s okay, Panic.” Brett didn’t feel particularly okay, but he wanted to put on a brave face. Yes, her power for making people lose their nerve was well-regarded, however it was just temporary. Whatever was coming, it wouldn’t kill him, which meant things would be fine eventually. He just had to keep reminding himself of that as everyone else in the room moved even further away.

                “Barrier, raise your shield,” Unseelie said. Bloodfyre leaned over and whispered something in her ear, to which she nodded and then added, “But make it a little larger than you usually do. Half a foot all around should be fine. That doesn’t impede it, correct?”

                “It makes it harder to sustain against normal attacks, but I don’t know that it would change anything about the way Panic’s technique will work,” Brett admitted.

                “Go with the half-foot distance, just to be safe.” Unseelie turned to Panic and motioned for her to step forward.

                As Panic got into position, Brett raised his shield once more. Truthfully, he was as curious as he was scared for this demonstration. Mental attacks usually worked against him, at least they had when he was competing with other students, as did sound or visual based abilities. That wasn’t always true, however, as every power was different, and he wondered if Panic might fall into the group that his shield kept out. Beyond that, he really just wanted to see what exactly she did. Hammerspace had lit a fire of curiosity under him that morning, one which smoldered more and more as the day had worn on.

                “Do I need to look at you?” Brett asked as Panic took one last step forward, stopping a good thirty feet away.

                “No, I can hit an entire area, or choose my targets if I can see them. Usually I do the area strike before we directly engage, and then get more selective once the team has moved in. We don’t want them getting caught up in… well, it’s probably better to show than tell. At least this way, you don’t need to dread it. Are you ready?”

                With more determination than he really felt, Brett nodded to signal that he was. For a moment, nothing happened. Panic just stood there, staring at him, and he wondered if perhaps his shield was indeed blocking her ability. Then he felt something, something powerful. It wasn’t fear, though, no wave of terror washing over him like he’d heard described dozens of times in articles and interviews. No, instead it was like his stomach was trying to claw its way up through his throat, and the instant Brett recognized what it was he immediately realized there would be no way to stop it.

                Vomit burst from his mouth, passing mercifully through the shield instead of bouncing back into his face. No wonder they’d told him not to keep the blue barrier skintight, just in case. Five seconds into vomiting, Brett noticed that his stomach was mounting an attack on a new front, and suddenly he understood just how effective Panic’s ability really was. People with a lot of willpower and determination could fight past intangible concepts like fear. Projectile vomiting while shitting one’s pants, on the other hand, now that was going to slow even the most seasoned of combatants down.

                It didn’t last long, and as the last chunks slid from Brett’s mouth Bloodfyre appeared at his side, wrapping a robe around him. Granted, the garment wasn’t going to do anything about the smell, but it covered the worst of the staining. At least the tarp and disposable clothing made sense now.

                “Looks like non-physical attacks still present a tangible threat,” Unseelie said. “Sorry you had to go through that, Barrier, but better we know here and now than out on the battlefield.”

                “Ho-” Brett paused, unsure he trusted his settling stomach not to jump on the opportunity an open mouth presented. When nothing surged upward, he decided it was safe to continue. “Holy shit, that was awesome! I mean, not the fact that I just crapped myself, obviously, but the effect as a whole. I could barely think straight, forget about fighting, and I knew something was coming. If I’d been caught off-guard… no wonder this team is so good at shutting down groups of enemies. Panic, your power is incredible.”

                The room fell curiously silent for a moment, before Bloodfyre chuckled under his breath. “Well, he’s taking it better than I did the first time she made me shit myself.”

                “Ditto,” Unseelie agreed.

                “Wait, she used it on you two?” Brett asked.

                “Sooner or later most people on the team want to test a tactic to see if they can stop it,” Panic explained. “Bloodfyre tried blocking me with a wall of his energy, Unseelie shifted to full diamond mode to see if it still affected her, and Bayou wrapped himself so densely in vines that I had no idea where his actual body was. No luck for any of them. Gunk was our first team member to resist it completely a little while ago, and that’s probably because his shifted form doesn’t even have a stomach. It also doesn’t work on some Supers who fall into the strongman type, I think their stomachs are literally too strong, as well as ones who have ways to fight disease and some shifters. It might be a sort of hyper-stomach bug I can will into existence, no one is totally sure. Hell, my first idea for a Hero name was actually going to be Flu, but that seemed a little on the nose. Plus, with my name and fake reputation we’re able to trick people into thinking that they’re so scared they void their bowels, instead of them catching on that the bowel-voiding itself is the power.”

                Bloodfyre patted Brett carefully on the back. “Come on; let’s get you to the showers so you can clean up. Unseelie, are we good for the day?”

                The leader of the Wayward Wraiths stared at Bloodfyre and his apprentice for a moment, before a small smile appeared on her face. “Given the amount of force he withstood from Titan and the inability to be injured by any of the team’s attacks, I’d say Barrier has demonstrated more than enough damage tolerance for us to safely employ him in the field. Like all of us, you’ll still be getting more assessments done as new Heroes with new abilities become available, but for now we’ve got a good sense of what you can handle. Congratulations, Barrier. After a shower and a long rest to recover from all the healing, I think we’ll be taking you and Gunk out into the field.”

                Brett was grinning from ear-to-ear at the news. Part of him had been nervous ever since he arrived that something would go wrong and he wouldn’t be cleared to work with the team. Hearing the declaration from Unseelie, he knew this was a moment he’d hold onto for a long time to come. He just would have preferred if the memory wasn’t accompanied by the godawful stink that came from the aftereffects of Panic’s power.