Blades & Barriers: Chapter 6

                There was a sound that Brett couldn’t quite describe, something like a slurmp but more elastic, and suddenly Justin was gone. In his place was a humanoid figure that appeared to be made completely out of a viscous black liquid that stood on two legs, despite the fact that it seemed like it should fall apart. The costume seemed to have vanished along with his body, which Brett found more confusing than the change. He’d seen plenty of different shifters in his time at the HCP, but none of them were ever able to alter their clothing.

                “My costume is made of a special material that can be compacted to an extremely small size.” Justin… no, Gunk, had a voice that sounded like bubbles rising from a full sink that just had its plug pulled. Brett could only imagine how long it had taken his new teammate to learn how to speak in his goopy form.

                “I pull it in when I shift, since I work better formless, and I can stretch it out to cover myself when I turn back.” Gunk proved this point seconds later, as the green and gray material appeared from within his dark depths, wrapping around the figure. A moment later, Justin was there again, with not so much as a single drop of the black goo visible on his body.

                “Very practical,” Unseelie said. “But we’d like to see what else you can do. One assumes you didn’t graduate for nothing, after all.”

                “Yes, ma’am.” Another shift, and he was Gunk once more. Brett had to hand it to him, Justin was a speedy shifter. Most needed at least a few seconds to change, but he was doing it in the span of a blink.

                “In this form, I’m functionally immune to physical damage,” Gunk told them. Without warning, he collapsed into a puddle and oozed around the floor. “Since my shape is malleable, punches and slices don’t do much that I couldn’t do to myself. A really strong blow could scatter me, but I’m able to reform without losing much more than some stamina. Energy based attacks, however, still pose a serious threat. Fire, electricity, Super-crafted energy, any of it is enough to do me harm. I do heal in this form, and faster than as a human, but a serious attack could leave me with too little material to reconstitute myself.”

                “Still a damn useful talent,” Bayou told him, examining the movement of the puddle with a watchful eye. “We can always use someone immune to punches. But how about you go ahead and show our leader what you’ve got for offense.”

                From the tone of Bayou’s voice, Brett had a hunch he already knew quite well what sort of skills Gunk was packing, and he expected Unseelie to be impressed.

                “Every drop of my body is like an appendage, meaning I can take whatever shape I need to.” Gunk proved this point by pulling the puddle together, taking on the rough shape of a jungle cat, probably a tiger or a panther though Brett couldn’t be sure since it was all the same dark goop. “Obviously I’m still liquid, so the shapechanging doesn’t bring much to the table. However, it does allow me to use my body as a weapon.”

                From the jungle cat’s back, a dozen small waving tendrils rose into the air. There was an audible crack as one snapped like a whip, followed by another, and another, until the room sounded like someone was setting off firecrackers while Gunk effortlessly attacked in twelve different directions.

                “On their own, these can only do so much, which is why mid-way through sophomore year I got the idea to start keeping small daggers nearby. I even stowed a few away in pockets on my costume.” Most of the tendrils oozed back into the central mass, but from three of them twinkling metal appeared at the tip. This time when one struck, it left a small, perfect slice in the floor.

                “Everything else pretty much flows from there,” Gunk told them. “I use my malleable shape and speed to quickly approach, and I attack with my body. This also gives me a huge advantage at infiltration, which is part of why I went into a Subtlety major.”

                Unseelie stood stoic, taking in the writhing mass with detached scrutiny. “And how would you handle an opponent who daggers couldn’t pierce? Not every Super has enhanced endurance, but it’s common enough that you certainly had to overcome it during your tenure as an HCP student. Most criminal gangs have some manner of strongman-power in their ranks as well, so tell me how you’d deal with that. Better yet, show us on me, assuming your method is non-lethal.”

                “It is and it isn’t, the whole thing is a matter of timing,” Gunk said. “But it’s really uncomfortable. Are you sure you want me to use it instead of just telling you?”

                A light chuckle rang through the air, coming from Angela, who at least had the propriety to quickly cover her mouth and pretend to be coughing.

                “Theory is well and good, but I prefer to test some things with my own hands. I have a guess as to what you’ll be doing, so how about we both agree that you stop when I snap my fingers. I’ll be sure to do it long before I enter actual danger,” Unseelie assured him.

                The jungle cat seemed to look around, waiting for someone to tell him not to do it. When no voice came, Gunk turned into a shapeless puddle once more. “Yes, ma’am. If that’s what you want.”

                With a sudden rush, Gunk raced across the ground, arriving at Unseelie’s feet in seconds. His entire mass burst upward, using Unseelie as a ladder to rapidly climb. For a moment, Brett had no idea what the hell Gunk was trying, then the gooey Hero reached Unseelie’s face and it all became clear.

                Gunk flowed into her mouth and nose, sealing them both airtight, keeping any and all breath from getting in. Instantly, she began to pull at him, but her fingers slipped through the dark sludge like it was nothing more than water.

                “I’m as viscous as I want to be,” Gunk said from halfway down Unseelie’s throat. “You can’t yank me out with just your hands. Trust me, lots of others tried. I generally use this to make people pass out. Between the struggling, the panic, and the lack of air it doesn’t take long. Of course, the technique can be lethal as well, if I’m not careful.

                Despite being choked by a living puddle, Unseelie remained calmed as she tried to pull Gunk free, going so far as to even jam her own hand in her mouth. None of it made a difference, though. He just shaped himself around her probing limb, refusing to allow even a single gasp of air past. Finally, she raised her left hand and snapped her fingers.

                With a stomach-turning pop Gunk flew from her mouth, landing a few feet away and quickly shifting back to human shape.

                “Not bad,” Unseelie said, allowing herself a single long, measured breath rather than the gasps Brett was certain he’d have needed. “Not bad at all. You, Gunk, may just become our default neutralizer of those with enhanced endurance. The bar has been set. Barrier, let’s see if you can surpass it.”