Chapter 44

                Birdsman stepped forward from behind the barrier even as Granite wandered in that direction. It wouldn’t hide his substantial bulk, but given that he’d just survived a two minute lashing from Titan and knew his teammate’s power well, he wasn’t too worried about catching any crossfire. Birdsman moved slowly, a man showing that age had finally done what no enterprising criminal had been able to: slow him down. It would have been comforting to his opponent, if Titan had been an idiot. He’d read up extensively on Elemental Fury, and knew all too well that this man’s physique had nothing to do with his power.

                “As you inquired with Granite, so I must now ask of you: do you have any vulnerabilities that I should take care to avoid?” Birdsman spoke these words softly when he drew close, his voice weathered yet still tough, like finely tanned leather.

                “Not unless you’ve got a secret ability you’re holding in reserve,” Titan replied. For a Hero who had been around as long as Birdsman, it was highly unlikely that he’d kept a hidden ace up his sleeve. Unlikely, but not impossible.

                “If I did, I’d hardly show it off over a thing like this.” The older man gave him a wry smile, then began walking back across the room. As he did, he started speaking to the camera’s, filling his voice with volume and authority.

                “We will now commence the defensive portion of the assessment. I shall attack Titan for two minutes or until he calls for me to stop. He is free to dodge or negate my attacks however he pleases, however he may not counter-attack me in any way. When time is up, we shall assess how adept he was at defending against the onslaught. Titan, are you ready?”

                “One quick question: I’ve never fought a Super of your kind in one of these before, so is it just you that I can’t attack?”

                The older Hero gave a small nod. “You are to move and act purely defensively during this portion of the assessment. No exceptions. Any more questions?”

                “No, sir. Ready whenever you are.” Titan kept his tone a touch more respectful with Birdsman; the man had been a Hero when Owen was still in the Sizemore HCP, and the work he’d done was commendable.

                “The timer starts with my first attack.” Birdsman raised his arms, palms facing Titan and fingers outstretched. “Fire Eagle! Lightning Falcon!”

                Bursting forth from the thin air a few inches in front of Birdsman’s hands came a pair of glowing avian creatures, each so bright it strained the eyes to look at them directly, at least until one’s vision adjusted. They soared through the confined space, one made of flames, the other composed of crackling electricity. Each did a single lap around the room, then dove directly for Titan.

                In the back of his mind, Titan hoped Hexcellent was paying attention to Birdman’s style. The man was an experienced summoner, even a Hero who’d been on the job for years could learn from the way he controlled his creatures. Titan didn’t let this sentiment distract him, however, and he side-stepped Fire Eagle, causing the flaming bird to sear the concrete before returning to the sky. Lighting Falcon hit him square in the shoulder, it moved too fast for anyone without super-speed to dodge.

                Titan threw himself back toward a wall as Lightning Eagle released its grip. He couldn’t do much, but he hoped he could at least minimize the angles they’d be able to attack from. The large man bounced off the concrete wall, sending a fair bit of debris cascading down it, just as Fire Eagle took another shot at him.

                This time it didn’t bother diving; instead it unleashed a wide cone of flame from its beak. Titan managed to scramble away, taking another strike from Lightning Eagle in the process. He had to hand it to Birdsman, the man was managing to keep him totally off-guard. And this was only with two of his summons.

                As Titan put some distance between himself and the avian attackers, he heard Birdsman say something else. Unfortunately, the crackling bolts of energy that Lightning Eagle was hurling from its wings made it impossible for Titan to make out the actual words. He was able to put it together a few seconds later; however, as he was struck from behind with such heat and force that he stumbled forward.

                Turning around, Titan already knew the back of his uniform was toast. Whatever had hit him was far more powerful than lighting or fire. Given that he hadn’t been knocked clean across the room, there was only one remaining summon that could have done it.

                Floating in the air, burning too hot to look at dead-on, was Plasma Hawk. It flapped its narrow wings once and a lance of energy struck out toward Titan. He jerked to the side, reflexes stepping in where basic processing failed, and it beam struck one of the far walls. It last only a second, but where it had hit the concrete was gone, revealing a now white-hot metal reinforcement. Even the area around it was bubbling, concrete dripping slowly to the floor.

                “Holy sh- crap.” Titan said. “I’ve seen videos, but that thing is intense up close.”

                “You did say you could handle everything in my repertoire,” Birdman pointed out. “Which makes me wonder, why are you jumping around so much?”

                “Because unlike some people, I have to pay to replace these damn costumes.” Titan leapt up and back as he spoke, dodging a strike from Plasma Hawk, but falling right into Fire Eagle and Lighting Falcon’s clutches. The two tore at him until he hit the ground and recovered himself, just in time to narrowly avoid another strike from Plasma Hawk.

                By the time the two minutes had finally passed, Titan’s outfit was half-way to shambles. His shirt was more rags than covering, and one of the legs of his pants had burned off below the knee. Only his mask, no doubt at Birdsman’s direction, had been left unassaulted. The room itself had taken a few knocks as well, the attacks Titan managed to dodge scorching and melting the concrete. It spoke great lengths about Birdsman’s control that there was not a single thing out of place in the corner where his team was watching.

                The only thing in the room completely unharmed, aside from those hidden behind a barrier, was Titan himself. Despite the frequent attacks and constant barrage, he’d come through without so much as mild shock or burn. Gale watched his refusal to be injured with the same passively detached face she’d worn throughout the entire assessment. They’d known it was a longshot that Birdsman might be able to do some, even a little bit, of visible damage to Titan, but she’d still held onto hope.

                In the end, it didn’t matter though. She’d never counted on showing up Titan in either of the first two categories. No, she’d staked their pride on the final part of the assessment, and as she walked out from behind the barrier Gale found it hard to keep down her grin.

                She was going to break the will of a threat to her city and increase the prestige of her team all in a single blow. This would be a good day.